It is 61 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, and 74 days since my Russian counterpart assured me that the Russian army would not be invading. As the invasion approaches its ninth week, I want to update the House on the current situation and the steps that we are taking to further our support for the Ukrainian people.
It is our assessment that approximately 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed during their offensive. Alongside the death toll are the equipment losses. A number of sources suggest that, to date, over 2,000 armoured vehicles have been destroyed or captured. That includes at least 530 tanks, 530 armoured personnel carriers, and 560 infantry fighting vehicles. Russia has also lost more than 60 helicopters and fighter jets. The offensive that was supposed to take a maximum of a week has now taken weeks. Last week Russia admitted that the Slava-class cruiser Moskva had sunk. That is the second key naval asset that the Russians have lost since invading, and its loss has significantly weakened their ability to bring their maritime assets to bear from the Black sea.
As I said in my last statement, Russia has so far failed in nearly every one of its objectives. In recognition of that failure, the Russian high command has regrouped, reinforced and changed its focus to securing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. A failure of the Russia Ministry of Defence command and control at all levels has meant that it has now appointed one overall commander, General Dvornikov. At the start of this conflict, Russia had committed more than 120 battalion tactical groups, approximately 65% of its entire ground combat strength. According to our current assessment, about 25% of those have been rendered not combat-effective.
Ukraine is an inspiration to us all. Its brave people have never stopped fighting for their lands. They have endured indiscriminate bombardment, war crimes and overwhelming military aggression, but they have stood firm, galvanised the international community, and beaten back the army of Russia in the north and the north-east.
We anticipate that this next phase of the invasion will be an attempt by Russia to occupy further the Donbas and connect with Crimea via Mariupol. It is therefore urgent that we in the international community ensure that Ukraine gets the aid and weapons that it needs so much.
As Defence Secretary, I have ensured that at each step of the way the UK’s support is tailored to the anticipated actions of Russia. To date we have provided more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles, five air defence systems with more than 100 missiles, 1,360 anti-structure munitions, and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosive. On 9 March, in response to indiscriminate bombing from the air and escalation by President Putin’s forces, I announced that the UK would supply Starstreak high-velocity and low-velocity anti-air missiles. I am now able to report that these have been in theatre for more than three weeks, and have been deployed and used by Ukrainian forces to defend themselves and their territory.
Over the recess, my ministerial team hosted a Ukrainian Government delegation at Salisbury plain training area to explore further equipment options. That was quickly followed by the Prime Minister’s announcement of a further £100 million-worth of high-grade military equipment, 120 armoured vehicles, sourcing anti-ship missile systems, and high-tech loitering munitions for precision strikes.
However, as we can see from Ukrainian requests, more still needs to be done. For that reason, I can now announce to the House that we shall be gifting a small number of armoured vehicles fitted with launchers for those anti-air missiles. Those Stormer vehicles will give Ukrainian forces enhanced short-range anti-air capabilities, day and night. Since my last statement, more countries have answered the call and more have stepped up to support. The Czech Republic has supplied T-72 tanks and BMP fighting vehicles, and Poland has also pledged T-72 tanks.
The quickest route to help Ukraine is with equipment and ammunition similar to what they already use. The UK Government obviously do not hold Russian equipment, but in order to help where we do not have such stock, we have enabled others to donate. Alongside Canada and Poland, the Royal Air Force has been busy moving equipment from donor countries to Ukraine. At the same time, if no donor can be found, we are purchasing equipment from the open market. On 31 March, I held my second international donor conference, with an increase in the number of countries involved to 35, including representatives from the European Union and NATO. So far these efforts have yielded some 2.5 million items of equipment, worth more than £1.5 billion.
The next three weeks are key. Ukraine needs more long-range artillery and ammunition, and both Russian and NATO calibre types to accompany them. It also seeks anti-ship missiles to counter Russian ships that are able to bombard Ukrainian cities. It is therefore important to say that, if possible, the UK will seek to enable or supply such weapons. I shall keep the House and Members on each Front Bench up to date as we proceed.
The MOD is working day and night, alongside the US, Canada and the EU, to support continued logistical supplies, but not all the aid is lethal. We have also sent significant quantities of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine. To date, we have sent more than 90,000 ration packs, more than 10 pallets of medical equipment, more than 3,000 pieces of body armour, nearly 77,000 helmets, 3,000 pairs of boots and much more, including communications equipment and ear defence.
On top of our military aid to Ukraine, we contribute to strengthening NATO’s collective security, both for the immediate challenge and for the long term. We have temporarily doubled the number of defensive personnel in Estonia. We have sent military personnel to support Lithuanian intelligence, resilience and reconnaissance efforts. We have deployed hundreds of Royal Marines to Poland, and sent offshore vessels and Navy destroyers to the eastern Mediterranean. We have also increased our presence in the skies over south-eastern Europe with four additional Typhoons based in Romania. That means that we now have a full squadron of RAF fighter jets in southern Europe, ready to support NATO tasking. As the Prime Minister announced on Friday, we are also offering a deployment of British Challenger 2 tanks to Poland, to bridge the gap between Poland donating tanks to Ukraine and their replacements arriving from a third country.
