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'Don't appease Putin': Britain must be ready for war with Russia, army chief warns
28 June 2022, 11:51 | Updated: 28 June 2022, 12:50
The head of the British Army has said the UK must be ready for war with Russia as reports emerged that the Defence Secretary has called for a boost to military spending.
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General Sir Patrick Sanders said Britain and its NATO allies must be "unequivocally prepared to fight" if Russia attacks any of their territory.
He argued it is essential they have the forces in place to deter further Russian aggression if they are to avoid an even more deadly conflict in future.
It comes amid reports Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to hike UK defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP - an additional 20 per cent a year - by 2028 in the face of Russian aggression.
"In Ukraine, we have seen the limitations of deterrence by punishment," General Sanders is expected to tell the Royal United Services Institute land warfare conference in London.
"It has reinforced the importance of deterrence by denial. We must stop Russia seizing territory rather than expecting to respond to a land grab with a delayed counter offensive.
"To succeed, the British Army, in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners, must be in place or at especially high readiness - ideally a mix of both. Trip wires are not enough.
"If we fail to deter, there are no good choices given the cost of a potential counter attack and the associated nuclear threat. We must therefore meet strength with strength from the outset and be unequivocally prepared to fight for NATO territory."
General Sanders also warned the UK faces a "1937 moment" and that the country has never seen such a clear threat to peace and democracy as the "brutal aggression" of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
In his first public engagement since taking up his post, General Sanders will say his focus is on mobilising the Army to help prevent the spread of war in Europe by being "ready to fight and win alongside our NATO allies and partners".
"In all my years in uniform, I haven't known such a clear threat to the principles of sovereignty and democracy, and the freedom to live without fear of violence, as the brutal aggression of president Putin and his expansionist ambitions,"
"This is our 1937 moment. We are not at war - but must act rapidly so that we aren't drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion.
"I will do everything in my power to ensure that the British Army plays its part in averting war."
Speaking at the same event, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is expected to issue a fresh call for increased defence spending in the years ahead to counter the growing threat.
His call comes as Mr Johnson prepares to join other NATO leaders in Madrid for a summit at which they are expected to agree the biggest overhaul of the Western military alliance since the end of the Cold War.
A defence source did not deny reports that Mr Wallace asked Mr Johnson in a letter to lift the annual military budget from the current Nato minimum target of two per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent by 2028.
"We do not comment on alleged leaks. The Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister have always said that the Government will respond to any changes in threat which is why in 2020 the Ministry of Defence received a record defence settlement," they said.
Liz Truss said Nato should focus on increasing flexibility in resource deployment, the use of modern techniques such as "hybrid warfare, the weaponisation of migration, the use of cyber attack", and spending more on defence.
"Two per cent needs to be a floor, not a ceiling for defence spending", the Foreign Secretary said in an interview with Die Welt, La Repubblica and El Pais.
Despite the recent emphasis on new capabilities, such as drones and cyber warfare, General Sanders will on Tuesday say that land forces will remain crucial in any conflict, adding: "You can't cyber your way across a river."
In a reference to the start of the First War World, he will say that "this is not the rush to war at the speed of the railway timetables of 1914".
Instead he will say deterring Russia means "more of the Army ready more of the time" from "the general in (Ministry of Defence) Main Building, to the young lance corporal in the barrack room, from the reservist on a weekend exercise, to the civil servant in Army headquarters".
In his speech, Mr Wallace will reiterate his call for increased investment in defence to meet the changing international environment.
In March, the Defence Secretary wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of his spring statement warning UK defence spending was set to drop below the Nato minimum of two per cent of GDP by the middle of the decade unless the Treasury committed more resources.
A defence source said: "The Defence Secretary is expected to emphasise that now that the threat has changed, governments must be prepared to invest to keep us safe."
It comes after Russian missiles slammed into a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, on Monday, prompting international condemnation.
Technology minister Chris Philp, speaking on Sky News, likened it to an "act of terrorism", as he pointed to UK efforts to support Ukraine in the war.
He was asked about comments by General Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, who has likened the current situation to the run up to the Second World War.
"I think that refers to the fact we need to do everything we can to support Ukraine.
"We don't want to see an escalation into a wider conflict. I think Russia would be literally insane to attempt to do that, because NATO is a far larger and a far stronger bloc."
He refused to comment directly on reports Mr Wallace has asked Mr Johnson to increase defence spending.