I beg to move,
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
This is a timely debate. Since my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary last updated the House on 5 September, the Ukrainian army’s counter-offensive has made rapid progress along three axes—west, north and east of Kherson. In lightning advances through the eastern region of Kharkiv, the cities of Izyum and Balakliya have been liberated. In the east of Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine has now secured bridgeheads on the east bank of the Oskil river where Russia is attempting to consolidate its defences. Most recently, the Ukrainian authorities report that a village close to the eastern city of Lysychansk has been recaptured. That is a significant achievement as it means that Russia no longer has full control of the Luhansk region—the self-proclaimed “people’s republic”.
So far, Kyiv says that as much 6,000 sq km of territory has been recaptured. Russia’s forces withdrew from the region in the face of the Ukrainian advance, while a significant number of troops deserted or surrendered. The withdrawal was anything but orderly, with large quantities of munitions and equipment abandoned. Russian airborne forces have also suffered substantial losses and fear being cut off from the main Russian force. As the Russian army attempts to consolidate on a new defensive line, poor logistics mean that its troops are without food and supplies, morale continues to plummet, and the Kremlin is worried about how to stop widespread desertion.
On day 211 of a five-day operation, none of Russia’s initial objectives has been achieved. Its attempt to take Kyiv was thwarted. Its efforts to weaken NATO have backfired. Indeed, with Finland and Sweden joining, as a direct result of Russia’s aggression against its neighbours, the alliance has never been stronger. Not only do Russian casualties continue to climb, with an estimated 25,000 Russian dead, but tens of thousands have been injured and tens of thousands more have already deserted. Russia’s war machine is now severely depleted, with more than 3,000 armoured and protected vehicles destroyed, more than 400 artillery pieces decimated and scores of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles downed.
Seven months into this conflict, Russia lacks sufficient manpower in the field to achieve any of its objectives and the mood of Moscow is changing. Voices from across Russian society are speaking out against the military command and making barely veiled criticism of Putin himself. The reality is that Ukraine is winning. That is the context in which we should understand Putin’s latest escalation yesterday.
The Minister spoke about the mood in Moscow. We saw President Putin’s ludicrous recent announcement that he would consider any attack on any areas that he now considered Russian to be an attack that could be met with a nuclear response. Will the Minister reaffirm the conviction of this House that we will not be bullied by President Putin, that the Ukrainians have our complete support and that, if Putin wants to bring an end to this violence, he can do so at any moment—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the nuclear sabre-rattling—that is what it is—is the act of a desperate man who knows that this is not going his way. We will not be deterred from doing what we have done so successfully for the past nine months.
My right hon. Friend speaks of sabre-rattling. Clearly, there is a great deal of bluff and threat and Putin is trying to break the alliance between Kyiv and the west. Are the Government saying that it is their belief that this is purely bluff?
My hon. Friend, more than anybody in the House perhaps, will know that the Government’s exact intelligence assessment is not something to be shared in the House. However, as I said in response to the previous intervention, we believe it is sabre-rattling and that it is designed to drive a wedge into the cohesion of the western alliance and to deter us from supporting Ukraine at the exact moment when Ukrainian troops seem to have the upper hand.
If I may pursue that a little further, we have always known that Russia sees what we used to call tactical nuclear weapons as war-fighting weapons rather than strategic ones. Although NATO has said it will not be bullied, in truth, NATO is not directly involved in this conflict. What does my right hon. Friend think might happen if Russia were to use one of those weapons as a way of deterring it? What does that do to the alliance’s position?
In response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) about not being bullied, what discussions are the UK Government having with our American counterparts, who are saying they want a negotiation without specifying what the baseline of the negotiation is? Will we be making it clear that the baseline is that Russia has to get out of all occupied Ukraine as the basis for the negotiation?
I suspect my hon. Friend knows that we speak to our American and Ukrainian counterparts daily at every level, from the military operational level through to heads of Government. The UK and the US are entirely aligned in their view that this ends on President Zelensky’s terms; it is for him to define what the end state is. I have heard nothing from Washington to suggest that that is not also their view.
Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend accept that unless we are going to defeat Russia in classical terms, which is unlikely and undesirable, there has to be an off-ramp to allow Putin to construct a narrative that will go down well among his population and through the media, which of course he controls? It is not acceptable to say that we cannot offer Putin something out of this that will enable him to save face and get whatever it is through with his population.
I am not sure I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. If Putin were looking for an off-ramp, he has had plenty of opportunities to de-escalate and claim victory at some point along the route. In the 48 hours immediately following a mobilisation of Russian society—a clear escalation—I am certainly not going to stand here representing His Majesty’s Government and say that he deserves any further opportunities for an off-ramp, when he has made his decision on what should come next.
Recent shocking reports of war crimes and mass graves discovered in newly liberated areas of Ukraine are further evidence of the appalling conduct of Russian forces and the need to hold them to account. Can the Minister confirm what support our Government are providing to Ukrainian prosecutors and international efforts through the International Criminal Court to document, investigate and prosecute those crimes?
From memory, it is the Canadians who have taken the lead on that internationally, but the Ministry of Justice is engaged in supporting their efforts. Obviously, as we work with the Ukrainians and see evidence of those outrages, through the closeness of our relationship and the way we are sharing information so freely, we are passing the information on outrages, when we find them, to the appropriate international bodies to ensure that they are prosecuted.
I would like to make some progress if I may, but I will come to the hon. Gentleman later.
Vladimir Putin has been forced to announce a partial mobilisation, breaking his own promise not to mobilise parts of his population. He has brought in amendments to the criminal code, increasing penalties for desertion, surrender and refusal to fight, and he has agreed to imminent sham referendums in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, effectively annexing those territories.
Russia is unlikely to be able to muster the 300,000 mobilised reservists quickly, let alone deploy them as an effective fighting force. Indeed, Putin’s remarks sparked mass panic in Russia yesterday, with one-way flights out of Moscow immediately selling out. Putin is rattled and his tactics transparent. He is implicitly acknowledging his heavy losses and his armed forces’ inability to achieve any of their objectives. His false narratives, escalatory rhetoric and nuclear sabre-rattling are all, bluntly, admissions of failure.
It is clear that Putin and his Defence Minister have backed themselves into a corner. They have sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and badly led, and they are now to send hundreds of thousands more—with little training and no winter uniform—into the teeth of the Ukrainian winter against an opponent that is motivated, well equipped and succeeding. Neither Putin’s nor Shoigu’s lies, threats and propaganda can disguise the truth: Russian conscripts are going to suffer horribly for the Kremlin’s hubris.
A key consideration as Russia mobilises will be atrocity prevention. That will be essential. Will the Minister ask the Prime Minister to make it a matter for the National Security Secretariat and ensure that it is at the very heart of the UK’s strategy?
The straight answer is that atrocity prevention has always been at the centre of our strategy, trying to deny the Russians the ability to take Ukrainian territory in order to commit those atrocities. Our priority since Ukrainian territory has been taken is to give the Ukrainians the means to retake that territory as quickly as possible, so that they can get in there and investigate what has been done.
I reinforce what the Minister has said, but I also want to outline the human rights issue and all the atrocities taking place in the occupied territory. For instance, 400 Baptist churches have been destroyed and pastors of Baptist churches have gone missing—they have disappeared and we do not know where they are. Families have been displaced and believers have had to move. That is an example of the barbarity and violence of the Russians against churches and against the right to freedom of religious belief.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I know he speaks with real conviction on matters of freedom of religion. It is extraordinary to me, every day that we read of a recaptured town or village, to hear what has been happening, on our continent, in 2022. It is all the motivation we need to maintain course and speed and keep doing what we are doing to support Ukraine so it can retake its territory as quickly as possible.
As the Kremlin grows more desperate, the disinformation grows more dishonest. What more can we do to ensure that the false narrative the Kremlin is seeking to peddle—namely, the complete dishonesty and fallacy that there are NATO troops in Ukraine—is entirely exposed for the sham that it is?
I think we have been clear throughout that NATO is not an active participant in this conflict. Putin tries to claim daily on Russian television that it is, but in reality, all that NATO has done as an organisation since February is to reinforce its eastern flank to guard against contagion in the conflict. It is purely a false narrative peddled by President Putin to say anything otherwise.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that point about the hostages. However, Paul Urey’s family will have found yesterday incredibly difficult because he did not come home alive. Will the Minister please reassure me that the Government are doing all they can to hold Russian proxies to account for Paul Urey’s murder—it was exactly that—by a state?
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way just before he winds up. The Prime Minister reconfirmed earlier this week the United Kingdom’s leadership across the western alliance in undertaking that the British Government would maintain their commitment to supporting the Ukrainian Government with both munitions and finance. Before he finishes, is there anything the Minister could add to her statement to elaborate on what that means?
Oh that I were approaching the wind- up of my speech—although I will attempt to accelerate. The detail that my right hon. Friend is hoping for is a few pages away: we will get to it.
In the face of such irresponsible language, we must show our resolve. Ukraine and the international community will never accept the outcomes of those referendums. The UK, alongside the international community, stands united behind Ukraine, and we will continue to do all we can to support it. Russia must be held to account for its illegal invasion and continued crimes against humanity.
As we have already discussed, the evidence of these crimes continues to mount. Within the past week, the Kremlin has fired long-range missiles at Kharkiv and used missiles to strike Pivdennoukrainsk, Ukraine’s second largest nuclear power plant. A dam on the Inhulets river at Kryvyi Rih has been attacked for no ostensible military value, and a psychiatric hospital has been fired on, killing patients and medics. In the pine forests of Izyum, we have seen once more appalling evidence of war crimes—as we seem to every time Russian troops are driven out of an area.
So far, the UN has verified that at least 5,916 civilians have died, including, sadly, 379 children. The complete toll is almost certainly higher and millions more have been displaced because of Putin’s actions. Meanwhile, Russia’s reckless behaviour around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant—the biggest of its kind in Europe—has continued. Currently, all six of the plant’s nuclear reactors are offline, and the situation remains precarious despite repair to one of the power plant’s power lines, which provides vital electricity to cool the reactors.
Putin’s callous actions are having a devastating effect not just inside Ukraine. Russia’s weaponisation of Ukrainian grain supply has had global ramifications, undermining food security and causing rising food prices. The brokering of the Black sea grain initiative between the UN and Turkey—assisted by the UK’s diplomatic efforts—is now having an impact. To date, some 165 ships bound for Europe, the middle east, Africa and Asia have left Ukrainian ports, carrying around 3.7 million tonnes of food.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will make progress just so that I do not test Madam Deputy Speaker’s patience.
That has in turn precipitated a drop in global food prices, but it is essential that the current deal is extended beyond its initial 120 days and that Russia does not renege on that agreement. Unsurprisingly, food security is high on the agenda as world leaders meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. Russian aggression is causing hundreds of millions of people in the global south to go hungry, or even starve. Putin must answer for that.
The destructive effects of Putin’s war underline why it is essential that it ends on President Zelensky’s terms, and why the UK must maintain its unstinting support. The UK is proud to have been the first European country to provide weapons to Ukraine, and proud of our efforts to help it to defend itself from land, sea and air. To enable our Ukrainian friends to better protect themselves against Putin’s brutal use of long-range artillery, we have sent them the multiple-launch rocket system with hundreds of missiles, which can strike targets up to 80 km away with pinpoint accuracy. These continue to have a major impact on the battlefield. I place on the record the UK’s thanks to Norway, which donated three platforms to the UK, enabling us to send more of our own platforms to Ukraine.
To date, we have also gifted more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles, almost 200 armoured vehicles, 2,600 anti-structure munitions, almost 100,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, nearly 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition, 28 M109 155 mm self-propelled guns, 36 L119 105mm light artillery guns and ammunition, 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosives, maritime Brimstone missiles, six Stormer air defence armoured fighting vehicles fitted with Starstreak anti-air missiles and hundreds of missiles, and thousands of integrated air defence systems, uncrewed systems and innovative new electronic warfare equipment. We have also deployed a British Army squadron with Challenger 2 tanks to Poland to backfill for the T-72 tanks that Poland has donated to Ukraine.
The funding package that we announced on 30 June is being used to deliver further matériel, including more than 100 logistics support vehicles, more armoured fighting vehicles, a further 600 short range air defence missiles, an additional 30,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, more integrated air defence systems, uncrewed systems and innovative new electronic warfare equipment, and more than 20,000 sets of winter clothing. In all, the UK has spent £2.3 billion, and is the second largest donor in the world.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I think there is strong cross-party support for the assistance that the British Government have given. The Ukrainians themselves say that they want longer-range missiles and more tanks, particularly from Germany. What is the Government’s position on that, and what are they doing to encourage other countries to respond positively to those requests?
I speak to my Ukrainian counterpart each week—often numerous times a week—as does the Secretary of State. At the military level, we are speaking all the time. We have a good understanding of what the Ukrainians need, and in reality, it is all those things. There is a sort of baseline of ammunition to keep them in the fight tomorrow, the day after and the day after that. Then there are the things they need to build a force capable of retaking territory. We are working on delivering it all, not just by ourselves but with our partners around Europe. Ukraine will continue to get all the support that it needs as it seeks to mount a counter-offensive this autumn and beyond.
It is very important to the war effort in Ukraine that Ukrainian culture is seen and appreciated in the UK. Earlier this year, I raised with the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), the support needed to allow musicians from Ukraine, such as the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, to perform at the BBC Proms. That performance by the musicians who had fled the war in Ukraine was made possible by a visa fee waiver and support with visa processing. As there is now uncertainty, will the Minister discuss the issue with the Home Secretary so that she can confirm that that essential support will be extended to other Ukrainians who are looking to enter and perform in the UK?
I am grateful to have been asked to speak to the Home Secretary, because although I have some expertise on where in the world 152 mm ammunition is manufactured, that is something I had not heard of. I will speak to the Home Secretary and come back to the hon. Lady as quickly as I can.
We absolutely are. Under the previous Prime Minister and under the current one, the Treasury was given very clear instructions, which it has been delighted to follow, to replace everything that we give on a new-for-old deal. We are grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for agreeing to that.
