TIME: 26th January 2017, 12:00 – 13:00
VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons
SPEAKER: General Sir Richard Shirreff KCB CBE
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, 2011-2014
CHAIR: Sir Gerald Howarth MP
Sir Gerald Howarth:
I’m very grateful to the HJS for having organised this meeting on behalf of British Ukrainian AID, and I’m delighted that this is going to be the first annual lecture of British Ukrainian Aid, which as we know, supports all those people suffering from the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine provoked by Russia. I gather there is somebody from RT here, I hope you will have noted that. Yesterday I raised the issue of Ukraine on the floor of the House of Commons at PMQs, and invited the Prime Minister to declare continuing support of the United Kingdom for the maintenance of an independent and sovereign state in Ukraine, which has been subjected to the most outrageous annexation of part of its territory by Russia. And it remains a matter of great concern to all of us in the whole of Europe that this annexation has been undertaken in complete flagrance of the Budapest Memorandum and done with complete impunity. The Prime Minister responded to me by saying: ‘I’m very happy to join my honourable friend in confirming our commitment to the independent sovereign state of Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary has been doing a lot of work with other foreign ministers on the issue, we provide significant support to Ukraine and I hope to be able to meet President Poroshenko soon and talk about the support we provide. And I’m very pleased that the Defence Secretary last weekend was in Ukraine, where he made it clear that freedom and democracy were not tradeable commodities. He also notes that a Type45 destroyer – the most advanced air defence destroyer in the world – will be visiting the port of Odessa later on this year, as a declaration of the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine as I have just outlined when the Prime Minister told the House of Commons yesterday. However, in welcoming my fellow officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine, Lord Risby, from the House of Lords, very pleased to have him here with us today – one of the most authoritative people in this building on the Ukraine – having him here today is a great pleasure too. But I’m pleased to welcome our principle guest, who is Sir Richard Shirreff, who was most recently Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe – that is a post reserved for British personnel, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe is always a United States national and the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander is always a Brit, and that is the post most recently held by Sir Richard, who was of course there when the events of the annexation of the Crimea took place. So, a great pleasure to have you here, thank you very much indeed Sir Richard for coming and speaking to us today. Your recent book has attracted a lot of attention, no doubt you’ll tell us a bit more about us, but the floor is yours.
Sir Richard Shirreff:
Thank you very much indeed Gerald. Ladies and Gentlemen I am very honoured to be here today and be asked to give the first talk and to make a contribution, however small, to the cause of supporting Ukraine in these very difficult times. I was privileged to visit the Ukrainian armed forces back in 2012 when I was the Deputy Supreme Commander of Europe and I remember the friendship and hospitality of my old colleague General Volodymyr Zamana with great pleasure, so this I think is the least that I can do in return. On a darker note, I also, while I was in Kiev, visited the very powerful Holodomor Memorial and it was impossible not to be moved by the tragedy of the genocide that that memorial commemorates. But let me take you back to the 18th March 2014, which was the day that Crimea was incorporated into the Russian Federation. Outside in Red Square, crowds cheered and waved placards and banners of ‘Russia Glory’ and ‘President Putin’ and inside President Putin spoke at the ceremony to incorporate Crimea into the Russian Federation and I think his speech gives us a useful insight into his thinking. He majored on the threat the West poses to Russia. ‘We have all the reasons to believe’ he said ‘that the policy of containment of Russian in the 18th, 19th and the 20th Centuries is still going on, with the deployment of military structures on our borders’. And he warns the west to expect Russia to push back: ‘If you press a spring it will release at some point, something you should remember’. And his vision for the future: ‘Uniting Russian speakers under Russia is the desire of the people. The absolute majority of the people is clear. 95% of the Russian population think that Russian should protect the interests of Russians even if it would worsen our relations with some states’. As for Ukraine: ‘We’re not just neighbours, we are one nation. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities’. And what he described as the latest events in Ukraine as the product of terror, murders pogroms, conducted by anti-Semites, Russophobes, Nationalists and Neo Nazis. But he’s predictably reassuring on Russia’s good intentions for the future of Ukraine and what he calls ‘other regions’, by which we can infer he means other states with significant Russian ethnic minorities. ‘Don’t trust those who frighten you with Russia and say Crimea will be followed by other regions; we do not want to split Ukraine’. Well, nearly three years on and I don’t have to tell you that the invasion of Crimea was followed by the invasion of other regions, i.e. Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine is split, at least two and half thousand military and somewhere in the region of 7,000 civilians have been killed in that war. The second Minsk cease fire hardly counts as a ceasefire. The reality is – as of course you know well- the war goes on. Ukraine is in the frontline of the war in Europe and it’s absolutely right that we in the west should do what we can to help. We have of course seen the imposition of increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia, beginning with targeted sanctions against [? 7.41 cough obscures word]. They are now also directed against a range of Russian entities in the financial, energy and defence sector and they’ve had an impact on the Russian economy, particularly as oil prices have dropped substantially, sharply reducing export values. But they’ve not yet achieved their principle political goal of effecting a change in Russian policy towards Ukraine. Meanwhile western leaders have stated that sanctions will remain in place until the Kremlin’s policy changes in a significant way. However we wait to see the view of the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States of America will take. Although there have been numerous diplomatic exchanges since the last ceasefire agreement, little real progress has been made towards a broader settlement. The Russians have done little to implement the ceasefire terms. They have not withdrawn their forces or heavy equipment. Indeed, in the months after the ceasefire, NATO and Ukraine sources reported a significant influx of [? Cough obscures end of sentence 8.46-9]. By all appearances, the Russian government does not seek a genuine settlement in Ukraine but intends to create a frozen conflict as a means of pressurizing and destabilising the Ukrainian government. Meanwhile Russian and separatist forces operating in Eastern Ukraine, enjoy significant advantages over the Ukrainian armed forces in air superiority, intelligence, electronic warfare, command and control, artillery, rockets, supply and logistics, and of course they have a sanctuary in Russian. It’s hardly surprising then that these advantages have significantly contributed to Ukraine casualties since the so-called ceasefire. On top of this, it is these capabilities which are most likely to render the Ukrainian armed forces unable to prevent and halt on favourable terms a major offensive by Russian separatist forces designed to take additional territory through the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts or to create a land bridge to Crimea through Mariupol. Any such offensive would set back the prospect for a peaceful settlement and further destabilise Ukraine. The cost to the west of maintaining an independent Ukraine can only grow and Moscow might well be emboldened to take further actions such as the invasion of the Baltic States. After all, cast your minds back to 2013. How many analysts or commentators would have considered a Russian invasion of Crimea and/or Donetsk anything other than fantastical? Meanwhile, the post- World War Two effort to create a safer Europe is in deep trouble. The 1975 Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, in which the Soviet Union agreed to respect the inviolability of borders in Europe, has been blatantly violated. Moreover, the US and the UK are signatories to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which they, together with Russia, agreed to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and not to use or threaten force against Ukraine. Well, Mr Putin has grossly violated these commitments which were key to Kiev’s decision to eliminate its Nuclear weapons. And frankly it would be dishonourable of the UK and the US not to do more to robustly support Ukraine and penalise Russia. But it’s not just a question of honouring an international agreement. It’s important for preserving the credibility of security assurances for the future wherever in the world they might apply. If not constrained, such Russian aggression poses a clear danger to wider European security, the North Atlantic Community, as well as to Russia’s Eurasian neighbours. If the USA, the UK and the wider Western community do not support Ukraine, Putin may conclude that the kinds of tactics he’s employed in the Ukraine can be used elsewhere, particularly in the Baltic States with their significant Russian speaking minorities. We’ve been here before with other aggressors in Europe, and history makes it clear that the only way to stop such aggression from precipitating a local or even a global catastrophe is to deter and defend against it as early as possible and not to be fooled by protestations of innocent motives or lack of further ambitions. If the West is serious about deterrence, then the West must do more to support Ukraine. The question is what? After all, President Poroshenko has said there can be no military situation, and has sought a negotiated settlement. However, Ukraine must be capable of defending itself against a determined Russian attack. An appropriate goal of western military assistance should be to give the Ukrainian military the additional defensive capabilities which would allow it to inflict significant costs on the Russian military, should Russia launch new offensive operations. The aim must be to ensure that Moscow is deterred from further aggression. The bar of risk must be set high enough for Putin to decide that it’s just not worth it. So the US and the UK and other western countries should aim to create a situation in which the Kremlin considers the option of further military action against Ukraine too costly to pursue. The cumulative impact of western economic sanctions could produce the conditions in which Moscow decides to neonate