Britain’s defence minister Gavin Williamson said a new radar off Scotland’s Shetland Islands would help tackle the “severe and real” threat from Russia. In a return to the cold war days when the islands hosted an early warning radar, the new Royal Air Force facility is being built to track unidentified military or civilian aircraft. “We will always protect our skies from Russian aggression,” Williamson said on Friday, describing the radar as vital to British defences. “Russia’s actions are not limited to Europe’s eastern borders – the threat to British livelihoods is severe and real,” he insisted. The £10 million (US$14.1 million) radar on Unst, Britain’s most northerly inhabited island, is due to be fully operational soon, the Ministry of Defence said. Once launched it will feed into the country’s quick reaction alert system, which in the past has been used to scramble RAF jets to intercept Russian aircraft. On January 15 two fighter jets were launched to monitor two Russian military aircraft, which the Ministry of Defence said did not respond to air traffic control authorities. A total of 69 such operations have been carried out in the past five years, the ministry said without saying how many actually involved Russian planes. Williamson’s praise for the radar came as he and defence chiefs up their hawkish rhetoric against Russia. On Thursday the defence minister accused Moscow of spying on Britain’s crucial infrastructure, as part of possible plans to create “total chaos” in the country, in comments published in The Daily Telegraph newspaper. His claim followed the head of the British army warning that Russia poses the “most complex and capable” security challenge since the cold war. Chief of the General Staff Nick Carter warned on Monday that Britain struggled to match Russia’s military capabilities, saying the ability to respond to threats would be eroded “if we don’t match up to them now”.