Providing the cash is very welcome and necessary, but is there not a fundamental problem with equipment manufacture and particularly supply chain vulnerabilities, which do not just apply to the UK? What steps is the Department taking to mobilise the defence industry and its supply chain to ensure that those obstacles are overcome, and rapidly, for our supply as well as Ukraine’s?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he is expert in these matters. It is certainly the case that countries have depleted their own stockpiles to support Ukraine, and as a result of a profoundly changed global security situation, everybody has committed more money to defence. Although that is great news for the defence industry in the medium term, it brings with it more demand than current manufacturing capacity can supply. The former Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin)—sadly, he left the Ministry of Defence in the latest reshuffle, but he has been brilliantly replaced by the new one, my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke)—worked hard to make sure that that new manufacturing capacity is brought online as quickly as possible.
Training is as important as military hardware. Here, too, the UK has been in the vanguard, busily establishing a network of camps to train 10,000 Ukrainians. This has been accompanied by specialist armed training across a number of countries in Europe. To date, we have trained more than 4,700 troops from the armed forces of Ukraine in the UK, and our units are being joined by forces from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand. Our training offer is already making a difference to Ukraine’s combat effectiveness, and it will continue for as long as Ukraine wishes.
Ukraine has proven its capability not just to halt the invasion but to roll the Russians back. Those who contended that the support provided by the UK and our international partners was futile have been proven wrong, but Ukraine now needs more support to get through the winter, to push home its position of advantage and to recover its territorial integrity. That means helping Ukraine to replenish its stockpiles of equipment and ammunition as well as service its existing kit. It means helping Ukraine to plug its capability gap and refurbish the equipment captured in recent offensives. It also means making sure that as temperatures plummet to minus 20° and below, Ukrainian soldiers remain warm, well fed and motivated while Russian soldiers freeze without any concern from their leaders in the Kremlin.
At the beginning of August, at the invitation of the Danish Government, the Secretary of State co-chaired a conference to discuss further support for Ukraine on training, equipment and funding. At that conference, the Defence Secretary announced that the UK would establish an international fund for Ukraine to ensure the continued supply of essential military support throughout 2023. Last week, partner nations met again to reaffirm our commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, and to maintaining momentum on planning and co-ordinating our continued support to Ukraine throughout the next year.
In addition, the Prime Minister, speaking at the UN General Assembly, has pledged that this Government will match or exceed the £2.3 billion of support that the UK has given to Ukraine since February. This further cements our leadership internationally and our resolve to stand behind Ukraine as it retakes sovereign territory currently occupied by the Russians.
It is vital that we maintain our momentum in support of Ukraine. There will inevitably be those who, given the rising impacts of Putin’s weaponisation of energy, argue that we should seek to normalise relations with the Kremlin on Putin’s terms and return everything to the way it was, but we must be honest with the public. We cannot succumb to Putin’s scaremongering and threats of blackmail. This Government are doing everything they can do address the energy crisis, and on Wednesday my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary brought forward an unprecedented package of measures to address those issues.
Will my right hon. Friend make it very clear that however this war ends, Putin and his henchmen who are responsible for it can never escape from the sanctions imposed on them personally, and those responsible for war crimes will be held accountable for their actions?
On the last point, I can certainly confirm to my right hon. Friend that there is every intention to make sure that people are held fully to account for the outrages that they committed or that were committed in their name. On his former point about the ongoing imposition of sanctions against those who were involved, I know that colleagues from the Foreign Office and the Treasury will be keen to make sure that that is absolutely the case.
What we cannot do is turn back the clock. The consequences of appeasing Putin would be catastrophic not just for Ukraine, but for security in the Euratlantic as a whole. Russia would continue to threaten the prosperity of the UK and its allies, and indeed the entire rules-based international system.
We should not assume that Putin’s ambitions would stop at Ukraine. If we fail to maintain western resolve, Putin could seek to expand his ambitions beyond Ukraine and into NATO territory in the Baltics or against our other partners. An emboldened Russia would also mean an emboldened President Xi in China. In other words, relaxing our resolve would make the next 20 years on our planet far more uncomfortable, dangerous and expensive.
It is therefore to the enormous credit of the British public that in the face of significant personal financial challenge, they continue to overwhelmingly support the Ukrainian war effort. Their support sends a more powerful message to Putin than anything I, or any other Minister, could say from the Dispatch Box. Let us make no mistake: His Majesty’s Government will not falter and Putin’s latest pronouncements will not change our course. We will continue to stand up for and with Ukraine for as long as it takes. We will continue to provide the Ukrainian people with all the support they need to rid their land of the Russian occupiers.
I start by welcoming the wonderful news of the release of British prisoners of war overnight. It is welcome that they are returning home, but we recognise the pain and hurt of all the families involved, because not everyone is returning safely.
I also welcome the Minister’s new job in the Cabinet. Before the last reshuffle, the shadow Front Bench team said to the Front Bench team that we were hoping that he and the Defence Secretary would stay in their positions, and they have. I also welcome the new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton), to her place.
Seven months on from Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, we have reached a new and critical phase of the ongoing conflict. We should all be inspired by the remarkable resilience of the people of Ukraine, who have refused to bow to Russia’s oppression. I recognise the extraordinary Ukrainian counter-offensives that have taken place in recent weeks, which the Minister set out in such detail.
Our argument has never been with the Russian people but with the dictator in the Kremlin. Overnight, we have seen brave Russian civilians stand up to the authoritarian state that curbs their freedom, restricts their voice and keeps the people in poverty while the oligarchs count their yachts and villas. Today, possibly thousands of Russian civilians are in jail, arrested simply for exercising their human right to protest. As we have stood with the Ukrainian people against aggression, I make special mention in the House of the courage of those protesters.
The horrors of war that we have seen in the newly liberated areas remind us of the atrocities and the pain that many Ukrainians have suffered in the past weeks. I join the Minister in setting out a clear determination that those responsible must be prosecuted and brought to justice for the hideous war crimes that we are seeing unfolding.
It is welcome news that a load of generals and colonels have been sanctioned and placed in The Hague’s waiting room, as it were, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to go much further down the food chain than that? Each and every one of the individuals involved in those atrocities needs to have their card marked. They have dishonoured the profession of bearing arms and need to be dealt with sooner or later.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Anyone who perpetrates war crimes against civilians must know that, in the 21st century, they will be prosecuted and followed in the pursuit of justice from the day they commit that atrocity to the day they die. We must not leave any space, justification or excuse for war crimes— at all, anywhere, ever. That is a message that will be sent from hon. Members on both sides of the House to those people, regardless of rank, who have persecuted civilians and committed war crimes against them.
One of my grave concerns is the prosecution of sexual violence in conflict. The issue is that, often, we cannot get the evidence, because by the time the prosecution has come—once the shame has been allowed to pass and there has been discussion—it is too late to collect that evidence. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts on a special tribunal formed to collect evidence and prosecute sexual crimes to ensure that, in all conflicts, evidence is collected at the start to ensure prosecutions at a later stage.
I am grateful for that intervention. The shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), and I were in Kosovo only a few months ago, where we witnessed the effects of the horrible sexual violence that was used as a weapon of war. The determination of the international community then was that it would never be repeated, but it has been in conflicts ever since. We need to make sure that not only is the evidence collected, but the victims are given the support that they will need, in many cases, for the rest of their lives. As we made it clear that killing civilians will not be countenanced, so we make it clear that using rape and sexual assault as a weapon of war will not be countenanced. We will come after those people as well.
In the Syrian war, the Russians and their Syrian allies targeted hospitals as primary targets. Does the hon. Member agree it is regrettable that at the time we did not say and do more and that the international community did not say and do more to hold responsible those senior army officers who were responsible for the deliberate targeting of hospitals, which is one of the most basic breaches of the Geneva conventions?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s intervention, and I do tend to agree with him. As a country, we need to take stock of the freedom that Putin has been given over many years—not just in Syria or parts of the countries bordering his country, but in Crimea—because the tactics the Russians are using in Ukraine now have been perfected over many years and the space the international community has given him to do that has encouraged the use of many of those tactics. We need to look carefully at how we stand up for such individuals in the future, but we will do that by standing firmly with the people of Ukraine at this time. I will make some progress before I give way again.
It is clear that Vladimir Putin is a bully. His partial mobilisation announcements along with his sham referendums to illegally annex large swathes of Ukraine are shameless. They are a cynical attempt to justify a war that has gone badly wrong for Russia. We should view partial mobilisation as weakness—an attempt to hide the fact that, so far, Russian strategy has failed, weapons have failed, command and control has failed, and none of Russia’s war objectives has been met. Putin’s latest miscalculation will lead to more Russian families losing their sons, more Ukrainians being killed and more suffering. The mobilised forces sent to Ukraine will be on the receiving end of high-end western weaponry, and a determined and morally just Ukrainian military defending every inch of its country. In these circumstances, with the poorly equipped Russian conscripts facing cold weather, it is perhaps not surprising that we are seeing so many reports of desertion and troops being unwilling to fight. That means Putin will, I regret, resort to more and more fear to try to achieve his objectives.
I think the cross-party support we are hearing today for Ukraine and for the victims of murder and sexual violence sends a very powerful message. Does the hon. Member agree that the next challenge, even though it feels early to be thinking this yet, is to be preparing to win the peace? Quite often in the past, when we have left military successes—Iraq would be the outstanding example—we have not laid strong foundations to win the peace. Does he agree that we could use our soft power and places such as Wilton Park to hold conferences with the Ukrainians about what sort of democracy and peace we can help them create after this is all over.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I agree with him that our commitment to the people of Ukraine has to be long term—ensuring not only that they win and Putin fails, but that they can rebuild a nation that is proudly sovereign, proudly independent, safe and secure, and able to stand tall on the international stage, which is precisely what Vladimir Putin would fear the most. That is what our commitment must be, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that that commitment and determination is cross-party—from every single party in this place.
The actions and rhetoric we are seeing from Vladimir Putin are not new, sadly. I agree with the Minister when he says that Putin’s words on the use of nuclear weapons is sabre rattling, and it is a weakness of his argument that he is resorting to it. These are the actions of a desperate man clinging to power at the helm of a pariah state. His threats should not only be condemned by every party in our Parliament, as they are, but by every country—every peace-loving country—on this planet. His actions show how desperate he is, how weak he is and how much he has miscalculated, and those actions show that he must fail.
We must not downplay the seriousness of the situation. People at home and abroad, having heard those words, are understandably worried about the gravity of the threats that have been made by Russia. In this House, however, we must be careful not to fan the flames of Putin’s information war of fake news. I think I speak for everyone in this place when I say that now is not the time for the UK to weaken or dilute our resolve for Ukraine, but to remember that at heart Putin is a bully and the only way of standing up to a bully is by making sure that we do so firmly and determinedly, and that such a commitment is long lasting.
I completely agree with what my hon. Friend is saying about Ukraine now, but we could have been saying it back in 2014. One problem is that we did not take this issue seriously enough in 2014, because that emboldened Putin and now we see what we see. I worry that sometimes we focus exclusively on things that Putin says about nuclear weapons, and not enough on the warfare in which he has already engaged with this country through cyber, targeting many Members of the House and the political establishment. Do we need to do far more to ensure that we are protecting ourselves?
I agree with my hon. Friend. His has been a siren voice that has been warning this House and the public about Putin’s actions for a great many years, and we must ensure that those lessons are learned. Putin has been telling the international community what he wants to do for many years, and he has been engaging in economic warfare, cyber-warfare, disinformation and political interference for many years. We need to strengthen all our fronts if we are to deter that type of behaviour, not only from Russia but from other states that wish to do us harm in the future.
To follow on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) was with me in Kosovo a couple of months ago where we heard about a Russian disinformation, misinformation, and hacking centre that employs thousands of personnel in Serbia. Do we also need to take this fight to third countries that are facilitating Russian misinformation, disinformation and hacking, including in Ukraine, the Balkans, the Baltic states and around the world?
My hon. Friend is right. The cyber-campaigns against the west and against freedom and democracy are not contained only to bot factories in St Petersburg; they are deliberately being deployed around the world through, in many cases attempts of deniable cyber-warfare. We know that is coming, and we must ensure that we strengthen our own defences—political, military, economic and cyber—against that. At this very moment there are probably enormous numbers of posts on social media feeds across Britain that are seeking to spread misinformation. We must be alive to the reasons why they are there, to why Russia is investing in that capability, to what effect they are seeking to create in our society, and we must counter that. That is a job not only for ourselves, but we must also support our allies in doing so.
We need a long-term joined-up strategy. We know that despite Putin’s strategic miscalculation, Russian aggression will continue. The Government have had Labour’s full backing to provide military support to Ukrainian troops, and they will continue to have that. We welcome the new Prime Minister’s confirmation that this year’s military funding for Ukraine will, as a minimum, be matched over the next year. However, we now need to set out a clear strategy for what military, economic and diplomatic support for Ukraine will be. In summer the Government said that they would set out a roadmap for that, and I would be grateful if, when he responds to the debate, the Minister said when he expects that to be published.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one important aspect of that is that a great many other eastern European countries and former Soviet states along the Russian border have been carefully watching what happens in Ukraine with some trepidation? It is as important to have a long-term strategy for Ukraine as it is to reassure those countries of NATO’s commitment to their future.
I agree with the hon. Lady. Our commitment to our allies in eastern Europe must be concrete and long-term, and we must also consider the tactics and strategies used by Russia in Ukraine to update how we plan to defend and deter any aggression. We have seen with the development of pinpoint accuracy artillery fire and loitering munitions that some of the tactics we once thought we would deploy may need to be updated to ensure that we can deter any threat and, if a threat moves to actual military conflict, that we can win in those circumstances. I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention.
The strategy that I hope the Minister will outline should set up long-term, politically broad support for Ukraine in the future, because only a long-term strategy will reassure the Ukrainians, and also the British people, that we will stand unwaveringly with their country. It will also send a clear, unmistakable message to the Kremlin that Britain will continue to stand with Ukraine and our NATO allies for as long as it takes to see off Russian aggression, not just in Ukraine, but in the Baltic states, in Bosnia and Kosovo, in the Mediterranean and the middle east, in the north Atlantic and the high north, and on social media as well.
That means that we need to look at the Prime Minister’s announcement in updating the integrated review. The Prime Minister’s commitment to match the funding for military assistance to Ukraine next year is welcome, but we are yet to see the action plan that will give us the detail. We need to see that in the context of the UK’s wider defence arrangements. A few weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Defence Secretary visited the British Army’s outstanding training program for Ukrainian forces, meeting the brave Ukrainian troops who are by now on the frontline, fighting in the Donbas, having been armed with British skill on that training program. This is a vital training program for the Ukrainians, which should be expanded and extended throughout next year and beyond, if the Ukrainians need it, and should also include cold weather training.