a genuine settlement which would allow Ukraine to re-establish full sovereignty over Donetsk and Luhansk. Of course, we cannot lose sight or focus of Crimea, although I note that Kiev has said it is an issue for the longer term and the priority is the Donbass region. The bottom line is that Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and the self-proclaimed right to protect the rights of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers wherever they are poses the gravest threat to the trans-Atlantic community and Eurasia since the end of the Cold War. The USA the UK and their allies must recognise this danger and adjust policies and allocate resources accordingly. A firm western response such as we’ve yet to see, can bolster Kiev’s ability to deter further Russian attacks. Moreover if confronted by a strong western response to the Ukrainian conflict, the Kremlin will be far less tempted to challenge the security or territorial integrity of other states, particularly the Baltic States. So here are some specific areas on the military side in which the west can help the Ukraine. First, money. There has been a good start, with significant money allocated – particularly from the US – for non-lethal assistance. But arguably, there is much more needed to provide the means to bolster Kiev’s defence and deterrent capabilities. Of course, there is considerable civil support which the west could provide to Ukraine. I’m tempted to stay in lane as an ex-soldier and focus on specific military capabilities. So I leave the wider question of the support to civil society to those better qualified to comment. For a start we should take particular account of the heavy Russian use of UAVS (unmanned aerial vehicles) as surveillance and reconnaissance, combined with long range artillery and rocket strikes to devastating effect. So here’s the list of capabilities which would help. First, counter-battery radars that can detect and locate the origin of multiple launch rockets and artillery firings out to 30 and 40 kilometres, which will enable the Ukrainian military to identify ceasefire violations and potentially to target Russian separatist weapons that have thus far caused the greatest number of Ukrainian casualties. Now I know that there has been a supply of such radars, whether it is enough I cannot say. Then there’s the need for more medium altitude, medium range UAVS which would assist the Ukrainian military, increase its tactical situational awareness, identify opposing troop deployments and locate imposing rocket systems and artillery. Next is the need for electronic countermeasures for use against opposing UAVS and to give the Ukrainian military the capability they need to disrupt Russian UAVS conducting missions against Ukrainian forces. Linked to this is the need for effective secure communications. I understand that much Ukrainian tactical communications is currently conducted over non secure radios or mobile phones and is therefore vulnerable to interception by Russian intelligence gathering systems. On the ground the threat of Russian UAVS patrolling the skies, together with the persistent threat of Russian precision rocket and artillery fire, highlights the importance of protective mobility in the Ukrainian military. As for logistics, I stress the importance of medical support. Ukrainian casualties are probably greater because of their relatively underdeveloped and under resourced military medical assistance. So the provision of field hospitals will greatly improve survival rates in Ukrainian soldiers. More generally constraints on the provision of lethal assistance should be removed. Here I stress the need for anti-armoured capabilities, particularly to give the Ukrainian military the means to defend against Russian separatists armoured attacks. Finally a couple of underpinning principles in the provision of military support. First, I don’t think this is a matter for NATO, because Ukraine, whilst a valued NATO partner, is not a member of NATO and therefore not protected by NATO’s guarantee of collective defence. However, I do think NATO can provide training and other such support. But military hardware is more likely to be more forthcoming if it comes from individual NATO nations on a bilateral basis. This is the pragmatic point because I just don’t think there would be the consensus needed around the North Atlantic Council table in order to provide this. It’s much better therefore in my view to focus on bilateral support. But that as I say does not stop induvial NATO nations, particularly those who have former Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact equipment and weapon systems which are similar to or compatible with those operated by the Ukrainian military. The next principle is that the military equipment should only be provided to the Ukrainian army, not to Ukrainian volunteer or militia units, unless they are a formally and legally constituted part of the Ukrainian armed forces. So much more military support might be given directly to the Ukraine, but I say indirectly that a robust response from NATO will also assist. So let’s consider the wider strategic picture and in particular the importance of American leadership of NATO. Here the new president Donald Trump is absolutely critical. Because since 1949 and the foundation of NATO, the defence of America and Europe has been founded on the absolute certainty that whichever president is occupying the White House, the USA will come to the aid of a fellow NATO member if attacked. Any doubt about this and the credibility of NATO’S doctrine of collective defence is holed below the waterline. That doctrine of course is based on Article 5 of the Washington Treaty of 1949 which says that an armed