I beg to move,
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
We are now coming towards the end of day 264 of Putin’s illegal, unprovoked and premeditated war on a sovereign nation, so it is worth taking the opportunity provided by this debate to step back and reflect on the devastation that Russia has wrought on that country. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians are now dead or injured. Thousands of schools, hospitals and businesses have been destroyed, while millions of acres of forest have been wiped out. Some 17.7 million people have been assessed as requiring humanitarian help and Ukraine has 7 million internally displaced people. There are a further 7.7 million refugees in Europe—the largest movement of refugees since world war two—some 90% of whom are women and children.
I thank the Minister for giving way so early in his speech. My constituent offered to host a Ukrainian family under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, so it is unacceptable that, three months later, that Ukrainian family are still in Turkey waiting to have their application processed by the Home Office. Will he speak to his colleagues in the Home Office about looking at that case? I am sure that is not the only one in which the Home Office is taking a long time to process refugees’ applications—
Order. That is a very long intervention. If the hon. Lady wants to make a speech, she has every opportunity to do so.
In my experience, applications from constituents have been dealt with—after an initial run of concern—reasonably well. The hon. Lady has raised the point, however, and I will make sure to draw the attention of Home Office Ministers to the record of this debate, so that they can get in touch to discuss whatever concerns she has on behalf of her constituents.
Since the start of the invasion, Russia has shown scant regard for human life, but since 31 October, it has sought to deliberately target civilians. Let us be clear: there is no military purpose in launching missile strikes at hydroelectric dams or in targeting the six-reactor civilian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the largest of its kind in Europe. Indeed, this latest escalation has only had a minor military effect. The reality is that such attacks are only a further illustration of Russian weakness. We know that its forces are being pushed back, we know it has lost more than 25,000 soldiers, with many more injured, and we know its capability is vanishing fast, with almost 3,000 tanks, 4,000 smaller vehicles and more than 5,500 armed troop carriers wiped out.
I totally agree that, from a military point of view, hitting electricity and water, apart from being incredibly illegal, is rather pointless. Does the Minister, however, accept that this is part of Russia’s two-pronged strategy? On the one hand, it is now trying—Surovikin is trying—to develop a defensible line, hence the withdrawal from Kherson, which is not actually particularly militarily significant, and on the other hand, it is trying to destroy Ukrainian will by effectively interrupting supplies of water and electricity. That is, therefore, an important political strategy that it is trying to develop.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. He thinks deeply about these things and he understands well how to assimilate the intelligence that is reported in the media. He is right: there is little military benefit in that strategy. The withdrawal from Kherson, while significant for the Ukrainians, and I will come back to that later, is a consolidation on to a more defensible position by Surovikin. My hon. Friend is also right to say that there is an attempt, through the targeting of civilian infrastructure, to break the Ukrainian will to fight, but I think the whole House will agree that we have seen nothing to suggest that the Ukrainian will can be broken. No matter what Putin tries, the Ukrainian people will continue to stand behind their armed forces and Europe will continue to stand behind Ukraine.
Indeed, so disastrous has been the Russian military effort so far that President Putin must now rely on one of his few remaining international friends and call in from the Iranians Shahed drones. That is further proof that Russia’s own defence industrial complex is suffering badly from the sanctions imposed by the international community. Its forces are being attritted to the point where they no longer have the capacity to operate successfully from within their own inventory, so these imports from Iran become necessary. President Putin hopes to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people, but he will fail. Throughout this invasion, the Ukrainian people have shown remarkable resolve.
On the increasing targeting by Putin of civilian infrastructure, including heating systems, when I was recently in Kyiv with other Members, this was talked about by Ukrainian parliamentarians. Could the Minister expand on the effort by the UK to show our support by providing those heating systems, which will be needed because of the targeting of civilian infrastructure?
Sometimes interventions take us in a direction we do not want to go, but the hon. Lady could almost see my notes and that is exactly where we go next.
