UK: Putin as big a threat to Europe as Islamic State warns defence chief

A pro-Russian rebel takes a ribbon from his arm in Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine on Thursday. The ribbons are used as a form of identification. Peter Leonard/AP

PRESIDENT Putin poses a “real and present danger” to the Baltic states and Nato is getting ready to respond to any aggression, Britain’s defence secretary has warned.

Michael Fallon said that the Russian leader was as much of a threat to Europe as Islamic State.

Using some of the toughest language of any senior British minister towards Russia since the crisis over Ukraine erupted a year ago, Mr Fallon added that Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia could be in the firing line.

His remarks came as pro-Russian separatists overran an eastern Ukrainian town in defiance of a ceasefire.

Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers were fleeing Debaltseve yesterday under shellfire, many abandoning their vehicles and weapons as they made their way across frozen fields to the nearest government-held town 25 miles away. The town is a crucial railway and road junction linking the two self-proclaimed separatist republics.

Russian state television showed the rebels hoisting the flag of Novorossiya (New Russia) over a tall building in Debaltseve and captured Ukrainian troops being escorted away. The rebels launched their final assault on the town hours after Sunday’s ceasefire came into effect.

Asked whether Britain and its allies were ready for war with Moscow, Mr Fallon said: “Nato has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia whatever form it takes. Nato is getting ready”…

Excerpt from op-ed in The Financial Times, Feb 2, 2015 (based in London):

There are three crises afflicting Europe. Two are on the borders of the EU: a warlike Russia and an imploding Middle East. The third emergency is taking place inside the EU itself — where political, economic and diplomatic tensions are mounting.

The past month has seen all three crises facing Europe intensify. The terrorist attacks in Paris heightened fears about the potential spillover of violence and religious tensions from the Middle East. Russian-backed separatists have renewed their offensive in Ukraine. And Syriza’s victory in Greece means that — for the first time since the euro crisis broke out — a radical left party has won an election in an EU country.

The problems in Russia, the Middle East and the eurozone have very different roots. But, as they worsen, they are beginning to feed on each other…

[T]he current atmosphere in the continent is as unstable and unpredictable as anything that I can remember in my adult lifetime.

Related, from today: Britain Says It Sent Warplanes to Intercept Russian Bombers Off Cornwall