The House of Commons Defence Committee released a report yesterday underlining disquiet within Nato about its ability to respond to Russian aggression should it move against a member state. The report seems to back the statements made by General Sir Richard Shirreff in July to the committee and in an interview back in March, where he claimed that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were a shift in attitude and approach that required Britain to prioritize defence.
The comments led to the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, dismissing his concerns by saying that he did not speak for the department, but the general consensus is that General Shirreff has been reflecting recent assessments of what Nato needs to concentrate on if it is to remain a credible force in the world.
The war of words in Whitehall comes within a context of attempts to get spending at the Ministry of Defence under control following a number of high profile acquisitions later deemed to be either unfit for purpose or hugely over budget. Mr Hammond has been trying to balance the governments attempts to reign in spending against special pleading by senior officers and a need to respond to the situation in the Ukraine.
In the meantime, the crisis has forced a rumoured deal between Germany and Russia onto the back burner over the future of the Crimea region and supplies of energy both to Ukraine and the West. The first part of the plan was believed to be an agreement for Russia to withdraw its support to the pro-separatist groups active in eastern Ukraine in return for increased devolved powers to the region and a commitment by the Ukrainian President to not seek membership of Nato. In turn, Russia would not seek to interfere with new trade relations agreed between Ukraine and Europe which were signed a few weeks ago.
A second part of the deal would then see Ukraine being offered a long term supply deal with Gazprom, securing its supplies ahead of the winter months. With no such deal currently in place, energy reserves are believed to be rapidly depleting. In turn, compensation would be offered to Ukraine by Russia for the loss of rent from the Russian navy following Crimea’s vote for independence and annexation in March.
The events of the last few weeks have put these negotiations on hold, but it is believed that once the investigations into the MH17 crash have been resolved they can resume. The sticking point would be the international recognition of Crimea’s new status, especially for the UK and US. With the German government keen to strengthen relationships with Russia and secure its own energy supplies however, you can be sure that intense negotiations are continuing, and that nothing is off the table in terms of applying pressure to key players on each side of the table.