Britain should recruit more soldiers following Russia’s annexation of Crimea amid “uncomfortable shadows of the Thirties”, according to the former head of the British Army.
Lord Dannatt said the UK was both war weary and war wary, but warned of a “resurgent Russia” with President Vladimir Putin gaining encouragement from the West’s lack of action to deal with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a key Moscow ally.
Under current plans, the British Army is to be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 soldiers by 2020, although 11,000 extra reservists will be recruited.
However, writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Dannatt said the rise of Russia meant this was “a poor moment for the US-led West to be weak in resolve and muscle”.
“The Russian takeover of Crimea may not have been conducted to Vladimir Putin’s timing, but it certainly suits his agenda and aspirations. Whether his ambition reaches into eastern Ukraine or elsewhere, only he knows,” he said.
In pictures: Ukraine crisis
In pictures: Ukraine crisis
1/12 Ukraine crisis
People shout slogans during a pro Russian rally at a central square in Donetsk. Pro Russian activists continued to gather on Saturday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, as Russia was reported to be reinforcing its military presence in Crimea.
2/12 Ukraine crisis
In the same pro Russian rally, demonstrators show their support. Ukraine's ambassador to Russia and a deputy Russian foreign minister held a "cordial" meeting on Saturday, Moscow said, without giving details of any discussion of Russian-occupied Crimea.
3/12 Ukraine crisis
Crimean ethnic tatars stand on the roadside as Russian troops move towards to Simferopol in the settlement of Kok-Asan, some 70 kilometres from Simferopol in Crimea.
4/12 Ukraine crisis
Russian troops stand on a roadside in the settlement of Opytnoye, some 70 kilometres from Simferopol.
5/12 Ukraine crisis
Armed members of the first unit of a pro-Russian armed force, dubbed the "military forces of the autonomous republic of Crimea" march before the swearing-in ceremony in Simferopol, Ukraine. Some 30 men armed with automatic weapons and another 20 or so unarmed, were sworn in at a park in front of an eternal flame to those killed in World War II.
6/12 Ukraine crisis
A group of Cossacks march past a statue of Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin in Simferopol as tensions in the area continue to rise.
7/12 Ukraine crisis
An armed member of the first unit of a pro-Russian armed force, dubbed the "military forces of the autonomous republic of Crimea" signs the oath during the swearing-in ceremony in Simferopol,
8/12 Ukraine crisis
9/12 Ukraine crisis
Ukrainian soldiers load their armed personnel carriers (APCs) into boxcars in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Pro-Kremlin militia fired warning shots as unarmed foreign observers tried to enter Crimea on the 8th.
10/12 Ukraine crisis
An abandoned naval ship sunk by the Russian navy to block the entrance is seen in the Crimean port of Yevpatorya on March 8th.
11/12 Ukraine crisis
Ukrainian sailors stand guard on top of the Ukrainian navy ship at the Crimean port of Yevpatorya.
12/12 Ukraine crisis
Crimea's pro-Moscow leader Sergei Aksyonov speaks to the media in Simferopol on the 8th March. He has defended a decision to hold a referendum on whether the region should join Russia, saying on Saturday that "no one" could cancel the voting.
“Diplomacy and sanctions may be the right response for now to the Russian president, but he will look beyond those things to see where the real check on his actions might come from.
“Russia has long been the ally of Syria. Mr Putin will see the UN and EU as virtually powerless to impose their will on President Assad, and will be further encouraged. There are uncomfortable shadows of the Thirties.”
There are fears that Russian troops that have massed on the border with Ukraine may invade, ostensibly to protest Russian-speaking populations in the east of the country. A similar reason was given for intervening in the Crimea, which Russia has annexed.
Lord Dannatt said that, while there was a temptation to cut public spending because of the ongoing effects of the 2008 economic crisis, any further reductions in defence spending “would be sending exactly the wrong message at this time”.
“On the contrary, there is a strong argument to recognise that the international landscape is more challenging than in 2010, and consider making a statement that greater military capability must underpin our diplomacy,” the peer added.
He said recruiting an extra 3,000 regular soldiers – “an extra deployable brigade” – would send a signal that the UK “takes its defence responsibilities seriously, not only on behalf of its citizens but on behalf of our EU and Nato allies, too”.
“Were we to keep that additional brigade stationed in Germany, it would further underline our commitment to peace and security,” he said.