UK Navy Chief: 'John Kerry Didn't Understand Crimean History'

The former Chief of the UK Naval Staff, Lord West of Spithead, has said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not understand the history of Crimea before speaking out on the issue, and that the European Union was guilty of encouraging Ukrainians without being able to offer a solution to their domestic problems.

Speaking on the BBC's Daily Politics show, Admiral Alan West, Baron West of Spithead – who was also Britain's minister of state for Counter-Terrorism and Security between 2007-10 – said that if Russia breached article five of NATO's founding treaty it would "mean war". 

"John Kerry and other people made some statements without really understanding the history of Crimea," he said. 

"Sevastopol is a Russian town. I have been there several times. If there had been a very early meeting, understanding their position, we could have maybe come to a different status for Crimea, and avoided some of this tension, and let Putin get over the shock."

Lord West was joined by Conservative Party member Bernard Jenkin in condemnation of the international response to the Crimea crisis. Jenkin, who was Shadow Secretary of Defence in the early 2000s, criticised the British government for slashing defence spending. 

"Our defence spending is going down from two percent to 1.8 percent in 2016. So we need to spend more. That is below the NATO minimum. The government is going to have to spend more on defence and incidentally, cutting Trident would say that very little in the long-term because it is only a tiny proportion of the defence budget overall. Six percent of the defence budget. That is about 0.08 percent of GDP."

Lord West warned: "I do believe we need to be very hard line on warning Russia again, making it clear that if there is any encroachment at all on NATO territory, that breaks Article five, and that would mean war. And I think we should be clear on that."

He continued: "There were statements made which really could not be backed up, by various leaders in the West, promising that tough action would be taken against Russia if they did X… when in fact, there really was not that kind of strength behind the rhetoric, was there?"

Lord West also blamed the European Union for the mess in Crimea, asserting that the "EU and others have been guilty of encouraging [pro-EU Ukrainians] rather more than we should have done... I think we have encouraged them. Some of these people have said, great, we can join the EU. You cannot just do that. The EU cannot possibly afford to sort this out. We have encouraged them when we shouldn't."

The interviewees both noted the Russian propensity to use hard, as well as soft power, which Western countries seem unwilling to do. 

"The Russians clearly believe in hard power as well as soft power because they've had soft power in the Ukraine but they use hard power. We've got to understand that if you're going to use hard power – soft power, you've got to have hard power to back it up."

Criticising UK defence spending, Bernard Jenkin MP said: "We are the sixth richest nation in the world. It's up to us when we look at defence and security to see how important it is."


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