Looking further ahead, NATO is reassessing its posture and the UK is leading conversations at NATO about how best the alliance can deter and defend against threats. My NATO colleagues and I tasked the alliance to report to leaders at the summit in June with proposals for concrete, long-term and sustainable changes. Some of us in this House knew that, behind the mask, the Kremlin was not the international statesman it pretended to be. With this invasion of Ukraine, all of Europe can now see the true face of President Putin and his inner circle. His intention is only to destroy, crush and rub out the free peoples of Ukraine. He does not want to preserve. He must not be allowed to prevail. Ukrainians are fighting for their very lives and for our freedoms. The President of Ukraine himself said as much: if Russia stops fighting, there will be peace; if Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no more Ukraine.
We now come to the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. His presence is welcomed this afternoon by the whole House. We know that it is not entirely his fault, but it is nearly seven weeks since he was last able to give us a statement on the situation in Ukraine. That was the day after President Zelensky addressed this House. The Secretary of State said then, as he did this afternoon, that he would keep the House up to date. May I say, on behalf of the public, that we would welcome more regular statements as the Russian war on Ukraine continues?
Like the Secretary of State, we salute the bravery of the Ukrainian people, military and civilians alike. That bravery is led by President Zelensky personally, but it is typified by the military last stand of the troops at the Azovstal steel plant and by the people’s resistance in Russian-occupied Kherson. We also renew our total condemnation of this brutal Russian invasion of a sovereign country and our determination to see that all those responsible for the mass graves in Mariupol, for the crimes, rapes and assassinations in Bucha and for the civilian bombings in almost every town and city across Ukraine are pursued to the end for their war crimes.
We welcome the role that the UK is playing and the further UK military assistance to Ukraine that the Secretary of State has outlined today, which has Labour’s full support. He says the UK has provided 5,000 anti-tank missiles and 100 anti-air missiles, but these direct donations are a fraction of the total. Can he tell us the total of such weapons provided so far by western allies? Has the MOD yet signed contracts and started production of replacement next-generation light anti-tank weapons and Starstreak missiles?
This is the first day of the third month of Putin’s invasion, and it is a new phase, as the Defence Secretary said. What is needed now is no longer old, spare weapons from the Soviet era but the new NATO weapons that Ukraine will need for Putin’s next offensive against Odessa or Kyiv. We need to shift from crisis management in response to the current conflict to delivering the medium-term military support that Ukraine will need. What is he doing to ensure this step change in support?
Given that 5 million refugees have now left Ukraine, what is the Secretary of State doing to offer the 700 personnel still held at high readiness in the UK for humanitarian help? Is it still the case that the MOD has offered only 140 armed forces personnel to help sort out the shameful shambles of the Home Office’s visa and refugee systems?
I just got off the tube after visiting NATO’s Allied Maritime Command in Northwood. They took my phone off me, so I did not realise we were having this statement, which is why I am using handwritten notes this afternoon. This is a proud, professional, British-led multinational command, and I pay tribute to it for the work it is doing, day in and day out, to keep us all safe.
NATO has proved to be such a powerful security alliance because it pools multinational military capacity, capability and cash, with an annual budget of more than $1 trillion, to protect 1 billion people, but Ukraine reminds us that the greatest threat to UK security lies in Europe, the north Atlantic and the Arctic, not in the Indo-Pacific. This reinforces NATO as the UK’s primary security obligation, but the Secretary of State gave us only a paragraph on NATO.
Our leadership in NATO could be at risk as Britain falls behind our allies in responding to this invasion of Ukraine. More than a dozen European countries are now rebooting security plans and defence spending, but the UK has not yet done either. I therefore urge the Secretary of State to revisit the integrated review, to review defence spending, to reform military procurement and to rethink his Army cuts. We will be dealing with the consequences of Putin’s war for many years to come, and now is the time for longer-term thinking about how the strategy for European security must change.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We spoke last week about the timing of this statement, which I had hoped to make tomorrow, but the United States has called a 40-nation meeting in Germany and I will therefore not be here. I took the opportunity to make this statement when I could. I am sorry if he has cut short his trip, and I would be delighted to arrange with the Navy for him to return to the headquarters, without his phone, for longer in custody.
As I said, I promised to keep the House updated, and I have not only briefed a number of colleagues from this House, from across parties, on a number of occasions, but given Members access to our intelligence officials and senior generals in order that they can get the latest throughout. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces has responded to two debates and answered one urgent question—I will not take the credit for the UQ; Governments get asked UQs, but they provide an opportunity. We will continue to update all Members, and I am happy to have another cross-House dial-in for all Members on the subject—it is incredibly important that we do so. Just as it is important that we calibrate our response to Russia, it is important that the Government calibrate their response within the House, so that we make sure that everything is not a surprise to Members and that we consult as we go along.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about NLAWs and Starstreaks. We have an ongoing relationship with the industry, and we will be replacing them or are replacing them. Not surprisingly, there is now a lot of interest in those British-made products, but it is very important that we replenish our stocks. Obviously, we are in that line to do so. The Treasury has agreed to fund the new-for-old replacement of those, but it is very important, given the state of the Russian Government, that we make sure we replenish as soon as we can. There is a daily relationship with our industry; the Minister for Defence Procurement speaks to those in the industry at least once a week, and the Prime Minister will soon convene a meeting with all the leads to make sure that we are doing everything we can, not just for ourselves but for Ukraine and others. Sometimes there is a bit of juggling whereby I release something that we do not yet need, so that another country can have it first or it goes to where the threat is more pressing, or we persuade a friendly country to divert its order so that it can come to us or to Ukraine. We are often involved in that basic defence diplomacy, whereby we know a country is buying something such as an NLAW, it does not need it right now and we see whether we can take it off its hands and it then delays its order. We try to make sure we do that as much as possible.
