Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon put it in a nutshell: “I very much doubt whether the UK could sustain a shooting war against Russia.”
Air Commodore Andrew Lambert concurs: “If the Russians turned up the heat, we would struggle badly.”
No wonder. Since 2010 HMG has cut £4.7 billion out of the defence budget, along with 33,000 servicemen and hundreds of warplanes, warships and tanks. The numerical strength of our army is now down to the levels of the early 19th century.
Our solitary carrier has no planes on it, and we are down to 17 surface ships. The two carriers under construction will be useless pieces of metal if, and it’s a big if, they ever sail. We’ll have neither the planes to put on them nor the escort ships to turn them into carrier battle groups.
Britannia not only doesn’t rule the waves any longer – she can’t even make them.
Moreover, according to some expert reports, the Russians’ new tracking systems can more or less nullify our Trident deterrent, which is our sole hope of giving the Russians second thoughts.
The number of our fighter squadrons has been cut from 26 to seven, and the other day, when Russian nuclear planes buzzed just off the coast of Cornwall, our two Typhoons had to be scrambled from a Lincolnshire (!) base to intercept them.
If the Russian mission was launched to test the rapidity of our response, whoever runs the Russian air force must a have a broad grin on his face.
Those who know what they are talking about reacted to this Russian provocation in a way that’s in worrying contrast to the response of those who haven’t a clue, namely Dave.
We shouldn’t, he said, “dignify it with too much of a response… this episode demonstrates that we do have the fast jets, the pilots, the systems…”
We know we have those things, Dave, but thanks for telling us. We also know we don’t have enough of them to defend the realm against the Russian threat, which our Defence Secretary considers “real and present”.
If HMG abandoned its maniacal commitment to foreign aid, our defence budget could be increased by 40 per cent without any additional appropriations. But, especially in this election year, Dave has to be seen to perform within the culture of care, share, be aware. This takes priority over defence of the realm, which is after all the main function of government.
It has to be said though that, compared to Germany, the UK is a thoroughly militarised, sabre-rattling, testosterone-driven power. Germany’s armed forces are down to 63,000 personnel in active service, while her arsenal is hopelessly outdated and short of even spare parts.
As always, such gross negligence on the part of Western powers is rooted in ignorance, stupidity and chronic inability to think strategically.
This was pointed out yesterday, in slightly more diplomatic terms, by the House of Lords EU committee.
Its report says that Europe has “sleepwalked” into the Ukraine crisis. There is a chronic shortage of Russian experts at the Foreign Office, claims the report. Thus we suffer from a vastly curtailed analytical capacity and a compromised ability to formulate an “authoritative response” to the crisis.
I’m not sure that Britain’s analytical capacity would be tangibly heightened by adding more bureaucrats to our already bloated public sector.
However, the report correctly attributes the looming catastrophe to the fact that Europe has proceeded for too long from the “optimistic premise” that Russia is on the road to democracy, moral goodness and Christian probity.
I seldom blow my own trumpet but in this case I find indulging in this kind of musicianship impossible to resist. For, as those who’ve kept the back copies of The Salisbury Review can find out, I’ve been writing for 25 years that the Russian leopard still has all its spots in place.
Being rather bloody-minded by nature, I persisted in screaming that all those glasnosts and perestroikas were fundamentally bogus, a stratagem to achieve the same ends by different, more flexible means. Sooner or later, the flexibility was bound to disappear, while the evil ends would take over openly, rather than surreptitiously.
Some readers agreed, but most felt that I had an axe to grind, a chip on my shoulder and no objectivity, a faculty that’s an exclusive property of those blessed with ‘an open mind’ (another word for ignorance).
I don’t claim any unique insights or an uncanny analytical ability. Every educated ex-Russian of my acquaintance knew what was going on as well as I did, and some of them wrote exactly the same things.
The trouble was that we wrote for small journals whose readership numbered in thousands, whereas the perestroika groupies wrote for mainstream publications with millions of readers.
Why, even now, when Russia’s evil designs have been laid bare for all to see, Peter Hitchens still knocks off his pro-Putin drivel for The Mail, our most conservative paper.
Most pundits, however, have now seen the light with the unrivalled acuity of hindsight. So, as the Lords report suggests, have some of the politicians.
Let’s just pray that it isn’t too late for this newly acquired vision to be translated into appropriate action. Personally, I am not holding my breath.