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Sir Roger Gale, who represents North Thanet constituency, referenced a famous campaign advertisement for former US President Ronald Reagan in which the USSR was referred to as a “bear in the woods”. Sir Roger said the description was just as applicable to the nation led by President Vladimir Putin.
Tensions with Beijing have increased significantly since the emergence of the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan towards the end of last year.
In addition, China and the United States have undertaken military exercises in the disputed South China Sea with consequent fears about the situation boiling over with disastrous results.
Sir Roger is the leader of the 18-member UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a 47-nation international organisation dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
He told Express.co.uk: “We had a running battle with the Russians since they occupied Crimean and South Ossetia in Georgia.
“My personal view is that they have no place in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe while they are invading and occupying the territories of other member states.
“Ian Liddell-Grainger, my colleague who leads the Conservative group on the Council of Europe – I lead the delegation – we both fought a rearguard action to try to prevent the Russians from being readmitted without restrictions.
“Because they do not play by the rules when it comes to human rights in Chechnya for example.”
Sir Roger said he was “absolutely” convinced the current preoccupation with Beijing had led many in the UK to “take its eye off the ball” when it came to the more direct and immediate menace presented by Moscow.
Specifically, he pointed to its ongoing military exercises in the Baltic and Arctic, which have continued despite the ongoing pandemic.
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He said: “The real threat is Russia, not China, make no mistake about it.
“We are talking about a new Soviet Union. I play a game sometimes – you take an atlas, open up a map of northern Europe, turn it around and look at it from the North Pole down.
“You suddenly realise what Russia is about, and what their territorial ambitions are and where – it’s so simple, the game Putin is playing.
There’s still a bear in the woods
Sir Roger Gale
“If you look at what he has got away with, this so-called referendum, and he is now effectively on the throne until 2033. He has extended his rule.
“When Reagan was running for re-election in 1984, he ran an ad saying there was a bear in the woods, and people said he was being alarmist.
“There’s still a bear in the woods.”
Sir Roger is not the only expert to highlight the ongoing risk posed by Russia and Mr Putin, not least to the UK.
In an op-ed published in Warships International Fleet Review earlier this month, editor Ian Ballantyne highlighted Russia’s naval threat.
He said: “The Russians have built and commissioned more new submarines than the UK – or any other European NATO fleet – in recent years.
“They are formidable and well-armed, both the new conventional and nuclear-powered boats.
“Russia is also constructing new frigates at least as fast as the UK. It has commissioned a whole load of corvettes that are well-armed.
“These have, along with conventional missile-armed submarines, been used in action during the war in Syria to shape events in Russia’s favour.”
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