I am delighted to place in the House the international update on how much has been donated. Obviously, some countries are more open than others about what they have done, so I will place in the Library a table showing those things. It is not for me to let another country’s identity be known if it wishes to keep that secret, but what we can publish, we shall.
I can inform the House that in the past week alone we have supplied 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 14 Wolfhound armoured vehicles and 4,000 night-vision goggles. I can update further that to date we have also supplied 5,361 NLAWs—up from the original 2,000; more than 200 Javelins; and 104 high-velocity and low-velocity anti-air missiles—this will grow to more than 250. Obviously, if we supply any more new weapon types, I will inform the House as we do so.
On NATO, one of the discussions we will have on the sidelines tomorrow is, obviously, the future for NATO. A few weeks ago in Brussels, NATO Defence Ministers tasked NATO to go away and come back with its long-term plans. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we are in crisis management and the short-term response, but we need a long-term plan. We need to know what NATO will look like and how western Europe—or Europe, including many of its new members—will contain Putin after all this has passed. We are dealing with a man who has clearly been involved in an illegal invasion of a country and war crimes against the Ukrainian people. We need to know how we are going to live with that neighbour in Europe, should he still remain. That is an important consideration for all of us and it goes to the heart of defence reform and our spending. Of course, as I have always said, as the threat changes, so must our defence posture, which includes funding. As I have said publicly, in the here and now we are getting the spending we need, but he is right to raise the issue of medium-term and long-term funding, which we will definitely be looking at.
The right hon. Gentleman made a point about how we are now “the only country”, but that is because we were the first country; when we had our £24 billion settlement, no one else in NATO had yet gone there. Sweden had gone there but it was not in NATO, and so had Australia. So his comments are slightly punishing Britain for being the first, because we did this way before the invasion of Ukraine and a lot of the increases he is talking about have been afterwards. That is not to say that we should not look at what more we can all do and how that knocks into other areas.
I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.
You heard it here first, Mr Speaker: there was a request for more urgent questions that I am happy to oblige.
I very much welcome the statement, which focused on the operational. However, the reality is now dawning not only that this conflict could last for months—indeed, years—but, more widely, that Europe has entered a new and dangerous era of insecurity. I therefore pose two fundamental questions to the Secretary of State. First, what does success in Ukraine look like? Are we doing enough to prevent Ukraine from losing but not enough to make sure that it wins? What is our strategy? Is it to push Russia back to the pre-February lines or, indeed, to liberate the entire Donbas region? If it is in Europe’s wider security interest to see Putin humiliated in Ukraine, the entire mainland must be liberated. That must be our strategic aim.
The second fundamental issue, on which the Secretary of State touched, is our defence posture. Threats are increasing, but pressures on our armed forces and equipment are growing. Is it not now time to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP?
My right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for spending 3% and I consider him my long-range artillery when it comes to the lobbying in the long term, whatever we see as a result of the situation in Ukraine. Our strategic aim is twofold: first, Putin must fail in Ukraine—he must fail in his invasion—and I think he is on course to do that; and he must fail in his occupation of Ukraine, and I think he has definitely failed to achieve that. The fine tuning of that is as much a matter of Ukraine’s choice as it is anybody else’s. Ukraine gets to choose where it wishes to settle for peace. We will do everything we can to support it.
For my part, I want Putin not only beyond the pre-February boundaries; he invaded Crimea illegally and Donetsk illegally, and he should comply with international law and, in the long run, leave Ukraine. Overall, Putin needs to wear the cost and the consequence of what he has done on his shoulders.
We now come to the SNP spokesperson.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We on the SNP Benches welcome the additional measures that the United Kingdom is taking to support Ukraine, and we also welcome the Secretary of State’s engagement with the SNP leadership in this place.
The statement highlighted the bravery of Ukraine’s defence forces, but I am sure the Secretary of State also acknowledges that alongside that bravery is an exceptional tactical efficacy, in stark contrast to the Russian invaders. I am sure he would have no hesitation in agreeing with that observation.
The Secretary of State highlighted in his statement Russia’s apparently reduced ambition to consolidate in the east of Ukraine, around Donbas, and to try to secure a land bridge to Crimea through Mariupol. Will he reassure the House that enduring economic pressure and further military support will continue to frustrate Russian ambition and aggression?
It was a great pleasure for me to meet in Warsaw earlier this month the Royal Marine commandos from 45 Commando in Arbroath. What more can NATO allies do to ensure that our partners on NATO’s eastern flank are further reassured of NATO’s determination to stand firm against any and all aggression towards our allies?
