London (AFP) - The head of the British army warned Monday that Russia poses the "most complex and capable" security challenge since the end of the Cold War, warning against complacency in a high-profile intervention.
In a rare public speech, Chief of the General Staff Nick Carter said "we cannot afford to sit back" in the face of Russian military strength.
Russia represents "the most complex and capable security challenge we have faced since the Cold War," Carter told an audience at the RUSI military think tank in London.
Carter spent ample time detailing Moscow's military capabilities, which he demonstrated with a Russian-language video he described as "information warfare at its best".
Carter likened the current situation to the run-up to World War I: "We, I think, should be careful of complacency, the parallels with 1914 are stark."
"Our generation has become used to wars of choice since the end of the Cold War. But we may not have a choice about conflict with Russia."
He warned that Russia boasted capabilities that Britain may struggle to match, and could initiate hostilities faster than expected, saying it has already demonstrated its use of superior long-range missiles in Syria.
- Budget questions -
Defence spending is under intense pressure following years of austerity, and a review launched last year has prompted media reports that further cuts are on the way.
"I believe our ability to pre-empt or respond to these threats will be eroded if we don't match up to them now," he said.
Carter would not be drawn on his specific demands, admitting there will be "other priorities" in the broad national security review but describing the current spending as "reassuring".
"We get on and make the most of what we have," he said. "I'm also there to argue for more".
Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said Britain was committed to spending two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, in line with the target set by members of the NATO alliance.
"The chief of general staff is saying that we face a range of threats, that we need to make sure we have capabilities required to address them. That's exactly what we're doing as part of the National Security Capability Review" launched last July, he said.
"And we're doing that from a position of strength, where we have a Â£36 billion ($50 billion, 40.9 billion euros) defence budget, which will rise to almost Â£40 billion by 2020-21."
Defence minister Gavin Williamson, who took over the role in November, has said the capability review would conclude "shortly".