Former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone would 'take a bullet' for Putin

British businessman says Russian President is a 'sensible person' and blames Ukraine for war

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bernie Ecclestone at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi in 2018. Getty
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Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has said he would “take a bullet” for Russian President Vladimir Putin and described him as “a first-class person”.

The British businessman, 91, described Mr Putin as "a sensible person" and said the war in Ukraine could have been avoided by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has described the remarks as extraordinary.

Mr Ecclestone, who met the Russian leader several times during his time as F1 chief, told ITV's Good Morning Britain programme that the destruction in Ukraine "wasn't intentional".

Asked whether he regards Mr Putin as a friend, Mr Ecclestone said: “I’d still take a bullet for him. I’d rather it didn’t hurt, but if it does I’d still take a bullet, because he’s a first-class person.

“What he’s doing is something that he believed was the right thing he was doing for Russia. Unfortunately, he’s like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time.

"When you’ve made the mistake, you have to do the best you can to get out of it."

Ms Truss told the programme that the comments were "absolutely extraordinary".

"I find the apologists for Putin – when people can see on their TV screens the appalling things that are happening on the ground in Ukraine, the appalling suffering of the Ukrainian people – I find that absolutely shocking," she said.

When asked about Mr Zelenskyy, a former comedian, Mr Ecclestone said: "He seems as if he wants to continue that profession, because I think if he’d have thought about things, he would have definitely made a big enough effort to speak to Mr Putin, who is a sensible person and would have listened to him and could have probably done something about it.”

Presenter Kate Garraway asked Mr Ecclestone to clarify his comments on the Ukrainian president. “So just to understand you clearly, you think that President Zelenskyy should have done more to avert this war and it could have been avoided by Zelenskyy’s actions, not by a change in Putin’s actions?”

Mr Ecclestone replied: “Absolutely.”

Asked whether he could justify the actions of Mr Putin and the deaths of thousands of people in the conflict, he said: “I don’t. It wasn’t intentional."

And asked whether he had spoken to Mr Putin about the invasion, he said: “No. He’s probably thought about that himself. He probably doesn’t need reminding.

“I’m absolutely sure he now wishes he hadn’t started this whole business, but it didn’t start as a war.”

Mr Ecclestone was also asked what he thought about the Russian Grand Prix being removed from the F1 calendar and the ban on Russian drivers.

“I’m not sure I would have stopped that, and I certainly now wouldn’t, and I think it’s wrong, to stop Russian athletes, including obviously drivers, in taking part in their sport," he said.

“They didn’t get involved in this in the first place. They shouldn’t be punished.”

Updated: June 30, 2022, 12:02 PM