A Labour Government would make patrolling the North Atlantic against Russian submarines a priority to deter Kremlin aggression, military experts were told today.
Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey highlighted the underwater threat posed to UK interests from Vladimir Putin’s forces, in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute.
Analysts have described the level of activity by Russian subs in the North Atlantic as the most intense since the height of the Cold War.
They often involve cat-and-mouse pursuits with Royal Navy submarines beneath the surface.
But the threat is not confined to the sea.
Long-range Russian bomber planes frequently skirt UK air space, forcing RAF Typhoon fighter jets on Britain’s quick reaction alert to scramble to confront them in mid-air.
Vowing that under Keir Starmer’s premiership Labour would focus on confronting Russian aggression, Mr Healey warned “the biggest threat to stability for Europe is coming from Russia at present”.
“Labour in government would give the highest priority to Europe, the North Atlantic and the High North – our NATO area – where Russia’s growing arsenal of longer-range missiles, together with modernised land and sea forces and intensified grey zone activity, pose the greatest threats to our vital national interests,” he said.
“As the USA pivots to meet the long-term challenge of China, Britain’s military leadership in Europe will become more essential.”
His warning to the world’s oldest defence think-tank marked a fresh break from the Jeremy Corbyn era.
His leadership was repeatedly criticised for appearing sympathetic to Moscow – including when Mr Corbyn initially cast doubt on whether Russia was responsible for the novichok nerve agent attack on a former KGB double agent in Salisbury in March 2018.
In his first major speech since being appointed to the frontbench role, Mr Healey symbolically blamed the Kremlin for the chemical weapon atrocity, which Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia survived.
A British woman, Dawn Sturgess, died later after accidentally being poisoned by novichok.
Mr Healey said: “We’ve seen the emergence of hybrid threats, and hybrid strategies, where countries are operating deliberately in the grey zones between war and peace, between international legality and organised crime.
“That was so dramatically illustrated by the Russian nerve agent attack in Salisbury, and the disgraceful Russian disinformation campaign that followed it.”
The Mirror told earlier how Labour wanted to rebuild its relationship with Britain’s Armed Forces following Mr Corbyn’s four-and-a-half-year reign.
Mr Healey admitted that campaigning in the 2019 general election, where Labour suffered its worst defeat for 84 years, was difficult because of how voters viewed the party on defence and national security.
“I have to tell you some of the hardest doors, for Labour candidates like me in the 2019 election, to knock were those with Help for Heroes or British Legion stickers in the windows,” he said.
“In the end, this is part of our bigger challenge.
“Having had the worst election loss since the 1930s, Labour has a huge job to rebuild the trust and the confidence and then (earn) a hearing and support from large sections of the British electorate.
“My job is to try and lead that recovery and rebuild that trust with those Armed Forces personnel, their families and veterans.”
He said Labour’s “commitment to NATO is unshakeable” and “support for nuclear deterrence is non-negotiable”.