Clive Bull 1am - 4am
Britain to send 8,000 troops to eastern Europe in 'largest deployments since Cold War'
29 April 2022, 00:27
Around 8,000 British Army troops are being sent to eastern Europe to take part in exercises to combat Russian aggression in one of the largest deployments since the Cold War.
Listen to this article
Dozens of tanks will be deployed to countries such as Finland and North Macedonia this summer under plans that have been enhanced since the invasion of Ukraine.
Joining them will be tens of thousands of troops from Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force alliance, which includes Finland and Sweden.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the action had been long planned, but that it had been enhanced in response since Russia invaded its neighbour in late February.
It comes after:
- Ukrainian military officials released the names and images of Russian soldiers nicknamed 'The Despicable Ten' who they believe carried out atrocities in the town of Bucha
- The first Brit was killed 'fighting Russia in Ukraine' and another Brit was reported missing
- Vladimir Putin threatened to unleash nuclear strikes on allies of Ukraine who "interfere" in his "special operation"
Commander Field Army Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse said: "The UK makes a significant contribution to the defence of Europe and the deterrence of Russian aggression.
"The British Army's series of exercises is fundamental to both.
"The scale of the deployment, coupled with the professionalism, training and agility of the British Army, will deter aggression at a scale not seen in Europe this century."
The UK deployment is expected to build to a peak of around 8,000 personnel operating in mainland Europe between April and June.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "The security of Europe has never been more important.
"These exercises will see our troops join forces with allies and partners across Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force in a show of solidarity and strength in one of the largest shared deployments since the Cold War."
Troops from the Queen's Royal Hussars have been deployed for embedding in an armoured brigade in Finland, which shares an 830 mile land border with Russia.
Exercises alongside American troops are also taking place in Poland.
The UK government have today come under fire for "lacking in clarity, resourcing and accountability" over the visa schemes for Ukrainian refugees.
More than 100 experts have highlighted the "troubling implications" of the UK's visa-based response, saying they are struggling to make sense of the "chaotic, fragmented and confusing" system.
In a report produced by experts at UCL for the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, the visa requirement is widely regarded as creating and heightening risks of human trafficking and exploitation.
This compares to EU countries' more open responses which were seen as a "major source of resilience" against such threats.
The UK's "hostile environment" is also creating a "difficult climate" in which to respond to the crisis, they added.
Numerous concerns were raised about the Homes for Ukraine scheme, with experts worried both about the "deliberately predatory hosts" and about conditions becoming increasingly exploitative over time.
They identified the potential for domestic servitude, with unclear Government guidance heightening the risk of exploitative placements.
One respondent, from an NGO, said: "Six months is a long time to sign up to host somebody and as far as we can work out there's no back-up for what happens if it goes wrong, although on paper there is.
"But in reality there is a housing shortage, as we probably all know, and there's already thousands and thousands of Afghans waiting for housing in hotels, so what happens if a hosting placement goes wrong, where are the Ukrainian people going to go?"
Another participant, a barrister, said: "I'm hearing from the police who are going into the brothels that they are very concerned that there's an increase in the number of Ukrainian females ... I suspect that those females are compelled into sex work rather than being more consensual sex workers, and I'm concerned about the lack of our ability from a policing and disruption and safeguarding perspective to intervene and protect."
Lead author Dr Ella Cockbain, from UCL's Department of Security & Crime Science, said: "There was clear consensus among experts from across different backgrounds that new risks specific to this war are interacting with existing systemic issues in the UK, putting many refugees from Ukraine at heightened risk of human trafficking and exploitation - both on the way to the UK and once here."
She added: "Simply warning people about human trafficking and modern slavery is not enough, they need to be given safer, better options and access to vital support if things go wrong."
A Government spokesperson said: "In response to Putin's barbaric invasion we launched one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history. 86,000 visas have been granted with over 27,000 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.
"Thanks to changes we made to streamline the system, thousands of visas are being granted every day, but it is right that security checks are conducted on both applicants and sponsors to make sure Ukrainians fleeing the war and sponsors are safeguarded.
"Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, councils must make at least one in-person visit to a sponsor's property and following guests arrival, they have a duty to ensure the guest is safe and well."