Ukraine - Statement

– in the House of Lords am 9:27 pm ar 28 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 22 February.

“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to update the House on the conflict in Ukraine, as we prepare to mark two years since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion.

Like many in this House, I remember exactly where I was on 24 February 2022. Just before sunrise, I was woken by a phone call to be told that Russia had illegally invaded Ukraine, and that a car would be outside at 6 am, headed for COBRA. After that meeting, Ministers were all asked to speak to their respective Ukrainian counterparts. At the time, I was Transport Secretary, and my arrangement was to speak via Zoom with my then opposite number, Oleksandr Kubrakov. Oleksandr, who I have subsequently got to know very well, was standing in the middle of a field outside Kyiv. I asked him about the situation, and he told me that, quite frankly, he did not know how much longer the city would last. The Russian army was understood to be just kilometres away; the wolf, or in this case the Russian bear, was literally at the door; and expert opinion suggested that Kyiv would be taken in perhaps three days.

However, as this war drags into its third year, far from winning, Russia has been pushed back since those early days. Putin has achieved none of his strategic objectives, his invading force has suffered a staggering 356,000 casualties, and Ukraine has destroyed or damaged about 30% of the Russian Black Sea fleet and retaken 50% of the territory that Russia stole from it.

Meanwhile, Oleksandr Kubrakov is now the Deputy Prime Minister, and his job is the restoration of Ukraine when this is over. Putin arrogantly assumed that this conflict would be over in days, and he was wrong. He reckoned without the strength of the international support that would rally to Ukraine’s cause. I am proud that, over the course of the past 730 days, Britain has been at the forefront of that global response. Our efforts, always a step ahead of our allies, have made a genuine difference. From the outset, we declassified intelligence specifically to scupper Russian false flags. Our NLAW anti-tank missiles, provided in advance of the full-scale invasion, and our Javelins helped brave Ukrainians devastate Putin’s menacing 40-mile armoured convoy, which was headed directly at Kyiv. We were the first to send main battle tanks with our Challenger squadron, plus 500 armoured vehicles and 15,000 anti- armour weapons.

All of this helped to degrade Russia’s once formidable fighting force, with Putin’s losses amounting to 2,700 main battle tanks, 5,300 armoured vehicles and 1,400 artillery pieces. Throughout this conflict, our 4 million rounds of small arms ammunition have allowed Ukraine to maintain a rate of fire, and recently helped keep the Russians at bay during their winter offensive. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has been unable to achieve the air superiority that it assumed it would have, in part thanks to our donation of 1,800 air defence missiles, and over 4,000 British drones have been sent to date.

This conflict has indeed demonstrated that drones are changing the face of modern warfare, and we are already learning the lessons from that. That is why, earlier today, my honourable friend the Minister for Defence Procurement launched the UK defence drone strategy to stay ahead on this new frontier of technology —backed by at least £200 million, announced by the Prime Minister recently—making the UK the biggest drone partner for Ukraine.

Yet it is actually at sea where the allied contribution to Ukraine’s cause has been most keenly felt. Our mighty Storm Shadows and our uncrewed sea systems have helped Ukraine achieve a breakthrough in the Black Sea. Not only has Russia’s fleet lost seven different surface ships plus a submarine, but a Black Sea corridor has opened up for trade, allowing Ukraine to export 19 million tonnes of cargo, including 13.4 million tonnes of agricultural produce. At the end of last month, Ukrainian agricultural exports from its Black Sea ports reached the highest level since the war began, far exceeding what happened under Putin’s Black Sea grain initiative.

As President Zelensky said to me when I visited, the UK’s contribution has been monumental. He pointed out that, since the start of the conflict, the UK has sent almost 400 different types of capabilities to Ukraine. Together, we have shown that when Ukraine gets what it needs, it can win, which is why the UK is continuing to step up its support. Last month, the Prime Minister announced that we will be investing a further £2.5 billion in military support for Ukraine, taking our total military package so far to over £7 billion and our total support to over £12 billion, accounting for humanitarian and economic support as well.

In that spirit, today I can announce a new package of 200 Brimstone anti-tank missiles in a further boost to defend Ukraine. These missiles have previously had significant impact on the battlefield, in one instance forcing Russian forces to abandon and to retreat from an attempted crossing of a river. Members will recall that, a few days ago, President Zelensky told the Munich security conference that an ‘artificial deficit of weapons’ will only help Russia, and he is right.

So today we are giving Ukraine more of the help it needs, inflating its capabilities so that it can defend freedom’s front line. Other capabilities will also be coming its way. Our UK-founded and administered international fund for Ukraine has pledged more than £900 million to help Ukraine plug gaps in its capabilities, delivering cutting-edge drones along with electronic warfare and mine clearance capabilities, with millions of pounds of kit to come.