This week the Prime Minister also confirmed that the Government will update the integrated review of foreign and defence policy in response to the ongoing situation in Ukraine. I welcome this U-turn, which is good news. While Labour has been arguing for months for the need to update our defence plans, 20 of our NATO allies have already rebooted their defence plans and their spending since the invasion of Ukraine started in February. The decision that has now been taken should have been based on national security, not the Conservative leadership contest, but it is a welcome U-turn. Labour is ready to contribute and happy to support the Government in making sure that the next integrated review corrects the mistakes of the current one. However, if we want to pursue the persistent global engagement that was so present in the last integrated review, we must not cut 10,000 troops from our Army, and should look again at scrapping Hercules military transport planes, the plans to cut 10% of the reserves and our failure to have a war-fighting division able to be contributed to NATO until 2030.
An updated integrated review must also make British industry and our peacetime defence procurement systems a major priority. We cannot support Ukraine in the long term or ensure our own UK security when, on day 211 of this conflict, the MOD has still not proved capable of signing the contract to produce replacement stocks for the highly valued NLAW—next generation light anti-tank weapon—missiles that the Ukrainians are using to defend against the Russians. I would be grateful if, in summing up, the Minister set out when the Government expect that contract to be signed and when those missiles will be delivered, because depleting our stockpile is not a good strategic answer.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Does he also agree that it is essential that, at this crucial time especially, the Government do not make snide remarks about our European partners? It is very important to have the maximum unity in opposing what Russia is doing in Ukraine.
Rebuilding our European relations is a key part of making any integrated foreign policy review work. Those of us on the Opposition Benches can say very clearly that our friends across the channel are our friends. They are not our foes—there is not a question mark about it—and we stand with them in the face of Russian aggression. This is not a political game to be played. When the Kremlin can find division between the allies of the west, it will exploit it. We must stand firmly with our allies against this.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the armed forces’ incredible contribution on display last week during the late Queen’s state funeral. As a Plymouth MP, I am especially proud of the contribution of forces based across the south-west of England. I would like to put on record Labour’s thanks for the armed forces’ steadfast dedication to our country. They really have shown the best of Britain, and we are incredibly grateful for the part they played and continue to play in supporting Ukraine against Russian oppression. It was an honour to meet today, on a cross-party basis, some of the pallbearers who carried the Queen’s coffin.
Finally, on the Labour Benches, we are taught, as part of the trade union movement, that unity is strength—that we stand together and we are not divided. I say to the Minister that this is now a cross-party sentiment in this place, because it is the strength of Westminster when the party that I represent, the party now in government and every other party stand together in the face of such aggression, and we will continue to do so until Ukraine is free.
It is now seven months since Vladimir Putin launched his vile, illegal and unprovoked war against an innocent European country. In those seven months, his actions have cost almost as many Russian casualties as were sustained in the whole 10-year Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. If he continues at this rate, it will not be that long before Russian losses in Ukraine exceed American losses in the 20-year Vietnam conflict. And that is before we have counted the Ukrainian losses in the past seven months and the catastrophic suffering that Putin has inflicted on those people: the torture, systematic rape, mass murder and deliberate targeting time after time of apartment blocks, schools, kindergartens and hospitals.
In all those seven months of horror that this modern Moloch has personally unleashed, he has not attained a single one of his objectives in a war that, let us not forget, was meant to be over in days. He has not overturned the Ukrainian Government or captured the capital city. He has not even secured the Donbas—far from it. Instead of coming to terms with the reality of his mistake—I mean his complete misunderstanding of what Ukraine is and what really motivates Ukrainians, which is a simple love of their country—he has decided to double down on disaster. He announced the mobilisation of 300,000 more young Russians, a move that has caused such panic among people about to be fed into the meat grinder of Putin’s warzone that yesterday, in a single day, the price of a one-way air ticket from Moscow to South Africa went up to $50,000.
Those potential conscripts can see that what began as a war to rebuild the Soviet empire has collapsed into a shameful war to save Putin’s face. They have no desire to be sacrificed on the altar of his ego. At the same time, as Members from both Front Benches have pointed out, he is threatening to hold sham referendums in the territories he has occupied and then to defend those territories with every weapon, as he says, in his arsenal, in words that he hopes will make our flesh creep and weaken our resolve. He will fail in that pitiful bluster, because he can see and we can see that he is escalating his rhetoric not because he is strong, as has been said, but because he is weak. He is transparently a problem gambler who takes more risks not because he is winning but because he is now terrified of losing.
Putin did exactly the same, of course, in 2014. He held a fake referendum in Crimea and, unfortunately, the will of the west weakened. How do we make sure that people such as Orbán in Hungary and those who are preaching disinformation in Italy do not win the day and that we maintain the united strength of the west?
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his point and I will come directly to what happened in 2014 in just a minute. He should not underestimate the continued unity of the west. That is one of the signal achievements of Vladimir Putin in the past seven months: he has seen a more coherent and unified western alliance, and a stronger NATO perhaps, than at any time in the last 20 years.
If I may, I will just make some progress, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you wanted me to keep within 10 minutes. I will do my best.
Thanks to the heroism of the Ukrainian armed forces, thanks in part to the weapons we are proud to be offering —I congratulate the Minister for the Armed Forces and Veterans, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) on his description of the work of the UK armed forces and the huge list of weapons we are sending—and thanks, too, to the inspirational leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky, the Russian forces have, in recent days, been expelled from large parts of the north-east of the country around Kharkiv. They are under increasing pressure in Kherson in the south. I have no doubt whatever that the Ukrainians will win, because in the end they have the inestimable moral and psychological advantage of fighting for their country in their country against an enemy that is increasingly demoralised and confused about what they are meant to be doing in that country and what they can hope to achieve.
At this turning point in the war, it is more vital than ever that we have the strategic patience to hold our nerve and ensure that Ukrainians succeed in recapturing their territory right to the borders of 24 February and, if possible, to the pre-2014 boundaries, because that is what international law demands. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is correct: it was our collective failure to insist on upholding international law eight years ago that emboldened Putin to launch his disastrous invasion this year.
If Putin is going to double down on his aggression, we must double down in our defence of the Ukrainians, and we must be prepared to give more military assistance and more economic support, so I welcome warmly the announcements from the Government this week. We must work with our friends and partners, as well as the Ukrainians, to ensure that we provide that country with the long-term assurance they need on their security and defence that we have failed so far to provide in the 31 years since independence.
If anyone has proved the absolute necessity of those guarantees, it is Vladimir Putin and his war. We must close our ears in the months ahead to the absolute rubbish he talks. This is not some nuclear stand-off between NATO and Russia, as he seemed to pretend yesterday; this is a war of aggression by Russia against an innocent neighbour. We are helping with equipment and training, as we might help a neighbour to fight a fire when their house has been attacked by an arsonist. NATO is not engaged in a war against Russia. We are not engaged in a war against Russia, let alone against the Russian people.
By the way, we are not concerned here with regime change in Moscow, as Vladimir Putin egocentrically likes to claim. Whatever politics may hold for Putin may be the subject of an interesting debate, but that is not the issue at stake. There is only one objective: the sovereignty, independence and freedom of the people of Ukraine. That is our objective and we must acknowledge that the months ahead will be tough for Ukraine, Britain and the world.
For all the latest Ukrainian successes, Putin is still the possessor of almost 20% of Ukrainian territory and it may well be time-consuming and costly to winkle him out. I have no doubt that in the hard winter months ahead, with the price of energy continuing to inflict hardship on people in this country and around the world, there will continue to be some who draw the false conclusion that the Ukrainians must be encouraged to do a deal, to trade land for peace, to allow Russian gas to flow to Europe. Even if it were politically possible for Volodymyr Zelensky or any Ukrainian Government to do such a deal—which I very much doubt—there is absolutely no sign that Putin either wants such a compromise or can be trusted to deliver it, because he would continue to remain in position and could invade that country in the future.
As I have told the House many times before, any such deal or compromise would send a signal around the world that violence does pay off, that might is right and that when the going gets tough, the great democracies will not have the stomach to stick up for freedom. That is why we have absolutely no choice but to stay the course and to stay resolute. We should be confident because, with every week that goes by, our position gets stronger and Putin’s position gets weaker.
Although times are tough for families now, we should be in no doubt that this country has the economic muscle not just to help people with the costs of energy caused by Putin’s war, but to provide the long-term resilience of a secure and independent UK supply—including more nuclear, much more wind in the transitional period and more of our own hydrocarbons—to ensure that we are never again vulnerable to Putin’s energy blackmail.
It is a measure of Vladimir Putin’s giant strategic failure that he has not only united the west against him—the strength of that unity is remarkable, and by the way he has encouraged two hitherto neutral countries, Sweden and Finland, to join the NATO alliance, which would have been unthinkable a year ago—but decisively alienated his most valuable western customers from his most important Russian exports, oil and gas, with incalculable consequences for his people’s economic future.
Further to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about economic resilience, does he think that enough was done during his time as Mayor of London, and indeed during his time in this place, to deal with the issue that London has become a laundromat for dirty Russian money? Does he think that there are lessons to be learned from that period that he can share with the House?
I think the whole House will agree that since the invasion on 24 February the UK has led the world in imposing sanctions on Russia and in mobilising diplomatic, political and military support for the Ukrainians. I think that most impartial observers around the world—and I meet a lot of them—believe that if it had not been for the actions of the UK Government, things might have been different. I am delighted to see this Administration continuing with the commitments that we began; the financial commitments in particular are extremely important.
I am just about to conclude.
If it were not for Putin’s inability to see what is really happening—if he were not locked, as it were, in a windowless dungeon surrounded by bodyguards, spies and sycophants in a sort of Lubyanka of the mind—he would see the tragedy that he has unleashed. He would withdraw from Ukraine before he is pushed out—and he is going to be pushed out.
In the past seven months, the sufferings of Ukraine have moved the world; I know that they have moved everybody in this House and in this country. We grieve for the people of Ukraine, and we open our hearts to them as few other countries have done. We know that, thanks to their bravery and sacrifice, their day of freedom is coming. When that day comes, we will rejoice with Ukraine, and that rejoicing will echo around the world. Until that day comes, I am sure that this House and this country will stand in unshakeable support for the people of Ukraine.
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many hon. Members wish to speak, but we have only two hours left. There will therefore be an immediate time limit of five minutes for Back-Bench speakers—but not, of course, for the spokesman for the SNP, Mr Stewart McDonald.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I nodded along in agreement with much of what the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) said. I think it fair to say that when the February invasion took place, he and his Government, particularly the Defence Ministers on the Front Bench today, got the calls on Ukraine right. It is important to acknowledge that. Based on his remarks, I think he will do well in his new role as my warm-up act here in the Chamber.
I pay tribute to the new Under-Secretary of State for Defence—the hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton), who is not in her place right now—and congratulate those colleagues who have managed to stay in position amid the many changes. I also wish the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) well as the new Minister for Security. He was formerly the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I am a member; I think we will be in for various auditions for his replacement as this afternoon’s debate goes on.
Before I come to the crux of my remarks, I should also draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It was a pleasure, just two weeks ago, to be back in Ukraine and back in Kyiv—with some colleagues who I hope we shall hear from this afternoon—a country and a city that I have come to know and love over a few years now. On this occasion I was there to attend the annual YES—Yalta European Strategy—conference, which brings together civil society, political leaders, military leaders, academics, and others from around Europe to discuss Ukrainian and European security. There were many facets to the fascinating set of discussions that we had during the two days that our delegation spent there. It was also a real pleasure to meet members of Ukraine’s armed forces—who have so heroically not just fought for their country, but fought for what we all stand for and have cherished since 1945—and of course, the man himself, President Volodymyr Zelensky, who, as the former Prime Minister said, embodies everything that is noble in Europe right now.
Here we are, seven months on from this wave of a war that started in 2014, in which we have witnessed a level of barbarism and butchery that few of us could have imagined. Hospitals, schools and people’s homes have been the targets. We have seen, in Bucha and also more recently, evidence of some of the most heinous war crimes imaginable.
I did not have the opportunity to ask the former Prime Minister about his commitment to treating sexual crimes as war crimes. Can we all, on both sides of the House—including the hon. Gentleman—come together in viewing sexual violence as a war crime like any other?
Yes, I think we can come together and agree on that. I am sure that other colleagues will want to discuss it in great detail.
So here we are, seven months on from this invasion, and—as was mentioned by the former Prime Minister—much in the world has changed. Sweden and Finland have joined NATO, unity among western countries is something like never before, and, indeed, unity in this House is something like never before. In fact, we may have been only partly joking with our Ukrainian counterparts, during a recent visit, in saying that supporting Ukraine might well be the only issue that unites this House. Given the noises coming from the new Government, I suspect that that will be even more the case, but it is important for that unity to be maintained and developed in support of Ukraine.
Back in February the German Federal Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, told us that not just his country but all of Europe was at a turning point: a Zeitenwende, as they say in Germany. Seven months on, however, it seems to me less like a turning point and more like Gramsci’s interregnum, in which the old is dying but the new cannot yet be born. At the moment, we are in a messy flux. While I think that the unity of purpose that we have is serving us well to get through the tumult that we are going through and Ukraine is going through, I also think that there is much in our own record—the record of all of us in the House and across the west—that we need to assess, going back, yes, to 2014, but also to 2008. I have to say to the former Prime Minister that we should consider the issue of how Russian money has been treated in this country.
I think it takes a lot to admit it when one has got things wrong, and I think it only fair that we, as staunch partisans at times, give our opponents the space to make that admission. It is easier said than done, but if the new world that is incubating in the messy time in which we are currently living is to be born, that is the way in which I think we have to approach it.
There is another important point to be made. As the winter bites and energy prices go through the roof, and as what in some quarters has been called “Ukraine fatigue” may start to settle in, there is a particular group of people in society of whom I think we should be mindful: those whom the Germans call the Putinversteher, the “Putin whisperers”, who would seek to apologise for, or contextualise, or somehow make excuses for Russian “legitimate” interests in Ukraine. They should be thoroughly ignored. Since the February invasion, they have, temporarily and rather embarrassingly, been silent, but they are undoubtedly starting to rear their heads again.
Yes, I agree. The hon. Lady is absolutely spot on. One of the most insidious arguments from that particular group—and they can be found on the extreme left or the extreme right, in every country and in Parliaments, National Assemblies, the media, think-tanks and elsewhere—is that we should stop arming Ukraine. I am sure that I speak for everyone that I was in Ukraine with recently when I say that we could see and hear up close what a difference arming Ukraine is making.