That is why, in addition to providing Ukraine with vital weapons capabilities, the UK has committed £22 million to support Ukraine’s energy sector. That includes a £10 million fund for emergency infrastructure repairs and to reconnect households to power. It also includes £7 million for more than 850 generators, which is enough to power the equivalent of about 8,000 homes and will support essential services, including relief centres, hospitals, phone masts and water pumping stations. Approximately 320 have been delivered to Ukraine so far, with the rest to be delivered over the coming weeks and months. Finally, that funding provides a further £5 million for civil nuclear safety and security equipment. The attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant continue to be a cause for major concern. We support the calls of the International Atomic Energy Agency for a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the plant, including its reactors, nuclear waste, spent fuel pools, and energy and cooling systems. The shelling and military activities near the plant must end.
Of course, there are wider ramifications to Putin’s brutal incursion. His decision to use food as a weapon of war has had a global impact, exacerbating economic fragility and food insecurity. Ukraine was one of the world’s largest exporters of grain, meeting the needs of hundreds of millions of people. At least 25 African countries import a third of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. All this underlines the significance of maintaining the Black sea grain deal initiative. Since 1 August, it has ensured ships laden with grain have safe passage through the maritime corridor to the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi. Several weeks ago, Russia capriciously pulled out of the agreement, citing so-called concerns over the safety of ships in the Black sea. I am glad that Russia has now seen sense and resumed its participation in the joint co-ordination centre. I want, in particular, to applaud Turkey and the United Nations Secretary-General for their efforts in brokering that agreement and ensuring its implementation.
Can the responsibility for the grain getting through actually be put down to Turkey’s efforts? Is Turkey still going to be helping us and standing firm on that very important issue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I believe he may have been on the ground recently to have some of these discussions himself. Turkey is indispensable to the negotiations that need to be conducted to keep grain flowing, and we are very grateful to it for the role it is playing.
As temperatures drop, Putin apparently believes he can chip away at western resolve by forcing up food and energy prices. Our task is to prove him wrong. There are signs that, far from weakening the mood of the international community, it is hardening. Back in March, 141 states condemned Russia at the UN General Assembly; at last month’s UNGA, that number rose to 143, or three quarters of the entire UN. Russia’s four supporters were Syria, Belarus, Nicaragua and North Korea—with friends like that, Madam Deputy Speaker. The reality for Russians is that they have become pariahs, isolated from the community of nations and unable even to be elected to UN bodies such as the Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations, UN Women and UNICEF boards.
I absolutely agree that, as the winter sets in, there are clearly some additional challenges presented. One of those will inevitably be holding together our western unity in the face of rising inflation and a very challenging energy situation. Will the Government comment on what steps they are taking to ensure that the UK does its part, but we manage to stand side by side with NATO allies and other western allies?
There are two answers to the hon. Lady’s intervention. The first is that the UK, like Governments across Europe, is making a significant intervention to help its citizens with the cost of living. But no matter what Governments in the UK and elsewhere are doing, one should not ignore the fact that millions—hundreds of millions—of people across Europe are grudgingly accepting the increase in their cost of living because they know how important it is to do the right thing and to stand up to the Putin, and that to allow our will to collapse at this point would be to betray the Ukrainian people and hand Putin the territorial gains he has made so far. The second answer to her excellent intervention is that Putin himself keeps reinvigorating the western alliance. Every time we would think the cost of living pressures or the threat of a nuclear escalation, for example, might cause people to waver, he does something atrocious or his forces do something atrocious that quickly re-emboldens the western alliance and strengthens western public resolve to keep pushing on.
Maintaining the international consensus is vital, and that consensus starts with a recognition of what should be a universal truth: Ukraine has the right to robust self-defence when faced with aggression from another state. Russia’s attempts to change Ukraine’s borders by force are unacceptable and an egregious breach of the UN charter. Its offers of renewed negotiations are not made in good faith. Indeed, Putin has made it clear that any negotiations will not include those territories he continues to annex illegally. That is why, when the Prime Minister spoke to President Zelensky on his first day in office, he assured him and his people of our continued diplomatic, military and economic support. Together with our partners, we are determined to provide enduring diplomatic, military and economic support so that Ukraine is in the strongest possible position to deliver a sustainable and just peace through a negotiated settlement when the Ukrainian Government choose.