attack on one, shall be deemed an armed attack on all. So at the time that the west faces a greater threat from a resurgent Russian than at any stage of the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War, the man who last week entered the White House and took over the most powerful job in the world, has called this fundamental assumption into question, and potentially holed NATO’s doctrine of Collective Defence below the waterline. The crumb of faint good news and let’s face it we have to be optimistic is that in his interview recently with Michael Gove published in the times Mr Trump did stress the importance of NATO, although of course he did at the same time say that it was obsolete. So if he’s going to repair the damage he has already done, he is going to need to make a very strong commitment to the alliance and in particular American readiness to come to the aid of a NATO member attacked. If he doesn’t, I fear the scenario outlined in my rather gloomy book becomes more not less likely. This isn’t a return to the Cold War, I think it’s more dangerous than that, because the Cold War -for all it’s massing of arms and soldiery and equipment and military hardware on either side of the Iron Curtain – was, particularly in its later stages, actually a period of relative stability. I think this is more like the 1930s. With politically and military weak western democracies – not economically weak, comparatively speaking – facing a strategic adversary in Russia with an autocrat in the driving seat who is the ultimate opportunist. I’d add another feature from the 1930s, which is the diminishing effectiveness of international institutions which have guaranteed are security, put in place by those who witness the catastrophes of the first half of the 20th Century. And of course we are facing an autocrat who not only increased defence spending significantly in recent years despite the fact the Russian economy is in deep trouble but he has also demonstrated his willingness to change Europe by force, and he’s got away with it. The reality is that Russian thinks it has been at war since 2014, not only in Ukraine but also with NATO. It’s not me saying that. These are the words of Dimitri Trenin who runs the Carnegie Moscow Centre, a respected Think Tank, and Trenin is a man with close links to the Kremlin. I would put the Russian of Democratic Party email servers during the American Presidential election as part of this. Designed to interfere with the US electoral processes, all to discredit Clinton and to propel Trump into the White House. A classic type of hybrid or asymmetric warfare, in order to undermine the integrity of the target state. What General Valery Gerasimov – the Russian Chief of the General staff – calls establishing a permanently operating front within the target state through effective use of propaganda, clever sophisticated Kremlin TV, manipulation of minorities, use of special forces and of course cyber operations – all below the threshold of conventional war with bullets being fired or solider on the ground. Well what do we do about it? The clock may be ticking close to midnight and it has arguably already got there with regards to Ukraine. But it is not too late to demonstrate effective deterrence which is key to countering Russian aggression, a genuine belief by the Russians that we will defend ourselves and to raise the bar of risk so high that the aggressor thinks it just not worth while having a go. So NATO in defence terms really needs to think through what collective defence means in the 21st Century in the face of this Russian asymmetric hybrid threat. And to be prepared to dominate the cyberspace and the information space in a way in which has not yet happened. I would give credit to the British Government to the BBC World Service. However we need to be prepared to go on the offensive against the Russians when they start playing with Cyber and hit them where it hurts. I’m not convinced that the last President’s expulsion of some 35 Russian spooks necessarily achieved this aim. We need to develop a muscle memory in our political leadership that understands what collective defence means in the 21st Century. Because there’s a tendency to think of it in Cold War terms. How should NATO respond against the issues behind the threat, as well as being prepared to respond against the conventional threat, so a military presence in the Baltic States is important. Now the current plan for an enhanced presence announced at the Warsaw Summit in July last year is a good start, but I note that there is unlikely to be anything on the ground before late spring 2017. And of course that force needs to be military joined up with effective command and control and supporting weapons and it’s got to train and practice and integrate with NATO reserves that flow in quickly and integrate with the armed forces of the Baltic states as well. And the nations of NATO must put their money where their mouth is. Only 5 nations spend 2% of GDP on defence which they’ve all signed up to. And arguably, given the cumulative disarmament and loss of military capability and understanding of the art and science of war over the last two decades, more than 2% is required. And of course this is one area where I would support Mr Trump’s comments about European members of NATO not stepping up to the mark. And we shouldn’t let Canada off the hook either because Canada – which I’m a great fan of – is also in that group who don’t pay 2%. So in a word, we need to send the strongest possible message that underpinning everything is the need for strong conventional asymmetric and nuclear deterrents. We also need to think through nuclear deterrence because at the end of the day effective deterrents