Britain’s newly-appointed Defence Secretary accused Vladimir Putin of “sponsoring terrorism” and told him to “get out of Ukraine”, in one of the most outspoken responses to the MH17 crash from any Western politician.
Michael Fallon said that Putin must be taught that he cannot get away with “egging on” Russian separatists in Ukraine.
“We have to make it very clear if there is any more interference like this – and it turns out he was behind it – there will be repercussions. He has to be clear the West will act,” he said.
He also delivered a direct warning to Putin: “Get out of East Ukraine and leave it to the Ukrainians.”
Speaking in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, the Defence Secretary said: “I don’t think we are at the start of World War Three, but NATO has to respond. It is clearly a threat to NATO’s Eastern flank and that’s why we must offer as much reassurance as we can, particularly to the Baltic States – that is why we have had four (RAF) Typhoons there since May.”
He added that it was “extremely worrying” that the conflict in the Ukraine could spill over into neighbouring territories, such as Moldova and the Caucuses, but also dismissed the idea that there was little Britain could do.
“If Russia is the principal culprit, we can take further action against them and make it clear this kind of sponsored war is completely unacceptable. It is sponsored terrorism as far as people of East Ukraine are concerned. We don’t know if somebody said “let’s bring down a civil airliner, wherever it’s from,” – but we need to find out.”
When asked if Putin was “egging on” the separatists, he said: “Yes. That is the danger that flows from Russian activity on and over the border in the last few months. That’s why he needs to move his troops away from the border and stop interfering.
“They need to get out of East Ukraine and leave Ukraine to the Ukrainians.”
Although he ruled out getting British troops involved he said the West could send aid and supplies to those fighting Russia aggression.
Unlike his cautious predecessor, Philip Hammond, Mr Fallon is known for being blunt and speaking his mind. He was the oldest person promoted to the cabinet in last week’s reshuffle, and stands in contrast to mostly young and female appointees.