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20Feb15


Russian expansionism may pose existential threat, says Nato general


Russian expansionist ambitions could quickly become "an obvious existential threat to our whole being", the most senior British military officer in Nato has said in a strongly worded speech.

General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, appointed last year as Nato's deputy commander of forces in Europe, said the alliance needed to develop both fast-reacting conventional forces and capacities to counter Russian efforts at coercion and propaganda, as seen in Ukraine.

Talking of "an era of constant competition with Russia", Bradshaw told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that Nato had to maintain a cohesive system of deterrence on its eastern borders, something that would require help from the EU.

He said Nato was pushing ahead with plans for a very high readiness joint taskforce, "in order to convince Russia, or any other state adversary, that any attack on one Nato member will inevitably lead them into a conflict with the whole alliance".

David Cameron has warned Vladimir Putin of "more consequences" if a ceasefire in Ukraine does not hold. Speaking on a visit to Govan shipyard in Glasgow on Friday, the prime minister said the responsibility for what had happened in Ukraine "lies absolutely squarely with Vladimir Putin and Russia", and a strong response was needed.

Cameron said: "In terms of what Britain has done, we were the first country to say that Russia should be thrown out of the G8, and Russia was thrown out of the G8. We have been the strongest adherent that we need strong sanctions in Europe and we've pushed for those, achieved those and held on to those at every single occasion.

"What we need to do now is to deliver the strongest possible message to Putin and to Russia that what has happened is unacceptable, that the ceasefires need to hold and if they don't there will be more consequences, more sanctions, more measures."

In his speech, Bradshaw described Russia's tactics as a "hybrid combination", using fast-generated conventional military forces as well as "subversion by a number of means, both military and non-military".

His strongest words came during a section of the speech introducing other threats faced by Nato, including that from Islamic State. He said: "While the threat from Russia, together with the risk it brings of a miscalculation resulting in a slide into strategic conflict, however unlikely we see that as being right now, represents an obvious existential threat to our whole being, we of course face threats from Isis and other instabilities to our way of life and the security of our loved ones."

Bradshaw said the Nato summit in Wales in September 2014 had been dominated by the urgent need for change due to Russian behaviour. The "ambiguity" of Russian actions made a response all the more difficult, he explained.

"These are, firstly, the difficulty of identifying clearly the hand of a hostile state government in the subversive destabilising effects they bring to bear in the early stages of such a strategy," he said. "Secondly, the danger that Russia might believe that the large-scale conventional forces that she's shown she can generate at very short notice could in future be used not just for intimidation and coercion, but potentially to seize Nato territory, after which the threat of escalation might be used to prevent re-establishment of territorial integrity."

The best response was a new rapid reaction force, he said, currently being drawn up by the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Poland. This would not contravene Nato treaties with Russia by positioning major forces on its borders, Bradshaw said, but would "send a strong signal in the form of a sustained, multinational Nato presence" in the eastern states.

Nato's plans would need to include not just conventional forces, he added, but countering "political agitation and subversion, cyber-attack, hostile propaganda and other destabilising effects". This would need assistance from the EU, for example to produce Russian-language TV coverage as as alternative to "the hostile and almost laughably inaccurate propaganda beamed out every day to Russian domestic audiences".

[Source: By Peter Walker, The Guardian, London, 20Feb15]

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