Defence reviews and the subsequent spending priorities are not abstract events but relate to identifiable threats. Today the most serious threat to British and European security is posed by Russia. With the main aims of its modernisation programme over the past decade largely met, and with a sophisticated and ruthless cyber-capability and a huge nuclear arsenal, Russia is militarily stronger today than it has been for many years. Just as importantly, with its intervention to support the Assad regime in Syria, its continued occupation of Georgian sovereign territory and the brutal and illegal annexation of Crimea, with its continued threat to the security and sovereignty of Ukraine, there can be little doubt about the Kremlin’s willingness to deploy its military strength in pursuit of its national agenda.
If, in the face of that threat, we are to have a nuclear deterrent, as I believe we must, it must be credible. The increase in the warhead cap to 260 needs to be seen in the context of the French having declared numbers of around 300, the United States 3,800 and Russia some 6,800. I congratulate the Defence Secretary and his ministerial team on having the courage to take this decision.
Russia’s gangster regime under Vladimir Putin has poisoned and murdered opponents on its own territory and overseas, including on UK soil. It carries out a range of hostile activities, including information warfare and cyber-attacks aimed at democratic western states. In July, the United States, Britain and Canada accused a Russian hacking group linked to Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service of trying to steal covid-19 vaccine research. So it is right that we increase investment in our own cyber-capability. However, cyber-attacks are the tip of the iceberg in Russia’s persistent attempts to penetrate western security, institutions and infrastructure, and it is sadly aided and abetted in some of its strategy by the policy of some of our own allies. I refer in particular to
the German attitude towards the Nord Stream 2 project. That pipeline is a Russian geopolitical project intended to divide Europe and weaken European energy security. As President Biden put it, Nord Stream 2 is “a bad idea” for Germany, for Ukraine, and for our central and eastern European allies and partners.
We face many other Russian threats, including to undersea cables, that we simply do not have time to consider today, but the most urgent is the continued Russian aggression towards Ukraine. Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine in 2014, which was planned in advance, resulted in around 10,000 fatalities and over 23,000 people wounded, according to the UN. Over 1.5 million residents of Crimea and Donbass are now internally displaced persons after being compelled to leave their homes—and this on the edge of Europe. Today, large Russian military movements towards the eastern Ukraine border have been widely reported, including the movements of Iskander short-range missiles.
We must act with our allies now to stop Russian aggression before the situation spins out of control, as it so easily could. That is what our political, economic and military strength is for; that is what the Government’s priority must be.