FORMER defence secretary Liam Fox has called for the arming of the Ukraine as fears grow over the threat of Russian expansionism in Eastern Europe.
The senior Scottish Tory backbencher, who has become a focal point for right wing discontent over Prime Minister David Cameron’s leadership, also sent a shot across the bows over possible defence cuts in the Budget.
In a broadcast interview he sent Chancellor George Osborne a start message that defence cuts “would not be accepted” by the Tories adding the UK and her allies are “one miscalculation” away from having to directly intervene to protect a Nato member from Russian aggressions.
Speaking to the Sunday Politics Show on a visit to Washington where the US is discussing arming the Ukrainian government, Dr Fox said he supported the move which would intensify hostilities with president Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia.
He said: “It [arming the Ukrainian government] is certainly something that’s being considered and it’s something that I’ve been supporting because I think giving the Ukrainians the ability to defend their homeland against a very well armed aggressor is a moral duty we should be willing to accept.
“Because I think if you turn that round and you say as some of the former Nato generals have said, we can’t give the Ukrainians the equipment they need to defend themselves from Russia because that would exacerbate the situation. That in fact is a bully’s charter. That’s what happened in the 1930s.”
His comments come amid speculation that Mr Osborne will take UK defence spending below the two per cent of GDP threshold set as a minimum. But such a move, Dr Fox warned, could lead to a backbench rebellion among Tory MPs. He said: “Well I think this would be a political problem inside the Conservative Party because I think that people feel that the government’s first duty is the protection of the United Kingdom and its citizens.
“We have to do what we need to make that happen and I think that we have a commitment to Nato as part of our international treaty obligations to spend that two per cent.
“I think to say that we were willing to guarantee a proportion of GDP for international aid, but not willing to implement our commitments in terms of defence, I think a lot of Conservatives would find that very difficult to swallow.”
And he warned that the UK and her Nato allies were close to a possible conflict with Russia as concerns about the safety of the Baltic states increase.
He said: “What is happening at the moment for example with Putin’s Russia is really only one miscalculation away from potentially creating an Article 5 crisis that brings conflict to the European continent.”
He pointed out that under the plans he and the Prime Minister agreed in 2010 defence spending should be set to go up.
And he highlighted the replacement of maritime surveillance as an essential gap that needs filling with extra funding following his decision to cancel the Nimrod replacement which was due to be based at RAF Kinloss in Moray.
He said: “We set out very clearly some of the gaps that needed to filled. For example, maritime surveillance which the military experts at the time said we could gap until 2014-15, but to gap beyond them would not be advisable in terms of security risk.”
He also raised concerns that the UK’s more cautious approach and reductions in defence spending were undermining relations with the USA.