Russia should ‘go away and shut up’, says UK defence secretary
Gavin Williamson was asked how Moscow should respond to spy expulsions after Salisbury attack
Ewen MacAskill, Defence correspondent, The Guardian, 15 Mar 2018
Gavin Williamson has urged Russia to “go away and shut up” when asked how the Kremlin should respond to the expulsion of 23 of its spies.
The defence secretary’s outburst came in a question and answer session after a speech in Bristol. Williamson, who has established a reputation for being pugnacious, also took a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn, accusing him of failing to unite behind the government’s approach to the nerve agent attack.
With the government braced to see whether Russia retaliates over the expulsions and other measures announced by Theresa May in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Williamson said: “What we will do is we will look at how Russia responds to what we have done. It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that.
“Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up.”
Asked about Corbyn, who had warned against jumping to conclusions about who was to blame for the Salisbury attack, Williamson said it was time for the country to unite.
“You see it in the House of Commons and you listen to members of parliament from all parties on the backbenches. That is what they are wanting to see: Britain standing together against this great threat,” he said.
In his prepared speech, Williamson accused Russia of “ripping up the international rulebook” through a series of actions aimed at subverting countries around the world.
Williamson said Russia followed up these acts by using social media to muddy the waters.
The defence secretary used his first keynote speech since taking the post to warn of a growing threat posed by Russia and make the case for increased UK defence spending.
He said Russia, at a time when its economy is under pressure, is still prioritising military expenditure, investing in surface-to-air missiles, T-90 tanks, advanced submarines, long-range ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and nuclear systems.
“What is also clear is that the Kremlin is using its growing hybrid capabilities to subvert, undermine and influence countries around the world,” he said.
“Its cyber operations are active and brazen. It uses social media to muddy the waters and spread confusion. Last year, Russia’s military intelligence organisation directed the NotPetya ransomware activity, overwhelming systems in Ukraine, from its power grid to its postal service, and causing hundreds of millions of pounds of damage to companies around the world, including here in the UK.”
Williamson, who was speaking at a Rolls-Royce facility, said: “But Russia is capable of much more. It is already increasingly using proxies to undermine sovereign states. Its involvement in the Ukraine conflict has cost thousands of lives.”
In Syria, he said, there is a humanitarian crisis in which Russia is using private military companies to reduce the state’s liability.
“Meanwhile, Russia is also using its operatives insidiously to interfere in the political processes of other nations. Security authorities have compelling evidence to show Russia was involved in the attempted 2016 coup in Montenegro, just prior to that country’s accession to Nato.
“And, if we doubted the threat Russia poses to our citizens, we only have to look at the shocking example of their reckless attack in Salisbury.”
Williamson, who used the speech to announce funding for a new chemical defence centre at the Porton Down military facility and say thousands of UK troops will be offered anthrax vaccines to help them deploy faster in the event of a chemical attack, said Britain had a proud military history and continued to be active across the world, including “policing eastern European skies against a resurgent danger from Russia”.
“Our soldiers stand sentinel with our Nato allies in Estonia and Poland to deter this threat,” he said.
Williamson, addressing the defence review that is under way and due to be announced before the Nato summit in Brussels in July, said he wanted to see routine capabilities combined with sophisticated new equipment.
The equipment will be focused on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, “hoovering up information from beneath the waves, from space, from across the increasingly important electromagnetic spectrum, finding out what our enemies are doing in high definition and providing artificial intelligence”, he said.