We are investing not just in weapons but in the brave personnel who serve. So far, Britain has put more than 60,000 Ukrainians through their paces here in the UK, but Operation Interflex, our main training effort, is going to expand even further. I am delighted to announce that Kosovo and Estonia have joined us, Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Romania in all training Ukrainian troops here in Britain. Together, we will train a further 10,000 in the first half of 2024.

Meanwhile, we are building capability coalitions. Alongside Norway, we are leading a maritime capability coalition, and we have been joined by a dozen other countries in this enterprise. This is about mine detection drones, raiding craft and Sea King helicopters, which have already been sent its way, so that Ukraine can build its navy and defend its sovereign waters.

Last week, I met my NATO counterparts in Brussels, and I announced that, together with Latvia, we would lead the drone coalition. That will allow us to scale up and streamline the West’s provision of miniature first-person view—FPV—drones to Ukraine, while supporting the establishment of a drone school for Ukrainian operators and a test range, as well as developing AI swarm drone technology, which will surely be critical in the next phase of this war. Britain has earmarked some £200 million to procure and produce long-range strike and sea drones, and become Ukraine’s largest supplier of drones.

Yet this is far from the summit of our ambitions. In December, we set up a new task force to build a strong defence industrial partnership with Ukraine, ensuring that Ukraine can sustain the fight for years to come. In January, the Prime Minister signed the historic security co-operation agreement. This is the start of a 100-year alliance that we are building with our Ukrainian friends. Once again, it is the United Kingdom that has signed the first such agreement, with welcome signings from France and Germany having followed.

The Ukrainians have the will and they have the skills, and they have shown that if they are given the tools, they can do the job, but their need today remains particularly urgent. Russia is continuing to attack along almost the entire front line, only recently decimating and then capturing the eastern town of Avdiivka. The Kremlin continues to callously strike at civilian targets, most recently hitting a hospital in Selydove. Putin is making no secret whatever of being in this for the long term. Russia’s economy has indeed shifted on to a full-time war footing, spending some 30% of its federal expenditure on its defence—a nominal increase of almost 70% just on last year alone.

If the cruel death of the remarkable, brave Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has taught us anything, it is that Putin’s victory is something that none of us can afford. The tyrant of the Kremlin is determined simply to wait out the West. He believes that we lack the stomach for the fight, and we must show him that we are wrong. This House may not be united on all matters, as we have seen in the past 24 hours, but we are united on one thing: our support for Ukraine. So the UK will continue to double down on that support, and all freedom-loving countries must be compelled to do the same. This year will be make or break for Ukraine, so it is time for the West and all civilised nations to step up and give Ukraine the backing it needs.

Two years ago, when I spoke to an anxious Oleksandr Kubrakov, who had retreated to that field outside Kyiv, he did not know what would happen to Ukraine. Now, entering the third year of this conflict, it is remarkable to see that Ukrainians remain in full fight. I know that the whole House will join me in saying that the UK will not stop supporting the brave Ukrainians, our friends, until they have won and have victory.”

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 9:30, 28 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, marking the second anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine gives us another chance to reaffirm our support for Ukraine and its people—people who, in the defence not only of their freedom but of our freedom and our democracy, have suffered so much. So many have been killed and wounded. Cities, towns and villages have been ruined or destroyed.

Yet, in the face of that, Ukraine has stood tall, firm and resolute. Once again, all of us salute Ukraine’s courage and bravery. As a country, we are united in our support and our determination to see this through with them. We have seen this in military support, but also in Ukrainians welcomed into our homes, donations of assistance to Ukraine and continuing rallies on many of our streets, marking that sense of solidarity.

Can the noble Earl tell us whether the Government’s recent welcome announcement of further support for Ukraine will ensure that the ammunition shortfalls that the Ukrainian armed forces face will be speedily replenished? Do we have the stocks to do this quickly, and can we do all we can to ensure that such shortages are not experienced again? In part, this needs a boost to Britain’s industrial production. The Government have announced plans to enable this uplift in capacity to take place with respect to armaments. What progress has been made with respect to this, and what timeline do the Government expect in order for that increased capacity to be available to meet the ever-increasing need?

The chief of the Armed Forces said this week that addressing this shortage of ammunition could take months until the West agrees further steps to support Kyiv. What are these further steps, and what progress has been made to achieve them? Ukraine has had to withdraw at times, not because of a lack of desire to fight but because of a lack of ammunition. This cannot be allowed to happen again. I know the Government will agree with that, but we simply cannot read again in our papers that military withdrawal has had to take place because of the lack of necessary ammunition, let alone equipment.