depends on matching a potential adversary at every level. Many of us will remember the impact of Reagan’s decision to deploy cruise missiles in response to the deployment of Soviet SS-20 Missiles into East Germany in the cold War. Whilst I’ve no doubt that these words will invite accusations of being provocative. But I believe in what’s more important. Many with a much much deeper understanding of Russia also believe that there is a misunderstanding of the Russian psyche, because I think Russia only respects strength. I think it was Churchill who said: ‘where Russia finds weakness it continues to probe until you protest, where it meets strength it backs off’, and certainly we must remember the adage that if you want peace prepare for war. My final point is the importance of dialogue. Russia is a great nation and we want to live in peace with and alongside in a good relationship with Russia. So as well as deterrence, dialogue is important, but is must not be unconditional dialogue, it must be based on an acceptance of international law and a recognition by Russia of the sovereign rights of Russia’s neighbours to live as they want without interference. If it’s concerned about Russian minorities in other states –and it’s a fair concern to have- then turn to international bodies like the UN and the Council of Europe, because that is what they are there for. We also need to re-establish the rules of the game and channels of communication. During the Cold War, the channels of communication were there; so there was the hotline from Washington to Moscow and there were strategic and limitation arms talks in Iceland and elsewhere and at a tactical level the Soviet military mission and the British and American missions in East Germany allowed for communication. But at the moment the channels of communication do not exist as they should do. Well let me close by saying that some in the west will be concerned that the provision of military assistance would cause Russian to escalate the crisis. I disagree strongly. Russia has already escalated, annexing Crimea, encouraging and aiding separatists in eastern Ukraine, providing the separatists with heavy arms and ultimately invading the Donbass with regular Russian units. And of course we should never forget the innocent civilians from many nations including as far away as Australia when MH17 was blasted out of the sky by a Russian ground to air missile. While there may be disagreements about the extent to which Russian regular units may be deployed, there is no dispute that a number of Russian officers and a large quantity of Russian military equipment remain in Donbass. Enhanced military assistance will increase Kiev’s ability to deter further Russian aggression. Well ladies and gentlemen thank you for listening to me, I stand by for your comments.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
Well Sir Richard thank you very much indeed for that very powerful tour de force, setting out the challenges that the west faces and offering some very positive responses, including that of dialogue. I’m going to take questions now, it would be very helpful if you could identify yourselves and the organisations you represent. The gentleman at the back, you were first
First Audience Question: John Wilfred:
My names John Wilfred, I’m here in a private capacity. You asked who could have foreseen Russian’s actions in Ukraine in 2013. Ukraine wasn’t the first victim of Russian belligerence and Russia still occupies large areas of Georgia. Do you think there’s a danger that we are going to forget about Georgia in the focus on Ukraine?
Sir Richard Shirreff:
Absolutely right, and Georgie 2008 held up a mirror I think, which certainly from a NATO perspective and the West’s perspective was largely ignored, and there’s no question as you say that phase one is Georgia. And actually I remember being in Georgia in 2013 and at that stage the Georgians were very concerned that Putin would do something around the time of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, which of course he did, although it was not in Georgia. Is there a danger of Georgia being forgotten? No I don’t think there’s a danger of Georgia being forgotten. Certainly from a NATO perspective, Georgia has demonstrated that it is a most valued partner. Georgian soldiers play a key role, taking part in some very heavy fighting in Helmand. The Georgian military contribution to NATO missions in Afghanistan then – and indeed the training mission now – is significantly out of proportion to the size of the Georgian armed forces and the Georgian population. The challenge of course is NATO membership and that’s sort of the elephant in the room. The promise of NATO membership to both Ukraine and Georgia in 2013. I think the prospects of that happening while Russia occupies a significant proportion of Georgian sovereign territory are frankly of the table until that issue is resolved. But I know certainly – from my time in NATO – that the alliance will continue to find ways to look to support Georgia and politically more broadly.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
The gentleman there.
Second audience question. Euan Grant:
Thank you very much general, Euan Grant, former law enforcement intelligence analyst. I managed to catch the last copy of the paperback on Tesco’s shelves and was very pleased to see they restocked it a few days later. They didn’t last long either. I‘ve seen at first hand, dealing with civilian law enforcement agencies in Ukraine about how their reasonable expectations of cooperation with EU member states and the EU as a whole haven’t always been met, which is perhaps an understatement. In that context who’s listening to you in the West who isn’t.
