“RUSSIA is the biggest aggressor” Says UK

 

British defence spending and capabilities are in the middle of a bitter review in which the potential threat from Russia is frequently invoked, whether that means cutting ocean-bottom internet cables, flying bombers into our airspace, or invading Nato territory.

Russia is – to use a word of the day – being weaponised in the name of particular service interests and justifying big-ticket new systems. Nonetheless, given that Russia is the most serious aggressor the UK might have to face, it is striking how little discussion there has been about what kind of British military capabilities genuinely concern Russian soldiers and planners.

Insofar as one can glean lessons from their military writings, and courtesy of my own conversations with Russian officers, both serving and retired, I can see three definite concerns of theirs and one glaring omission.

The suggestion that the UK merges and shrinks its special and intervention forces would no doubt be roundly cheered in the Russian general staff’s massive building on Znamenka Street, Moscow. As a recently retired officer from its planning directorate once said to me, with more enthusiasm than originality: “Britain has always had the best light infantry in the world, and the bastards get places faster than we would like.”Tanks are great for fighting other tanks, but there is little serious likelihood of a full-scale land war between Russia and Nato. For everything else, from flag-flying and humanitarian intervention, to heading off Crimea-style landgrabs, where what matters is getting to the battlefield when it counts, rather than too late, the special forces, Royal Marines and paras are hard to beat.

These forces also suit post-Brexit geopolitics. They allow the UK to achieve its usual aim of “punching above its weight” and, blasphemy though it may be, make the French happy. On a recent trip to the French defence ministry, I repeatedly heard concerns that Brexit leaves France as the last EU country with the will and the forces to mount serious out-of-area operations. If we are still potential partners, that gives us credibility – and leverage.

In a way, the Russians have a similar perspective on the Royal Navy. What bothers them is not our massive new aircraft carrier, which one naval officer said would make a great “missile magnet” in time of war. Rather, the concern is about smaller, lighter forces. Submarines that can contest the northern waters. Frigates able to both protect our coastlines and project power abroad. Simply having the number of ships to keep enough deployed at any one time. As the officer continued: “If your navy is essentially one carrier battle group, you can do one thing well, but nothing else.”Tanks are great for fighting other tanks, but there is little serious likelihood of a full-scale land war between Russia and Nato. For everything else, from flag-flying and humanitarian intervention, to heading off Crimea-style landgrabs, where what matters is getting to the battlefield when it counts, rather than too late, the special forces, Royal Marines and paras are hard to beat.

These forces also suit post-Brexit geopolitics. They allow the UK to achieve its usual aim of “punching above its weight” and, blasphemy though it may be, make the French happy. On a recent trip to the French defence ministry, I repeatedly heard concerns that Brexit leaves France as the last EU country with the will and the forces to mount serious out-of-area operations. If we are still potential partners, that gives us credibility – and leverage.

In a way, the Russians have a similar perspective on the Royal Navy. What bothers them is not our massive new aircraft carrier, which one naval officer said would make a great “missile magnet” in time of war. Rather, the concern is about smaller, lighter forces. Submarines that can contest the northern waters. Frigates able to both protect our coastlines and project power abroad. Simply having the number of ships to keep enough deployed at any one time. As the officer continued: “If your navy is essentially one carrier battle group, you can do one thing well, but nothing else.”

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