Alongside raising the amount of ammunition supplied and the speed of supply, we need to maintain the diplomatic effort to maintain our unity. Can the noble Earl comment on President Macron’s calls for troops in Ukraine, which appeared to come from absolutely nowhere?

One of Putin’s mistaken beliefs was that the West would be weak in the face of his aggression. Is it therefore not significant to note again that the opposite has happened, with the very welcome strengthening of NATO? Finland is now a member and the last obstacles have been cleared for Sweden. Can the noble Earl outline the Government’s view of what Ukraine’s path to NATO membership is? Do the Government have a view on how they expect this to happen?

The Government have made many announcements, including the recent one about 200 Brimstone missiles. Can we expect a full military aid action plan? Is there to be an implementation plan for the welcome UK-Ukraine security arrangement and agreement?

Alongside equipment, the training of personnel is also crucial. We have trained up to 60,000 individuals so far, which is a great feat on our part. Can the Minister update us on the latest news regarding Operation Interflex, which is our main training effort?

The morale of the Ukrainian people has been immense, and we must do all we can alongside our military support to maintain that morale. What thought have the Government given to this aspect of the war? In other words, what thought have they given to maintaining civilian morale in the face of the aggression and hardships that we all understand?

The shocking death of Alexei Navalny shows the sort of regime that we are dealing with. Success for Ukraine is our success, and it is crucial to the future of freedom and democracy in Europe. The resolve of the Ukrainian people is immense, and they should know the strength of our resolve and that of our friends to stand with them. It is a task we will not shirk, and they should hear that message again.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, from these Benches, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. We stand here today supporting our Ukrainian friends. Across the Chamber and across the country, we give our support to Ukraine. It is unwavering, and it needs to remain so, because Ukraine’s war is our war. If we flinch, that only gives succour to Vladimir Putin, so it is absolutely right that we all stand up and say that we support His Majesty’s Government in the aid that they have been giving to Ukraine. The aim of this evening is perhaps to ask a few questions about what further support can be given; our own defence capabilities, to ensure that we have the ammunition we are seeking to give and are backfilling appropriately; the defence industrial base, perhaps; and what assessment His Majesty’s Government have made of the ammunition support that Russia is getting from North Korea and Iran.

First, it is very clear that there is a concern about a lack of ammunition. President Zelensky has said that we must be very careful not to have an artificial deficit in ammunition. Can the Minister tell the House what preparations His Majesty’s Government are making to ensure that we can supply or help supply Ukraine not just this week and next week but for the months and years to come? What discussions are His Majesty’s Government having with other Governments in Europe and in NATO about their support? There have been problems about the pledges of ammunition being delivered from other European countries. We are all in a similar situation, and we are all trying to procure weapons from the same industrial base, even if we have our own defence industries. What co-operation do we have, and what discussions are we having? Are we ensuring that, collectively, we can provide Ukraine with what is needed?

I think there is a real issue. The Secretary of State, making the Statement in the other place last week, talked about the new UK drone strategy. Obviously, drone warfare is one of the issues that has come to the fore in recent years. In Ukraine, but also in the Middle East, particularly the Red Sea, we have seen drones that appear to come from Iran. Could we hear what assessment His Majesty’s Government have made about the potential of Iranian drone warfare? Do we have any sense of the numbers?

Beyond that—I realise that sanctions probably fall in the remit of the FCDO; certainly, Minister Mitchell talked about sanctions in his Statement today—one of the issues about sanctions is that they ought to be stopping Russia being able to export oil and gas in the way that it has been doing. Are His Majesty’s Government satisfied that the existing sanctions are working sufficiently well? In particular, if the rumours are true that among the other countries buying oil now is India, which is one of our Commonwealth partners, what discussions are His Majesty’s Government having to try to persuade India and other Commonwealth partners that have not necessarily bought into the same level of commitment to Ukraine as we have? What are His Majesty’s Government doing to try to persuade them to support the sanctions?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, let me start by restating that the UK’s commitment to Ukraine remains absolute, unequivocal and unwavering. Putin’s appalling, illegal and unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian people must be repeatedly condemned by all sides. The Government are extremely grateful for the exceptional level of support across all Benches throughout the last two years.

The UK has been and remains at the very forefront of international efforts to end Russia’s war. With that support, Ukraine has retaken over half the land occupied by Russia, pushed the Black Sea fleet eastwards out of Crimea and opened up grain export routes that do not depend on Russia. Ukraine has made significant progress—not consistently, but with enormous effort and huge fortitude—in repelling an extremely focused and aggressive invader. As we know, it is the second anniversary and, as those in the know have said for a long time, this will be a long war. A lot of the questions that have been asked are about the ability of the West to support and maintain the pressure and ability of the Ukrainian people to mount a continuous defence of their country.