That support has to continue for three main reasons, which I will outline as briefly as possible. First, I do not believe that it is possible to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. We should look at his record not just in Ukraine right now but in Georgia and Syria. This is a Government who practise the famous double-tap strike, whereby the Russian armed forces hit an area, wait for the first responders to arrive and then hit it again. I do not think that it is possible to negotiate with a regime that carries itself in that way.
The former Prime Minister is absolutely right to say—this is another important point—that anything we do going forward has to be on President Zelensky’s terms. Ukrainians do not want to negotiate with the regime in the Kremlin. We only have to look at the sheer joy on their faces when Ukrainian armed forces turn up in their towns and villages to liberate them and save them what has been experienced in Bucha, Mariupol and Kherson. The emotional scenes that we have seen and, I am sure, will continue to see tell us that we have got our support for Ukraine right. They should also put paid to the ideas of extremists—that is the only way to describe them—who would seek to divvy up Ukraine on a map. I would love to hear them tell me which towns they would like to see handed over to the Kremlin.
When we were in Ukraine, we met a young 15-year-old guy and his father. I am sure that Members will have read about Andriy Pokrasa and his father. When Russians were surrounding his village, he had the bravery and ingenuity to launch his own drone into the air to take photographs of Russian positions and send them to the Ukrainian armed forces. Members can imagine what happened to those Russian positions soon afterwards. He is now back at school studying. It was an honour to meet him. I would love to see one of these armchair extremists tell him that he should instead have gone out and negotiated with the Russians at the end of his street. Imagine what would have happened had he been caught. They knew the danger, but still they did everything they could to defend not just their own hometown but their country as well.
Lastly, the war is not just a war on territory. It is a war on values, liberalism, democracy, sovereignty and everything that we have cherished since 1945. I do not think that that is the kind of thing that can be negotiated away lightly. The Putin whisperers must be ignored. They must feel the complete contempt of those of us who want to see Ukraine win. The war could stop tomorrow if Russia stopped fighting, but if Ukraine stops fighting, the country will cease to exist. A Russian victory would be a disaster for everyone in Europe, and it is something that we should not even consider. Russian soldiers and now this latest group of conscripts will be fighting solely for their wages, while Ukrainian soldiers fight for their future and for ours. We all remain united in this House. Ukraine must win. We must continue to support them. And it is in that vein that I offer that support to the Government this afternoon.
I also pay tribute to our armed forces, and their contribution to the incredible events that we saw play out on television over the past few days. It was no easy feat, and we can salute all our armed forces, but particularly those pallbearers who did such a magnificent job. I believe that a worthy way to immortalise Queen Elizabeth and what she did for our country as our longest-serving monarch would be to rename one of our bank holidays to Elizabeth day. That debate is for another day, but I hope we can return to it.
It is an honour to follow the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). He and I did not see eye to eye on everything, but in the case of Ukraine, I hope he recognises that I have always supported what he has done, and indeed, the nation can be proud of it. As I have seen on all my visits to Ukraine, the work Britain has done in stepping forward, more so than many other NATO nations, is recognised. Thanks are due to my right hon. Friend for leading that charge.
I want to step back from what is happening in Ukraine for a second and look at the bigger picture. We must ask ourselves a fundamental question, one that I pose on a regular basis: is our world likely to become more or less dangerous over the next few years? I think the answer is very clear: it is the former. This is not just about Ukraine, but a worrying growth in authoritarianism versus democracy across the globe, and the emergence of a new alliance—one that is not so obvious yet—between Russia and China. They share a mutual disdain for not only our international rules-based order, but for the west and the United States in particular. They are challenging the status quo that we have enjoyed since the end of the cold war. We have enjoyed that relative peace for three decades, but we have become complacent in nurturing our democratic values, and authoritarian states are becoming bolder and more assertive in promoting their own agenda. Consequently, our world is becoming more siloed and more protectionist, and we have become more risk averse.
Our actions now—what we do and how we handle Ukraine, given that the conflict is now moving into a darker chapter—will determine how the next decade plays out. China is watching our response carefully, given that it has its sights on Taiwan. Seven months on from Putin’s unprovoked invasion, the west is, I think, starting to wake up to the reality that state-on-state aggression is back, but our institutions built to constrain rogue actors are vulnerable, and new technology has given autocrats new forms of leverage. The art of conflict itself is consequently changing, with not just cyber-attacks, as mentioned already, but economic attacks, including the unprecedented use of international sanctions. All those things have global consequences for the way we do business.
This is moving into the area of Clausewitz and what exactly war is—whether it is simply the military on the battlefield, or the politics and the economics. We have not really woken up to that, but Putin is using politics and economics to harm the rest of Europe with oil and gas, as well as grain. There is an irony here: we will have a debate in this place tomorrow, as we absolutely should, about supporting people through the cost of energy crisis we are facing here, but many of our problems are actually in Europe. Sorting those out would be a huge step towards dealing with some of the local problems we are facing.
We need to work more collectively and be less risk averse. We get spooked by some of the rhetoric that comes from Putin, and he has done it again by wanting to go down this avenue of using nuclear weapons. As has been touched on before, Russian doctrine includes the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and we need to understand that doctrine. The Minister refused to answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith)—others are saying, “Quite right.”
We need clarity on what our doctrine is because it needs to be confirmed with our allies as well. We could cross a threshold here and we would not necessarily know what to do. I am afraid that Putin has taken advantage of our risk-averseness and of the fact that we have put red lines in, such as over chemical weapons in Syria, and then not responded. People can shake their heads as much as they like. This is an awkward conversation that needs to be had as to what Britain, NATO and the United States will do if a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon is used in the Donbas region. I pose that as a question. We can take it behind the scenes and not discuss it, and then it will actually happen and we will look at each other and say, “What do we actually do?”
Russia needs to know that we are willing to stand up to what Putin is doing, otherwise he will continue, as will other adversaries, to take advantage of our collective weakness. We have done well to provide the weapons systems to Ukraine to advance it in what it is doing. We now need to take it further and leverage that ability to push forward, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip said, to make sure that we can conclude what goes on in Ukraine. If we do not put out this fire in Ukraine, it will spread elsewhere.
I rise to pay tribute to the unparalleled courage and steely determination of the Ukrainian armed forces, to condemn the barbaric imperialism of Vladimir Putin, and to call on the UK Government to go further and faster in their work to isolate the Kremlin. The Ukrainian armed forces have done what nobody thought was possible. Their audacious and expertly executed counter-offensive on the north-eastern front has seen them take back in six days what it took Russia six months to conquer, and the Putin occupation has become a humiliating retreat. His forces are demoralised and shambolic, weaknesses that will certainly not be addressed by calling up a few hundred thousand extra amateurs. But let us be clear: we should never have allowed things to get to this point.
For more than 20 years, the west was naive and complacent in its response to the authoritarianism and imperialism that was becoming the dominant world view in Moscow, but the weakness of the reaction to Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was particularly unforgivable. Indeed, it is striking that seven of the Russians now subject to British sanctions were awarded so-called “golden visas” after the invasion of Crimea. This negligence was based on the deeply mistaken view that trade should take precedence over geopolitics and the utter failure to recognise that, if you give a bully an inch, he will always take a mile. With a brutal war now taking place in a country that is just a few hours from London, with our energy bills going through the roof and with Russian state- sponsored assassinations on the streets of Britain, we have truly learned our lesson the hard way.
As director of the British Council in St Petersburg at the time of the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning, I witnessed at first hand the iron fist of the Russian Federation under Putin. The relationship between the UK and Russia had utterly broken down. The Russian state had already attempted to close my office once and my staff were soon being subjected to terrifying harassment and intimidation. It was utterly chilling, but none of that compares to what our Ukrainian allies are facing now.
Although it has been heartening to see the west coming together since 24 February to take a more robust and resolute position, we must go further and faster. More must be done to isolate Russia, as that is the only way in which we will see the Russian people beginning to turn against the Kremlin in meaningful numbers. We must do all we can to support those brave anti-war protesters we saw on the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg last night.
First, let us look at the army of lawyers, bankers, accountants and estate agents in London who are doing the Kremlin’s dirty work. They set up the shell companies that enable dirty Russian money to flow through our country, enriching the corrupt Russian elites who have profited handsomely from the reign of Putin and who are bankrolling his war machine. The Government must ensure that the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill closes these loopholes and closes down the facilitators who have turned London into the money laundering capital of the world. However, as a Foreign Affairs Committee report of this June pointed out, for sanctions to work, enforcement bodies need teeth. Currently, Britain spends just 0.042% of GDP on funding economic crime enforcement bodies, so it is unsurprising that money laundering prosecutions have dropped by 35% in the past five years. In addition, the British overseas territories are awash with dirty Russian money. Under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, public registers of beneficial ownership were meant to be in place by the end of 2020, but the new date given is the end of 2023. This is too slow, and it is a gift to Putin’s cronies.
Secondly, we were all deeply touched and inspired by the fact that well over 200,000 households volunteered to host Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war, but somehow the Government managed to turn that uplifting story of British generosity into a bureaucratic nightmare. Now, as the cost of food and energy spirals, there are real fears that many Ukrainians will be made homeless. The Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities must therefore grip the issue with urgency.
President Zelensky is the leader of the free world. He is on the frontline in the global battle between democracy and autocracy. His people and armed forces have stood firm and resolute in this battle, and thousands of them have tragically made the ultimate sacrifice. We owe them a debt of honour and gratitude that simply must be settled. Of course there is an economic cost, as Putin will continue to weaponise Russia’s energy supplies to Europe, but we cannot put a price on freedom. We on the Opposition Benches therefore urge the Government to strengthen and intensify their support for the heroes of Ukraine both on and off the battlefield.
I begin by congratulating the three Front-Bench spokesmen on the eloquence and unanimity that has been displayed. In studying the depravity of dictators, one quickly understands that cynicism has no limits and hypocrisy no boundaries. Putin likes to draw parallels with the second world war, and there are indeed parallels to be drawn. For example, the false flag operations go back to the very outbreak of that war. On 31 August 1939, Hitler would have had it that the war began because Poles attacked a radio station at Gleiwitz, on the east German border. They were in fact Nazis dressed up in Polish uniforms, and they even left the dead bodies of concentration camp victims as props in that scheme. It is a sign that Putin’s comparisons are insufficiently accurate or insufficiently free of hypocrisy that he does not recognise that what started that war was Stalin’s pact with the Nazis to divide up Poland between them.
This is necessarily a short debate, which is just as well, because I side with those who do not think it is a very good idea for us to discuss military strategy in an ongoing campaign on the Floor of this House. What we can observe is that one complicating factor in a dictatorship such as Putin’s Russia is that there are no mechanisms whereby a leader who is unethical, irresponsible, incompetent and indeed murderous can constitutionally be removed. That has to be a factor in our considerations.
If it were not too flippant, I would be tempted to remark that it is truly a sign of desperation and indeed substandard propaganda that a cheerleader for Putin yesterday threatened a nuclear strike on London if we continue to help Ukraine defend territory that is being illegally annexed. Given the extent of the property portfolios of so many of Putin’s oligarchs in the centre of this great city, they would, I think, have a word or two of objection to a Russian strategy of that sort.
The beginning of the invasion left quite a few people thinking that resistance was unlikely to be successful. Indeed, it probably would not have been successful but for the supply of complex weapons systems that had taken place since the earlier invasion of Crimea. As a result, we have seen the Russians’ air arm neutralised, the Russian fleet’s major surface unit in the area sunk, tanks and other vehicles destroyed, and ground troops decimated. The only tactic that has been left to the Russian dictator has been the physical destruction—usually by long-range artillery—of territory that the Russians cannot take and hold.
I totally agree with the comments of my right hon. Friend. I am sure this is happening, but combat supplies and spare parts need to be reinforced, because complex weapon systems go wrong and need to be repaired. While we are at it, as we come into winter, it would be good to provide the Ukrainian armed forces with simple little things such as face masks so they can go through the winter, because they probably do not have them.
Not for the first time, my right hon. and gallant Friend anticipates my next but one point. I will make the next point first, which is that, because the only tactic left is destruction, the area of doubt is how far Putin will go. Will he simply think that by escalating destruction, the Ukrainians will suddenly say, “We can’t take any more of this and we’re going to surrender”? Surely the events of the past months have shown that any such approach would be completely counterproductive. The more he behaves atrociously, the stronger the resistance will be and rightly so.
My right hon. and gallant Friend referred to the supplies that we give. Of course it is greatly to the credit of the previous Government and, indeed, the previous Prime Minister, who spoke earlier in this debate, that we have given such substantial supplies, but in giving those supplies, we have seriously depleted our own stocks. What I need to hear from the Minister is that a full-scale effort is being made and will be increased to ensure that the more we give, the higher our rate of replacement will be, because an effort cannot be sustained if the people who are resisting run out of supplies.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to conclude any debate about defence without making a reference to the need to reach 3% of GDP. We have made progress: we now have a pledge to reach 3% of GDP by 2030, but the situation in 2030 is a long way away—it is longer than the second world war, with which I began. We need to reach it sooner than that.
The Ukrainian, Leon Trotsky, said:
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
Leon Trotsky was previously a resident of Mykolaiv and Odessa. This phrase, uttered by Trotsky the communist revolutionary, has proven quite accurate for many people living in those parts of Ukraine in 2022.
The Liberal Democrats must add to the chorus of condemnation in relation to Putin’s nuclear threats. President Joe Biden said, on the eve of the February invasion:
“We have no intention of fighting Russia.”
As Ukrainian courage and willingness to resist Russia’s occupation have grown, so has NATO’s willingness to supply materiel to Ukraine and so have Ukrainian ambitions grown in terms of how much of their country can be de-occupied.
Putin claimed yesterday that, at the Istanbul talks in March this year, Ukraine’s representatives gave positive responses to Russia’s proposals. Putin claimed that a
“peaceful settlement obviously did not suit the West, which is why, after certain compromises were coordinated, Kyiv was ordered to wreck all these agreements.”
We in the UK should state plainly that Kyiv’s war aims are for Kyiv to formulate, independent of its friends and allies in the west.
Some have said that, without NATO, Ukraine would not prosper militarily in the way that Ukraine appears to be doing, and that we in the west need to determine our own end state, our own strategy, and then influence the Ukrainians. I would counter that we must make it plain to Putin and the wider world that it is the Ukrainian Government who are making all the decisions.
