LONDON, June 22 — Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s anti-immigration Reform UK party, faced strong criticism today after saying that the West provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an interview with the BBC yesterday, Farage said “we’ve provoked this war”, while adding that “of course” it was Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “fault”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters that Farage’s claim was “completely wrong and only plays into Putin’s hands”.

Farage — a former European parliamentarian who has tried and failed to run for Westminster seven times — is gunning for a seat from Clacton in east England in the country’s general election next month.

His party is currently polling third behind the two major parties, but is only predicted to pick up a few seats.

Even so, a surge of popularity for Reform UK since Farage took over as leader earlier this month risks drawing away votes that the Conservative party sorely needs to win a fifth term in power.

His comments met with outrage today.

Interior minister James Cleverly criticised Farage for “echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine.”

Former Conservative defence minister Tobias Ellwood called the comments “shocking” in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, adding that “Churchill will be turning in his grave”.

Meanwhile Labour’s shadow defence minister John Healey called the comments “disgraceful” and said his stance made him “unfit for any political office in our country”.

Probed further on his views on Putin in the interview, Farage said that he “disliked him as a person” but “admired him as a political operator because he’s managed to take control of running Russia”.

The former Brexit figurehead, Farage is close to former US President Donald Trump, who has said he gets along with Putin “great”.

Farage has also spoken about his intention to run for prime minister in 2029.

He also stood by claims that Sunak, the UK’s first prime minister of colour, does not “understand our culture”, in response to Sunak leaving D-Day commemorations in France early.

He clarified in the interview that he meant Sunak was “too upper class”.

Farage’s comments on Sunak — first made in a political leaders debate — had drawn criticism across parties, with one Tory minister saying they made him “very uncomfortable”. — AFP