Britain must build up its military to counter Russian aggression, Gavin Williamson warned today.
The Defence Secretary said Vladimir Putin was ‘challenging us in every domain’ and the threat was the highest since the Cold War.
He highlighted dozens of incursions by Russian fighter jets and ships that the RAF and Navy have needed to respond to.
The chilling warning comes as Mr Williamson wrestles with the Treasury to secure more funding for the armed forces.
In a dramatic intervention yesterday, he raised the spectre of nuclear war – saying the UK could have to deploy Trident if its conventional forces were not strong enough.
In an article for the Express today, Mr Williamson spelled out his fears that ‘old threats are returning to haunt us’.
‘Resurgent states such as Putin’s Russia are increasingly assertive. The Kremlin continues to challenge us in every domain,’ he said.
‘In less than a decade the RAF has been scrambled 58 times to respond to Russian military aircraft.
‘In 2010 the Royal Navy was called on just once to respond to Russian navy ships approaching UK territorial waters. Last year, that number had rocketed to 33.’
Mr Williamson said Russian activity had increased ten-fold in the North Atlantic to ‘a level not seen since the end of the Cold War’.
‘Along the way, Russia has turned a blind eye to chemical carnage in Syria while using cyber attacks to disrupt governments and undermine democracy,’ he said.
‘We have to adapt to meet the intensifying threat. So we’re making sure our Armed Forces have all the equipment and support they need to keep our nation safe whether in cyberspace, on land, in the air or at sea.’
In comments aimed at Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday, Mr Williamson said funding for defence was about ‘making sure things do not happen’.
He said if the UK did not have an effective army, air force and navy the country might have to ‘turn to the greatest deterrence of them all’.
The Royal United Services Institute Sea Power Conference in London, Mr Williamson said: ‘You do not want to be in a position where your only deterrence against threat and against aggressors is a nuclear deterrence.
‘We have got to talk about deterrence being full-spectrum, right across the board.
‘It is sometimes difficult to explain to people that actually investing in our armed forces is all about making sure that things do not happen.
‘It is about aircraft carriers, it is about a presence in the Pacific, it is a presence in the North Atlantic, it is a presence in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf with conventional frigates and destroyers that are able to say that Britain is interested, Britain cares, Britain will protect our interests and our values.
‘If we do not have that conventional deterrence and the ability to deter through conventional forces, then what we will find ourselves in is a place that none of us wish to be in and having to turn to the greatest deterrence of them all.’