Former Head of MI6 Warns of Danger of War with Russia

February 18, 2015

Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6 until November 2014, delivered a speech at King's College London, in which he warned that "the Ukraine crisis is no longer just about Ukraine. It's now a much bigger, more dangerous crisis, between Russia and Western countries, about values and order in Europe.''

Sawers, in his first public speech since retiring as head of the Secret Intelligence Service, specifically warned against provoking Russia, with its formidable nuclear arsenal, and endorsed German Chancellor Angela Merkel's efforts to restore calm in Ukraine.

Sawers thus joins with other voices in Europe (including Germany's Der Spiegel magazine) and the United States (such as former diplomat and Russia expert Jack Matlock), in calling for sanity in dealing with Russia, to avoid the imminent danger of thermonuclear war.

According to press accounts in BBC and the Guardian, Sawers warned that if Western countries decide to "take on Moscow" by providing arms to Ukraine, then Russian President Vladimir Putin would likely respond.

"As long as Mr. Putin sees the issue in terms of Russia's own security, he will be prepared to go further than us. So he would respond with further escalation on the ground. Perhaps with cyber attacks against us. We have thousands of deaths in Ukraine. We could start to get tens of thousands; then what?"

Sawers also warned against attempting regime change in Russia, arguing that any change in power in the Kremlin "may well be for the worse." According to the Guardian, "Britain's recently retired chief spymaster said Russia had a formidable nuclear arsenal and Putin wanted these ultimate weapons in his armoury to project raw strength. Russia may have rejected European values but, Sawers said, "we deal with the Russia we have, not the Russia we'd like to have." Sawers said efforts by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to restore calm deserved the west's full support. He added:

"Once we have calm—if we have calm—we'll need a new approach to co-existence with President Putin's Russia... Any foreseeable change of power in Russia may well be for the worse. Managing relations with Russia will be the defining problem in European security for years to come."

The Guardian added that "Sawer's remarks reflected the overwhelming view in Britain's national security establishment which, with the exception of some former generals, is urging caution over Ukraine."