Jeremy Corbyn ‘to discuss Nato comments with Nia Griffith’

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Crown Copyright

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RAF Typhoons have been deployed to the Baltic region each year since May 2014

Jeremy Corbyn has told the BBC he will be speaking to his defence spokeswoman following a row over Nato’s planned deployment to Estonia.

Nia Griffith was said to be “furious” that it was described by Mr Corbyn’s spokesman as “one of the escalations of tension” on the Russia-Nato border.

A source close to the shadow defence secretary said she was “livid”.

The Labour leader said he wanted to see a “de-escalation of tensions between Nato and Russia”.

He told BBC Wales: “I want to see a de-militarisation of the border between them. I’m sure everybody wants that, we don’t want to see increased tensions.”

He added: “I had a chat with Nia briefly last night and we are having a longer discussion later on today.”

The Labour leader said it was “unfortunate that troops have gone up to the border on both sides” and he wanted to see better relations between Russia, Nato and the EU. He said while he had “many criticisms” of Russia – its human rights record and of the bombing campaign in Syria – he said there had to be a relationship.

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Labour Party

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Nia Griffith has said it is important that the UK plays a “very strong role in Nato”

“I don’t want to see any more troops deployed on the borders between Nato and Russia, I want to see a de-escalation, ultimately a de-militarisation and better relationships between both sides of it… there cannot be a return to a Cold War mentality.”

Five hundred UK troops are to go to Estonia as part of Nato’s effort to deter Russia from any “aggression”.

The UK has been building up its military presence in the Baltic region – sending RAF Typhoons since 2014 – following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Questioned by reporters in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said: “What we don’t want to see is a ratcheting up of tensions between Russia and the West, as has been taking place. We want to see an engagement with Russia – on a critical basis, but a serious basis.”

He added: “We’ve said repeatedly that we want talks and engagement to wind down military tensions, particularly on the Nato-Russian border and in the Middle East.

“Jeremy has expressed concerns about that being one of the escalations of tensions that have taken place.”

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said the Labour leader has not called for the withdrawal of British troops from Estonia, but it was clear Ms Griffith – and a number of other Labour MPs – were concerned about the leadership’s approach to defence.

Prior to the comments, Llanelli MP Ms Griffith told Forces TV she thought it “very important that we now play a very strong role in Nato, particularly as we are leaving the European Union”.

Nato had “to be absolutely clear, following what has happened in Ukraine, that we are standing together as Nato nations and there is no way that we would tolerate any attack on any one of our member states”, she said.

Deployment imminent

“I think that’s why it’s so important that we have this partnership work now with the three Baltic states and Poland.”

When questioned, a source close to Ms Griffiths said she was “absolutely furious” and “absolutely livid” about the intervention by Mr Corbyn’s spokesman and that her support for Nato was a “red line”.

In June 2015, RAF Typhoons, which have been deployed to the Baltic region each year since May 2014, were scrambled from Estonia to intercept and shadow two Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea.

The Ministry of Defence announced last July that 500 UK troops would be permanently based in Estonia, that number being increased to about 800 in October. They are set to be deployed soon.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the military build-up was intended to “deter Russia from any further aggression”.

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