We need to be straightforward about the fallacy of Putin’s narrative that Kyiv is “receiving orders” from western advisers, as he puts it.
Putin said yesterday:
“Some irresponsible Western politicians are doing more than just speak about their plans to organize the delivery of long-range offensive weapons to Ukraine…Washington, London and Brussels are openly encouraging Kiev to move the hostilities to our territory.”
I suggest that it would be simple for the Minister to correct that misinformation and to state that London has offered our allies in Kyiv no encouragement to strike Russia within its own borders. Rather, we should expose Putin’s rhetoric by stating categorically that the UK’s multiple-launch rocket system is supplied on condition that it is not used to strike anything within Russia’s internationally recognised borders.
It was mentioned earlier that some of us on the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine were hosted last week in Kyiv by Yalta European Strategy. I joined that APPG visit and, like the hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), I was interviewed on Ukrainian television. I offered viewers of Priamyi TV reassurance that the change in the UK of both the Head of State and the Prime Minister within just a few days would not disrupt the support the UK gives to Ukraine.
Political parties across this House have united in opposition to Putin’s brutal and illegal war of conquest. The Liberal Democrats will back the steps necessary to ensure that the light of freedom and democracy continues to burn in Kyiv. It was striking last week to look into the eyes of counterpart MPs from the Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada. Like others on the Ukraine APPG, I was struck by how fiercely independent those parliamentarians we met are—they would be unwilling to take orders from anyone, be it Russia, Europe or anywhere else.
Some Members of this House may not be interested in war. Given that war risks being, as Trotsky said, interested in us, I urge those colleagues who do have some bearing on the situation to stand firm in the face of aggression and threats. Then we should hope that Ukraine shows magnanimity in its dealings with Russia, so that it may bring this sorry episode to a close.
A number of colleagues on both sides of the House have talked about the seven months of this conflict. In truth, it is part of a much longer strategic conflict between Putin and Ukraine. From 2007, when Putin set out his worldview at the Munich security conference, we have known roughly where he was likely to go. From his interference in Ukraine in 2004 through the 2008 invasion of Georgia and the illegal annexation of Crimea, it is all part of a continuum of behaviour that I am afraid we have for too long overlooked because it did not suit us to take a realistic view.
This time, however, as the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), rightly said, Putin’s aims have completely, clearly and explicitly failed. Those aims, let us remember, were to remove President Zelensky, install a puppet Government, defeat the Ukrainian armed forces and effectively destroy Ukraine as a functioning state.
As a consequence, Putin faces mounting criticism at home and abroad. Yesterday alone we saw 1,300 arrests in Moscow, and we should give our support to those willing to make that protest for their moral courage in doing so. We have even seen Moskovskij Komsomolets, the normally placid news outlet in Russia, criticising what it called the “underestimation of the enemy”, stating that Russia had suffered a defeat and was minimising losses by withdrawing—not the sort of comments we expect to see from that particular organ of the state.
The criticism from outside has not been confined to the free world. Prime Minister Modi made clear last week to Putin that this
“is not an era for war”.
Even the Russians had to admit that the Chinese had disquiet about what was happening in Ukraine, and little wonder, because it has brought about a much more united west and a new focus on areas such as Taiwan, which the Chinese have certainly not welcomed.
The net result all of that for Putin is that he is cornered, but that is by no means a cause for celebration in the west. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) wrote this week in a very good article in The Spectator—I commend it to all Members—Putin makes threats to frighten us, but to minimise the chance of the use of a tactical or strategic nuclear weapon,
“we need to assume that the threat is real”.
It may be sabre-rattling, but it may not be. We have miscalculated with Putin before; we cannot afford to miscalculate again. He is a tyrant with a tyrant’s behaviour: paranoid, petulant and progressively more extreme. He will throw more and more Russian lives into the fire without hesitation, as so many of his predecessors did.
He may be, but we would be foolish to assume so. Public opinion, even in places such as Russia, under a regime such as Putin’s, can turn. Yes, internal forces can produce a change in the personnel and the nature of a Government, but that can take a long time to happen—if ever—and we should not calculate based on that coming through, as many lives may be lost in the interim.
As many Members have said, we must continue to support Ukraine, its Government and its people with moral and political support, as the Prime Minister set out in New York; to provide weapons to Ukraine, at whatever cost, as long as they are required; and to maintain our united front with other allied nations in the free world, especially in our efforts to stop Russia’s war machine being funded through the sale of fossil fuels.
While we deal with the Ukraine war, we must continue to focus on other threats that are being posed around that region. We do not have the luxury in security and foreign policy to choose to focus on one conflict alone, and I will briefly point to two other conflicts. The first is in the Balkans, where Russia and China have been heavily arming Serbia, and where the very real threat of renewed conflict—with all the horrors of the ethnic wars that we saw there before—is something that we must be alive to. The second example is the involvement of Iran, which has supplied weapons, drones and political support to Russia at a time when few other countries have been willing to do so, and is trying to develop its own nuclear weapon. As we have discussed in the debate, we have seen what nuclear blackmail can look like. Does anyone seriously believe that the world would be a safer place were Iran to become a nuclear weapon state, or that, were Iran able to, it would disrupt fossil fuel supplies any less than Russia?
The common thread running through much of this is that we have collectively allowed wishful thinking to replace critical analysis on far too many occasions. The safety of our world requires us to do much better in future.
I join previous speakers in applauding the heroism and sacrifice of Ukrainian forces, who, in just a few short weeks, have liberated vast swathes of territory previously occupied by Russia. We cannot yet comprehend the scale of the suffering that is taking place in Russian-occupied Ukraine, but the widespread reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity that are emerging from the liberated territories serve as a potent reminder of why Putin must not be allowed to succeed in this criminal endeavour.
I also pay tribute to the immense bravery of the thousands of Russian citizens who took to the streets yesterday in protest of the partial mobilisation of the army reserves. They did so in the full knowledge that they were defying the decrees of a regime that tolerates no dissent, and I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with those who have been taken into custody.
As a new and far more dangerous phase of the war begins, the UK must remain steadfast in its support for the struggle of the Ukrainian people, but as Putin once again forces the world to reckon with the spectre of nuclear war, we must also remain ever vigilant to the dangers of an escalation of the conflict. As President Biden told the UN General Assembly yesterday:
“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
While I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to providing military aid to Ukraine, I must tell Ministers that their responsibilities to the Ukrainian people extend far beyond the battlefield. In the early months and weeks of the war, the Government refused to follow the lead of our European friends and neighbours and waive visa requirements for refugees fleeing the onslaught. Now, Ukrainians who were promised safety and security in Britain face an uncertain future. Across the country as many as 50,000 Ukrainians could be homeless in the new year as a result of Ministers’ woeful failure to provide additional support or even the most basic clarity ahead of the ending of the initial six-month sponsorships.
I have had the great privilege of meeting Ukrainian refugees who now live in my constituency, and meeting the families who have opened their homes and hearts to them. With the cost of living crisis hitting hard, I am afraid that many of those sponsorships will simply not be sustainable without additional support. Indeed, in some local authorities, fewer than a quarter of hosts are in a position to extend their guests’ stay beyond the first six months. Councils across the country are warning that the situation is reaching breaking point.
This was an entirely foreseeable crisis, and it is, frankly, unforgiveable that Ministers have yet to come forward with a credible plan for what happens when a refugee’s initial six-month stay comes to an end. But it is not too late to act, so I urge the Government to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that in situations where the relationship between hosts and guests remains viable, those sponsorships can continue. That must mean greatly increasing financial support for hosts, as Lord Harrington, the former refugees Minister, recommended last month. The Government must also acknowledge that community sponsorship was only ever intended as a short-term solution to an immediate crisis. To give Ukrainian refugees the longer-term support they need, we need to ensure that financial and logistical support is in place for the entirety of the three years for which they have received permission to stay.
We also need to do more to support Ukrainian refugees in finding homes of their own. Far too many Ukrainian refugees have been left to fend for themselves in the cruel and uncaring world of the private rented sector. Too many landlords have been allowed to refuse Ukrainians tenancies simply because of where they have come from. Like millions of UK residents before them, refugees who have found work are finding that they simply cannot afford rip-off rents in the areas that they hope to call home. It is time for the Government to equip local authorities with the financial resources and powers that they need to act as guarantors for refugees who are searching for accommodation.
Government Members speak regularly of the pride that they take in the support that the UK has offered Ukraine, as they have done today, but I warn them that their moral obligations will never be truly fulfilled until they can guarantee that not a single refugee is left without a home this winter.
I recognise that others want to speak, and I will try to be as brief as possible. In a way, this debate is simple, because it is ultimately about the sovereignty, independence and self-determination of the Ukrainian people. All else is but a support to that simple position, and everything we do must be about securing that.
Back in the 19th century, Gladstone made a very simple statement, which should underwrite all that we do on the matter. When he spoke about the attack of the then Turkish empire on Moldavia and Wallachia, he said that there was no greater bulwark for freedom than the breasts of free men and women. That is the truth of where we are today, and that is what we see happening in Ukraine—free men and women fighting in their homeland for the defence of their families and of that freedom that we take for granted.
That freedom is not free; it comes at a huge price, and not only in the violence and the desperate depredations of the war brought about by the despot Putin. We need to readjust our thinking about defence spending to ensure we have the right equipment to support those who face something similar in future. This comes at a big price for us as we go into the winter months. As has been said, President Putin faces disaster, and yet his actions show that he still believes he has one card up his sleeve: the ability to split the alliance as we get towards winter.
It is interesting that, even though India is moving away from Putin, China is indifferent, in a way, to where he is, and there was condemnation at the UN General Assembly the other day, he still thinks that if he puts the pressure on, the west will begin to break. There is some indication of politicians in the west feeding that. The other day, senior politicians in Italy were talking about why we should reduce the sanctions, because they were hurting us more than they were hurting him. As has been mentioned, there has also been talk in some other eastern European countries. He thinks it is working and he wants to double down.
I will make one small criticism. In her remarks, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, still talked about getting to a point where there can be negotiation and a negotiated settlement. I think that is quite wrong, because any talk about negotiation feeds Putin’s view that he will split the alliance. I would like to hear from the Government that we categorically believe that the only person who should ever be capable of talking about negotiation is Volodymyr Zelensky—not anyone in any country in the alliance, because all we do is help Putin. That is key to all that we do at the moment.
To get through and make sure that we are stronger, all of us in the west, united, should surely talk to our public about the difficulties that they will face as a result of the war in Ukraine and of our need to support it despite those difficulties—the cost of living that we are trying to intervene on at the moment; the problems with energy costs and spikes; and the difficulties that they may see with higher food prices. We need to be honest with them.
I say to the Minister that we need a second bit of honesty too. I intervened earlier about recognising that Russia sees tactical nuclear weapons as war-fighting weapons, which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) also mentioned. That has always been part of Russia’s principal view. Instead of dancing around that sometimes and saying, “Well, we’re not going to be scared by rhetoric,” we should recognise that it is not rhetoric; they believe that to be the case. The question is whether they will decide to do it and whether the military will do it.
Our answer to that must be to say, united, that if Putin ever does that, we will continue to bear down on him regardless and to give Ukraine the equipment and tools it deserves. If we are clear about that and about the possibilities, the public will be with us. It is when we surprise them by trying to say that there is no threat, when there is a major threat, that it is critical. We should be honest about that.
Finally, China is watching. China invaded the South China sea and not a single thing was done about it. It has militarised it and very little was done about it. It is brutal to its own people at home and we have done very little about it. I simply say that the rules and lessons that we learn from Ukraine should have been learned in the 1930s. If we appease dictators who are hellbent on invasion and destruction, we lose the freedoms that we fought for. That is what this is all about.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I have been struck by the thoughtfulness and decency of several contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am proud of the SNP’s role in these discussions. I am proud that, despite our domestic priorities and political differences, we have been able to work with the Government. I commend the Minister for the Armed Forces and Veterans on his opening speech, and the Defence Ministers on their openness and the way that they have worked with both sides of the House. That is genuine on our part.
Hon. Members can be damn sure that the SNP is part of the international coalition in defence of Ukraine: we believe in freedom, democracy and human rights and we believe that we should be good neighbours who should not live in fear of bigger powers. Of course, therefore, we are part of that and where we agree with the UK Government, we have agreed, as my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) said. On military support and sanctions, we have been vocal in our support of the UK Government’s position. We have often urged greater efforts than we have seen, but we have supported them.
The only big difference between our position and that of the UK Government is on refugees. We would like to have seen the UK emulate the EU’s approach of waiving visas for three years. We think that would have been proportionate and fair. Instead, we saw a Home Office system that the Scottish Government have made work in Scotland. I pay tribute to the many big-hearted people across Stirling, Scotland and the UK who have opened not just their hearts, but their homes to the people of Ukraine who really needed support at that time. I was in Killin a few weeks back, and I was really struck by the care and affection that locals have had for the people who are guests in the community, and I do commend them on their effort.
It is right today that we take due stock of events in Ukraine. As we have heard, the conflict is at a pivotal moment. Ukraine is winning and the Kremlin is losing. We take no pleasure in that fact, but there is a justice to it, in that aggression is not successful and there have not been the results the Kremlin was hoping for. President Putin’s statement overnight came from a position of weakness, as we have heard. His nuclear blackmail and his activation of the reservists, breaking a promise that he made, come from a position of weakness, not strength. We must be vigilant to the true risks that are presented by the Kremlin’s aggression not just against Ukraine, but against the liberal international order.
We must also be steadfast in support of the Ukrainians themselves. We need to redouble our efforts. They are winning, but they have not won yet, and I fear there is an awful lot of heartache ahead for the Ukrainians before we see a resolution. So I was glad to hear from the Minister that military training and the supply of matériel and intelligence support will continue, and it does so with wholehearted SNP support. We may have points of difference and we will seek greater information on some points, but we do support that very strongly. I was also glad to hear that the eventual negotiated outcome—because there will be an eventual negotiated outcome; there always is to every conflict—is going to be on Ukrainian terms. A prerequisite for any talks, which as we have heard must be set from Kyiv, not from anywhere else, must be the withdrawal of all Russian occupying forces from all sovereign Ukrainian territory, including of course Crimea.
I say that the conflict is far from over, but I would suggest to the Government a few points that we need to continue and take forward, because we cannot take our foot off the pedal. We have heard mentioned already the Ukraine fatigue among the general population and among the media, and we must make sure that we are not succumbing to it as well. Ukraine continues to need our support.
