Ben Wallace today gave a damning assessment of Vladimir Putin and said that Russia would be deeply unhappy to find out which countries were secretly helping Ukraine. Speaking on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference, the secretary of state for defence described how Russia’s actions had prompted an unprecedented level of co-operation from countries across the world including states with a long term commitment to neutrality or a generally pro-Moscow position.
“There are a number of countries who do help secretly,” Mr Wallace said. “(Russia) would be deeply unhappy to learn that some of the people they rely on are making those donations.”
He characterised Putin as a delusional leader obsessed with legacy who cared about how he would be viewed in 100 years time, adding: “It doesn’t matter that there’s nothing left in Ukraine. Combine that with a sense of ‘I’ve been wronged, Russia is owed everything and we are the great Russia’ and you get to a point where he is not rational.”
Russia has taken heavy losses over the last few months with Ukraine pushing through a string of spectacular strategic victories against what initially seemed like appalling odds.
Asked if Putin knew the true situation on the ground, Mr Wallace thought he probably was aware of some of what was happening but not all. “I think he genuinely believes the low casualty figures, that the army was invincible and that the Ukrainians would welcome them,” he said. “There we go, he got that wrong.”
The minister also does not believe that Putin will use nuclear weapons, despite his threats in a recent address to the nation. “It’s no secret that tactical nuclear weapons are in the (Russian) doctrine,” he said. “When they talk about tactical nuclear weapons it’s really a weapon about five times the size of Hiroshima. It could be 10 times the size of Hiroshima.
“We think it’s highly unlikely he will do it.”
During a wide ranging discussion at the International Convention Centre, in Birmingham, Mr Wallace confirmed that he would soon be announcing a “deep set” of reforms to his department.
“It’s a lifetime of fight. It’s not an easy time now,” he said. “You don’t see off the likes of Russia in a nice little neat campaign. Over the last few years defence has been hollowed out. (Money) was taken away from the unsexy parts of defence. This has been going on for decades.”
He said that decisions on how and where to invest in defence were being shaped by Ukraine and a number of other conflicts and threats around the world.
“I want to hold the PM to account on the pledges of defence,” Mr Wallace said. “Defence spending is not a discretionary luxury. The world is more unstable. We are constantly under some form of attack.”
The MP for Wyre and Preston North decided not stand in the recent Tory leadership election but said he had not ruled out a run for PM in the future.
“You have to really, really want it to be PM,” he said. “You have to want to sacrifice absolutely everything in your private and personal life. It carries with you a scar that is with you for life. It doesn’t mean to say I wasn’t tempted…”