Russian tensions could turn into war warns Nato general
A top Nato general has warned that Vladimir Putin could try to use his armies to invade and seize Nato territory, igniting an all-out conflict.
Gen Sir Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of Nato forces in Europe, said the scenario could unfold if Putin calculated the alliance was too afraid of escalating violence to respond.
His comments follow a clash between Britain and Russia after the UK Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said there was a "real and present danger" Mr Putin could try to destabilise the Baltic states with a campaign of subversion and irregular warfare.
The Kremlin called those comments "absolutely unacceptable".
General Bradshaw, one of the most senior generals in the British army and a former director of special forces, told the Royal United Services' Institute there was a danger such a campaign of undercover attacks could paralyse Nato decision making, as members disagreed over how to respond.
Nato commanders fear a campaign of skilful arms-length military action by Russia, which is carefully designed not to trigger the alliance's mutual defence pact.
But he went further and said there was also the danger that Russia would use conventional forces and Soviet-era brinkmanship to seize Nato territory.
He said Russia could use its large forces "not only 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. This use of so called escalation dominance was, of course, a classic Soviet technique."
He went on to say that "the threat from Russia together with the risk it brings of a miss-calculation resulting in a strategic conflict, however unlikely we see it as being right now, represents an existential threat to our whole being".
Earlier this week, Mr Fallon said the Russian president might try to test Nato's resolve with the same Kremlin-backed subversion used in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
A murky campaign of infiltration, propaganda, undercover forces and cyber attack such as that used in the early stages of the Ukraine conflict could be used to inflame ethnic tensions in Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia, he said.
The military alliance must be prepared to repel Russian aggression "whatever form it takes", Mr Fallon said, as he warned that tensions between the two were "warming up".
His comments were dismissed in Moscow. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the country does not pose a threat to Baltic countries and accused Mr Fallon of going beyond "diplomatic ethics".
Alexander Lukashevich said: "His absolutely unacceptable characteristics of the Russian Federation remind me of last year's speech of US president Barack Obama before the UN general assembly, in which he mentioned Russia among the three most serious challenges his country was facing.
"I believe we will find a way to react to Mr Secretary's statements." Nato has created a rapid reaction force of 4,000 troops that could arrive in the Baltic states at short notice, but the alliance is still observing a treaty signed with Russia in 1997 that forbids the permanent deployment of foreign troops in any member east of Germany.
General Jonathan Shaw, a former assistant chief of the defence staff, believes this commitment should now be dropped to allow a "forward deployment" of Nato soldiers in the Baltic states.
"The agreement not to do that was part and parcel of the agreement to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine," he said. "It's had its time."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)