As we enter the long winter the western alliance must continue to hold its nerve. Ukraine remains in the ascendancy as it continues pressing on two axes of advance. It has been putting pressure on Russian defensive positions in the Luhansk oblast and has increasingly threatened Russia’s supply and communication routes in the area. Further south, in the Kherson oblast, Ukraine has applied continuous pressure to Russian forces and has carried out strikes on logistics hubs and bridges. Last Wednesday in occupied Kherson, Defence Minister Shoigu ordered his troops to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro river in the face of Ukrainian tanks. Kherson city was the only regional capital captured by Russia since the invasion; it is now back in Ukrainian hands. No matter what we may rightly say about the military sense in such a withdrawal, one should not underestimate nor diminish the incredible success of the Ukrainian armed forces in pushing the Russians to need to withdraw in the first place.
But that success in Kherson is only the start of a very long and hard winter. Cold and wet weather will make fighting harder, but as the going gets tough the UK will continue doing all we can to give the Ukrainians what they need. With temperatures likely to sink as low as minus 20°C, we have responded to Ukrainian requests for more cold weather equipment. Last week the Prime Minister announced that Ukrainian recruits leaving the UK will be kitted out for the extreme cold. We are also providing 25,000 sets of extreme cold weather clothing, 20,000 heavy duty sleeping bags and 150 insulated tents to prevent cold-related injuries and ensure troops can operate effectively and efficiently. Other European allies are doing likewise, and all of that—that care for the Ukrainian armed forces as they face the bleak midwinter—is in stark contrast to what the Russians are providing their troops with. I dread to think what Russian families would think if they were to see inside their son’s, husband’s, boyfriend’s or father’s rucksacks.
The Minister is right that the capture of Kherson is potentially a turning point for the Ukrainian forces, not least because with longer range missiles supplied to them it might be possible to hit Russian navy targets in the Black sea and therefore begin to eliminate the possibility of Russia using its navy to fire Kalibr cruise missiles into Ukraine against the infrastructure the Minister talked about at the beginning of his speech. Is it now time for us to revisit the supply of longer-range missiles, which we ruled out at the beginning of the conflict?
We keep all these things under review, and each time President Putin has ordered an escalation within Ukraine we have looked at what we can do to strengthen Ukrainian capabilities. The reality is that the gains Ukraine has made down towards Kherson have brought the ground lines of communication into Crimea into the range of guided multiple launch rocket systems and high mobility artillery rocket systems. Arguably those ground lines of communication are militarily an equally valuable target set to Crimea itself, if perhaps not quite as provocative—although of course the Ukrainians reserve the right to set their targets, and, as we have seen in recent months, they have done as they need on occasion, and very successfully, too.
We are the largest European provider of military matériel in Ukraine and have to date provided equipment to allow Ukraine to fight back against attacks on sea and land and in the air. The UK has provided a variety of air defence systems including Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak launchers and hundreds of missiles. Those are helping to protect Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure, including its power plants. Last week my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary announced the provision of almost 1,000 surface to air missiles to help counter the Russian threat to Ukrainian infrastructure. We continue to engage with partners all over the world, looking to buy up whatever supplies we can find of the weapons systems the Ukrainians need most, principally for air defence.
