Russia: a new confrontation? - Defence Committee Contents


Some commentators have suggested that there is a risk of a new Cold War emerging as a result of Russia's increasingly assertive foreign policy. It was against this backdrop that we decided to launch an inquiry. Our title Russia: a new confrontation? encapsulated the uncertain relations between the West and Russia that was at the heart of our inquiry.

Russia is a major player on the world stage. It exerts significant influence over international and European affairs that affect UK security and interests. Russia does this not only through its still significant military capability, but also through a range of other levers such as the use of energy as a foreign policy tool.

Russia does not currently pose a direct threat to UK homeland security, nor is likely to do so in the near future. Nevertheless, it is understandable that some of Russia's neighbouring states should feel concerned about the possibility of Russian military action against them given Russia's actions in Georgia. Consequentially, NATO has an important role in reassuring its Eastern European members about their security. NATO should provide this reassurance through robust contingency plans that cover the eventuality of attack on Baltic Member States and that set out NATO's planned military response. In addition, NATO should maintain a visible military presence in the Baltic States, including maintaining its air-policing and conducting exercises in the region.

The military actions by Russia and Georgia were unacceptable. While Georgia acted recklessly in August 2008, Russia responded with disproportionate and illegal force by encroaching deep into Georgian territory. The Government should send a strong message to Russia that it needs to withdraw its military forces from Georgian territory to its pre-conflict positions.

NATO's relations with Russia are critical as there are many shared global challenges that are best addressed jointly such as tackling terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and climate change. We welcome the resumption of formal engagement between NATO and Russia on the NATO-Russia Council. For the Council to be effective in building trust between NATO and Russia, there needs to be an honest dialogue on areas of disagreement as well as agreement. The Government should encourage the Council to be used as a forum to discuss difficult strategic issues, as well as areas where cooperation is easier.

Relations between Russia and the West are complex and characterised by mutual dependency. Russia needs the goodwill of the international community to maintain its strong international trading links. The West needs Russia's cooperation to tackle many shared global challenges. Yet, however desirable cooperation with Russia may be, it should not come at the price of accepting the legitimacy of a Russian sphere of influence. Russia has valid interests in those countries that surround it, but to allow undue Russian influence in these countries would risk increasing Russian assertiveness and possibly compromise the sovereignty of these states. This would be against the UK's national interests, as European security is enhanced by having stable democratic and independent states across Europe. The Government should adopt a hard-headed approach to engagement with Russia, based on the reality of Russia's foreign policy rather than abstract and misleading notions of shared values.

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