Finally, I welcome the details of the £100 million for higher-grade equipment, including anti-ship missiles, but the Secretary of State will be all too well aware that we cannot get an awful lot of higher-grade equipment for £100 million. I would welcome any further advice he can give the House on that. On the anti-ship role specifically, will the Secretary of State confirm that Brimstone missiles will have no role in that application? If possible, will he discuss with us what role the UK’s Harpoon missiles will have in that application? If we are not donating UK stocks of Harpoon missiles, is that because we do not have enough ourselves?
On the Harpoon missiles, we are not currently providing them. Our Harpoon missiles are launched from ships, and very few nations launch Harpoon missiles from land—I do not think any do nowadays. There is a lot of media around this invasion and not a day goes by on which I do not have to counter stories that have somehow appeared. I think some of them are made up. The AS-90s going to Ukraine was another story—it appeared in the Express this weekend—but no, they are not. I do not know where that story came from, but it is not true.
On Brimstone missiles, we made a commitment 18 months or two years ago, when we were selling a fast-attack patrol boat to Ukraine, that we would sell it armed with maritime Brimstone missiles. Those ships are not yet in the country; they have not yet been purchased or delivered. However, if we decide to provide Brimstones in whatever guise, I will inform Members of this House when we do so. I will not close that off as an opportunity; it is a perfectly legitimate thing. There are different sophistications between block 1, which is just land Brimstone, and the at-sea developments that we have never bought. They have a range of capabilities. First and foremost, if we do provide Brimstone, we will look to provide it for the land, using stock that we already hold, but not as yet for the sea.
What more can we do for our eastern colleagues? I always advise colleagues of the Joint Expeditionary Force—many Members present already know about it—which is a tremendous group of the 10 Nordic countries. I recently asked colleagues from around the House to the dinner when we had the JEF summit here in the UK. The JEF is composed of the Scandinavian and Baltic states, the United Kingdom and Iceland. It is a tremendous grouping of people. Some people describe them as the beer-drinking nations; I am less charitable and describe them as the nations with probably the worst weather in Europe—that is what uniquely binds us together. We are the doers in Europe; we get on and do, we share, and we exercise and train together. The JEF also involves Finland and Sweden. I think it is a very good group.
As for 45 Commando in Arbroath, they have done and are doing an excellent job in Poland, as the hon. Gentleman said. They are incredibly professional, and there is more work for them to do.
It is clear that the supply and use of missiles has turned military assets such as ships, aircraft and tanks into costly losses and liabilities. The one gap appears to be artillery. I know the Secretary of State said that we are supplying some artillery, but as earlier episodes show, the counter to a weapons system is not necessarily the same weapons system but a missile to destroy it. What can be done to prevent Russia from using artillery to raze cities to the ground without engaging Ukrainian forces properly, which is the one area in which it still seems to be succeeding?
My right hon. Friend has put his finger right on the heart of the current race. The race is on to equip the Ukrainians with the same long-range capabilities that Russia has, so that they are not outranged and pinned down. That is why we started first and foremost by sourcing 152 mm around the world—Soviet calibre—so they can keep going with that.
In parallel, we and a number of nations are exploring providing either 105 mm, which is our main lightweight gun, and the 155 mm in more mobile versions than the big armoured AS90s. One thing that this modern battlefield is showing is that people had better move quickly once they have fired their guns, because they can be very quickly found by pretty cheap off-the-shelf unmanned aerial vehicles. Exactly as my right hon. Friend said, there is a race on in parallel. We have now seen a number of eastern countries providing 155 mm howitzers; that unlocks NATO ammunition. We will play our part and make sure it gets to them.
In addition, the intelligence around artillery has to be improved, so we are exploring counter-battery radar, so that as soon as Russia fires a shell at you, you know exactly where it came from, and you can return the favour.
The Secretary of State may have heard that I have been calling for a more regular performance. I am a great admirer of his, but I have been starved of his company. I am very pleased that he has made the statement—many of us are encouraged by the information he has given—but is he aware that the people of Mariupol have been dying of starvation and lack of water? We have a Navy; has it not been possible to supply food, water and that sort of stuff by sea? I may not be a logistics or military expert, but it seems strange that those people have been starving and we have not sent food.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s deep sense of frustration—not at listening to me, but regarding the people of Mariupol. The nations of the Black sea govern the Black sea through the Montreux convention, a very old piece of law, and at times of war they can shut the Black sea to any nation other than Black sea nations. Turkey did that at the very beginning, which disadvantages Russia more than anyone else, and therefore we could not go in even if we wished. I have already spoken to the Turks and the Romanians about minesweeping capability, because it is clear that this summer a lot of the grain will not go out through Ukraine, but it might go out through neighbouring countries such as Romania. That is very important. At the moment, however, it is not possible for us to put ships into the Black sea and, while Russia will not be able to replace its ships, that gives it another sense of strength in trying to control the area. That is why the Ukrainians need anti-ship missiles to ensure they get at least some access to their coastline.
As Russia flounders on the battlefields of Ukraine due to the bravery of the Ukrainians, President Putin has raised the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government and our allies do everything they can to deter President Putin from taking that disastrous step?
