Bernie Ecclestone defended the Russian president
Former Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has spoken out in support of Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian leader a "first-class person" while criticizing Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky for not doing more to avert the conflict in his country.
Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before leaving his role as chief executive in 2017, spoke of his continued admiration for Putin in an appearance on ITV's 'Good Morning Britain' show on Thursday.
When asked by the presenters if he still stood by the Russian leader - a man he has frequently described as a friend - Ecclestone replied: "I'd still take a bullet for him."
"I'd rather it didn't hurt, but if it did, I'd still take a bullet. Because he's a first-class person. And what he's doing is something that he believed was the right thing for Russia."
Ecclestone suggested that the conflict in Ukraine was still a "mistake" and that "you have to do the best you can to get out of it."
Ecclestone did not waver in his support for Putin. Twitter @GMB
The 91-year-old businessman went on to blame Ukrainian President Zelensky for not doing more to prevent the conflict, suggesting that the leader was more cut out for his former role as an actor and comedian.
"The other person in Ukraine, his profession I understand used to be a comedian and I think it seems that he wants to continue that profession, because I think if he'd thought about things he would definitely have 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," said Ecclestone.
Seemingly unwilling to accept Ecclestone's views, the ITV presenting team pressed the former F1 chief by asking him about "the deaths of thousands of innocent Ukrainians and Russian servicemen."
"You can't justify that, surely?" asked presenter Ben Shephard.
"It wasn't intentional. Look at all the times America has moved into different countries which have nothing to do with America," replied Ecclestone.
"Actually in America, it's their business, they like wars because but they sell a lot of armaments."
Presenter Kate Garraway then asked Ecclestone if he was adamant that Zelensky should have done more to avert the conflict, to which he replied: "Absolutely."
"I'm quite sure Ukraine, if they'd wanted to get out of it properly, could have done," said the former F1 boss defiantly, while suggesting that Putin also wanted a way out of the conflict.
Ecclestone added that he was vehemently against the sweeping suspensions placed on Russian athletes since the conflict began, saying "they shouldn't punished."
Ecclestone has frequently defended Putin and said back in February that he had always found the Russian leader "very straightforward and honorable."
He first said he would take a bullet for the Russian president back in 2019 and has suggested that Putin is Europe's strongest leader.
Ecclestone has professed his bond with Putin ever since the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi was added to the Formula 1 calendar in 2014.
Putin was a regular visitor to the race, which took place in the Black Sea resort around much of the infrastructure built for the 2014 Winter Olympics and was seen as part of the legacy of the Games.
However, the 2022 Russian Grand Prix was scrapped from this year's calendar after the outset of the conflict with Ukraine.
F1 bosses later canceled their contract with the country, meaning a planned switch to the Igora Drive racetrack outside St. Petersburg in 2023 has also been scrapped.