Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is a “thug” and a “liar”, one of Britain’s most senior ambassadors has said, as the EU prepares today to approve tough new sanctions against Moscow.
Sir Peter Westmacott said the West’s increasingly firm response to Russia was beginning to have an impact on the Kremlin.
The British ambassador to the United States said Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine was starting to look like “the wrong call”.
He spoke as the Ministry of Defence announced that a battle group of 1,350 troops and armoured vehicles, including Challenger tanks, would join Nato exercises in Poland.
The Government said Exercise Black Eagle in south-west Poland would see Britain’s biggest deployment to Eastern Europe since 2008.
The exercises were designed to reassure Nato’s eastern members that the alliance would shield them from Russian aggression.
Sir Peter said Mr Putin’s behaviour in Ukraine had been “thuggish, dishonest and reckless” and he “thought he’d done pretty well after he stole Crimea”.
“It doesn’t look so good now,” he said on the US cable channel MSNBC, part of the NBC group. “It’s starting to look like this was the wrong call. This is a defining moment for what is going on in Ukraine.
“We’ve had some very bad behaviour from the Russian side for a long time now, and now we’ve had this terrible atrocity — the shooting down of the aircraft. We have to change the cost/benefit analysis for Putin, for the Russian people, for the government that they have elected there.”
Nato has stepped up manoeuvres in Eastern Europe since the annexation of Crimea with generals believing the alliance needs to reset its stance towards a more aggressive Kremlin.
Exercise Black Eagle is the latest Nato war game to be bolstered at short notice in the area.
Military sources said the exercise at Poland’s Zagan training area had been long planned, but significantly beefed up in recent weeks.
Polish forces and other Nato nations are expected to join the exercise. The bulk of the British forces are expected to come from the King’s Royal Hussars, though Army sources said a final decision had not yet been made.
Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said the exercise showed Britain’s “sustained and substantial support to Nato’s eastern border”. Britain was not ruling out “further enhancements”, he said.
The confrontation over Ukraine is also likely to dominate a Nato summit in Wales in September. Mr Fallon said: “We have a strong opportunity at the Nato summit to discuss how we will continue our response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.”
The sending of an armoured battle group is by far Britain’s largest show of military backing to Eastern Europe since the crisis in Ukraine began.
Four RAF Typhoon fighter jets were sent to Lithuania earlier in the year to reinforce Nato air patrols over the Baltic nations and British troops have also joined smaller military manoeuvres.
Nato generals are calling for the alliance to pour military resources into Eastern Europe and build up a deterrent against Russia after years in which alliance members have cut spending and focused on conflicts elsewhere.
Gen Philip Breedlove, Nato’s top commander in Europe, said last week he wanted to transform a military base in Eastern Europe into a staging post stocked with weapons, ammunition and ration packs in case Nato troops had to rush to the area in the event of a crisis.
Western leaders are concerned that the Kremlin has chosen to escalate the conflict in Ukraine, even after the downing of MH17, by carrying out cross border artillery strikes and by sending more equipment to separatists.
Tony Blinken, a national security adviser to Barak Obama, said existing sanctions did not appear to have forced Mr Putin to back off. He said: “We’ve seen convoys of tanks, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, and armoured vehicles. There’s evidence it’s preparing to deliver even more powerful multiple rocket launchers.”
Dutch and Australian investigators were once again prevented from reaching the site of the Malaysia Airlines crash as fighting continued nearby.
Ukraine forces advanced on Donetsk, the pro-Russian separatist capital, from the east and there was fighting close to the site near the town of Torez.
Later on Monday, Igor Girkin, the rebels’ military chief, denied his troops had a Buk surface-to-air missile as he refused to be blamed for the downing of the jet.