We have all seen with concern the playing in of nuclear weapons by Putin, either in earlier statements or recent test fires. I remind colleagues that NATO is a nuclear alliance; Britain, America and France are in possession of nuclear weapons, and that is first and foremost a strong deterrent to him. He can invest in many other different missiles, but fundamentally some are out there right now under the sea; our brave men and women of the Royal Navy, silent and able to deliver a nuclear effect if they had to in defence of this kingdom or in defence of NATO. It is important that Putin does not forget that.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and commend his leadership and that of his team throughout this crisis. He has already outlined an impressive list of equipment that we, our NATO allies and our EU allies have provided for Ukraine. Some of what we provide is legacy equipment and some is from inventory. Can he assure me that the cost of that is coming from the Treasury’s central reserve and not the Defence budget?
The right hon. Gentleman asks an important question. Yes, to date we have gifted in aid £200 million to Ukraine, which we propose will grow to £500 million, and the Treasury has agreed to old for new in funding that replacement.
I wrote to the Secretary of State last week about a few issues; I hope he will have a chance to look at the letter today, which comes with a present from some Ukrainian soldiers. Returning to the issue of 155 spec, which is a potential game-changer, is he saying that we are leaving that up to other countries because we do not have the field guns ourselves? Will he look at supplying AS90 or has he ruled AS90 out altogether? Secondly, there are some specific naval supplies mentioned in the letter, but more generally, from Odesa to Zaporizhzhia, there is still a lack of body armour and medical kits. What reassurance can he give me on that?
We will be flowing more body armour to Ukraine next week. The United States is sending 200,000 155 shells and, I think, two battalions-worth of 155 tubes—I am not a gunner, but apparently that is the term—and at the same time we will scour whatever we can. The Ukrainians are also interested in our 105 guns and we will look to provide those. The AS90 is a very old 155 armoured vehicle, as my hon. Friend knows; it is over 40 tonnes, and one of the challenges is to get it from one side of Ukraine to the other, with low loaders and big logistics. If we can help to source 155s that are more mobile and modern, that is the better way to proceed.
I too put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for his co-operative attitude towards me as an Opposition spokesperson for defence. At a recent meeting of the Servant of the People party, which incidentally is a sister party to my own party, an impassioned plea was made: as the Russians have retreated from parts of Ukraine, they have left a ghastly and deadly legacy in the shape of landmines. The Ukrainians are doing their very best to get rid of this hideous calling card, but already a number of Ukrainians have been killed in their efforts to get rid of the landmines. We in the UK possess the equipment and skills to help to rid Ukraine of landmines, so may I ask the Secretary of State to look kindly on that request from Ukraine?
Yes, of course we will look at that issue. It has not appeared yet in the shopping list from the Ukrainians to me, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I visited Mariupol and places in other countries a few years ago and saw the minefields left behind after 2014, when the Russians destroyed everything and then left minefields across acres of farmland to impoverish the people there and leave their mark.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that there will be a deployment of British Challenger 2 tanks to Poland to allow our Polish allies to send the Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine, but, to my knowledge, there has not been an agreement within NATO to facilitate Polish MiG fighter jets being sent to Ukraine. As this war continues, we are very much aware of the need for the Ukrainians to have additional air capability to take on the Russians. Will he use his good auspices in the coming NATO meetings to press our American allies on this issue?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is really about bilateral enabling rather than NATO, as an organisation, but he is right. In fact, the Ukrainians are after ground attack aircraft more than air-to-air ones, and so, rather than the MiG-29s, the Su-30s and those sorts of aeroplanes. I will certainly raise it tomorrow with my US counterpart when I see him. It is important, but at the moment we are focused on the deep long-range artillery.
While taking nothing away from the incredible performance of the Ukrainian army in defending its country, we all cannot help but be struck by how completely useless the Russian forces seem to be and how inefficient in organising themselves in this campaign. Having said that, there are increasing reports of mercenaries being used by the Russians. To what degree are they involved in this conflict, and is there any way to prevent them from getting into positions where they can participate?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out the Russians’ woeful performance. I do not celebrate the loss of anyone’s life, and when I see the huge casualty rates of Russian soldiers, I think, as a former soldier, that it is a disgrace and a betrayal of those young men. It is hard to have sympathy when clearly it is not just the generals who are engaged in the war crime and butchery that we have seen, but mothers and wives in Russia are left behind because the arrogance of generals, poor performance and corruption has led many of those young men to their deaths.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about mercenaries, yes, we see evidence of the Wagner Group now being actively deployed in Ukraine. We have seen some free Syrian fighters. We have seen media reports around Chechnya volunteers. The Wagner Group is a pain and a pest globally used—deniably, apparently, but it is not really that deniable—as an arm of the Kremlin. We have seen it in Africa. We see it in Mali now. We have seen it in Libya and elsewhere. The international community needs to come together to deal with the Wagner Group because whatever happens in Ukraine—its members are not getting very good kit and they are being some of the first to die, so it is not a great recruiting advert for it—it is going to be a problem that we have to deal with.
I commend the Secretary of State for the actions he has taken to help Ukraine. In history, this will be seen not just as war crimes but as a genocide. Will he work with me to persuade the Foreign Office that, although obviously different from the Holodomor in the 1930s, this will be seen as a genocide in the same way?
