The UK Foreign Office has earmarked £700 million of Britain’s Foreign Aid budget to help prop up former Soviet states in a display of “soft power” against Putin’s Russia.
As aid, the money won’t be used for any military purposes but instead will be used for projects designed to help stabilise Ukraine and the Baltic states, according to a report seen by The Sun.
Some of the cash is likely to go towards helping those states improve their defences against cyber warfare, while countering radicalisation in states such as Syria and Libya is also on the list of objectives.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is said to be behind the strategy. In December, he delivered a speech in which he called for Britain to take a lead in challenging the notion, prevalent in Russia and the Middle East, that “might is always right”.
“We have the cult of the strong man. We have democracy in retreat,” he said. “We need to redouble our resolve and defend and preserve the best of the rules based international order.”
The spending will leave ministers open to further criticism that the aid budget prioritises foreigners’ needs over those of the British people. Last week, MPs slammed the government for funding a “care in the community” programme for pensioners in China, while in the UK pensioners were being let down by the system.
John O’Connell, head of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s crucial that taxpayers get value for the money they hand over to be sent overseas.
“This pricey programme must deliver results or it should be scrapped.
“Hard-pressed families are fed up with paying their tax bill to see the money squandered on projects instead of spent on services here in the UK.”
However, the funding is indicative of the concerns European leaders have over Russia, which is said to be engaging in propaganda wars in the West. In early February, MEPs called on the European Parliament to fund a counter-propaganda unit to undermine Russian narratives, saying “we are in a state of war with Russia”.
The Foreign Office refused a request by The Sun for comment.