We need to keep sanctions under review. I will be taking part for the SNP in the next debate, when we will revisit sanctions. We do need to keep them under review, to make sure that loopholes are closed because loopholes are being exploited, and we do need to make sure that any opportunity to raise pressure on the kleptocrats is taken. That is an evolving situation.
We also need to be honest about and to guard against the influence of dirty money at home now. The UK is vulnerable to this, and we have seen a belated start on this from the UK Government, with our support, but we need to see much more. Our financial and property systems are nowhere near as transparent as they need to be, and they are vulnerable to dirty money. The overseas territories are playing a role that needs greater scrutiny than they have had, and we need to continue those efforts. We have seen a belated start to that, but we need to see more.
On looking after refugees here, I have mentioned that people have opened not just their hearts, but their homes, and they need more support. We have seen a paper chase of a system that I do not believe is fit for purpose, but people have now largely negotiated through it. However, where we have seen too much paper chase, we are now seeing too little money. We strongly support—and we would really urge the Government to take this forward—doubling the monthly payment to £700 a month, because energy costs and the increased costs of having guests are hurting people, and that needs to be taken care of.
To pick up the comments from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), there is a cost to this for people in the UK. He was right that we have to be honest about that, and I think the hon. Member is also making that point. However, we also need to reinforce the point that there is a bigger cost to our constituents if we do nothing. Does he agree with me on that point, and that we really need to ensure that people see we are doing this for a much greater reason? All the points he is making about refugees are absolutely right, but we are trying to prevent something much wider and much more destructive.
Order. That was quite a long intervention and there is a time limit, so such interventions do prevent other people from having their allocation. If interventions are taken, it would be good if Members could still stick to their five minutes.
I thought it was an excellent intervention personally. I agree with it strongly, so I am very grateful for it. We do need to make the case on an ongoing basis for the support we are giving those in Ukraine, because it is not just their freedom, but ours. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
We do need to see more accountability. I pay tribute to the UK for the support that it has given to the International Criminal Court and the Canadian co-ordination of these efforts, but we need to make war criminals and potential war criminals aware that there will be no amnesty and no hiding place. The UK can do more about that—the UK has a developed legal system and a number of practitioners who are very active in this field—so we need to put more resources into it. The SNP is part of this coalition. I am proud that we have been able to work together on this point, because this transcends boundaries and transcends politics, and that support will continue.
The world has just witnessed Ukraine pull off a stunning counter-offensive around Kharkiv. It liberated thousands of miles of territory in what was an incredible feat of military planning. Months of distraction around Kherson were put in place, with radio silence around what people were doing around Kharkiv. It was something that brought the world with them, and showed that, yes, Ukraine will be victorious if we stand by it. That victory was not just thousands of miles of territory, but it hit Russian logistics. It liberated major administrative and rail hubs that the Russians had been using, and it will castrate Russian ability to get what it needs and to rely on those rail logistics throughout. As a result we have seen a panicked response from the Kremlin, with sham referendums and a partial mobilisation of 300,000 men.
Much has been made of that mobilisation, but a country cannot magically muster kit, strategy or skilled soldiers. We must be careful and challenge the arguments when we hear big announcements from Putin that are not tantamount to changing the situation on the ground. The performative referendums should be called “hostage referendums”, because that is what they are. It is vital that the world rejects them, and I am confident that we will. Years ago when we did not reject them, we saw Putin emboldened to do what he is doing today.
Ukrainian gains are showing the scale of the atrocities being committed by Russian troops, and it is vital to consider how we can support those affected. I will therefore focus on recommendations for what the Government should be doing. First, our international justice infrastructure is not sufficient. The International Criminal Court cannot prosecute in this situation, and as one of the foremost powers when it comes to security and justice, we must convene a plan for how we will hold people who have committed atrocities at all levels to account. Secondly, I made the point earlier about creating a specific court or tribunal for sexual violence and rape that is established at the start of conflicts, rather than at the end when it is too late to collect evidence.
We must also learn how we share intelligence. In September last year—this time last year—Britain and America went round and told our allies that Putin was going to invade. We had the intelligence, we were sure of it, but our allies did not believe us. The French said it just would not happen and that Macron had too good a relationship with Putin; the Germans said that that was not what their intelligence showed. When I asked European ambassadors why they did not believe us, they said it was because of Iraq. It is greatly concerning that they are making intelligence decisions based on what happened many decades ago when I was only a child. It also shows that we have manifestly failed to make the most important intelligence analysis and argument that we needed to make over the past decade.
Putin is no master strategist—he is a gambler. He gambled in 2014 that we would turn a blind eye to the invasion of Crimea. He gambled in Syria, where we turned our backs, and he gambled in February that we would be too divided. He was wrong about that, but Putin bases his decisions on the critical assumption that we have not adapted to 21st-century hybrid warfare. We have spent the past two decades focusing on terrorists who behave like states, but between now and 2050 we must adapt to states that behave like terrorists. To do that we need whole state resilience. That is not easy, it is not sexy, and it will take decades to put in place, but that is how we protect ourselves and our allies in the long term. That covers everything from investment and supply chains, to defending our multilaterals and the rule of law, upholding human rights, the independence of our educational institutions, and our culture and digital security. We must recalibrate.
Technology and the democratisation of information have fundamentally changed geopolitics. We are at war at all times, and the best enemies are the ones we do not know are there. We do not know we are at war with them. The point was made earlier that conversations could be taking place with people radicalised and recruited without a single word being spoken aloud. We are not ready, whether that involves energy and food sources, business, culture, finance or the military. Hostile states are infiltrating us at all levels, and we must tackle that. We as Britain can convene our allies—our ability to convene partners is one of our greatest strengths—and work together towards a more resilient society. If we do not double down, defend and stop neglecting our international institutions, we will further embolden Russia. This is our responsibility if we want fair play and respect for the rules-based order.
Without question; the hon. Member is absolutely right. We are building those capabilities within the military, but they need to be cross-force and also need to bring in civilians, whether based in the Foreign Office or elsewhere. Back in 2016, I was in Ukraine training the Ukrainians how to conduct counter-disinformation operations and integrate that with cyber, and we have seen that work pay off—Members can look at what they did over the last few weeks.
The lessons are clear. The decisions, defences and resilience that we implement now are what will defend us over the next 20 years. We need to make ourselves and our international alliances more resilient, because only in that way will we protect ourselves, return to moral leadership on the world stage, stop atrocities and be able to take a stand and protect ourselves from hostile states that will spend the next 20 years using their whole-state effort to undermine us and to hurt us.
I visited Kyiv two weeks ago as a member of the first cross-party delegation of MPs since the war began, which has been mentioned by other Members—many of us are here today. We were a group of seven MPs from four parties. It was a long journey there and back, as there are no flights, but we were absolutely determined to go together to show solidarity and support for the Ukrainian Government, for the armed forces, for the sovereignty of Ukraine and for the people of Ukraine. I congratulate the Ukrainian armed forces on their victories of the past 10 days—it was an exciting weekend to be there as they were announced.
I am proud of the welcome given by people in Putney, Southfields and Roehampton, and by so many families across this country, to people from Ukraine, many of whom I have met. However, I echo the concerns of other Members about what will happen at the six-month cliff edge of support for those families to whom we are saying, “We would like to be able to support you, but we just can’t.” What will happen to those Ukrainians who want to stay and cannot go back yet, but who do not have a guarantor or the necessary credit history to secure private accommodation? It will really undermine all the good words that we say in this House and the good support that we are providing for Ukrainians if we do not provide the longer-term welcome that is needed.
As we have reflected in the past week on Her Majesty’s reign, we have seen the striking contrast between the transition away from the British empire during her reign and Putin’s aggressive, dominating, barbaric empire-building, which has Ukraine in its sights right now but could extend much further, including to the Balkans, where there is an election in Bosnia in just 10 days’ time. It is vital to stand up to the aggression of Putin and his regime, and to join with our allies in supporting Ukraine and looking to build a peaceful future together, at the same time as supporting the de-occupation.
As a delegation of MPs, we met President Zelensky and his head of office, with the Minister for Defence and deputy Ministers, with MPs, human rights activists and soldiers, and with the staff of the Depaul aid agency, who are providing psychological counselling and aid.
The reports coming from Bucha, Mariupol and the de-occupied regions are shocking: torture, mass graves and rape used as a weapon of war—war crimes by the Russian army. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, I know that we mean “never again” when we say it in this House every year and when we remember past atrocities, but now is the time to put flesh on those words and to act against atrocities that we know are happening now. That is why we are proud, as the British people, to be supporting the people of Ukraine. Perhaps it is the only issue that unites us across the House, but we have been unequivocal supporters of Ukraine from the outset.
The increase in energy prices may be a factor in what people are calling potential “Ukraine fatigue”, but I know that the British people understand that the link with that increase is another reason why we must support Ukraine and stop Putin blackmailing us over energy. We need to end the war decisively and as soon as possible, so that it does not cost even more.
The needs are clear: the need for air defences; for military equipment support; for heating system support as a back-up during the winter; for the return of prisoners and the forcibly adopted Ukrainian children—a scandal that I do not have time to say more about, but one that is really shocking; for support for rebuilding and reparations; and for justice and, especially, a special international tribunal to try Putin for the crime of aggression. The International Criminal Court is a parallel process, but it will not deliver justice fast enough. Britain can therefore lead in calling for that international special tribunal.
Finally, support for civil society humanitarian aid and long-term peacebuilding should be built into the process. It is not enough to have military, diplomatic and legal support; we must have that fourth essential element of civil society. That is how whole-Government support for Ukraine can be delivered. Kyiv is a beautiful city and Ukraine is a beautiful country. I want to return to a free and victorious Ukraine that will not fear future aggression. We can see that when we stand together.
I, too, was very pleased to join the all-party trip to Kyiv a week ago. It will soon be represented in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
If a deal involving peace for land had ever been possible, it is clear now that Ukrainians will not start to negotiate until all their land is free from Russia—and that includes Donbas and Crimea. That was the firm view of every politician, soldier and citizen I had the opportunity to meet in Ukraine. One can see why, as the vile outcome of Russian occupation is revealed in territory retaken by the heroic actions of the Ukrainian military. Sadly, the horrors of Bucha are not an isolated horrific incident. Indeed, it is becoming clear that looting, torture, murder, rape and intimidation is standard practice for the Russian occupiers. Horribly, Russia has deported tens of thousands of Ukrainian children, including 2,300 orphans to Russia. These crimes must never be forgotten or overlooked. I was very pleased to hear how UK prosecutors have been helping local agencies with evidence collection and advice.
This war is about more than just helping a freedom-loving people fight against a bullying aggressor. As others have said, Russian aggression has been used time and time again under Putin, right from the invasion of Georgia in 2008. There is nothing to show that unless stopped Russia would stop at Ukraine. To that extent Ukrainians are also fighting the war on behalf of all of us who refuse to accept a Europe where barbarity and violence call the shots. With that in mind, we should now consider Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and, as such, it would be equitable for frozen Russian state and state-linked assets, including frozen sanctioned individual assets, to be seized for payment to Ukraine for its reconstruction. That would require legislation similar to that passed by Canada in June.
I certainly will condemn that and the many other deaths in Russia that we are hearing about all the time.
The question recently came up as to whether individual oligarchs should be able to buy their way out of sanctions. I am doubtful that that could work without the international sanctions system being holed under the water line. However, if any deal is considered, it has to be co-ordinated and approved by Ukraine, not just the sanctioning country, and the restitution money involved should go to Ukraine. In that way, any decisions on the release of assets would be properly co-ordinated.
Over recent months, there have been many pictures of Russian tourists swanning around Europe as though nothing was happening in Ukraine. That should stop and we should now ban Russian visas to the UK other than for exceptional circumstances. Certainly, at the very least, we should not allow into the UK any member of Putin’s United Russia party. Sanctions are a slow-burn approach, but they are increasingly effective. However, there are so-called holes in the bucket—Turkey comes to mind and there are others. Will the Minister advise what efforts are being made to isolate such countries?
Battlefield victories are accentuating the size of the challenges yet to be faced. First, militarily speaking, Russia still maintains a powerful and vicious threat. Putin is an unpredictable enemy who is wounded and concerned to protect his Crimea legacy to Russia. He may yet become even less principled over civilian rights. Indeed, only yesterday he upped the ante by calling up Russia’s reserves.
Secondly, retaking occupied territory is one thing but holding it is another. Police, courts, schools and civil society all have to be re-established. War crimes and collaborators have to be prosecuted. Infrastructure has to be rebuilt. The cost and administrative challenges involved are enormous and urgent.
Thirdly, the military requirements are changing. In the early days of the war, basic equipment for soldiers and defensive weapons, such as anti-tank missiles, were the priority. Then, longer-range artillery to break down Russian defences was—and still is—required to enable offensive operations. Following reoccupation, the priorities then changed again and the need for anti-missile defence systems is now coming to the fore, as was highlighted very much during our visit.
If Ukraine is to encourage its more than 10 million internally displaced citizens and millions of foreign-based refugees to return to their homes in Ukraine, security from air attack becomes key to restoring confidence. That point was very much reinforced by Russian retaliation against lost ground, taking the cowardly form of missile attacks against civilian targets. Electricity and water infrastructure has already been bombed and the cold winter is approaching.
The challenges are immense, but one thing is for sure and came across very strongly during my time in Kyiv—namely, Ukrainian recognition of British support and the gratitude that was shown by everyone we met. Ukrainians feel that the UK is in this battle with them for the long term, that we were the first to speak up for them in the international community, and that we then backed that up with money, arms and valuable advice. The Government and virtually all Members of all parties in this House are to be commended for their support. History is on our side.
I was left with the strong impression that out of this war, out of this horror and barbarity, will develop an immensely strong and lasting relationship between our two countries. In the meantime, we must redouble our efforts to ensure a speedy victory for Ukraine as soon as possible and enable its restoration towards the modern democratic country that I know it has the potential to be.
I wholeheartedly join the cross-party support for Ukraine. I will mention an issue that has been touched on but debated less this afternoon.
Women are casualties of war and conflict, but they are very often overlooked. Women, including those who fight alongside men, suffer in a uniquely gendered way. Ukrainian women have displayed incredible strength in defending their country and their families both on and off the battlefield. As more Ukrainian territory is liberated, more terrible stories emerge of atrocities committed against women. By June, the UN human rights monitoring team had received reports of 124 alleged incidents of sexual violence. The Secretary-General’s special representative has warned that the number of reports is rising fast.
