Nato war with Russia next year not likely, says Sir Michael Fallon
Fears that Russia and Nato are on a collision course for war next year have been dismissed by Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon.
Sir Michael insisted that a hot conflict with Moscow was not likely in 2017, as he gave evidence to the Commons Defence Committee.
Pressed about warnings by former Nato deputy allied commander in Europe, General Sir Richard Shirreff, that the plot of his novel 2017 War With Russia was plausible, Sir Michael said that was an extreme view.
"Well, there are a lot of people writing books and trying to sell them, and his is a very good one. However, I don't agree that war with Russia is likely next year. I think that is too extreme.
"We have seen much greater Russian aggression this year, and in previous years, in terms of long-range aviation, in terms of submarine activity, and the carrier task group that sailed through our waters, the role of Russia in Syria, and elsewhere. But I don't think that presages an open conflict next year.
"And I hope that General Shirreff would - and I think he does this - recognise that Nato is now responding. So, Nato is waking up to the challenge," Sir Michael said.
The Defence Secretary insisted the decision to send 800 British troops to Estonia next year was intended to create an "earlier tripwire" and act as a deterrent against possible aggression.
"The whole point of forward deployment to Estonia is to arrange, if you like, an earlier tripwire so the force there doesn't have to wait for tension to escalate. The force will be there from next spring in any event, in all three of the Baltic states. It's partly reassurance, but it's also deterrence - to make it very clear to any potential aggressor that Nato is ready to respond."
Sir Michael also used his appearance before the committee to announce plans to invest £1.1 billion in new accommodation for service personnel and their families by 2020.
The move will see 2,600 extra bed spaces created, and bring 200 jobs to south-west England, Sir Michael said.
He said: "Our armed forces deserve facilities and housing that match the need of this generation.
"We're committed to delivering a better defence estate, ensuring our armed forces are properly supported and provided for.
"With our defence budget secure and rising to 2020, we can now properly invest in our soldiers, their families and communities."
The move will see significant investment in the Salisbury Plain and Aldershot areas, with new and improved technical, office, catering, retail and leisure facilities included in the Project Allenby Connaught initiative.
The construction programme is scheduled for completion by 2020, meaning all British Army units based in Germany can return to the UK by then, resulting in savings of up to £240 million per year by 2022/23, Sir Michael said.
Asked if Britain would have the army capability for any war with Russia in 2018, or 2019, Sir Michael said: "Yes, we would be ready to increase the tempo in that kind of situation, which I don't immediately foresee.
"And, of course, we will not be doing this on our own. We will be doing this as an active member of Nato, and presumably in some kind of Nato scenario."