What is really important on the accusation of both genocide and war crimes is that it does not need a politician to make that allegation. We are lucky in this part of the world to have the International Criminal Court, courts in the Hague and independent investigators who are right now collecting evidence and will be able to point a finger without any favour or political agenda. That is a really important difference between us and them. The Russians would love politicians in the west to be standing up and pointing fingers because then they can say, “You would say that, wouldn’t you?” I want to see our respected judiciary and our law enforcement agencies gathering the evidence and then putting it to the people who politically we all think are clearly responsible for many of the problems in Ukraine.
I commend the Secretary of State not only for his statement today, but for his diligence and commitment over the past number of months. He may recall that I suggested during a previous statement that NATO being publicly so explicit that there would be no troops on the ground was a vulnerability for Ukraine. As we see, the Russians are becoming more desperate and diabolical in the tactics that they use, from rape to war crimes, genocide, the threat of chemical attack and potential technical and tactical nuclear attack. How sustainable does he believe it will be for the international community to give support, but stay far removed?
When NATO says, “NATO deployment”, what it is referring to is NATO deployment. It is perfectly possible around the world for Britain, France and others to deploy unilaterally. We deployed into Poland recently. We are doing that not as a NATO country, but as Britain supporting one of our oldest allies. When this phase finishes, and let us hope it does soon—we had Op Orbital in Ukraine, we had British trainers on the ground right up until pretty much the last and we sent the Ranger regiment to train people on NLAWs just before the invasion—we will inevitably wish to go back to help Ukraine in its long-term planning. It is important that we help them move out of crisis to a long-term plan and a long-term ability to defend themselves, and Britain will always offer that opportunity with our training of troops. When we start doing that is open to debate, but I do not rule anything out.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his leadership and work, and the work of his colleagues, in ensuring that our friends, the Ukrainians, are able to defend themselves. I was recently in Lithuania. The Lithuanians made it clear to me that the Baltic states are deeply worried by some of the behaviour of one or two members of NATO. They commended the UK for its leadership against any kind of attempted settlement. There was the slow behaviour of the Germans at the time, until the UK pushed them to do more on the banking system, SWIFT and so on.
One of the things the Lithuanians were questioning me about was whether NATO looks strategically. My right hon. Friend said just a few minutes ago that each individual country looks at these arms trades and transfers separately, but does NATO now see that, once Ukraine has succeeded in defending itself from defeat, it must move on to the next bit of the posture, which is to be able to move on to the offensive? Does NATO therefore look at all these arms, including aircraft, as raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), as a way for Ukraine to take the fight back to the Russians?
My right hon. Friend probably served in northern Germany, like me, where permanent presence was used as one of the most important deterrents to the then Soviet Union. We were not just there for the short term; we were there for a very long time. When we are asking NATO to come up with a long-term plan, it has to involve such things as the long-term containment of Russia. He is correct that the best defence is offence. Showing that we are well-equipped, capable, ready, deployable and deployed is one of the best ways of making President Putin cease what he is doing. I do not think that means NATO deploying outside of its borders, but it does mean ensuring that we are very quick to respond and are overmatching Russia in everything it wishes to explore, so that Putin does not dare do it.
As this war has intensified, the distinction between providing defensive, as opposed to offensive weapons has largely disappeared, as increasingly heavy equipment is being transferred. The Secretary of State said previously to the House that he would support the provision of suitable aircraft to the Ukrainian air force. Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), what is the Secretary of State’s current assessment of the appetite of countries to provide to Ukraine suitable aircraft that could be used in this new phase of the conflict?
There are some that have an appetite; there are not many. Some of the equipment is quite old—a lot of the MiG-29s in the east come from the fall of the Berlin wall, so hon. Members can gauge their age. There are some useful ground attack aircraft in Europe and, as I say, I would defend any one of those nations’ options of deploying them. One of the ways that we could help to support them is by backfilling by supplying our Typhoons to patrol their skies and so on. The hunt is still on. If anyone comes forward, I am happy to support them. Sometimes they have been updated with third countries’ equipment, which gives those countries a veto, and I will work to persuade those third countries to release any holds on them as well.
Russia has clearly suffered serious logistical issues in the first phase of the conflict. What other lessons have we learned from the first phase and to what extent can we use those lessons as we enter what seems to be a new phase?
The first lesson, “Don’t take Russia at its word; take it on its action”, is the most important lesson for many in the international community. We gave up on that a long time ago, but that is the first thing. There will be a lot of lessons. I would not rush into that, because we also need to learn from the Ukrainians, who are rightly focused on fighting rather than on a feedback loop to us, which will be essential in understanding it.
The big lesson is that we must prove to the world that ripping up international law and being more brutal than an adversary still does not get someone to win. One calculation that President Putin and his generals have is, “We don’t care about human life; we don’t care about international law; and if we just maintain that, somehow, we’ll achieve victory—irrespective of the cost and the human suffering.” The international community has to be totally unified in demonstrating that as folly.
