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Russia 'faces increased sanctions'

Relations with Vladimir Putin's Russia could be "prickly" for many years, Philip Hammond said as he warned that significant further sanctions could be imposed unless Moscow abided by the terms of the Ukraine ceasefire.

The Foreign Secretary said under Mr Putin Russia had moved from being a partner of the West to seeing Europe as an "adversary".

Mr Putin's view of Russia's influence over former Soviet states "puts him at odds" with the West, Mr Hammond said.

Tory MPs have used Moscow's sabre-rattling tactics of flying bombers close to UK airspace to warn against allowing defence spending to fall below the 2% of GDP target demanded by Nato.

Mr Hammond, a former defence secretary, insisted the UK was committed to the target and Mr Cameron had "led the charge" for Nato members to meet it, but acknowledged there were "very difficult decisions" to be made on public spending.

On BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hammond warned that further aggression by Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine would trigger an escalation in the sanctions regime.

"We have all made clear that if there is a big assault, for example on Mariupol, that will be responded to with a significant increase in the economic pressure on Russia from the EU," he said.

Asked if that could trigger a new Cold War he said: "I don't want to talk about cold wars, but we are clear that Russia has decided, it has made the decision that it wants to be in a strategic competition with the West, with Europe.

"It doesn't any longer see us as partners, it sees us as competitors or even adversaries and that means that we are going to have a difficult, prickly relationship with Russia probably for some time to come."

"We don't think there can be a military resolution to this crisis. The disparity between the size of the Ukrainian armed forces and the Russian armed forces doesn't make that a sensible way to go.

"We have to insist that the rules-based system which says very clearly that you can't change international boundaries by force, is protected."

Although Mr Hammond said it was clear that "we are not going to fight the Russians in Ukraine", the UK was providing support to Kiev.

"We are providing training, we are providing technical support, we provide them with non-lethal equipment," he said.

"We have said that we will keep this under review."

He said that under the peace plan agreed in Minsk, Moscow has committed to handing back control of all of Ukraine's territory, including the border with Russia, by the end of this year.

"We have to hold them to that. If that doesn't happen Russia can expect the temperature to be turned up significantly," he said.

He stressed that there was a "hard red line" protecting Nato's Baltic members from Russian incursions, with the option of invoking the alliance's measure allowing for collective defence: "Mr Putin knows that very well and that is what protects the Baltic states."

Mr Hammond claimed the Russian president believed he had "some kind of strategic veto" over the freedom of action of former Soviet states.

"That puts him, frankly, at odds with our view of the post-Soviet settlement in Europe," the Foreign Secretary said.

Pressed on the Nato 2% spending target, Mr Hammond said: "I can't tell you what will be in the Conservative manifesto, but you will find out soon enough, and I can't prejudge the outcome of the security and defence review and the spending review that will take place after the next election.

"But David Cameron led the charge on the Nato 2% commitment at the summit in Wales last year."

Mr Hammond dismissed speculation about his own political ambitions, saying it was "absolutely not" true to suggest he saw himself as a future prime minister.

He insisted he wanted Mr Cameron to walk through the door of Number 10 after the election, without the support of his "little helper" Nick Clegg.

He said: "My campaign is to get David Cameron re-elected on May 8, be standing on the doorstep at Number 10 Downing Street, this time without his little helper standing next to him."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell called for a cross-party agreement on meeting the 2% defence spending target.

Sir Menzies, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said: "If ever there was a time to put party differences aside on defence, it is now.

"I would support an agreement between the three main parties to commit to the maintenance of the UK defence budget at the Nato target of 2% of GDP."

He suggested that other European nations would also have to increase their defence spending to meet their Nato obligations.

"Europe has dined out on the overgenerous contribution to its defence by the USA. We can't expect that to go on forever," he said.

"It's time to recognise our own responsibilities."


From Belfast Telegraph