Boris Johnson to set up £700m 'empowerment fund' for British allies facing 'Russian aggression'

The Foreign Secretary will set millions of pounds aside from the foreign aid budget to boost "soft" powers of British allies facing increasing Russian aggression, it is understood.

Boris Johnson is to set aside £700 million from the aid budget for a new "empowerment fund", some of which will be spent on projects in Ukraine and the Baltic states.

The money, which will come out of the budget that came to £12 billion last year, will also be used in the Middle East to combat extremism, which could include moves to improve cyber defences, according to The Sun.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The empowerment fund is in the early stages of development. Details of the fund will be announced in Parliament in due course."

The move comes amid increasing criticism of the way the UK spends its foreign aid budget.

In December, Mark Lowcock, the permanent secretary at the Department for International Development (Dfid), was branded "Sir Waste-A-Lot" after building of a £285 million failed airport on the remote island of St Helena.