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Friday 23 February 2018

West faces greater threat of war with Russia than almost any stage since Cold War - Retired Nato general

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was among the world leaders to welcome the election of Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was among the world leaders to welcome the election of Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The West faces a greater threat of war with Russia than at almost any stage since the end of the Cold War, a retired Nato General has told a conference in Dublin.

Sir Richard Shirreff, who served as Nato’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe between 2011 and 2014, said Vladimir Putin wants to see the destruction of the US-led military alliance.

And he said the Russian President had started a dynamic that could put Russia on a collision course with Nato, given his actions in eastern Europe, and the build up of Russian forces near the Baltic States. And a conflict would involve nuclear weapons, he added, claiming the Russians “integrate nuclear into every aspect of their defence thinking”.

“The reality is that the west faces a greater threat of war with Russia than at almost any stage since the end of the Cold War and probably not since the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968,” Sir Shirreff told a conference in Dublin organised by the Irish Association of Corporate Treasurers.

The comments came just a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia's seizure of Crimea remained a major issue, sounding a note of caution a day after US president-elect Donald Trump agreed to boost cooperation with the Russian President.

European powers have said they are concerned about what Trump's election win will mean for the United States' commitment to Nato.

During campaign speeches, Mr Trump had said Washington might not defend a NATO member who had not paid its contributions to the alliance .

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine in July 2014.

Sir Shirreff, who has written a book suggesting war with Russia could happen next year, said Mr Trump is correct to complain about defence funding, as just four European members meet the required Nato funding target– the UK, Poland, Greece and Estonia.

“But what he [President-Elect Trump] said about not necessarily coming to an aid of a Nato member if attacked strikes right at the heart of the Nato alliance, because the defence of Europe, and by that I mean the Nato alliance, has depended since 1949 on the total certainty that whatever American President is in the White House, America will come to the aid of a Nato member attacked,” the retired General said.

He said Mr Putin wants to see the destruction of Nato and the decoupling of America from European defence. This, he said, is one of the reasons why the Russian President has been “cosying up to Mr Trump”.

“And no doubt one of the reasons that Russian cyber warriors got to work on US Democratic [Party] servers during the election run up. What better way to discredit the Democrats and propel Trump into the White House,” Sir Shirreff added.

Sir Shirreff said Russia was now a defacto strategic adversary, and claimed the threat posed by the Russian President continues to rise.

“Indeed the ratchet of tensions seems to click up relentlessly in almost a weekly basis,” he said.

“We’re seeing unprecedented levels of military activity on the borders and the air space of the Baltic states of Finland and Sweden, and that’s been matched by a significant build up of Russian forces in the area.”

Last month Britain said it would send fighter jets to Romania next year and the United States promised troops, tanks and artillery to Poland in NATO's biggest military build-up on Russia's borders since the Cold War, although the US promises was made prior to the election.

Germany, Canada and other NATO allies also pledged forces at a defence ministers meeting in Brussels.

For Russia, the US-led alliance's plans are likely to be regarded as being too much given Russia's grievances at NATO's expansion eastwards.

Sir Shirreff said the world faces continuing turmoil.

“Who could possibly have predicted the turmoil we have seen in 2016. Brexit? Surely not. Trump in the White House? Impossible. A potential war with Russia? Surely not,” he said.

“But just look ahead at what’s coming. Marine Le Pen, potentially, in France next year. And if she came in there would be a ‘Frexit’ and what happens if France voted to leave the European Union, that would of course be the final nail in the coffin I suspect.

“I think the message is do not rule anything out and be prepared for significant turmoil in the years ahead.”

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