Wartime sexual violence is one of the oldest crimes known to people. It has long-term implications for individuals and communities long after war has ended. The Government recognise the problem of wartime sexual violence, but that must be fully matched with support for women on the ground. Too often, wartime sexual violence is viewed as inevitable, as part of war. That is totally unacceptable. The sexualised threats faced by women and girls must be confronted head on and prosecuted like any other war crime. I am grateful for the recommendation from the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns).
The Government, along with the international community, need to aid Ukraine to ensure that there is a robust response to gender-based violence. That must include post-rape care, access to abortion and mental health support. Our human response demands that we make sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare a priority. Perpetrators must be vigorously investigated and adequately punished, and the UK must help by providing support for Ukraine to do that.
The majority of people fleeing Ukraine are women and children. The response from communities in bordering countries and in the UK has been incredibly powerful, but we should not be blind to the ongoing risks for women and girls. Female refugees have always faced disproportionate risk, especially if they are travelling alone. Many of my constituents have contacted me on behalf of Ukrainians who are stuck in dangerous places waiting for visas. While they wait, their funds run low and they are at greater risk of trafficking and abuse.
Refugees are safest when they have options. They need full legal protection and the right papers, and they need to be totally aware of their rights. The Government must equal the outpouring of compassion that has been shown by the British public and allow Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK without unacceptable bureaucratic delays. Otherwise, we are driving vulnerable women and girls into the arms of opportunistic abusers. It is a matter of basic safety. As the war continues and shows no signs of being resolved, the British Government must do better at protecting women and girls. I am sure that many colleagues across the House share my admiration for the courage of the women of Ukraine; we must match it with action.
Although we hope that the war will be over soon, it probably will not. Just as important as speeding up the process now is making sure that support for our Ukrainian refugees is sustained. What are the Government’s plans for six months’ time and beyond? How will we help families to find long-term accommodation, jobs and financial support? We should not underestimate the substantial trauma that women and children will have suffered, especially if they have experienced sexual violence. Support services will need funding beyond this year to rebuild lives in the long term. The Government will have to show a lot of stamina in providing not just military help, but humanitarian help to deal with the human tragedy beyond the here and now.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will try to adhere to your three-minute rule.
The message should go out from this debate to Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian people that we salute their bravery. They have suffered grievously. In just seven months, the world has seen one of the biggest refugee catastrophes since the second world war, with more than 7 million people displaced within Ukraine, 7 million people displaced to the rest of Europe, and more than 14,000 people dead or wounded. Hundreds of people have suffered war crimes of torture and sexual crimes, as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) made clear, and hundreds of innocent children have been kidnapped, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) said.
Quite simply, we have to help the Ukrainian people to win this conflict, because if they do not succeed in driving the Russians out of Ukraine, no country in Europe will be safe. I therefore congratulate my Government on the support and help that they are giving to Ukraine, as the Minister for the Armed Forces outlined in his comprehensive statement today. I am delighted that the new Prime Minister has made it very clear that we will stick by Ukraine for as long as it takes. Contrary to what some speakers today have said, I do not think that there will necessarily be a quick end to the conflict. All sorts of twists and turns could happen. As other hon. Members have said, although we hope that Vladimir Putin’s threat of using a tactical nuclear weapon is just that, we cannot be sure.
We are absolutely right to give help. I understand that the British people are suffering grievously with the cost of living because of the price of energy and food, but as their politicians we must point out to them that if we do not continue to support Ukraine throughout this conflict, they will suffer even more.
The issue I really want to talk about is grain, which we have not heard anything about in this debate. At long last, with the United Kingdom’s diplomatic help, the United Nations has negotiated for some grain shipments to cross the Black sea and go out through the Dardanelles to some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in Africa. We must make sure that that programme continues: it is vital for some of the poorest people in the world, and we must do all we can to prevent the Russians from stopping it.
To all my constituents who have so generously hosted the Ukrainian people—I have met some of them—I say, “Please continue. I know it is difficult in some cases, but please continue your generosity.” To the British people, I say, “Please bear with the privations caused by this war. It will be difficult this winter, but our Government will do what they can. I am sure that right will eventually come through and the Russians will be driven out of Ukraine.”
Vladimir Putin has called up an additional 300,000 reservists. On the face of it, that seems a large number of reinforcements, but the fact is that most of those men have completed a fraction of the training that a NATO member would require. When this war first began, Russia was sending in conscripts who had had only a few days of basic training. It appears that Putin has not learnt his lesson; or perhaps he has, and simply does not care. To Putin, his own people are cannon fodder. They are being sent to the frontlines owing to his personal delusions of grandeur.
The reality is that the latest reinforcements are likely to suffer a worse fate than the original battlegroups. Owing to the failure of the Russian army and, more importantly, the success of the Ukrainians, there is much less equipment for these reinforcements. In Russia’s recent disorganised retreat from the Kharkiv region, a substantial amount of Russian equipment was destroyed or captured. That is testimony to the bravery, skill and tactical prowess of the Ukrainians.
The way in which the people of Russia have reacted to Putin’s mobilisation announcement is interesting. Almost as soon as he had finished speaking, “how to leave Russia” topped the Google trends in the country, and flights leaving Russia sold out or prices skyrocketed. More than 1,000 people who were protesting against reinforcements were arrested on the streets. Putin is pushing his own people to the edge, but he has a huge security apparatus protecting him and his cronies in Russia. His grip on power is strong. It is no good expecting him no longer to be in control or to suddenly do the right thing, because neither will happen. That is why our support for Ukraine must not waver.
The Ukrainians have shown Russia and the world that they are a fully capable fighting force. The Government must do all they can to continue our support, and that includes looking again at steps that can be taken here against Putin’s supporters. There is still too much dirty Russian money around our country, particularly in London. There is much more that we can do. The pressure on Putin’s supporters needs to be tightened.
There is only one acceptable way in which this war can end, and that is with a democratic Ukraine having control over all its own territory. Now is the time for us to double down. As I said months ago when the conflict started, this war is our war: Ukraine and Ukrainians are fighting it on behalf of all of us. We must give the Ukrainians what they need, and the Government must do our bit at home as well.
I echo the comments of, in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson) about refugees. We must do much more. We cannot let these people down. Please, please let us listen to them. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Putney for bringing her news to us, and I thank her so much for going to Ukraine.
It was a pleasure to lead the delegation last week. For anyone who is interested, I am organising another to take place later in the year, and it will be lovely to see colleagues on it.
That weekend when we were in Ukraine heralded a new phase in the war. First, while there is still a long way to go, there is now a sense in Ukraine of a pathway to Ukrainian victory and Russian military defeat, probably within the next three to 18 months. Secondly, the partial collapse of Russian forces will compel it to commit reserves that it would have wanted to build up until the spring for the chance of a spring offensive. From now on, Russia’s war will almost certainly become a defensive war of digging in and holding on.
It is clear that Russia’s weakness is on the battlefield, while Ukraine’s is economic and political. It has an almost total economic dependency on the west, and it has a dependency on our arms supply. It is clear that Putin will try to break this alliance and gain a political victory where he cannot seize a military one. In military terms, the umbilical cord between us and Kyiv becomes the centre of gravity for the Russians to attack. This explains, in part, Putin’s decision to threaten the use of nuclear weapons and to annex territory to Russia, and his decision on the mobilisation.
Is nuclear weapon use likely? Not by any means, but I think we should speak with a sense of care and proportion. In the minute I have left, I will try to explain a slight difference with the Government. To minimise the chances of nuclear use, tactical or strategic, we have to assume that that threat is real and that at some point, probably as Russian troops face collapse in the south, Putin will have—again, this is a military term—a decision point to either use tactical weapons or not. We have to assume that he may well use them, and the purpose of making that assumption is so that we can plan. To say that he is bluffing means that we do not have a plan, and we will again, as we have been doing since 2007, be playing catch-up in a disastrous situation, with a fascistic Russian state.
Hope is not a strategy. Keeping fingers crossed is not a policy. At every point, Putin has chosen to escalate and increase risk. There is no sign that he will do anything different now. In short, we need to maximise the chance of avoiding tactical use that will kill thousands by planning for it now. I have run out of time, but I will in due course write further on this and what the Ukrainians told us.
For years, countries in eastern Europe such as Poland and the Baltic states have been warning about Russia under Putin. We absolutely must recognise the gravity, scale and multifaceted nature of the threat and the lengths that Putin may go to.
While we have some encouraging bits of news, with terrain retaken in eastern Ukraine, we must not underestimate the scale of the challenges that remain. There is still extensive terrain to reconquer, the war efforts are taking a toll both on military personnel and on civilians, and Putin continues in his efforts to sow alienation and give false legitimacy to his invasion through the so-called referenda. A huge effort is also required to rebuild ruined towns and devastated communities.
Putin’s clear aim is to divide and conquer, so while the world is looking at the physical—the ground war and the threat of nuclear weapons—there is at the same time a huge propaganda war, sometimes more subtle and sometimes less so, trying to undermine the west’s unity and resolve, with internet users bombarded with clever false messages masquerading as the truth. I stress again to the Minister how important it is for the UK and allies to invest in combating internet warfare and mounting counter-offensives.
We need renewed efforts at diplomacy and at fostering unity. It is very important that we are putting money where our mouth is and supporting efforts in Ukraine. It is absolutely vital that we stand firm on sanctions, but we must foster the most positive and unified response from other countries. That includes, of course, investing Foreign Office expertise.
This is not just about Europe and NATO. In the wider world, how do we maintain world peace and deal with the bullies? First, we need to be strong and show strength. Appeasement does not work. In 2014, after the invasion of Crimea, the lack of action by the west was a monumental failure. We need to stand strong in the face of aggression. For all their imperfections, we need to rebuild our respect for international organisations such as the United Nations, and repair the damage caused by Trump when he belittled international organisations, tore up treaties and cut funding to important international programmes.
An important part of that international work is the need to tackle the gap between richer and poorer nations. Nations across the globe need reason to buy into international organisations and to feel that they are being heard. Coronavirus has taught us how interconnected we are, but that is also true in respect of security. We need to build up resilience and prosperity in developing nations, to stop them being used and manipulated by the world’s tyrants.
While continuing our direct support for Ukraine, we must also focus on fostering unity among our allies and taking a lead in world organisations to stand firm against Putin.
May I start by putting on the record my appreciation for the British troops based in my constituency of Devizes for the work that they have done in training our allies in Ukraine on Salisbury Plain, and, most of all, my appreciation for Ukraine for her leadership, her army and her people? They have resisted Putin, they have fought back, and they are winning.
The question now is: what next? Members might be familiar with the famous story in Vladimir Putin’s memoir of him as a young boy chasing a rat with a stick. It got into a corner, turned on him and attacked. Putin is now that rat, driven into a corner by the heroic Ukrainians. The risk is that the rat now turns, does what he said he would and launches a nuclear strike on Ukraine or a NATO country, even including the UK. The lesson from the story of Putin and the rat is not that we do not corner him—there is no escape route for him that we can offer, except his defeat and humiliation. The lesson we must learn is that we must be ready for the rat to turn.
I do not doubt Ukrainians’ determination to stand whatever happens, and I do not doubt the commitment of the British Government or, indeed, the wider alliance to stand with the Ukrainians. My concern is with our own preparedness in the event of a nuclear strike, either in Europe or here. I know that Ministers did not like it when the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), raised that point earlier, and I do not expect them to say anything other than that our defences and doctrine in the event of a nuclear strike are entirely up to date and ready. My concern is with our wider resilience, not just in the event of a nuclear strike but against the wider economic and military pressures that we might be under. I am concerned that our conventional defences should be as strong as possible. We have learned the critical importance of men and armour in this war, and I would like to see our Army grow. We also need to be concerned with our economic security and our social resilience.
I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) when she talked about the need for a whole-of-state approach. There is talk of a new integrated review; I echo the calls for that, and hope that it will include not just whole-of-state resilience, but whole-of-society resilience as well.
I rise to speak not only as the Member for West Dunbartonshire but because, coming from a place like Clydebank, I am keenly aware of what it is like growing up in a place that had the worst aerial bombardment in these islands during the second world war, playing in the ruins and the bomb craters. That is why it is clear to me that just as planning for a new social settlement for people in these islands began right in the middle of the last great war—as we would call it—although it was not exactly a perfect settlement, that is something we must now do to help Ukraine build itself a prosperous and sustainable peace, integrated into the European Union and the mainstream of a free Europe, as it wishes.
The challenge is stark. The Kyiv School of Economics has reported a 33% drop in gross domestic product, which is something that we will need to bear in mind, and a $200 billion bill to repair the damage done by the Russian Federation. That requires commitments from not only this Government but other allies—commitments that are not only financial, and to timescales that are measured not in weeks but, I am afraid, in decades. Although, as we have heard, there is a lot of support across the House for such measures, we need to hear a lot more from Treasury Ministers about what they plan to do. It is also something of a philosophical challenge for the Government: Ukraine is now a candidate country for the European Union and, contrary to the way things have often worked in military planning, long-term economic and social change will be delivered through its gradual and deepening alignment with the rest of Europe. I hope there will be nothing to stop this Government ensuring that Ukraine is able to do that to the fullest possible extent.
If Ministers have not already done so, I urge them to begin the essential planning that is required for what will be needed in Ukraine when it wins the war—a very modern Marshall plan. I am glad to note that in the regular debates, it has become customary for many to repeat the couplet “Slava Ukraini, heroyam slava!”—glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes! However, I am mindful of the old Gaelic proverb that translates as “To a man prepared for war, peace is assured.” Ukraine is prepared and peace can be assured, but its continued existence as a sovereign state requires more than heroic platitudes and, I am afraid, even proverbs uttered on the Floor of the House of Commons.
I place on record my thanks to my two local authorities for the work they have done in supporting and resettling Ukrainians who have had to flee the war and find a new home in the United Kingdom. The work the Government have done to support them is fantastic, and I have heard good reports that the financial support, in particular, that has been made available has been enormously helpful. While there is clearly a little bit more work to do for those who are going to be settling in the UK in the long term, to ensure that access to education, healthcare and other services continues to be available in the time they are here, it is a success story despite some of the concerns that were raised at the time.
