The fraught relationship between Russia and the West, which was supposed to improve following an agreement over Ukraine, has descended instead into renewed acrimony after a series of tense military and diplomatic confrontations.
France and Germany, which had brokered the Minsk accord last week, were yesterday trying to hold together the increasingly fragile ceasefire in Ukraine amid reports that fighting was spreading once again. Kremlin-backed separatists and Cossack fighters triumphantly paraded through the shattered town of Debaltseve, a strategic point they had captured in the past 48 hours.
Britain, which along with the EU will be strongly criticised by a House of Lords committee today for “sleep-walking into this crisis”, was drawn towards centre-stage after two Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Cornwall – but just outside UK airspace – were met by RAF jets scrambled from their base in Coningsby, Lincolnshire.
The apparent probe of British readiness came soon after the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, accused President Vladimir Putin of trying to extend his campaign of destabilisation to the Baltic countries. The Russian leader, he said, presented as much of a threat to Europe as Isis.
David Cameron said Moscow was trying to make “some sort of point” by its repeated deployment of planes close to British airspace, adding: “I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response.”
Russia reacted with fury at Mr Fallon’s remarks, however. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Lukashevich declared that his comments were “already beyond diplomatic ethics”, adding: “The characterisation of Russia is completely intolerable. We will find a way to respond to the comments.”
But Mr Fallon received support at home and abroad for his warning on Moscow’s intentions. Valdis Dombrovskis, the vice-president of the European Commission, and a former Prime Minister of Latvia, said: “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is very worrying for Baltic states. It shows that Russia is looking to redraw Europe’s 21st-century borders by force, and it must be noted that Ukraine is not the first country to face Russian aggression.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said: “Russia is behaving aggressively now as we speak. I really do see threats to all countries, If we fail to act now to what’s happening in Ukraine, there will be a big temptation [for Russia] to further instigate situations elsewhere.”
SOURCE: The Independent