The international community should “watch out” if Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine through “brutality”, the Defence Secretary has warned.
Ben Wallace told the Defence of Europe conference at King’s College London on Monday that Russia’s technology, intelligence and leadership had all failed and Mr Putin had been wrong in his belief that Ukrainians would welcome his troops.
But the Defence Secretary said that the Russian president still had one option “in his back pocket” – “brutality”.
He said: “If you win your war by killing, murdering, raping, bombing civilian territories, breaching all human rights, all Geneva Conventions, corruption, and that becomes the battle-winning component, the message that sends around the world to other adversaries around the world is incredibly dangerous.
“That you don’t need to have all the best kit or the best training or appropriate rule of law, you just need to be able to be more brutal than the other person and more prepared to destroy everything in your path.”
He added: “That’s why it matters to the international community, and should matter, that if Putin is successful in Ukraine, then watch out.”
Reiterating comments he made in a speech at the National Army Museum on Monday, Mr Wallace also took aim at Russian military “incompetence”, saying it was a “betrayal” of the Russian people, while making clear he was not expressing sympathy for Russian soldiers suffering in the war.
He said there had been a “failure of the general staff of the Russian army to both, I suppose, speak truth to power but also to prepare their forces properly”.
Mr Wallace added: “From a professional point of view as a soldier, you have to marvel at the sort of betrayal, really, of many of those people.”
But, he said, Russian soldiers at all ranks had to bear responsibility for actions in Ukraine, saying: “Suffering does not excuse culpability.”
Looking ahead, Mr Wallace called for Nato to produce a “long-term plan” to “contain” Russia, conceding Mr Putin would likely still be in office at the end of the current conflict in Ukraine.
He said: “The question is how do we contain Russia, how do we reassure our allies and how do we provide resilience to other allies?”
Challenged on calls from some politicians to expand the size of the Army, Mr Wallace hit back against “Top Trump collectors” who, he said, wanted to “boast” about the number of units the Army had regardless of their effectiveness.
Referring to his own experience in an undersized Army division in northern Germany, he said: “I want it to do what it says on the tin rather than these big hollow forces that we have all served in.”
He added: “What’s the point in boasting we have got so many units if they are not fully wrapped?”
He did, however, acknowledge that the Army’s land fleet was “woefully behind its peers and needed to be modernised with further investment.