THE West must “prepare for the worst” as conflict with Russia looms, the Defence Secretary gravely warned tonight.
And in his darkest intervention yet as tensions rise in Eastern Europe, Ben Wallace vowed that Britain would “stand up to bullies” amid fears of a Russian invasion into Ukraine.
Mr Wallace said distance should “not deter Britain” from seeking to “defend those who cannot defend themselves” as the West confronts Russia over its “aggression” towards its neighbour.
On Monday, there appeared to be no major breakthrough during talks in Geneva between US and Russian officials as the pair locked horns over Ukraine.
There has been a massive Russian military build-up of tens of thousands troops near the border with Ukraine, with the talks aimed at defusing the crisis before it explodes into a full-blown military conflict.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov insisted Moscow had “no intention to invade Ukraine” – but Mr Wallace said there is “concern” about the Kremlin’s behaviour.
He told a Policy Exchange event to mark 40 years since the Falklands War: “We should not be overly optimistic, and must prepare for the worst.
“The parallels with 40 years ago barely need articulating.”
In a warning shot to Russia, he insisted Britain must “always be ready” for war if needed and “distance should not deter Britain, nor should the scale of the challenge”.
He said: “We must be staunch and not go wobbly as Margaret Thatcher would say.”
And he warned: “History is littered with the consequences of those who underestimated this small island.”
Mr Wallace added: “Thatcher said socialists dont like ordinary people as they might not choose socialism.
“The Kremlin doesn’t like ordinary people choosing as they might not choose the Kremlin.”
Speaking after the first day of the week-long talks, Mr Ryabkov warned the US to not take any steps that “endanger not only its own security but that of Europe”.
He said it is now up to NATO to make a “step”, not Russia.
Mr Ryabkov said: “If this does not happen, this issue will be assessed and looked at along with all the other factors.”
Jens Stoltenberg, the head of the NATO alliance, has warned the risk of conflict in Ukraine is real.
NATO is braced for the possibility of a further Russian invasion of the vast eastern European state.
Mr Stoltenberg said: “The Russian military build-up has not stopped.
“There are more forces, more capabilities. The risk of conflict is real. Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe.”
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has urged Russia to “stop its acts of aggression” – repeating its warning of “severe costs” for any invasion of Ukraine.
A spokesman for the department said: “The UK is working closely with our allies and partners, including the US, to make clear to Russia that we will not accept its campaign to subvert its democratic neighbours.
“Russia must stop its acts of aggression and pursue a path of diplomacy.
“We are united with our allies and partners in condemning Russia’s threatening behaviour and we will hold Russia to its Helsinki, Budapest and Minsk commitments.
“Any military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs.
“At the Nato-Russia Council on Wednesday the UK, along with our allies, will tell Russia that its military build-up on Ukraine’s borders is utterly unacceptable.”