I will focus on two points that emerge from what is happening in Ukraine at the moment, and from some of the points made by a number of Members about how we prepare for the future. Before being elected to this House, I was a member of one of the constituent bodies of the Council of Europe. Its meetings were always challenging, given that at that time, we had Ukraine—which had been invaded by Russia to the extent of Crimea—and Russia in the same room, debating their supposed mutual respect for human rights and the rule of law. But it is clear that with proposals such as the new European political community there is an opportunity for the UK and other countries that do respect the rule of law to bolster the position of politicians, civil society organisations and leaders in Russia who do not condone the actions of Vladimir Putin. He is by no means the only politician in Russia. Many of us who have been engaged in any sense in those international operations will know that there is internal opposition to him in that country. We hope that if the work being done by Ukrainians succeeds, and if the pressure brought to bear by the international community succeeds, we will have an opportunity to foster a relationship with a much more positive Russian Government than the one we have at the moment. It will bolster the efforts we are putting in to support Ukraine if we can strengthen the hand of critics of Putin at home, and that will lay the groundwork for a more constructive relationship in the future, which will be particularly important for the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Finally, I wish to touch on the point about cyber. I had the opportunity to be a witness at the Home Affairs Committee before being elected here, and prior to my session a witness from GCHQ was asked at the height of the Brexit debates, “Do the Russians want the UK to leave the EU?” The answer was very informative: what the Russians were seeking was not a particular outcome, but division in the west. They wanted us in this House and us in the west to be arguing among ourselves about what was happening. That goes to the heart of the points made by so many Members, and I echo this one: the unity and consistency of purpose across the allies is so vital to the long-term outcomes for Ukraine.
I am pleased to be called in this debate. I was moved the other day when I watched the solemn and dignified meeting between our Princess of Wales and Olena Zelenska, the wife of the Ukrainian President. The image was clear: the UK and Ukraine were standing together at that level, with the ladies very much to the fore. I want us to continue to do the right thing by the people of Ukraine and continue to stand with them in their darkest hour. I want to say a big thanks to all those in my constituency who work at Thales in east Belfast, which makes the next generation light anti-tank weapons. The management tell me that most of the workforce come from my constituency, so I want to say a big thanks to them for all they have done. They have made a turning point for many in Ukraine conflict.
There is no denying the many ways in which Ukrainians are suffering as they continue to have their homeland invaded by Putin, and I am grateful to other Members for highlighting such atrocities. I would like to draw attention to the ways in which freedom of religion or belief is being trampled on during the crisis, especially given that, as I have said many times, religious freedom is a bellwether human right; where it is protected, other human rights tend to be secured too.
This year, the executive director of the Institute for Religious Freedom said that Russian attacks on religious freedoms in Ukraine had never been as “cruel” as they are now. He said that if Russian invaders previously expelled believers from Ukrainian churches and prayer houses, they are now destroying them with bombs and missiles strikes. It should be remembered that international attacks against religious sites can constitute war crimes according to international humanitarian law. The damage to freedom of religion or belief does not stop there. The president of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary said that in six months of the war about 400 Baptist churches had been forced to close. Pastors of the churches have been kidnapped and gone missing, as have some of the parishioners. Many corners of Ukraine feel the ripples of war, and while war rages basic human needs cannot be met. No doubt, at the conclusion of the war the psychological and spiritual distress caused by it will remain. The Donbas and Luhansk regions are the ones where this is happening most.
Northern Ireland is known for our giving spirit, and many of our churches, across all denominations, have been sending financial support to churches in Ukraine to purchase food and clothing. With those churches closing, the support avenues in the Donbas and Luhansk regions are affected for those who no longer have a safe place to be, a place of comfort and a place to get food. These avenues of support were essential for people in Ukraine, and we have a duty of care to these people to ensure that they can survive this war. Everyone has mentioned the atrocities and the important support the UK has given to Ukraine, but it is also important that we underline the despicable things that have happened to human rights and those who have lost their right to freedom of religion or belief—
I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their valued contributions to today’s debate. I, too, think it is fantastic that we have seen the release of a number of Britons and others; that is wonderful news, but we must also recognise that others are still being held or have not made it safely home. I also welcome the new Minister to his place and look forward to working constructively with him over the weeks and months to come.
The attendance and the comments made today from both sides of the House show that the resolve of this House has never been stronger and that our continued commitment to the freedom of Ukraine and our opposition to Putin’s illegal and barbaric invasion are palpable. I, too, joined the recent cross-party delegation to Kyiv, and I draw attention to my declaration of interests as a guest of Yalta European Strategy, which will be tabled in due course. I was able to convey our cross-party support personally to President Zelensky, who is remarkable, given what he is doing and the effort he is leading. It is worth saying that, when I met him, his first comments were to offer his sincere condolences to all of us on the loss of Her late Majesty the Queen and to make clear his absolute thanks and gratitude to the British people, this House, the Government and all parties for our continued and resolute support. Those tributes were echoed by Ukrainians who left flowers at the British ambassador’s residence and the British embassy in Kyiv.
I was left with three main reflections from that visit. The first is about the brutality of the Russian invasion. We saw with our own eyes the scenes in Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel. We saw residential buildings that had been rocketed. We saw areas where terrible atrocities had been committed. The tactics that the Russians are using are very clear, and that has been exposed in even greater, horrifying detail in recent days in Izium. It is absolutely clear that we have to work with the Ukrainians to bring those who committed those acts at all levels to justice. We also saw the holocaust memorial at Babyn Yar, which recognises the horrific slaughter of 34,000 Jews by the Nazis in 1941. That same memorial, and indeed the nearby TV tower, was damaged and civilians were killed in a Russian attack just months ago. It is absolutely extraordinary, and we saw the shrapnel from that attack.
The second reflection is about the resolution of Ukrainians at every level—the individual soldiers, citizens and Members of Parliament we met, and of course the Government—to fight for the freedom of their country. MPs were taking resources to soldiers from their areas to support them. At the same time, their Parliament is sandbagged. Can we imagine this Parliament with sandbags in the windows to defend democracy? That is what Ukrainians are doing. They are clearly also a western, European, ambitious, young and dynamic country with no affection for, or affiliation with, Putin’s regime or his agenda. It is very clear where they want to stand, and we need to stand with them.
The third reflection I was left with is about the absolute criticality of western, European and indeed United Kingdom unity and support for the Ukrainians in their efforts at all levels—militarily, economically and otherwise. Our military and economic support are crucial to the success we have seen in recent days and to the defence of Ukraine, and our economic support more broadly will be critical going forward. We have to show resolve in supporting Ukraine through what will be a difficult few months this winter. On one of the nights we were there, we saw that the Russians are already attacking critical national infrastructure in response to Ukrainian successes. They took out the electricity and water supplies to millions of people in the east of the country. That is what they are willing to do in response—to attack civilian infrastructure.
Let us be clear: for Ukraine this is a war of necessity, survival and national unity, but for Putin it is one of choice and aggression; it is an imperial war and an attempt at colonisation and annexation. That must be clear in the message we share around the world with our partners, and we must make it clear in our diplomatic efforts in the global south, south Asia and elsewhere. We need to work with Ukrainians to make clear what Russia is doing, what its agenda is and how it is prosecuting this war in the most barbarous and inhumane way possible.
Although Putin’s war machine has stalled in recent days, the consequences of the war will, sadly, reverberate for years. The destruction it has already brought to towns and villages across Ukraine, as well as the damage it has done to critical infrastructure, have the capacity to set the country back decades. We saw bridges and civilian infrastructure damaged and destroyed. That is why it is crucial that we provide Ukraine not only with financial and economic support to get its people through the winter, but, in the long term, with trade and investment links to sustain it through the period of rebuilding, which must come when it is victorious.
I was a little disappointed to hear that the UK trade envoy, although having been in post for some years, had not in fact visited Ukraine. There were also concerns about the lack of activities coming from the British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce. We need to be looking to the long term. We need to be providing Ukrainians with hope for their future when this war is over. I hope the Minister will be able to comment on that.
As was made clear by my hon. Friends at the opening of this debate, Labour continues to fully support the Government’s position to provide the necessary military assistance for the defence of Ukraine. Indeed, I remain humbled and moved by the UK’s training programme for new Ukrainian recruits as well as the matériel support that we are providing. I want to thank all those who continue to play this critical supporting role. Putin expected this war to be over in days, but, thanks in part to our support, the people of Ukraine are resisting and fighting back seven months down the line, and I am confident that, in the end, freedom and liberty will triumph.
None the less, dark days lie ahead. We have heard many worrying comments in the debate today. Indeed, the speech that Putin made yesterday was meant to frighten and intimidate the international community into withdrawing support to fracture our alliance. We must not let him succeed. The Estonian Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, put it fantastically when she said that threatening with nukes belongs to the arsenal of a pariah state. That is absolutely right. Now is not the time to withdraw support or to cower to Putin’s distortions and threats. In particular, we need to work with Governments across Europe in the months to come. We have heard worrying things about the situation in Italy and the comments being made in Hungary and elsewhere. We need to stay unified and resolute in our support for Ukraine. That is when our words and our deeds will count the most. The Government will continue to have the Opposition’s support in the agenda that has been set out and that has been followed over the past seven months. I know that they can also count on the support of the people from Cardiff South and Penarth who came out on the streets on Ukrainian independence day and at other events recently.
In the proceedings today, real tribute has been paid to the immense sacrifices that Ukrainians continue to make for their own country, for Europe as a whole, and also for the values that we all share, and I know that, in the end, those are the values that will prevail.
I am very grateful to all Members for their contributions to this extremely useful debate today. I am also grateful to those on the Opposition Front Bench for their constructive and positive tone.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) correctly pointed out that this is Putin’s war—not Russia’s war—and that he is to blame, not the Russian people. We are in agreement on that. He pointed out the grave peril facing Putin’s army this winter, which will really test them. I am pleased to confirm that we do indeed have a long-term strategy. The tone of that has been set out again by the Prime Minister in New York, and our collective institutional efforts will be working in alliance with that.
The integrated review will evolve—it is a working document and it is inherently correct that it will evolve as time passes. Robust plans to ensure the supply of munitions, both in terms of what we give our Ukrainian allies and what we need for ourselves, are energetically being put in place. I am pleased to see that the new Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), has joined me on the Front Bench this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) gave us some moving reflections on his recent visit to Ukraine. He usefully pointed out the remarkable resolve of the Ukrainian force. That word “resolve” expresses all we need to know about the Ukrainian capability. We are in absolute agreement on that. He mentioned some issues concerning trade. I will write to him on those, because they are important in terms of the broader picture.
We were honoured to have our former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), speak to us. I know that he is not in his place because of a pre-arranged appointment. He was right to point out that this was a shameful war of conquest and that Russia’s youth is being sacrificed on the altar of Putin’s ego. He said that Putin’s rhetoric shows that he is weak, not strong. Putin’s singular achievement in Ukraine has been to unify the west. He mentioned the leadership of President Zelensky; I think we have all been moved by that and by the recent images of Madam Zelenska coming over for the state funeral last week. We are grateful for the bond formed by our former Prime Minister and President Zelensky, which is now being taken up by our new Prime Minister.
Great democracies, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip said, must have the stomach to stand up to tyranny this winter. I know we all agree with that, and our new Prime Minister was very clear about that in her speech in New York last night. Resolve is what we will all show.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) gave some very useful reflections on his recent visit. He warned that we should be aware of the “Putin whisperers” and pointed out that while the war could stop tomorrow if Russia just stopped attacking, if Ukrainians stopped defending, Ukraine would cease to exist. I thought both points provided a very useful lens through which to see the situation. We are in agreement on that, and the Government are grateful for the continued support of his party.
The right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) gave some interesting reflections on grain, the weaponisation of food and energy by President Putin and the broader strategic issues at stake. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) gave some personal reflections on his time with the British Council in Russia and used that as an important lens through which we can see the sheer bravery of those protesting against Putin’s war machine. Since yesterday it seems that at this rate they are likely to imprison more people than they can draft as new members of their armed forces.
My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, pointed out that when it comes to tyrants such as Putin,
“cynicism has no limits and hypocrisy no boundaries”.
That was extremely useful historical context. However, I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are energetically making plans to ensure that the provision of munitions for Ukraine, as well as for ourselves, is sufficient. I know that collectively we all hope to see 3% spent on our own domestic defence sooner rather than later, and the Government have commendable plans in place.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) again put this matter in historical context by reminding us that even if we are not interested in war, war is certainly interested in us. He called out Putin’s lies, and I join him in that calling-out. He also gave some interesting reflections on his meetings in Ukraine with Ukrainian MPs, who have been a model of courage and resolve; I salute him in his reference to those gallant friends.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) gave a useful description of the arc of Putin’s aggression over the years. Of course, this war is not seven months old; it started many years ago with Putin’s statement at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. That was a useful context in which to set this challenge. My right hon. Friend also gave some interesting thoughts on the broader strategic situation regarding Russia’s malign activity in the Balkans and the malign influence and supply of drone munitions by Iran.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who I think is on his way back, gave some Gladstonian context to the debate, pointing out that freedom has no greater bulwark than the breasts of free men and women. Freedom is not free, and we all face the price individually in houses up and down the country this winter because of the sharp rise in energy prices. He pointed out that President Putin thinks he can split us, but I offer him reassurance that we are resolute. He also made some interesting strategic remarks about the relationship between this conflict and China: China is watching and, in this new era of global competition, we are essentially deterring China in Europe. That is important to remember.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) reiterated the support of his party, for which I was most grateful, and made some interesting comments on sanctions. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) made some good points about war crimes and preventing sexual violence in conflict. I am pleased to confirm that we have established with our partners the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group and we will be hosting a conference in November on preventing sexual violence in conflict, in which I know she will be interested.
The hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) reflected on her personal experiences in Ukraine, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly). I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) had very little time to give us his expertise, but we treat these issues very soberly. He referred to the umbilical cord between us and our Ukrainian allies, and I am grateful for his contribution.
Many other hon. Members made contributions that I do not have time to cover, including the hon. Members for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer), for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith), for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and my hon. Friends the Members for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds).
In conclusion, our Government remain absolutely committed to continuing our support for Ukraine. As winter approaches, Ukraine’s resolve will be tested, and our resolve will be tested. This war, and the humanitarian damage that it is inflicting on Ukraine, remains very grim. The global economic consequences—most pressingly on energy and food prices—affect all of us. As the Prime Minister made clear last night in New York, we must remember that, as we support Ukraine, we are defending our own way of life: we are standing for freedom, democracy and the sovereignty of nations. We will not be deterred.
Before I put the Question, I want to emphasise that it is important that those who have spoken in a debate come back in good time for the wind-ups.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.