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How to respond to the Russian threat?

If, as seems inevitable, the UK Government is convinced that the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal using a nerve gas was the work of agents of President Putin, how Theresa May responds will have massive implications. 

The President is currently seeking re-election and whilst the outcome is not in doubt, the message this act sends is that he can reach his enemies anywhere, whenever he chooses. When the USSR collapsed, the West made a big mistake in drawing Russia’s former satellite states into their fold. NATO was sitting on Russia’s southern borders, making the former KGB Colonel very uncomfortable.

His 19 years in power have seen him flexing Russian muscle, first in the annexation of the Crimea from the Ukraine and later moving to support President Assad in Syria, making him a major power in the Middle East. Russian involvement in cyber warfare and suspected interference in the US Presidential election and the UK 2016 Referendum are further examples of Putin’s campaign to restore Russia to its former status as a major world power. At the same time his armed forces have developed military technologies to match the USA and stationed his overwhelming conventional forces on the borders with Ukraine, the Baltic States and other neutral countries. The new Russian tanks are superior to anything NATO has and his troops have conducted manoeuvres close to the border with the Baltic States. 

It is unlikely that Russia wants a direct confrontation with the USA but if President Trump continues to be cool about NATO and more concerned about China than Russia,  Putin might take advantage of that and invade the Baltic States, like he did in the Ukraine. Britain has troops in Estonia as part of our NATO commitment so they would be caught up in this. Russia supplies gas to most European countries so how willing they might be to stand up to Russia is questionable.

China is also flexing its muscles and challenging the USA and its allies in the Far East. The Chinese have constructed three man made islands in the South China Sea and equipped each of them with airfields and hangers large enough to house 24 fighter jets and a smaller number of larger bombers. A fourth more natural island has surface to air missiles and anti-ship missiles. These developments are seen as a threat to America’s allies Japan and South Korea. North Korea has been another threat in the region but the offer of talks with the USA might diminish that.

How much these developments in Russia and China threaten world peace is open to debate. China has enjoyed rapid economic growth and could very likely be in an economic war with the USA following President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on imported steel and aluminium. Both countries reject democracy, universal human rights and the rule of law, valued in the West. Their threat is all the more serious because of America’s abdication of international responsibility. George Bush fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that achieved very little and Barak Obama pulled back from such foreign adventures, whilst Donald Trump seems to have little aptitude for diplomacy. Between them they have created a vacuum which Russia and China are now seeking to fill.

Theresa May’s response on Monday was strong, giving Putin 24 hours to explain who attacked the Skripals with the deadliest nerve gas novichoK. He will deny any Russian involvement. The UK Government cannot afford to make a limp response and it is suggested that the Prime Minister will recall our Ambassador and break off diplomatic relations but is that sufficient? There is talk of cyber warfare but Russia is already using that. The Christian answer will be to pray and that is right but is it enough? What do you expect the Government to do?

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