UK ‘ill-prepared’ for future threat from Russia, MPs warn

Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin tells Commons that Britain needs its own grand strategy to face down Moscow

Sir Bernard Jenkin told Parliament on Thursday that Russia’s global plans stood on a 'knife edge'. PA
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The UK needs a “grand strategy” to counter Russia’s destabilising influence across the world, senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin told the Commons on Thursday.

Ukraine needs to gain the upper hand against Russia's invasion, which can be achieved by resupplying the country with arms more quickly, MPs were told.

Mr Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, said Russia’s global plans stood on a “knife edge”, as he opened a debate on the Kremlin’s strategy and the threat posed by President Vladimir Putin.

Looking ahead to a year which he suggested would be “crucial” for Ukraine, he said: “It would be an epic tragedy if we now allowed Russia the time to mass their forces so their brutal war of attrition could become overwhelming.

“It is crucial for the West to increase the tempo of its supply of weapons systems to Ukraine, so that Ukraine rather than Russia can be the first to develop the mobile formations necessary to break the current battlefield deadlock.”

Mr Jenkin said the UK needed its own grand strategy to face down Russia, telling MPs: “Without the right apparatus in government and the right culture in government, we will always be behind the curve of events as we seem to be now, mis-appreciating what is really happening.

“We need to find the right answers to the new evolving threats the UK and the whole of the free world must confront before it is too late.”

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Tory defence select committee chairman Tobias Ellwood, meanwhile, claimed that the UK was “ill-prepared” for future threats from Moscow.

“We are heading into another Cold War, more dangerous than the last," he said. "And it saddens me to say this, but we are ill-prepared militarily for the threats that are coming over the horizon, particularly when it comes to the British Army.

“Three critical components of quantity and quality that contribute to our land warfare capability, and indeed more widely to the full spectrum of armed warfare, are the tank, the armoured fighting vehicle and the recce vehicle.

“Our tank, the Challenger 2, was introduced 25 years ago. Back then we had over 900, today we’ve cut our main battle tank numbers to just 148. These will now finally gain an upgrade, but that won’t be complete until 2030.

“Our armoured fighting vehicle, the Warrior, was introduced 30 years ago, a competent but now dated workhorse … all 700 are being axed, replaced by the Boxer, a wheeled not tracked vehicle, and we’re choosing the variant that has no turret, so no serious firepower."

Mr Ellwood went on to describe the relative suitability of recce vehicle, the Scimitar.

“This was introduced over 50 years ago," he said. "It should have been replaced by the Ajax three years ago, but a litany of procurement problems means it’s still unclear when this may or may not happen."

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The former defence minister also suggested “a major Ukrainian armaments factory” should be established in eastern Poland.

“Gifting kit is the right call now, absolutely, but is not sustainable in the long term, so let Ukraine develop its own equipment,” he said.

Conservative former minister Mark Francois insisted the integrated review of defence and security published in spring 2021 had “clearly been overtaken by events”, stressing “the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a total game-changer in security terms”.

“Suffice to say that we now need to rethink our whole approach towards a shooting war with Russia, potentially, even some time this year and not in 10 years’ time," he added.

“That means having armed forces which are highly trained, brilliantly equipped and backed up with a clear political intent to use them if required.

“That means not just increasing our defence spending, though we must, but also our preparedness to fight tonight, with minimum further strategic or even operational warning.”

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Responding to Mr Jenkin, parliamentary undersecretary Leo Docherty said: “He pointed out that we need to increase the tempo of our support to Ukraine, of course we would support that.

“He suggested that we were being too timid and too slow in terms of our support. Frankly, I would refute that, because I think our actions over the last year have shown, especially with our leadership on provision of lethal aid, that we have led the way and others have followed."

On the question of strategy, he said: “I think Putin’s failure to deliver his own policy in Ukraine has showed the failure of his strategy, and our success in supporting our Ukrainian friends has show the success of our collective strategy.

“We will continue to look at all options with regards to frozen Russian assets and their possible use in supporting Ukrainian reconstruction."

Updated: January 19, 2023, 7:00 PM