I thank the Secretary of State for his update on the deployment of UK personnel along NATO’s eastern flank. Can he detail what role they are playing in the humanitarian response, including supporting the processing of visas for Ukrainian refugees? Alongside all the military equipment, is the UK looking at delivering potassium iodide to civilians in Ukraine?
On medical supplies, my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary has provided significant amounts of health stocks, but I am happy to look at that further for the hon. Lady. On the issue of visas, we have offered and we have fulfilled any request from the Home Office. If it asks for more, it will get more, if that is what is required to speed up the process.
I pay tribute to our brave Ukrainian friends and I commend the Secretary of State for his steadfast support for them. Stevenage is home to MBDA, which manufactures Brimstone. Can he clarify whether we will be making Brimstone available? What can we do to upgrade the Ukrainians’ advanced cyber capabilities to disrupt Russian communication command and control?
On the latter, I cannot really comment on those operational issues. All I will say is that Britain and Ukraine had a long-held cyber relationship many years before the invasion and we continue to understand its cyber needs.
MBDA has done an amazing job with the multinational consortium, including BAE and others, in the making of the weapons systems that are being used right now. As I have said, I do not have any objection in principle to some of the Brimstone variants being deployed into Ukraine. In principle, we agreed to sell Brimstone anti-sea some months ago—18 months or two years ago. If we decide to put Brimstone in, we will of course ensure that the Chair of the Select Committee and the Front-Bench teams are notified. They are still a short-range missile—the block 1s have a range of about 7 km—and they are not strategic. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) asked about defensive and offensive, but we now need to move to tactical versus strategic. We are still not in a strategic place. With its range, Brimstone would be a tactical weapons system but nevertheless very efficient and capable.
The Secretary of State will have seen the recent Defence Committee report that was very critical of the Government’s decision to deploy the Royal Navy in basically taking over Border Force and dealing with the small boats issue. It defined that policy as “ill-defined” and “prematurely announced”. What assessment has he made of the risk that Operation Isotrope could lead to the diversion of scarce Royal Navy resources at this time, when the focus surely has to be on our national security and on deterring Vladimir Putin’s aggression?
The hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that there is no such risk. The P2000 patrol boats were not going anywhere other than UK shores. Nor indeed were inshore vehicles, or the batch 1 offshore patrol vessels; they were not going to go anywhere else. The rest of it has really been about bringing a military command and control mindset, and the ability to mass and mash together intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the better command and control umbrella over the whole thing. That is what we are trying to do, that is what we are starting to deliver, and it is as much about a cultural change as anything else.
On a recent visit to Georgia with the all-party parliamentary group on Georgia, we saw joint working between Georgian troops and NATO personnel, largely from the countries that the Secretary of State referred to earlier. Could he say a little more about the joint working that we are doing with Ukrainian forces to enable them to use to maximum effect the very valuable military equipment that the UK is providing?
Georgia is a very important partner for us around the Black sea. It obviously knows itself what it is like to be on the wrong end of a Russian invasion, and it is very important that we help Georgia’s resilience to that. It is also important that we recognise what Russia, having consolidated, then tries to do in countries such as Georgia, which is divide, corrupt and continue to manipulate. That is why it is very important that Britain’s relationship with Georgia is a long and enduring relationship to help it with its own resilience.
Delivering the defensive equipment that has been so vital to Ukraine’s success in resisting the Russian invasion has been really instrumental, and I think the Government deserve all credit for their work in that respect. But could the Secretary of State state what the UK’s current overarching aims in this conflict are, and confirm that support for Ukraine will continue long term irrespective of who occupies No. 10?
I am grateful and thank the hon. Member for his comments. Our objective is to push, or help Ukraine push back Russia from both its actions since February, and if Ukraine takes the choice to continue to try to push Russia out of its illegally occupied territories, then of course the west and the international community will stand by it in doing that. I think, in its simplest form, Britain wants to help Ukraine be free to choose. What it chooses is slightly secondary to the fact that it has the freedom to choose in the first place as a sovereign state. That is what we are all trying to work for, and the only country that does not want to do that is Russia.
One of the main lessons from this conflict seems to be that, alongside the courageous resistance of the Ukrainian people and the military, one of the reasons it has not gone to plan for Russia is the failure of its logistics in seemingly running out of food, fuel and other supplies. Could my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the lessons we will learn and the whole world should learn from this is that top-quality logistics, such as the UK armed forces have, is even more essential perhaps than military manpower?
It is really important. We see, from photographs, Russian soldiers going to war with not much equipment, poor equipment, rations that are years out of date, not just a few days or weeks, and all of that has a horrendous effect on morale. We see them at war with cheap handheld radios—not their own radios, because they do not work—and we see them badly prepared. Bad battle preparation leads to defeat often and that is often the mess they are in. We saw that some very expensive equipment got stuck in the mud because they used cheap tyres from somewhere else. Those things matter. It is also an important lesson for our defence that sometimes the less sexy things are actually the things we should invest in. They are often the things first cut when the Treasury comes calling and you pay for it in the end.
Is the Secretary of State concerned that, if Putin is allowed to retain the territories in the south and east that he has invaded, he will claim that and be able to claim that to some extent as a kind of victory? In that context, what does he think of the comments of retired General Philip Breedlove, the former NATO commander in Europe, today, who said that now might be the time for NATO or a coalition of the willing to at least consider having troops on the ground in the north and west of Ukraine, so that more Ukrainian resources are freed up to fight in the south and east?
