Vladimir Putin is gearing up for a ‘hot war’ he doesn’t want – but will not back down if he provoked over Syria, Britain’s former ambassador to Moscow has warned.
Sir Anthony Brenton insists relations between the Kremlin and the West are ‘the most dangerous’ he has ever seen amid heightened tensions over the country’s bombing campaign in Syria. While Russia ‘means business’ having sent warships past British shores and displayed its military might, Moscow is ‘weak’ and does not want a war, Sir Anthony said.
In an exclusive opinion piece for the Daily Mirror, he said it is ‘close to impossible’ for Russia to back down because the ‘loss of face would almost certainly be the end of Putin’.
There has been weeks of posturing between Russia and the West with both sides trading accusations over the brutal civil war in Syria.
Today Russia sent the naval destroyer Smetlivy to Syria to join its fleet their for the coming months. The heavily armed ship left the Crimean port of Sevastopol to great fanfare en route to Syria via Greece to take part in a festival. And Sir Anthony added: ‘If we act on Syria in any way that could escalate to a Russian attack, they are signalling as clearly as they can that they would retaliate.’
However, he said that while the situation was dangerous, Russia is also ‘weak’, spending far less on its military than the West. He added: ‘They do not want war. They would lose. These shows of strength are not an intention to fight, but a signal that fighting must be avoided.’
Sir Anthony, who was British ambassador to Moscow between 2004 and 2008, suggested Russia and the West needed to respect each other’s ‘vital interests’ and said the two parties had managed to pull back from disaster during the Cold War. Britain this week announced plans to send 800 troops to Estonia at its border with Russia.