Russia

NATO has a gun held to its head by Putin and must respond, former alliance deputy commander says

A former NATO Deputy Commander told Forces News now is the time to tell Russia "we're prepared to fight" for the alliance.

A former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe has said now is the time for NATO to tell Russia it will defend the alliance and it is "prepared to fight for it".

General Sir Richard Shirreff, co-founder and managing partner of the global risk advisory company Strategia Worldwide, is the author of "War with Russia" – a novel which eerily predicted the current crisis in Ukraine.

However, he told Forces News he feels "sad and aggrieved" of his prophetic novel and the current crisis in Ukraine is "a desperately worrying situation – probably the most dangerous situation Europe has faced since the Cuban missile crisis".

"NATO is having a gun held to its head by President Putin, he is asking for nothing less than the dismantling of the alliance," he said.

"An alliance which has been the most successful alliance the world has seen, and which has ensured 70 years of peace in the transatlantic region and in Europe."

But what options do the UK and NATO have?

Well, according to General Shirreff, there are two options: do nothing and maintain the current posture or reinforce NATO's presence in the Baltic states.

"I think this is the moment the alliance has got to say 'we are going to defend NATO, we're going to defend the land borders, the air space, the sea lines of the communication of the alliance… and we're prepared to fight for it'," he said.

Watch: How likely is a Russian invasion of Ukraine?

He added that means putting in place "strong deterrents" and reinforcing the Baltic states "in case of any form of spillover".

"That's the concern, that wars once started have a dynamic of their own and Putin may think he can control it but he may not be able to," he said.

"And any spillover, particularly into the Baltic States… they're seen as 'ours' by the Russians, we need to send a pretty strong message that they're not yours, they are free independent NATO members and we're prepared to fight for them."

NATO has multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland - with British troops deployed as part of the formations in two of the nations.

However, Gen Shirreff said more is needed as while a multinational battlegroup "sends a strong political signal... any soldier will know, it's not a fighting force – it's a speed bump".

Watch: UK could send troops to Baltic States amid Russia tensions.

"If the Russians deployed the sort of forces they are more than capable of doing into the Baltic States, NATO's got to be prepared to defend them with capable forces and that takes time," he said.

"They will take time to move there and so the reinforcement needs to start now.

"Russia understands only one thing and that is strength and determination – give them an inch and they will take a mile.

"I'd like to see NATO put a multinational provision into the Baltic States, with a three-star NATO rapid deployment corps headquarters above it and to actually start practising and reinforcing and exercising.

"I'm not worried about provoking, I think this is the moment… we need to demonstrate we're determined."

Gen Shirreff warned: "The defence of the United Kingdom starts not on the White Cliffs of Dover or the Moray Firth – it starts in the forests of Latvia and Lithuania and Estonia."