It is definitely a valid suggestion. If we were to fast-forward to a frozen conflict in which 80% of Ukraine was still sovereign, it would be entirely up to Ukraine to decide who it wanted to invite on to its territory, and for what purposes, just as it invited us there for Operation Orbital. People seem to forget that until this invasion, Ukraine was a sovereign country with two occupied parts. Ukraine had British, Swedish and Canadian soldiers on its territory, and we went exercising with 5 Airborne Brigade last year; that is all possible. If Putin decides to hunker down for some form of frozen conflict, we should remember two things: first, he will be back for more, because that is what he did in 2014; and secondly, he still does not control Ukraine.
Today is Anzac Day, when we commemorate the sacrifice of Australians and New Zealanders in conflict. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to those who lost their lives at Gallipoli, and since then? Does he agree that Australia and New Zealand are important partners in supporting Ukraine, not least with New Zealand’s Hercules aircraft and crew, which recently arrived in the UK?
Yes, it is really important to remember the sacrifice made by New Zealand and Australia in a theatre of a war so far away. It is also important to recognise their solidarity with us on this conflict. Australia has given the United Kingdom funds to help purchase equipment for Ukraine. Australia and New Zealand recognise that this is a war of values, and a battle to show that the despot cannot and must not be allowed to win. They are doing everything they can to stand by us. We should not forget that, and we should also be very grateful for it.
How much Ministry of Defence spending in Ukraine is being counted as official development assistance? What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that ODA spending by other Departments is not at the expense of other situations around the world where there is a desperate need for aid?
I understand the furrow that the hon. Gentleman is trying to plough, and I will send him a letter. I do not think any of the spending is being counted in that way, from what I can tell. It certainly does not appear, in my submission, that this is a diversion; the question is simply, “How can we help the Ukrainians? How much does it cost? Can we afford to take the risk with our own supplies? If not, can we buy the supplies from somewhere else, and will the Treasury reimburse us?” It is really simple.
The Secretary of State is right to salute the bravery of the heroic Ukrainian forces and highlight the failures of the Russians, but that should not in any way allow us to become complacent about the threat that Russia continues to pose. I hear what he said about the Ukrainians deciding where we go from here, but does he agree that there can be no return to normality in our relationship with Russia until it has got out of all the areas that it has invaded in this invasion?
There can be no return to normality for President Putin and his inner circle. What they have done, despite international warnings from presidents and prime ministers who endlessly asked them not to do it, is build their own cage—and they are living in it. From my point of view, they need to remain in it.
We have already seen that the war in Ukraine will not be brief, and Vladimir Putin’s intentions will not be limited. With that in mind, are the Government beginning to look strategically, long-term, at the implications of the situation in Ukraine and the ambitions of Vladimir Putin?
There are two parts to that. The first is the need for some form of commission or get-together to plan Ukraine’s long-term defence, its posture and how it will equip itself, because just like any other army, it will become exhausted and worn out. Also, it is important that we—not just Britain or the EU, but the international community—do not forget that when all this is over, we have to help Ukraine to rebuild over the long term. Russia is destroying things—one need only look at the photographs—and they will not be rebuilt in a few weeks. If the international community is serious about sending a message to Putin, it should do so, but not just militarily, now; this is also about long-term development, and access to economic freedoms and prosperity. That will demonstrate the difference between Russia and Ukraine.
In the very near future, it is extremely likely that Sweden and Finland will apply to join NATO. What commitments has our country given to stand by Finland and Sweden, should they face Russian aggression?
I talked earlier about the joint expeditionary force. Irrespective of whether those countries joined NATO, it would be incomprehensible to me if Britain did not, for example, go the aid of Sweden should it be attacked or invaded. It is a fellow European country with huge links to our country, the same values and so on. One of the reasons why the JEF—Finland and Sweden, plus eight NATO countries—is such an important grouping of nations is that we totally share the same values, and have the same professionalism in our armed forces and the same capabilities. Britain signed a memorandum of understanding with Sweden—originally, I think, in 2014—to further our defensive co-operation, and we are working to see what more we can do in the near future.
Ukraine is facing a financial crisis, with the Financial Times reporting that revenues are at around half of pre-war levels, and the fiscal gap for this month alone is projected to be $7 billion. The International Monetary Fund has approved an administered account for countries to make donations through a secure vehicle. Has the UK made a contribution to the account? What efforts are being made, together with partners, to provide Ukraine with hard cash?
We have given, I think, more than £100 million in aid, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman with details about the IMF fund. He is right that we need to focus on that as much as on military aid. The United States announced a significant amount of funding for Ukraine only over the weekend.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that it will undertake a mission to Chernobyl, after gunfire in the area raised concerns about the potential for a major radiation leak. Will the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with the IAEA, and what it expects to find?
If I am not mistaken, the IAEA’s relationship is with the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, I will happily find out the answer for the hon. Member. Of course, we are concerned about activity around Chernobyl and other things. I do not think that Russia did what it did around Chernobyl by accident.