We must think of more than just the here and now, however. One day this war will end and Ukraine will need to be rebuilt: its power and roads restored, bridges re-established, and schools, houses and hospitals repaired. The Kyiv School of Economics puts the cost of direct damage to buildings and infrastructure at some $127 billion already, so the UK is also providing support for Ukraine’s early recovery through the partnership fund for a resilient Ukraine, a £37 million multi-donor fund that the UK belongs to. Through this fund the UK, alongside other countries, has already provided extensive support for the repair of buildings as well as other activities in the Kyiv oblast and other parts of Ukraine. UK Export Finance has committed £3.5 billion of cover to Ukraine for priority projects across the infrastructure, healthcare, clean energy and security sectors, and the UK is supporting the HALO Trust, which so far has de-mined over 16,000 square miles of land in Kyiv oblast so that people will be able to return safely to their homes, agricultural land and businesses.[Official Report, 17 November 2022, Vol. 722, c. 6MC.] Next year the UK will host the 2023 reconstruction conference to accelerate Ukraine’s recovery from the damage caused by Russia’s invasion.
The war Russia began has now lasted the best part of a year. Despite overwhelming odds, Ukraine has shown remarkable resilience, and I am proud the UK has played a major role in helping Ukrainians push back the invaders. As we prepare for the difficult months to come, our resolve will remain unwavering. President Putin has exacted a terrible toll on Ukraine, but he continues to make the wrong calls: far from being ground down, today Ukrainian forces are better equipped and better trained and have better morale. They will win and Putin will lose, and when he does the UK will be there, as we have been there throughout this conflict, to help Ukraine repair, rebuild and renew.
I just conclude by reflecting that thousands of men and women from the British armed forces have been involved in the support of Ukraine over the course of the last year. They have been working phenomenally hard, often in roles that do not catch the public eye. We are very grateful for everything they have done and the sacrifices their families have made in supporting them.
Before I make my remarks, I would like to pay tribute to our armed forces and veterans who came together on Remembrance Day yesterday. I was on Plymouth Hoe yesterday morning, but wherever we were we saw a nation pause, thank those who served and remember those who did not come back and those who were forever changed by war and conflict.
We are now on day 264 of Vladimir Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, and with each day it becomes clearer that he is failing in this misguided war. Putin has not achieved his objectives: indeed, he has strengthened the western alliance, and with each of his decisions he further strengthens our resolve.
The Ukrainian liberation of Kherson, a region Russia had illegally occupied for more than eight months, is a testament to the skill, bravery and fortitude of the Ukrainian military and is a significant blow to the Kremlin. The Ukrainian advance comes only weeks after a ceremony in Moscow in which Putin announced the “forever” annexation of Kherson along with the Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.
Russia’s retreat from Kherson is a significant moment in the war, and the withdrawal shines a light on how badly the invasion is going for Putin. He has already forcibly enlisted more than 200,000 new recruits into the Russian army, and with around 100,000 Russian soldiers having been killed or wounded since the war began in February, the casualty rate of poorly trained, poorly equipped troops with low morale remains catastrophic. Body bags and burnt-out tanks are all Putin can offer his people.
As the Ukrainians continue to show incredible resilience in defending their homeland, we must continue to do all we can to support Ukraine both now and in the months ahead. The Minister will know that we on this side of the House fully support the help the Government are providing to our friends in Ukraine, and I want to put on record our thanks to the United Kingdom’s armed forces not only for their work supporting Ukraine and co-ordinating supplies of military aid and humanitarian support, but for reinforcing our allies on NATO’s eastern flank and training Ukrainian troops here in Britain through Operation Interflex.
On Britain’s military help to Ukraine, the Government have had, and will continue to have, our fullest support. We welcome last week’s announcement on the provision of further surface to air missiles to Ukrainian forces and welcome the announcement of support to protect and upgrade Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, but given the parameters of the support we want to provide I wish to press the Minister gently but seriously on some of the uncertainties in that. The UK must support Ukraine for the long term, and I believe that there is cross-party support on that, but that means that we must move beyond the ad hoc announcements made by Ministers about donating weapons to being clear about a long-term strategy for military, economic and diplomatic assistance through 2023 and beyond.
