Elliott Barker's take on Fallon's speech in St Andrews.
Russia is one of the greatest threats to our national security, if not the greatest. This is not a conclusion you would arrive at, however, if you were to study our government’s foreign policy.
For far too long now, the government has taken a frustratingly half hearted approach towards aggressors such as Russia. Our response to the Kremlin’s actions has largely been feeble, an almost pathetic reliance on soft power and sanctions. Russia is testing the west; there is no denying that fact. The country’s pattern of behaviour is tantamount to that of Nazi Germany prior to World War II, and as history has shown, we cannot appease those that threaten us.
Three years on from Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, it is important to remind ourselves of what has happened since. In June 2014, flight MH-17 was shot down by a Russian-provided missile, killing 283 passengers. Since then, almost 10,000 people have been killed in the Donbas region of Ukraine, despite the Minsk agreement and ceasefires.
Further to this, Russia has become increasingly involved in Syria, although not to target the so-called Islamic State, but to shore up the Assad regime. Some 80 percent of its airstrikes have been conducted against non-ISIL targets with little regard for innocent civilian lives. Russia’s aggression has not, however, been confined to conventional militarism. Instead, it has utilised a dual approach of this and cyber weaponry. In 2015, the Kremlin was behind a cyber-attack that took the French channel TV5Monde off the air. It was also allegedly behind an attack that shut down the network of the German Lower House of Parliament.
Last year, Russia went even further. During the Dutch referendum in April, the No campaign’s themes, headlines, and photographs were “lifted directly from Russia Today and Sputnik,” according to a Washington Post journalist. The Kremlin also conducted cyber operations during the US presidential elections and is continuing to seek influence in decision-making processes in this year’s German elections.
In a speech to students of his alma mater, Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon said that “Russia is clearly testing NATO and the West.” Coming just a few days after the prime minister’s visit to the White House, Sir Michael also claimed that President Trump is “100% backing NATO,” a claim that was met with audible gasps from the Buchanan Lecture Theatre audience.
The former St Andrean also went on to say that the UK needs to engage with Russia, including “military to military,” backing the president’s call for all NATO member states to honour the commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defence while strengthening their cyber capabilities. Sir Michael said that the UK had almost doubled investment in defensive
and offensive cyber capabilities.
NATO was a common feature in the defence secretary’s speech, as he admitted that Britain’s national security relies heavily on security of the alliance. Sir Michael was rightly critical of the Britain-hating pacifist that is our egregious leader of Her Majesty’s “most loyal” opposition for failing to support the deployment of British troops to Estonia and Poland, as well as Article Five.
He also emphasised that more must be done to “call out” messengers such as the Kremlin-backed Russia Today television station and Sputnik, the news agency responsible for spreading “Soviet-style misinformation.”
As refreshing as it was to hear such a comprehensive and no-nonsense assessment of Russia’s actions, I am still not exactly reassured by what he had to say. I turn to my earlier point that the UK has taken a feeble soft-power approach towards the Kremlin, and although Sir Michael spoke of a NATO “enhanced forward presence” in eastern Europe, the west’s response to Russia’s aggression has been and seems as if it will continue to be totally disproportionate.
For example, Russia has frequently boasted of snap exercises consisting of more than 100,000 troops, greatly exceeding the 13,000 threshold requiring mandatory observation. These exercises were held near international borders with the intent to intimidate. Our response was to send just 950 troops to Estonia and Poland. I do, however, agree that some reassurance can be found in Sir Michael’s speech, as he did speak often of the need for EU and NATO members to up their game. Crucially, his speech seemed to signal a move away from soft power to more effective means of dealing with Russia.
If Putin is truly testing NATO, then I’m sure he will be laughing all the way to his new National Defence Control Centre. We have been pathetic thus far; the sanctions which supposedly have crippled Russia’s economy have done nothing but condone their actions. Sanctions do not and have not worked. The west must be stronger than that. We must stand up to Russia and their tyrannous leader, as that is the only way to stop their pattern of aggression. If Jeremy Corbyn would prefer to have a frank and honest discussion with Vladimir Putin instead, I’ll happily pay for his flight.