I will take some of the questions that have been raised. On the question of replenishment and available stocks, the Government, not only here but also in Europe and NATO, are moving at speed to attempt to invest in industrial strategy that will up the rate of production. In this country, we have done a number of deals, both through the International Fund for Ukraine and also with some of our armament suppliers, to increase that rate. One of the most commonly mentioned ones is the 155mm artillery ammunition, where the actual rate has been increased by a factor of eight.

That is not to say for one minute that we are able to supply—and I do not think one would expect a country of our size to be able to supply—the full necessity, but in working with our partners, both in NATO and the EU, there is no doubt that the rate of supply will increase again, hopefully to the level of fire rate, which will allow the Ukrainians to hold their ground and ultimately push back. It is not an instant solution and, as I am sure noble Lords will be aware, there are some details that I am not at liberty to discuss, but we are doing everything we can to improve our own stocks and availability and restrict the Russian Federation from obtaining materials.

Some of the further steps we are taking, particularly when getting other countries involved and stepping up to the mark, are, as you would expect, through diplomatic channels. That is extremely important, because when it comes down to it, winning on the battlefield is one thing, but it is diplomacy that really wins the day in the end. That is consistent with all the different issues we are facing now: we restrict the weapons, we concentrate on diplomacy, we restrict the flow of money and we continue to supply all that we possibly can.

On drones, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The whole concept of warfare has changed significantly. As part of the £2.5 billion that we are gifting to Ukraine in 2024-25, £200 million is going to go to drone technology and will produce an enormous quantity of drones. The challenge with Iranian drones is that, although of course we will do whatever we can to restrict some of the key components, there are malign forces that are only too happy to supply those key parts which are so hard to get hold of.

On sanctions, we have introduced a sanction level that has never been produced before against a sovereign state. With our international partners, it is a major level of sanctions. Some 1,900 individuals and entities have been sanctioned, 1,700 of those since the start of the invasion. They include 29 banks, which is 90% of the Russian sector, and 131 oligarchs, which is £147 billion. The fall in Russian trade to the UK is now 99.7%. The sanctions are working, and we know that Putin is having trouble coping with them—in fact, he admits to it. How those seized assets should be applied, either for rebuilding Ukraine or for humanitarian aid, is an issue which is under constant discussion.

The question on NATO is an extremely good one. The primacy of NATO in this whole enterprise is paramount. The accession of Finland and the final acceptance of Sweden—I understand there is going to be a signing next week, which is great news—shows the Russian Federation the determination that NATO has. I cannot imagine what President Macron thinks he is doing suggesting that NATO troops become involved; I rather hope it is a question of translation at some point, because it is just extraordinary.

We continue to train a very high number of personnel —in fact, we trained an additional 10,000 in the past few months. One challenge that we have with training, and we have about a dozen allies who help us with it, is that we are not certain how many people are still coming out of Ukraine wishing to be trained. I am sure that noble Lords will know that the Ukrainian Government are looking at the conscription age to try to boost the numbers going into their forces. However, despite some of the setbacks, morale remains remarkably high. More than 80% of Ukrainians are determined to regain all territory. President Zelensky still has an extraordinarily high approval rating. Even the change of commanders, which is fairly normal in war, because after a couple of years people get tired and there needs to be some new thinking, has been well accepted.

The death of Navalny is a clear indication of the sort of people we are dealing with. They will stop at absolutely nothing. It is just another example of the complete lack of any form of moral compass that is being faced.

My final point is that the approach we are taking with some of our allies and some of the Commonwealth about buying oil and gas from Russia is one of diplomacy. The challenge is that, as I understand it, they know they are not necessarily doing the right thing but the Russians are charging a price that they almost cannot resist. That is a real diplomatic challenge and it is something that we need to concentrate on with enormous application and force.

Before taking Back-Bench questions, I will just say that I concur entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that, as the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion passes, we must all recognise that Putin simply must not be allowed to prevail, at whatever cost it takes.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Crossbench 9:51, 28 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, we are right to mark this anniversary, sad though it is, but I must say I am dismayed by the Minister’s complacency in his lack of recognition of two other important anniversaries. It is 10 years ago this month since Russia invaded Crimea, and 30 years now since the United Kingdom offered security guarantees to Ukraine through the Budapest memorandum. We failed to deliver on that commitment 10 years ago when Russia invaded Crimea, and it is because of that that the past two years have happened. I am afraid the Minister has shown smugness in not understanding that Emmanuel Macron in France is trying to make us appreciate that the words of the Statement may well come true:

“The tyrant of the Kremlin is determined … to wait out the West”.

