I suspect Rishi Sunak is regretting bringing back Lord Cameron and making him Foreign Secretary - Patrick Mercer

I suspect Rishi Sunak regrets saving Lord Cameron from the doldrums and making him Foreign Secretary. Now, as the end of Conservative rule can be measured in weeks, there’s not much time for their ministers to strut their stuff, to make their mark as the dark clouds of opposition roll in and none seems keener to wield the last vestiges of power than our erstwhile Prime Minister.

The trouble is, with the Middle East in uproar, China flexing her muscles and the running sore of Ukraine looking ever more menacing, the last thing we need is loose-lipped jingoism. And that’s exactly what we’ve just had from Lord Cameron.

Currently, a very tense nexus of events hangs over Ukraine and Russia. Last Tuesday President Putin was confirmed in what will probably be his last term in office. Then, on Thursday, the celebrations of the USSR’s triumph over the Nazis took centre stage, with both events set against a succession of Russian advances in the Donbas yet countered by the news that $61bn of US aid had been unjammed in Congress. Add to the mix suggestions that US and French troops might be sent to help Kiev should a battlefield collapse be imminent and the fact that 100,000 NATO troops are now massed in Poland and it’s fair to say that the mood is febrile.

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To turn the screw a little further, Russia has announced a sudden exercise of her tactical, nuclear forces as a clear response to what the Kremlin’s describing as ‘Western aggression’, no small part of which are due to the utterances of Lord Cameron. The issue revolves around long range, Western missiles being sent to Ukraine - which has been going on for some time, but always caveated by the statement that Kiev must not use such weapons to strike the Russian mainland. Until now it was understood that such an act would probably cause a direct riposte against NATO troops or territory which might cause an escalation into all out war. In other words, poke the bear, but don’t poke her in her den as things might get ugly.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron walks past a display of destroyed Russian military vehicles in Saint Michael's Square during his visit to Kyiv in Ukraine. PIC: Thomas Peter/PA WireForeign Secretary Lord David Cameron walks past a display of destroyed Russian military vehicles in Saint Michael's Square during his visit to Kyiv in Ukraine. PIC: Thomas Peter/PA Wire
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron walks past a display of destroyed Russian military vehicles in Saint Michael's Square during his visit to Kyiv in Ukraine. PIC: Thomas Peter/PA Wire

With this maxim in mind, Germany has been particularly cautious about the use of her Taurus missile, but it’s the latest trance of British Storm Shadow cruise missiles which is causing greater consternation. They’ve been very effective in the past, especially against targets in the Crimea, but last week Lord Cameron said that Ukraine “has the right” to use such weapons “deep inside Russia”, apparently marking a distinct policy change. But, I wonder if he really understood what he was saying, whether he’d cleared it with the Prime Minister and consulted the Defence Secretary: I bet he hadn’t.

That was followed by a pause whilst the Kremlin weighed these words, then the answer came back loud and clear: Russia could “…strike British military installations and equipment both inside and beyond Ukraine if British weapons are used by Kyiv to attack our territory.”

This marks a frightening escalation as Moscow clearly means that British targets can now be attacked on NATO territory - convoys crossing Poland, for instance - or even on our own soil. What might that mean? The missile factories in Filton, Bolton and Stevenage are easy to locate, as are the US airbases in East Anglia from where much materiel is flown to Poland before going to Ukraine. Or what about our nuclear submarines at Faslane, the Foreign Secretary’s mansion in Kent or even 10 Downing Street? The targets are endless and they’re all deeply vulnerable.

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You see, when Lord Cameron was PM the emasculation of our defences really got into its stride.

We now have no airborne early warning system, no ground launched anti-missile missile system and woefully few fighters at instant readiness to deal with hostile aircraft, drones or the slower types of cruise missile. In short, we have little of the layered defence which Israel deployed recently to protect herself from a shower of flying nasties sent by Iran.

And it gets worse. Russia is now using a new generation of hypersonic missiles which are simply too fast to be intercepted by any of the ancient kit upon which we rely. An aircraft from Kaliningrad could launch a powerful, conventional, Kinzhal missile which would cause surgical devastation wherever it was directed to land - and we could do nothing about it: zilch.

I doubt that Moscow would be so unsubtle, though. Yes, she’ll make much of her Cold War era nukes, trundle them about a bit and signal that she might unleash a Kinzhal or two, but why would she risk devastating retaliation when she’s got much more sinister levers to pull?

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In March a Ukrainian owned logistics firm with branches in both London and Spain was hit by serious fires which led to an individual being charged with offences that included ‘assisting a foreign intelligence service’. Similar arrests have occurred in Bavaria whilst in the US there are concerns that the rash of fires and collisions which have beset railroads across the country in the last eighteen months are carefully coordinated.

It’s not as if we haven’t had a taste before of how Russia might conduct herself: remember the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury in 2018 and that was even before open hostilities started between our two countries.

Patrick Mercer is a former MP for Newark and Army colonel.

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