How many languages does Boris Johnson speak? Can he speak Russian, what did Putin say about missile strike

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Boris Johnson revealed that Vladimir Putin threatened to kill him in a phone call before the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was born Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson but began using his middle name when he started at an elite boarding school, has lived at various points in London, Brussels and New York.

Johnson is the first Prime Minister to have been born outside of the UK or a British overseas territory, as he was born in New York in 1964 - he held dual British and American citizenship until 2017. The MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip is able to speak several common and dead languages to various degrees of fluency, and notably spoke a few lines of Russian in April last year following the invasion of Ukraine.

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But how many languages can the Prime Minister speak, and what did he say in a video addressed to the Russian people?

How many languages does Boris Johnson speak?

Aside from his native English, Johnson is known to be able to speak several languages to different levels of proficiency. His father, Stanley Johnson, worked for the European Commission in Brussels in 1973 and enrolled his son at a multilingual school for the children of the staff.

At this school, Johnson began learning French, in which he is now reasonably fluent. He appeared on French TV as Mayor of London in 2013 where he was interviewed and gave most of his answers in French.

The Prime Minister spoke a few lines of Russian in a video shared to his Twitter page this weekThe Prime Minister spoke a few lines of Russian in a video shared to his Twitter page this week
The Prime Minister spoke a few lines of Russian in a video shared to his Twitter page this week | Getty Images

Johnson also infamously told French president Emmanuel Macron to ‘prenez un grip’ and ‘donnez-moi un break’ in more rudimentary French over a submarine row last year. In 1975 Johnson began studying at the private preparatory boarding school Ashdown House in East Sussex, where he was taught Latin and ancient Greek.

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After Ashdown House came the elite private school Eton, and then a gap year teaching English and Latin in Merrijig, Australia. Johnson then studied Literae Humaniores (the study of classics) at Oxford, which no doubt included more Latin and ancient Greek.

According to Johnson’s biographer, Sonia Purnell, Johnson “spoke good French and Italian and passed muster in Spanish and German.”

What did Boris Johnson say to the Russian people?

In a video shared to his Twitter page, Johnson addressed the people of Russia directly about the invasion of Ukraine. In Russian he said: “The people of Russia deserve the truth, you deserve the facts.”

He then spoke in English for a little under two minutes, discussing the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, such as “bodies crudely burnt, dumped in mass graves, or just left lying in the street.” Johnson returned to Russian for the last line of his address, saying: “Your president stands accused of committing war crimes. But I cannot believe he’s acting in your name.”

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The whole address was captioned in both English and Russian, and has been retweeted more than 5,000 times at the time of writing. Johnson has never studied Russian and it is likely that he learnt the lines he spoke in the video especially for the address.

The International Criminal Court has opened investigations into whether war crimes have been committed in Ukraine, and American president Joe Biden called Russian president Vladimir Putin a war criminal. Mr Biden said: “You may remember I got criticised for calling Putin a war criminal. Well, the truth of the matter – we saw it happen in Bucha – he is a war criminal.”

What did Vladimir Putin say to Boris Johnson about a missile strike?

Speaking on the BBC documentary Putin Vs the West, Johnson said that Putin had threatened him with a missile strike in the days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Johnson claimed that he had warned the Russian president that a war would be an ‘utter catastrophe’.

Johnson added: ”He threatened me at one point, and he said, 'Boris, I don't want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute' or something like that. Jolly. But I think from the very relaxed tone that he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have, he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate.”

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