Fallon warns of Russian aggression

Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Russian president Vladimir Putin could repeat the tactics used to destabilise Ukraine in Baltic members of the Nato alliance, the Defence Secretary has warned.

Michael Fallon said Nato must be ready for Russian aggression in “whatever form it takes” as he acknowledged tensions between the alliance and Moscow were “warming up”.

His comments came after Prime Minister David Cameron called on Europe to make clear to Russia that it faces economic and financial consequences for “many years to come” if it does not stop destabilising Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces pulled out from the strategically important town Debaltseve after fierce fighting, which had continued despite the ceasefire agreed following international talks.

Six Ukrainian servicemen were killed during the withdrawal, the country’s president Petro Poroshenko said.

Mr Fallon, who said he was “worried” about Mr Putin, acknowledged the Russian leader could attempt a repeat of the covert campaign used in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine against other former Soviet bloc countries such as Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia.

That could involve irregular troops, cyber attacks and inflaming tensions with ethnic Russian minorities in nations seen as part of the country’s “near abroad” by Moscow .

He said there was a “real and present danger” that such tactics could be used.

The Defence Secretary said: “Nato has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia, whatever form it takes. Nato is getting ready.”

Mr Fallon said he was “worried about his (Mr Putin) pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing Nato”.

This month two long-range bombers flew down the English Channel off the coast of Bournemouth in an indication of Moscow’s sabre-rattling.

“It is the first time since the height of the Cold War that has happened and it just shows you the need to respond each time he does something like that.”

Mr Fallon, who was speaking to journalists accompanying him on a trip to Sierra Leone, said it was not a new Cold War with Russia because the situation is already “pretty warm”.

The Times reported that he said: “You have tanks and armour rolling across the Ukrainian border and you have an Estonian border guard being captured and not yet still returned.

“When you have jets being flown up the English Channel, when you have submarines in the North Sea, it looks to me like it’s warming up.”

His warnings about Russian ambitions came after Mr Cameron warned Europe could not turn a “blind eye” to the Kremlin’s actions.

Mr Cameron said in Ukraine “effectively one country is challenging the territorial integrity of another country”.

“Those Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, they are using Russian rocket launchers, Russian tanks, Russian artillery, you can’t buy this equipment on eBay, it hasn’t come from somewhere else, it’s come from Russia and we know that,” he said.

“So we have to be very firm and strong about the sanctions and say to Vladimir Putin: ‘What you are doing is unacceptable and it will have economic and financial consequences for many years to come if you do not desist with your behaviour’.”

Speaking during a visit to West Sussex, Mr Cameron underlined his intention to keep pressure on European Union partners to maintain the sanctions regime against Russia despite the ceasefire agreement.

Mr Cameron said: “Of course there’s a temptation for every European country just to say ‘Let’s go on trading exactly as we have done with Russia, let’s leave responsibility for what is happening in Ukraine to someone else and let’s turn away’.

“I am afraid that would be a terrible mistake and Britain has been leading the argument in Europe saying Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine has been completely unacceptable and consequences must follow that in terms of sanctions.”

Published: Thursday 19th February 2015 by The News Editor

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