Security Threat: Russia

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 2018.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 12:00 am, 11th June 2018

What discussions he had with other NATO member states on the potential security threat posed by Russia.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

I met NATO Defence Ministers met last week to discuss progress towards next month’s summit. The UK wants NATO to strengthen its deterrence and defence capabilities while ensuring that dialogue with Russia continues as part of the alliance’s commitment to avoiding misunderstanding and miscalculation.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I tabled this question before the disastrous consequences of the failure of the G7 in Canada. Does it not seem as though this country is back in the 1939—isolated from Europe, with NATO under threat and with a big gulf between us and our traditional United States ally? What is the Secretary of State going to do about it?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

In my discussions with the US Defence Secretary, he has been clear about the US commitment to NATO and European defence. Let us not underestimate how supportive the US has been of NATO, or its commitment over the next couple of years to pump resources, troops and money into ensuring that our defence is the very best we can possibly have.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

NATO is quite rightly concentrating on the Russian threat to the east and to the south-east of Europe, but what more can we do to encourage it to take an interest in the high north and the Arctic, where the Russians have recently built eight new military bases at enormous cost? They also have huge submarine activity coming out into the north Atlantic and have reinvented the old bastion concept that was left over from the cold war. Surely there is a huge threat there and NATO has to do something about it.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

We have seen a considerable increase in Russian activity in the high north, and we have seen an increase in our activity in the high north as well, with HMS Trenchant taking part in ICEX—Ice Exercise 18—and the announcement of the additional Astute class submarine, HMS Agincourt. This is all about how we invest to keep ourselves safe and the north Atlantic free from threats.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Further airstrikes in Syria on Friday left civilians dead and injured. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with our NATO colleagues about how we can make sure that Russia upholds international humanitarian law?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

Syria is yet another of those areas of conflict where we see Russia so heavily involved. We have been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to make sure that we give the level of support that is needed, and we will continue to have a dialogue with our allies to do everything we can to bring a peaceful solution to Syria. We need a diplomatic dialogue and Russia has to step up to the plate. It has to recognise that it needs to put pressure on the Assad regime to stop the dreadful, atrocious actions that are continuing to be carried out on the Syrian people. This has to be brought to an end.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

Will the Secretary of State confirm the role that Romania is playing in tackling the Russian threat and what resources the UK is putting into Romania?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

We have been working closely with Romania, with Royal Marines working closely with Romanian defence forces, but more recently the Royal Air Force has been deployed in Romania to deliver air policing over that country and its neighbours. As a result of that RAF support, there has been a significant drop-off in the number of Russian incursions.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

Just a couple of weeks ago, myself and SNP colleagues returned from the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, which is just two miles from the contact line of the conflict. We witnessed at first hand what Russian aggression really looks like against civilians, yet at the weekend President Trump made the astonishing claim that President Obama was to blame for the illegal invasion of Crimea. Will the Secretary of State set the record straight that this Government do not hold that view and that Russia is to blame for the illegal invasion of Crimea?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

Russia is solely to blame for the illegal invasion of Ukraine and the activities that have occurred there.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

I am extremely grateful for that answer.

Thinking of national security in the broadest context and Russian influence, of course we learned at the weekend of revelations concerning Russian influence operations as far UK electoral contests go, which showed that Russia’s operations are as widespread as they are pernicious. What action is the Secretary of State taking in government and with NATO allies to crack down on Russian money flowing through London and to reform Scottish limited partnerships? Does he agree that that is not only in our interest, but in the collective interest of our partners, including Ukraine?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence

A number of the areas that the hon. Gentleman touched on are probably more suitable for Treasury questions, but we continue to work with our allies to make sure that everything that we can do is implemented to stop the flow of Russian money into our country and others.