Putin as big a threat to Europe as Islamic State, says Fallon

Defence secretary warns that Russia poses a 'real and present danger' to the Baltic States

UK Secretary of Defence Michael Fallon
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin is as much of a threat to Europe as Islamic State, posing a "real and present danger" to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the UK's Defence Secretary has warned.

Michael Fallon said that Nato is "getting ready" for any kind of "aggression from Russia whatever form it takes".

The UK will be sending military personnel to eight Nato sites in eastern Europe to reinforce their defences and deter any Russian challenge, he said.

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The Times describes his comments as "some of the toughest language of any senior British minister towards Russia since the crisis over Ukraine erupted a year ago".

It comes as Ukrainian troops yesterday pulled out of the strategic town of Debaltseve after it was stormed by pro-Russian rebels – a "highly significant victory" for the Moscow-armed separatists, reports The Guardian.

Fallon suggested that the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine had all but collapsed and raised concerns that Putin would deploy the techniques used in Ukraine, such as sending in armed men in unmarked military uniforms, to destabilise the Baltic States.

Speaking to journalists on board a flight to Sierra Leone, where British forces are helping to fight Ebola, Fallon said the likelihood of such warfare techniques being deployed in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia was a "very real and present danger".

All three countries are members of Nato, meaning that an attack on one could trigger all Nato members to respond.

Asked whether the West was ready for war with Russia, he said: "Nato has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia whatever form it takes. Nato is getting ready."

He added that it was not a new Cold War because it appeared that tensions were "warming up".

Moscow has sharply increased its defence spending, and two weeks ago two Russian bombers were flown down the English Channel, prompting the UK to scramble jets to see them off, Fallon said.

"That just shows you, you need to respond," he added. "Each time he does something like that, you need to be ready to respond."

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