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Defence Committee Chair Wants UK Military Assets Sent To Moldova In A Shift To "A Cold War Mindset"

4 min read

Moldova should be offered UK military assets to protect itself from possible Russian aggression in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, chair of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood has said.

The former army captain and defence minister's plea for government to do more to help the former Soviet country on Ukraine’s south-west border comes as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there are “immediate concerns” relating to security in Moldova.

Like Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, Moldova also has a disputed pro-Russian breakaway area called Transnistria and Ellwood believes the country needs the UK government’s attention “today” and ministers need to re-learn the “Cold War mindset”.

"Military assets should be offered to Moldova,” Ellwood told PoliticsHome.

“Transnistria could go rogue, which complicates [matters] but it should not stop Moldova requesting military assistance given they feel threatened by Russia.”

He said governments in the West had enjoyed 30 years of relative peace and now there is an incidence of “state on state aggression by a dictator” – referring to President Putin's invasion – it requires a different approach to security.

“It does require greater investment in our hard power, better coordination, and a wider security umbrella of NATO. Particularly to those outside the alliance," Ellwood said. On Moldova, which has a population of 2.6 million people, the MP for Bournemouth suggested the UK government should be “considering today, to send hardware to Moldova as a statement to say ‘Russia, this is off limits”.

There are currently 1,500 Russian troops in Transnistria on "peace-keeping work", according to the Kremlin.

“We have to wake up and get back into a Cold War mindset. There's a type of statecraft which is more robust, more resolute than we're currently displaying,” Ellwood said.

The senior Tory, who has chaired the Defence Select Committee since 2020, is among the prominent international voices pushing for Poland to hand over its aircraft to Ukraine so they can bolster any defence they need to give to Ukrainian air space.

Ukrainian pilots know how to fly the MiG-29s and SU27 aircraft, and if Poland supplies them, NATO countries like the UK could step in to support Poland’s airforce.

Currently the United States is in talks with Poland on whether to backfill their fleet of fighter planes if Warsaw send its old MiG-29s to Ukraine.

Ellwood said: “I’m working on an idea to get MiGS into the Ukraine – there's an awful lot of them, over 100 in NATO countries. So let's get those gifted loans to Ukraine, so every single pilot will be able to go to into the skies. That’s what I think would be a sensible thing.

"We would then patrol Polish skies, in order to compensate for the Polish kit moving across.”

He said providing more jets would be symbolic and a sign of the West doing more.

While Moldova is an officially neutral country, as enshrined in its constitution, its President Maia Sandu has applied for EU membership in the past week, and welcomed more than quarter of a million refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Frustrated at the pace of military support that can be given to a non-NATO country like Ukraine, Ellwood said the Foreign Office currently has no strategic direction and the UK is "sitting back and watching" until Russia comes to its own understanding that under Putin, it can't move forward.

He said he also can’t understand why the 40 mile long convoy of Russian military equipment has not yet been a target as it is a "sitting duck". Removing the hardware sitting on that road could avert major disaster for the capital Kyiv, he said.

"There’s no doubt that we are on a journey, and 'relearning' the posture that we adopted in the Cold War," Ellwood continued.  

"As people realise that Putin will not stop until he is stopped, that does require far more resolute determined utility of our own hard power."

At a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in parliament on Monday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was asked about the current threats Moldova is facing. 

"It's very concerning what's happening in Transnistria and the threat we are seeing on the Moldova border," she said.

"The UK has sent humanitarian teams to support Moldova and we're looking at what more we can do, as are our allies across NATO but it is a serious concern. 

"This invasion of Ukraine is of course absolutely appalling in itself, but there are also wider security concerns, and fairly immediate security concerns, including Moldova."

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and the Ministry of Defence have been contacted for comment. 

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