Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has warned there can be no return to “business as usual” with Russia, amid reports that Moscow has been arming the Taleban in Afghanistan.
At a joint news conference following talks in London, US defence secretary General James Mattis said Russian activities in Afghanistan were a cause of “concern”.
“We have seen Russian activity vis a vis the Taleban. I am not going to say at this point if that is manifested in the weapons and that sort of thing,” he said. “But certainly what they are up to there in the light of their other activities gives us concern.”
His comments follow a recent warning by Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, that Russia’s influence on the Taleban insurgents was growing.
Sir Michael said there was a “persistent pattern” of Russian interference in other countries - including military build-ups and the use of cyber and other so-called “hybrid” techniques - which had to be resisted.
He said Nato’s enhanced military presence in Eastern Europe - including 800 British troops stationed in Estonia - would be maintained for “as long as is needed” to deter Russian aggression.
“We want to see that presence as persistent as the threat it is designed to deal with to reassure those allies on our eastern flank and to deter the kind of Russian aggression that we have seen recently,” he said.
“There is a pattern of interference by Russia in the different parts of the world that leads us, when we engage with Russia, to be wary of what Russia is up to. That is why there cannot be a return to business as usual with Russia.
“We need to be extremely watchful of this persistent pattern of Russian interference.”
Their meeting came as Britain and the US combined to step up the pressure on other Nato members to take on a greater share of the costs of collective defence.
At a meeting of alliance foreign ministers in Brussels, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said they needed to set out plans to meet the target of spending 2 per cent of the GDP on defence by the time President Donald Trump meets other Nato leaders in May.
“Our goal should be to agree at the May leaders’ meeting that by the end of the year all allies will have either met the pledge guidelines or will have developed plans that clearly articulate how, with annual milestone progress commitments, the pledge will be fulfilled,” he said.
His comments were echoed in London by Sir Michael, who said: “Others must now raise their game and those failing to meet the 2 per cent commitment so far should at least agree to year-on-year real-terms increases.”