The Defence Secretary said Allies must “prepare for the worst” in crunch diplomatic talks with Russia as he vowed that Britain would “stand up to bullies” amid fears of an invasion into Ukraine.
Ben Wallace, speaking at an event to mark the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, said distance should “not deter Britain” from seeking to “defend those who cannot defend themselves” as the West confronts Russia over its “aggression” towards its neighbour.
On Monday, there appeared to be no progress during high-stakes talks in Geneva between US and Russian diplomats as the pair locked horns over Ukraine and other security issues.
There has been a Russian military build-up of tens of thousands of troops massing near the border with Ukraine, with the talks between Washington and Moscow aimed at defusing the crisis before it escalates into a full-blown military conflict.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov insisted Moscow had “no intention to invade Ukraine” but Mr Wallace said there continued to be “concern” about the Kremlin’s behaviour.
Issuing a warning to Russian president Vladimir Putin, the former Scots Guards captain said history was “littered with the consequences of those who underestimated this small island” as he suggested the UK would not flinch from the “scale of the challenge” in eastern Europe.
Mr Wallace said: “Everyone is aware of the events in Europe this week, and earlier I updated the House on our concern about Russia’s ongoing aggression towards Ukraine and simplistic efforts to distract attention with false claims and narrative about Nato expansionism.
“So, while we are hopeful of the best outcomes of this week’s diplomatic efforts, we should not be overly optimistic and prepare for the worst.
“The parallels with 40 years ago barely need articulating but for me the most valuable are the threats to our country, our people, our allies and our territory come from any direction and at any time.
“We must always be ready and we must always invest in our armed forces over the long-term.
“Our enemies should not doubt Britain’s determination to stand up to bullies, to defend those who cannot defend themselves and for our values.
“Distance should not deter Britain, nor will the scale of the challenge, and history is littered with the consequences of those who underestimated this small island.”
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) also urged Russia to “stop its acts of aggression”, repeating its warning of “severe costs” for any invasion of Ukraine.
A spokesman for the department said: “The UK is working closely with our allies and partners, including the US, to make clear to Russia that we will not accept its campaign to subvert its democratic neighbours.
“Russia must stop its acts of aggression and pursue a path of diplomacy.
“We are united with our allies and partners in condemning Russia’s threatening behaviour and we will hold Russia to its Helsinki, Budapest and Minsk commitments.
“Any military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs.
“At the Nato-Russia Council on Wednesday the UK, along with our allies, will tell Russia that its military build-up on Ukraine’s borders is utterly unacceptable.”