The Minister talks of diplomacy. One rule of diplomacy is that, once you rule out options, you soon run out of options. I am very sorry to hear that he thinks having some strategic autonomy in the West might be a mistake. We have to tell the public what the dangers are here.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I could not be less smug about the situation in Ukraine, and I apologise profusely if that was the impression I gave. I am commenting on the Statement that was issued last week, which was an update on the current situation. I am fully aware that the world did not respond sufficiently to the challenge that the Russian Federation laid down when it moved into Ukraine 10 years ago. As President Zelensky says, it is all Ukrainian soil that he wishes to get back, not just what has been taken in the last two years. I assure all noble Lords that the Government are far from complacent about the situation that we face now, but diplomacy must constantly have a role to play, now and in the future. The role of NATO is one of defence, and that needs to be adhered to very clearly.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister has said. It is understandable that the murder of Alexei Navalny is commanding the headlines, but there are other opposition leaders, a number of whom are in prison and possibly facing the same fate as Navalny. There are Russian anti-war organisations outside Russia, including here in the UK. Are the Government using their convening power to bring some of these disparate opposition groups together in order that they can exercise what we might call soft power to influence people back in Russia? Indeed, are the Government aware of their existence? I am aware that they do not all co-operate very well, but that might be for the lack of some sort of convening power.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the Government provide support, either overtly or discreetly, wherever they can to these groups. There is no doubt that that can help in certain cases to ease what is a very difficult situation.

Photo of Baroness Helic Baroness Helic Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, Ukraine and the Ukrainians are paying for the West’s complacency about Russia. It is good now that we are demonstrating unwavering support for Ukraine, and we must maintain that support. But in the western Balkans, where Russia and her proxies are working to challenge NATO and undermine stability in the region, we behave as if it is pre 2014 and pre 2022. Does my noble friend agree that it is high time to change our mindset and our policy and strategy towards the western Balkans?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, this is all part of the same story. There are links between these different malign organisations that need addressing. I cannot give an absolutely clear answer about the western Balkans, but I am very happy to write to my noble friend with the detail.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, on the issue of sanctions, we are doing the right thing. We are trying to impose as many sanctions as we can on many entities and people. Obviously, we should not stop those. However, reports in the Economist suggest that they are not actually very effective.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, touched on European co-operation. In my opinion, as I said on 26 January, it is essential that we co-operate on a European level and decide who is going to do what. I said then that if necessary—if it is what we should do—we should create a Royal Ordnance factory. We should be looking at making 100,000 rounds of 155 millimetres a month, but so far as I can see we are just pussyfooting around. That is what President Putin will see. He will see that we are pussyfooting around. For instance, we are not overturning planning regulations or telling BAE Systems that it can do whatever it likes, and needs to do, to create the amount of ammunition we need. We are not telling BAE Systems that if it needs to requisition a machine tool from another factory and that would totally interfere with the rest of our domestic production, it does not matter. The priority must be to make the ammunition.

If we do not give Ukraine the munitions and other equipment that it needs, Ukraine will fail and be defeated by the Russians. The situation is dire. We will then have to double defence expenditure and keep it doubled for the foreseeable future. The cost to us will be very high, and we will not be able to do the things that we want to do for our people because we are going to have to waste the money on defence expenditure.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the impassioned view he takes. He is right, and I agree that we need to up the pace of production. Through the International Fund for Ukraine and other enterprises, the amount of money being spent to arm and replenish the situation in Ukraine continues to grow. Out of the £900 million pledged as part of the International Fund for Ukraine, 27 contracts are out with a total value of £340 million, and another £22 million-worth are just about to be placed. There is a competition out for a further £300 million for ammunition. There is £40 million for drones and another £194 million across air defence and maritime packages. That is just this country, but this is a combined effort across Europe. I am sure noble Lords will have seen that the Germans have started building a new ammunition factory, and the pace of growth continues to increase.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Ceidwadwyr

Why on earth are we bothering with a competition?

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

To ensure that we get exactly what we want, and to ensure capacity and deliverability.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Ceidwadwyr

Surely, we should tell industry what we want and tell it to get on with it. If it says that it needs some sort of capacity, power or machine tool, we should provide it.

Photo of The Earl of Minto The Earl of Minto The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

There is certainly an element of that, but we work within a global market where resources are not freely available. It is very important to ensure that the vast amount of money spent on the production of munitions is properly spent.

House adjourned at 10.01 pm.