Sir Richard Sheriff:
Well I think others have to judge that. I think there is a general sense though of increasing concern and foreboding about the threat posed by Russia, the dynamic started with the invasion of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. And that’s reflected I think widely, whether it’s the RAND report on the security of the Baltic States a number of other Think Tank papers highlighting the threat, or the Atlantic Council report on what support should be given to Ukraine and more widely. I think the question is whether this sort of action is being done, although I have to say there is good sign of it; the enhanced presence in the Baltic States is clearly a good sign. But I don’t think there is a general sense among the population of real concern which is going to translate into really bold political action… [35.22-35.55 obscured by voice overs]
Sir Gerald Howarth:
Could I register the idea we are not leaving Europe we are leaving the EU. There is a fundamental difference if I could just point that out. The gentleman there.
Third audience question [name inaudible]:
I’m a chief executive of a charity called [inaudible 36.09] which has been in Ukraine for 25 years. We work in similar areas to British Ukrainian Aid; healthcare, working with children, working with vulnerable adults in the country. We support many of the hospitals there too. One of the biggest issues we’ve had is actually the transfer of funds. Ukrainian banks have been somewhat notorious in withholding some of our monies, which has meant most of the funds until 6 months ago we’re in my pocket or my wife’s pocket to take and we will give directly. Is there some way in which a larger group of organisations can work more closely with Ukrainian banks, people where we know the money is going to go to the right place. For example, with the army, I was requested at Christmas to buy a vehicle to bring back the dead from the East of the country back to the towns where they have come from, which we did. But that money was given directly to an army major and he brought the vehicle and I had an experience dealing with the bureaucracy there, it’s a major issue and it’s stopping funds coming through.
Sir Richard Sheriff:
I’m afraid, I note that there is quite a significant team from the Ukrainian embassy here and this is a matter for the Ukrainian authorities, there may be other people here who can comment on that.
Chief Executive of the Charity:
If anyone would be willing to speak to me later I would be very grateful.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
Can we just ask anybody from the embassy, do you want to comment on that.
[Name inaudible 37.50]. Embassy of Ukraine:
Thank you for your question and I think we can cooperate… (Inaudible 37.58-38.06)
Chief Executive of the Charity:
Thank you so much.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
If I may emphasise, it’s really important if people are going to give their time and their money to helping those Ukrainians who are suffering in the East, it’s very important that the Ukrainian government should give them every possible assistance. Please could you take that message back to her Excellency the ambassador? Thank you, next question, the gentleman over there.
Fourth audience question [name inaudible, 38.30]:
I’m a retired Music lecturer.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
A retired music lecturer, marvellous, are you going to sing to us?
The Music Lecturer:
No I’m going to ask you as question. My first point is that given the current situation in the Ukrainian government, it’s founded on an illegal coup, the violent overthrow of the previous President. The second part is how do you respond to the fact that America spent 5 billion dollars overthrowing that legitimate government in the Ukraine? The third point is, what are your comments upon the hacked telephone conversation of Victoria Newman from the American Government, on who they were going to institute into the new government after the coup?
Sir Richard Shirreff:
And your question is?
The Music Lecturer:
Those are the questions, could you please answer them.
Sir Richard Sherriff:
Well I think, I think you raise a couple of political comments or points, and as far as my views on Victoria Newman’s telephone conversation, I haven’t read the transcript so I’m not really in the position to comment.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
Next question, the lady over there.
Fifth audience question, [name inaudible, 39.59] BBC Russian Service
Sir as you pointed out, Russia only recognises strength and only recognises power, especially when it comes to daring confrontation. Do you think there are any effective measures to put additional pressure on Russia especially in regard to its actions in eastern Ukraine?
Sir Richard Shirreff:
Ultimately this has got to be resolved politically, through discussion, through negotiation, but from a position of strength. And through an understanding that international law has got to be recognised. And I fear until there is a recognition by Russia of international law and the sovereign rights of Ukrainian borders, it is very difficult to see how that impasse can be broken unless there is a significant of opinion in the Russian leadership
Lady from BBC Russian service:
Do you think there is any effective way to make them recognise it? Any way Ukraine can deny their actions?
Sir Richard Shirreff:
Well let’s be optimistic for a moment. There may be an opportunity with the arrival of a new president in Washington. That might just provide a chance to break an impasse. And if that is the case that would be great. Mr Trump has promised he’d be prepared to do deals – he’s a great deal maker – but he has got to do it from a position of strength, because if it’s done from a position of weakness, there’s only going to be one winner in this deal making process.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
Any other questions? The gentleman there.
