Ukraine crisis: Russian aggression in Crimea is reminiscent of the 1930s, warns former British army chief

 

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.

 

“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.

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