Dr Julian Lewis: Near the end of the Second World War, the Joint Intelligence Sub-committee of the British Chiefs of Staff, as it was then, produced a report entitled “Relations with the Russians”. From years of experience of working with Russia against the Nazis, the JIC concluded that Russia would respect only strength as the basis for any future relationship. That mirrored Lord Palmerston’s view of almost a century earlier:
“The policy and practice of the Russian Government has always been to push forward its encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go, but always to stop and retire when it met with decided resistance and then to wait for the next favourable opportunity.”
Not much has changed. Alexander Litvinenko died in London on 23 November 2006. Four days later, the BBC News website published an article headed “Russia law on killing ‘extremists’ abroad”. It is worth quoting it for the record:
“A new Russian law, adopted earlier in the year, formally permits the extrajudicial killings abroad of those Moscow accuses of ‘extremism’ ... In July, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament – the Federation Council – approved a law which permits the Russian president to use the country’s armed forces and special services outside Russia’s borders to combat terrorism and extremism.
At the same time, amendments to several other laws, governing the security services, mass media and communications, were adopted.
The overall result was to dramatically expand those defined as terrorist or extremist.
Along with those seeking to overthrow the Russian Government, the term is also applied to ‘those causing mass disturbances, committing hooliganism or acts of vandalism’.
Much more controversially, the law also defines ‘those slandering the individual occupying the post of President of the Russian Federation’ as extremists”,
so those who insult the President of Russia can legally be killed overseas according to this law. The BBC report concluded that
“the Russian law is very specific in that it permits the President – alone, and apparently without consultation – to take such a decision”,
so at least one hon. Member will not be on Vladimir Putin’s Christmas card list after his speech today.
If anyone had doubts about Russia’s responsibility for the Salisbury poisonings, its contemptuous failure to respond to the Prime Minister’s 24-hour deadline should swiftly have dispelled them. An innocent regime would have rushed to explain how a nerve agent that only it produced could have been acquired and employed by anyone else. We should also have been spared sarcastic suggestions in the Russian media that the United Kingdom was an unsafe place for “traitors” to settle, as well as the ludicrous claim that we ourselves were behind the attack. That was a charge straight from the playbook of those who blame the Jews for 9/11 and US intelligence for the Kennedy assassination.
Vladimir Putin is a product of the KGB schooled in the suppression of captive countries, steeped in the culture of communist domination and filled with regret that the Soviet empire imploded. According to him, its break-up was the greatest disaster of the 20th century – a revealing and curious choice when compared with the millions killed in two World
Wars, the Russian Civil War, the forced collectivisations, the mass deportations and the hell of the gulag.
Until the Bolshevik Revolution, there was some chance of Russia evolving along democratic lines, but then the cancer of Marxism-Leninism gave psychopaths and dictators their ideological excuse to seize total control. Their opponents were denounced as enemies of the people and put, or worked, to death with no semblance of due process. Now the ideology has gone, but the ruthless mindset remains. Russian leaders no longer claim to be building a Workers’ Paradise, but they still believe that Western capitalists will sell them the rope with which to be hanged.
For 40 years from 1949, two factors ensured the containment of Russia and the maintenance of peace: the deterrent power of Western nuclear weapons; and the collective security provided by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. No longer could an aggressor attack small European states without the Americans immediately entering the war. Yet such preparedness did not come cheaply. In the early 1960s, UK defence spending accounted for 6% of our GDP – the same percentage as welfare. The current welfare budget is six times the size of the defence budget. In the mid-1980s, defence constituted 5% of our GDP – the same percentage as education and health. The current education and health budgets are respectively two-and-a-half and four times the size of the defence budget. In the changed strategic situation, this downgrading of defence cannot be allowed to continue.
Since 2016, the Defence Committee has been making the case for a defence budget target of 3% of GDP, which is what it used to be in the mid-1990s, even after the cuts following the collapse of the Soviet empire and the end of the Cold War. The former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), has called for a 2.5% target by the end of this Parliamentary term. His successor is squaring up for a battle with the Treasury, and that fight has to be won for the safety of us all and for the security of our country.
Sir Edward Leigh: Does my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Committee think that the way to defeat a modern Russia is the same as the way in which we defeated the USSR? Reagan crushed the USSR’s economy through what was in effect an arms race between a strong and vibrant American economy and a weak Russian one. Does my right hon. Friend think that that could be a way forward?
Dr Lewis: I would certainly say that it is part of a way forward.
I will use the generous extra minute that I have been given to say that I am a little concerned about the fact that while the Government are right to recognise the existence of new threats, such as cyber threats, digital threats and intensified propaganda threats, including through the abuse of social media, and that we will need to devote resources to meet those new threats, that does not mean that the old threats or the old remedies to them have gone away. I do not like the conflation of national security budgets with defence budgets because that means that if we add more to the national security budget, we have to take more away from the defence budget, unless we listen to the warning from my right hon. Friend the former Defence Secretary, among others, that spending 2% of GDP on defence is not enough.
In my last few seconds, I cannot resist appealing once again to the Foreign Secretary – I am pleased to see him back on the Front Bench to hear my speech – to save the BBC Monitoring service at Caversham, which we are supposed to be going to visit. It costs £25 million year to keep it going, but it is going to be decimated and absorbed into a wider system that will not be as effective as the dedicated teams at Caversham. If it was true before that we need to save it, it is even more true now, after all that has happened in recent days.