Sixth audience question, Grant Thomas:
Grant Thomas, I’m an undergraduate Student from the University of Kent. Obviously America has promised us to take NATO seriously. I think he will. Some of his advisors are disappointed by NATOS’ performance in Afghanistan. On a wider point, what will Trump want the UK …[inaudible 42.21=42.23] What do you think that might mean for NATO’s efforts in eastern Europe if Trump put Syria first?
Sir Richard Shirreff:
I think I’d push back on disappointment with NATO in Afghanistan. Yes there was perhaps a gap between the challenge of finding the necessary force levels, but nevertheless actually, the ICAF [??] commission – for all the continuing challenges of Afghanistan, and the international community needs to remain there for some time in order to see this through – actually did what it said on the tin, and for an alliance of 28 nations with 22 partner nations to come up with a strategy at the Lisbon Summit in 2010, and then to implement that strategy sufficiently well. You know at least it was a 60 or 70% solution not necessarily 100%. To be able to hand over sovereignty and responsibility to the Afghans by the end of the ICAF commission notwithstanding the continued need for training and support I other ways, actually, is not a bad result. I think the question of Syria or Eastern Europe is an interesting one, because I think it highlights the extent to which we in the west tend to look at these in side-notes, whereas I’m sure that Mr Putin, who I do think has a strategy, sees it has all part of an overall strategy; to put Russia into a place where Russia is, in his view, once again respected as the great power and as the power broker. And he’s achieved that in Syria in spades. He’s the powerbroker in Syria, he’s marginalised the west and marginalised America, and if Mr Trump is to make America regain the ascendancy it’s going to take time and effort and again it has got to come from a position of strength. But I think in terms of prioritising, one is the case of containment of chaos, the other is the case of deterring potential catastrophe. For all the ghastliness of the Syrian civil war and the terrible suffering and humanitarian disaster and what we’ve seen with Aleppo and the impact of the refugee crisis and the impact of Daesh terrorism and the like. And this may sound pretty harsh but actually this is not an existential threat, whereas the potential for a miscalculation leading to war is existential. We would not be sitting here in Committee room 6 if there was a war with Russia, because Russia integrates nuclear weapons into every aspect of their military thinking. They practice, train and are prepared to use them. So I think the priority must be to establish security and effective deterrents but that doesn’t not mean – and I’m going to do a one hand on the other hand answer here – that does not mean that America should not seek to re-establish its relevance and its usefulness as a power-breaker in the Middle East as well.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
The gentleman here and then the young lady.
Seventh question, [name inaudible] Student, King’s College London:
My question is about economical sanctions. How would you assess their role in an attempt to change Russia’s behaviour and stop it?
Sir Richard Sherriff:
I think they’re the only weapon that could be used. I think they’re really important. But it’s a double edged weapon. And yes clearly they have had a significant impact on the Russian economy. Sanctions have always been a double edged weapon and there are plenty of examples though where they have worked and you could say the Iranian deal may well have been influenced by sanctions, I’m sure it was. But the concern of course is the weakening of the Russian economy which results from sanctions and from low oil prices. I think an economically weak Russia is an even more dangerous Russia because I think my concern would be that Mr Putin recognises that time is running out, that his position is in jeopardy. He needs to maintain high popularity ratings, the sort of popularity ratings we saw after Crimea, the sort of ratings we saw after the intervention in Syria. And at a time when the Russian population may well be finding life increasingly difficult, the concern is that he turns to the traditional remedy of an autocrat facing trouble at home, which is foreign interventions. But fundamentally I think, sanctions remain the one weapon that the West can continue to apply against Russia and to put the sort of pressure on in order to change mind-sets in Moscow and potentially open up possibilities that our other question highlighted about what’s going to change in attitudes.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
The young lady.
Eighth Question Sophie Rust
Sophie Rust, I work for a Human Rights NGO. My question is about whether dialogue with Russia is actually possible on both the military level and the legal level. On the military front seeing as they don’t clearly don’t’ respect ceasefires, is it possible to actually come to an agreement and actually trust what they say they will do? And on a legal level is it possible to talk to Russia on… [48.30-48.33 inaudible] when they can overrule ECHR judgements. [48.42-48.51 inaudible].
