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Ukraine (UK Defence Policy)

Volume 580: debated on Monday 12 May 2014

10. What assessment he has made of the implications for the UK's defence policy of the situation in Ukraine. (903952)

11. What discussions he has had with his NATO counterparts on the implications for NATO defence policy of the situation in Ukraine. (903953)

As I have already said, the situation in Ukraine is very serious. We are responding to it through a series of activities, working together with NATO allies. In terms of UK policy, the emphasis at present is to support NATO's reassurance measures, both in the short and longer term. The events of the past few months have reminded the world that Russia remains a significant military power and cannot be trusted to abide by the rules of the international system. NATO members will need to take the lessons of the Ukraine crisis into account in determining the future posture of the alliance.

I am sure that nobody wants to see sabre rattling, but the accelerated withdrawal of all British troops from Germany was a decision taken during the rather hasty defence and security review of 2010. Given all that has happened since, is there not a case, as Lord Dannatt recently suggested, for a bit of a rethink on this?

No. From the point of view of military effectiveness, the presence of large numbers of British troops in Germany, which is now well behind the front line of NATO’s border with Russia, is no longer appropriate. Those troops will return to the UK where they will be able to operate more efficiently and effectively as part of integrated UK forces based here, but appropriate units will of course be ready to deploy should they need to do so.

Ten years ago, the peoples of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia made free and democratic choices to be under NATO’s collective security. What assurances can the right hon. Gentleman and the other NATO Defence Ministers give that the territorial integrity of those states will be protected and that acts of aggression from other states will be actively dissuaded?

I have reasserted, and my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have reasserted regularly, the commitment of the United Kingdom and of all the NATO allies to the principle of collective self defence under article 5 of the Washington treaty. However, it is not just our words but our actions. Stepping up our engagement in exercises taking place in the Baltic states and deploying four Typhoon aircraft to take part in an additional rotation of Baltic air policing are tangible demonstrations of our commitment to the people of the Baltic states. I can tell the House from my meetings the week before last in Lithuania and Estonia that those tangible demonstrations are very much appreciated not just by the Governments but by the populations of those countries.

Will the Secretary of State clarify what steps he is taking to develop non-nuclear options for deterrence to prevent a repeat of what Russia has done in Ukraine? Economic sanctions are clearly insufficient. Will he and our international partners investigate, for example, the use of cyber-attacks as a potential deterrent?

As I have previously announced, we are developing our cyber capabilities, and they form a part of our overall armoury. The trick here is to provide clear reassurance and to deter any moves by anybody against NATO states in any mistaken belief that our resolve is in any way lacking, while not provoking in a way that would be unhelpful. I hope that we are getting that balance right at the moment, and we shall endeavour to continue to do so.

I think we are getting that balance right, but does the Secretary of State agree that the greatest possible threat to peace and security in Europe would be if modern-day Russia’s success in using old-style Soviet tactics against a non-NATO country were to be replicated against a NATO country? It is not just a question of reassuring the NATO countries: it is a question of making it clear to the Kremlin what they must not do.

My hon. Friend is right, but let us be clear. What they must not do is perpetrate acts of aggression against independent sovereign states such as Ukraine. Because we have special commitments, through our obligations under the Washington treaty, the red line around NATO is even clearer, and we must emphasise it at every opportunity to avoid any danger of miscalculation in the Kremlin or elsewhere.

Ongoing events in Ukraine show the continuing tensions in the region and the potential for further actions by Russia that could be destabilising for the wider region. Can the Secretary of State confirm what steps NATO has already taken, what the British involvement in those has been, and what additional steps are being considered?

Several measures have already been taken, including increasing the scale of exercises in the Baltic states and stepping up the level of Baltic air policing. A discussion is going on about proposals from Supreme Allied Commander Europe—SACEUR—on a menu of further measures of reassurance, and the United Kingdom expects to play a full part in helping to implement them.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Russia’s effective annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory and its threat to others in the European sphere is the sort of activity that we thought had been consigned to a bygone age. Given that the core of UK defence policy is based on stability in Europe, what impact does the Secretary of State think that the ongoing situation will have on our defence policy and that of NATO, and to what extent is it informing discussions in advance of the forthcoming NATO summit in the UK?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Some might suggest that our eyes had wandered away from the potential challenge from Russia—a militarily very powerful nation, with which we do not always enjoy an alignment of interests. The consequences of the crisis will be to focus NATO member states clearly back on the potential challenge from Russia, among other challenges that NATO has to be prepared to deal with in the future.