General Nick Carter, Britain's top military officer, has said over the weekend western powers were closer to war with Russia than at any other point since the end of the Cold War.
Carter explained the new era of a 'multipolar world', where governments compete for different objectives and agendas, was creating greater tensions as troops keep lining up along the borders of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus.
“I think we have to be careful that people don't end up allowing the bellicose nature of some of our politics to end up in a position where escalation leads to miscalculation,” Carter said in a radio interview.
Tensions have been mounting after the European Union accused Belarus of flying in thousands of migrants to engineer a humanitarian crisis on its border with Poland, a dispute that threatens to draw in Russia and NATO.
General Carter said authoritarian rivals were willing to use any tool at their disposal, such as migrants, surging gas prices, proxy forces or cyber-attacks.
Carter also warned that the diplomatic resources from the Cold War era were no longer available in a world with US, Russia and China vying for military supremacy.
In the current European scenario, Britain is to deploy a 600-strong task force to Ukraine, while US officials have warned last week that Russia may be plotting an imminent invasion of Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin has said Russia had nothing to do with the crisis on close ally Belarus's border after being accused of stoking the unfolding migrant crisis with Poland. Putin also said NATO drills in the Black Sea posed a serious challenge for Moscow.
Britain is also sending military engineers to Poland to help secure the situation, it was reported.
During the Cold War, the world was divided into the United States against the Soviet Union competing for global hegemony. Or capitalism against communism. It was followed by a unipolar era throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, in which the US-dominated the international arena.
This is a classic case of the sort of hybrid playbook where you link disinformation to destabilisation, General Carter said. The idea of pushing migrants onto the European Union's borders is a classic example of that sort of thing, he added.
Sir Nick added that Britain stands behind Poland in the situation - which remains tense as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has reportedly demanded Russia send nuke-capable missiles, while Putin is feared to be planning an invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has been believed to have been plotting further land grabs from the former Soviet-state turned Western ally ever since it illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. If you look at the two things together, trouble up north-west and around Ukraine, it is a classic example of perhaps a bit of distraction going on, the British general said.
We have to be on our guard and make sure deterrence prevails, but critically we have to make sure there is unity in the NATO alliance and that we don't allow any gaps to occur in our collective position,” he added.
I think the security of the euro Atlantic area is worse than it was when I started as a chief 8 years ago,” he stressed.
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