Sir Richard Shirreff:
It’s possible on both scores, whether it’s likely or not is a different matter. Mr Putin has ripped up the rule book which effectively underpinned international order and on which the post-Cold War order in Europe was based. And unless he’s prepared to recognise once again that rule book, it’s not likely but it is possible. On the Military side, again absolutely possible. And I think going back to my point about the lack of communication. Pre march 2014, the senior military in NATO were able to engage with and develop relationships with senior Russian military. I mean General Gerasimov came to my house in Belgium, I visited him in Moscow, and we were able to talk pretty frankly about some of the concerns and also the issues which bedevilled the Russian-NATO relationship, not least ballistic middle defence. That all stopped after 2014, which is a matter of concern, because as long as you are talking you can find ways to build relationships. If you’re not talking you don’t build relationships, you then end up with misunderstandings and miscalculations. Again possible, but it’s also the likelihood and the political challenge of it which makes it very difficult.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
Person at the back
Ninth Question. Sarah, Reuters:
Would you say that the Balkans could also be one of the most dangerous potential conflict reasons and perhaps Putin might want to stir up conflict based on the fact that he’s encouraging Serbia against Kosovo and was potentially behind the attempted coup in Montenegro?
Sir Richard Shirreff:
I wouldn’t really doubt it. Almost take Russian out of the equation and the Balkans, particularly Bosnia – I would say Bosnia is still in a… – the conflict was frozen by Dakin, but all the old animosities and issues are bubbling below the surface and we saw in 2013 with the outbreak of rioting and violence how very quickly things can flare up. And then add to that the potential advantages in strategic terms of Russia stirring things up, I think the potential is always there. And you mentioned Serbia, there is good news though, and the good news I would say is that fact that because of the magnet of the EU and some very effective negotiations by Paddy Ashdown backed up by Hilary Clinton, Serbia and Kosovo signed a comprehensive normalisation agreement which would have been unthinkable without the diplomatic and economic lure of the European Union. How that’s going I’m not sure, but the fact that the Balkans are not in the headlines is an indication actually that things are probably not in a bad state, but don’t just assume we are home and dry there because we are not.
Sir Gerald Howarth
I’m afraid that’s going to have to be the last question because we have to be out of the room by 1 and there are 4 minutes to go. Before I hand over to Lord Risby to give a formal vote of thanks may I just add something into the debate since NATO has been very much a focus of your comments General. I had a discussion with the Prime Minister a couple of days ago – we all know that she is heading to Washington as we speak – and NATO is very clearly high on the Prime Minister’s agenda and I think that that is very encouraging and I also think it is very encouraging that President Trump has appointed General Jim Mattis as his Defence Secretary – a man who has been completely unqualified in his support for NATO and he is a man who comes with a very strong military track record. If I may hand over to Lord Risby.
Well thank you. First of all can I, on behalf of everybody, thank the Henry Jackson Society once again. They’ve had about 6 events this week in parliament and they bring so many fascinating speakers here and it has again been a wonderful event and something that has been hugely stimulating and informative. I would just like to also add one other thing. We in this parliament do more with Ukraine by far than any other parliament on the planet. We’ve had a whole series of meetings this week including with Ukrainian parliamentarians, the head of the Friendship Group met Theresa May actually personally thanks to Sir Gerald. And this is absolutely our belief that we need to have a strong relationship with Ukraine, we are very keen to promote and encourage younger people involved in the life of Ukraine and this is something we are absolutely committed to. But may I just thank you for a number of reasons. First of all, the sheer clarity of your presentation. We see people – if I may say so – who come along and analyse the situation. You came up with some practical ideas, for example on non-lethal provision; hugely important. And you also so correctly said that in the end, if there is a genuine settlement – and it’s difficult to perceive it at his moment – with Russia on effective existence for Ukraine, of course this is so vital to the interests of Ukraine and its prosperity and its ability to attract investment which is crucial to the recovery of its economy. And I just think that as you also correctly said we have a new dynamic now in the form of a new President. And he will be looking at Russian in the context of the Middle East as well as Ukraine and of course what is so important is that at that crucial meeting which will take place between our Prime Minster and President Trump, the issue of Ukraine will be high on the agenda. But thank you and also for the British Ukrainian Aid operation, there’s more information in here, you don’t have to pay 5 pence either. But actually again the work that is done because the number of displaced people, the people who have suffered horrible injuries, all these things perhaps escape our notice and the fact that there is voluntary activity on so many levels. Thank you so much for a wonderful presentation, full on insight and just to remind us how important Ukraine is on the international stage. Thank you.