Bernie Eccleston has said he would ‘still take a bullet’ for warring Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who ‘believed he was doing the right thing’ by ordering his bloody invasion of Ukraine.
In a bizarre interview on Good Morning Britain, the ex-Formula 1 owner, 91, branded the 69-year-old dictator a ‘first class person’ and ‘sensible’.
It comes after reports of Russian attacks on apartment buildings and a shopping mall in Ukraine, the latter of which was branded a war crime by western leaders.
Ecclestone said such civilian losses were ‘not intentional’, despite tens of thousands of innocent civilians feared dead in the eastern European country at the hands of indiscriminate shelling.
Speaking from a sunny rooftop in Ibiza, Ecclestone also took a shot at Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying he was a comedian before the war and appeared to ‘want to continue being one.’
The billionaire then insisted the invasion ‘could have ended differently’ if Zelensky had ‘talked with Putin’.
In a bizarre interview on Good Morning Britain, former Formula 1 owner Bernie Ecclestone, 91, branded 69-year-old dictator Vladimir Putin a ‘first class person’ and ‘sensible.’
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone (R) attend the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix competition October 11, 2015 in Sochi, Russia
When pressed by journalist Kate Garraway, who asked if he believed a change in Zelensky’s actions, rather than Putin’s, could have avoided war, Ecclestone replied: ‘Absolutely.’
He added: ‘What he’s doing is something he believed was the right thing for Russia.
‘Unfortunately, like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time, and when you’ve made the mistake you have to do the best you can to get out of it.’
He added: ‘I think if it had been conducted properly – I mean the other person in Ukraine, his profession I understand he used to be a comedian, and I think he seems to want to continue that profession because I think if he had 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 probably done something about it.’
Presenter Ben Shephard quizzed Ecclestone about the thousands of innocent lives killed in Ukraine, asking him: ‘You can’t justify that, surely?’
Ecclestone responded: ‘I don’t. It wasn’t intentional – look at all times America has moved into different countries which is nothing to do with America.’
He added: ‘And I’m quite sure Ukraine, if they’d wanted to get out of it properly, could have done.’
The ex-F1 boss previously said he thought Putin should be running Europe and that the invasion of Crimea was just to ‘bring Russia back together’
Mr Eccelstone is a known admirer of the Russian President, and the duo have been seen at sporting events together. (Pictured at F1 event in Sochi, Russia, in 2018)
Asked if he has had a chance to speak to Putin about ‘what a mess’ the situation is or urged him to rethink what he is doing, Ecclestone 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 didn’t start as a war.’
Ecclestone had been invited on the show to discuss the latest racism storm engulfing F1, after a video surfaced of Nelson Piquet calling Lewis Hamilton the N-word while discussing his crash with Max Verstappen at Silverstone last year.
While the Brazilian has apologised and insisted his language had no racist intent, he faces being banned from the F1 paddock. But Ecclestone, his long time pal, rushed to his defence today.
He told GMB: ‘I’ve known Nelson for an awful long time. I was with him a couple of weeks ago. It’s not the sort of thing Nelson would say meaning something bad.
‘He probably thinks lots of things he says which might upset us or might feel a little bit offensive…. to him it’s nothing. It’s just part of conversation.
‘Nelson would never go out of his way to say anything bad, certainly. I think what probably happened, knowing Nelson as I know him, as his daughter is the girlfriend of Max Verstappen, probably after seeing the accident, he probably exploded and carried that forward.’
Social media users reacted furiously to his comments, with one tweeting: ‘What a small minded idiot’, while others accused him of being ‘racist.’
Social media users branded Ecclestone a ‘small minded idiot’ for his comments on Ukraine and the latest F1 drama involving the N-word and Lewis Hamilton
It is not the first time Ecclestone has courted controversy after first offering to take a bullet for Putin, a longtime friend of his, in 2019.
He said at the time that he would ‘stand in front of a machine gun’ to save him, because he is a ‘good guy.’
He said he did not believe he was behind the infamous Novichok attack in Salisbury, accusing people of making things up.
He said: ”He didn’t do that. He would be too busy to be worrying about that sort of thing. Storytellers make these things up.’
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok on March 4 2018.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after she came into contact with a perfume container used to carry the Novichok on June 30.
The two suspects – known by their aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – were caught on CCTV in Salisbury the day before the attack, and in an interview claimed they were just visiting to see the town to see the cathedral.
The Russian government has always denied any involvement in the incident.
The ex-F1 boss also said he thought Putin should be running Europe and that the invasion of Crimea was just to ‘bring Russia back together.’
He added: ‘I would like him running Europe,’ he says. ‘We haven’t got anybody, so it couldn’t be any worse. He does what he says he is going to do . . .
‘I am not a supporter of democracy. You need a dictator. As a dictator, you say, ‘This is what I am going to do.’ In a democracy, it gets watered down.’
Mr Eccelstone is a known admirer of the Russian President, and the duo have been seen at sporting events together.
They were spotted deep in conversation at the Russian Grand Prix in 2014 and Mr Eccelstone previously described Putin as a ‘first-class person’.
It is not the first time Mr Ecclestone – who stood down at the CEO of Formula One in 2017 – has stirred controversy.
He was previously forced to apologise when speaking in praise of Adolf Hitler, saying he was a man that could ‘get things done.’
At the same time, he accused Jews of failing to solve the banking crisis, even though ‘they have a lot of influence everywhere’.
A spokesman for Germany’s Central Council of Jews said: ‘No team should work with him any more – a boycott would be more than appropriate.’
Later, Ecclestone said he was ‘so sorry’ and called himself ‘an idiot’.
He insisted ‘things were taken a little bit wrong’ and his praise of the German tyrant was ‘not what he meant’ before adding: ‘Those who don’t know me think I support Hitler’s atrocities; those who do know me have told me how unwise I was to articulate my points so badly that it should have been so widely misunderstood.
Mr Ecclestone is a known admirer of the Russian President. They have previously attended sporting events together, and were spotted deep in conversation at the Russian Grand Prix in 2014
‘During the 1930s Germany was facing an economic crisis but Hitler was able to rebuild the economy, building the autobahns and German industry.
‘That was all I meant when I referred to him getting things done.
‘I’m an admirer of good leadership, of politicians who stand by their convictions and tell the voters the truth.
‘I’m not an admirer of dictators, who rule by terror.’
In another interview, he added: ‘Hitler brought a country that was bankrupt into a country that was very strong and that was really demonstrating what someone could do if they had the power and didn’t have to keep back and referring every five minutes.
‘The trouble with politicians and democracy is they all the time have to compromise, they can’t do what they want to do because there is somebody in opposition. I regret it didn’t come out like that.’
In The Times interview, Ecclestone also referred to close friend Max Mosley, who was President of the motor racing body, the FIA, before taking his own life last May.
He then suggested the son of British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley would do a ‘super job’ as Prime Minister.
Mosley fought a privacy battle with a Sunday newspaper after he was exposed enjoying what was described as a Nazi-themed sadomasochistic orgy.
However, a judge later ruled there was no evidence of the ‘Nazi theme’ and Ecclestone said of Mosley: ‘He’s a good leader with people. I don’t think his background would be a problem.’
In 2014, Mr Ecclestone was cleared of bribery charges after he paid a German criminal court £60million.
The case has caused anger in Germany where critics said Ecclestone – who was accused of paying a banker a £27million bribe – had been ‘washed clean’ thanks to his ‘spectacular’ payment.
Campaigners said allowing the defendant to use his wealth to stop a criminal prosecution was ‘worrying’.