FORMER Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said he would “take a bullet” for Russian president Vladimir Putin and described him as “a first-class person”.

Ecclestone was asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain if he still regards Putin as a friend - the pair have been close since around 2014, when the Russian Grand Prix was introduced. 

In 2019, the 91-year-old revealed he believed Russia should be "running Europe" in an interview with The Times. 

Even since Putin's invasion of Ukraine, Ecclestone has defended the Russian president.

On Thursday he told Good Morning Britain viewers: “I’d still take a bullet for [Putin].

"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.

“I think if it had been conducted properly, I mean the other person in Ukraine, I mean, his profession, I understand, he used to be a comedian.

“I think 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.”

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Ecclestone added that the war in Ukraine was not “intentional”, saying: “And I’m quite sure Ukraine, if they’d wanted to get out of it properly, could have done.”

His comments come after Nato agreed a “fundamental shift” which will see it return to Cold War-style readiness to respond to the increased threat posed by Russia.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Putin had been proved “completely wrong” about the strength of the defence alliance, which is set to expand to include Sweden and Finland after they ended decades of neutrality over concerns about Russia.

Leaders of the 30 Nato members gathered in Madrid to agree a new plan for the alliance in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The move will mean 300,000 troops at high readiness next year, up from the current level of 40,000.

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For the UK, this will mean the “majority” of naval forces – including one of the aircraft carriers and its support vessels – being available to Nato, along with extra air squadrons and land brigade-sized units.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said: “Today, Nato leaders decided a fundamental shift in our defence and deterrence to respond to a new security reality.”

Heavy equipment will be pre-positioned in eastern Nato members along with stockpiles of supplies, while forces from western members will be assigned specific regions on the eastern flank to protect in partnership with local troops.