And humanitarian support. In August, the Government announced that the UK and its allies would begin to establish a plan of action to support Ukraine into 2023, but we still have not seen one. Will the Minister say where it is and why there is a delay in producing the plan? We are running out of 2022—will the report and strategy be ready by the end of the year? What state is it in now, and is it a costed plan or just a set of ambitions? We ask those questions not to put the Minister on the hook or in a bad place but to press him, because we want to see the support gotten right, and scrutiny and clarity for the United Kingdom will help our allies to ensure that they are equally as robust in supporting Ukraine.
Even before the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Labour had been making the case for an updated integrated review. The Defence Secretary previously argued against that, but now argues for it, which is a welcome U-turn from the Government. I know that the Minister has had a similar change of heart, and that is also welcome. However, the Government have given little signal as to what will be in the integrated review refresh and how it will be updated. I would be grateful if the Minister also set out what he believes needs to be updated in the integrated review. Does the review have clear terms of reference that can be scrutinised? Will he tell us which cuts to the armed forces he now wants to reverse and whether further Army cuts will be halted?
At the last Defence questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) asked a fair question about why the Government are pressing ahead with cuts to our armed forces before the integrated review reports. What happens if the integrated review says that we should have kept the capabilities and equipment that the Ministry of Defence is scrambling to scrap now?
It is no secret that next-generation light anti-tank weapons have been vital to the defence of Ukraine, but the Secretary of State has yet to adequately explain whether a new contract to replenish UK NLAW stockpiles has been signed, and with whom. NLAW production will require old production lines to be rebuilt and restarted. If an order was placed today, how long would it be before a new NLAW rolled off the production line? Would it really be two years away? If that is true, that delay is dangerous and one that the UK can ill afford.
I turn to a technical but serious area that has not been addressed: dual-use technology, which is civilian technology that can have a military application. Last month, the United States imposed a set of new sanctions on Russia targeting a network accused of procuring military and dual-use technologies from US manufacturers and illegally supplying them to the Russian war machine. The Royal United Services Institute, the UK defence think-tank, confirmed in August that UK components are appearing in Russian weaponry. That can include oscillators and standard crystals. No UK-produced equipment should end up in the hands of Putin and his generals, but it is especially difficult to be sure of that when it comes to dual-use equipment. The House has already passed sanctions on such equipment, but the concern is that western electronics and technologies are still reaching Russian weapon manufacturers. That will be concerning to colleagues, so we need clarity that British firms are not, in good faith, making materials or contributing to the supply chain of western manufacturers whose end products could end up killing Ukrainian civilians.
What steps are the Government taking to identify dual-use technologies that could be used by Putin? What steps is the Minister taking to stop those technologies from getting into the hands of Russia or its agents? Does he feel that the current dual-use technology sanctions are sufficient? What steps can he take, working with our allies, to monitor and shut off possible purchasing routes for Russia of western dual-use equipment like gyroscopes, wi-fi technology, ceramic chips, resistors and semiconductors? This is a complex area, and I realise that I have put the Minister on the spot, with his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty), replying to the debate, so if he cannot set that out, I would be grateful if he put a letter in the House of Commons Library. It is a difficult area but one that we must ensure that we are getting right.
Since the war began, Russian troops have been committing atrocities against Ukrainian civilians. Just as in Bucha, Izium and Mariupol, there is now evidence of Russian war crimes in the Kherson region. We will not know for some time how many civilians the Russians have butchered, but we must be unrelenting in our pursuit of those war criminals until each and every one of them has stood trial for their crimes.
As Ukrainians face the arrival of winter, it is becoming increasingly clear that Putin’s strategy is to target civilian infrastructure, including energy and water plants. The Minister set out some support that the UK Government are providing, but what additional missile defence is the UK providing to its allies to protect Ukrainian infrastructure from missile attacks by Russia? What plans does he have to deal with the potential for an additional flow of cold and hungry refugees this winter? The effect of Russian bombardment of civilian infrastructure is already degrading Ukraine’s ability to provide clean water and power to all of its population, and that will drive a further humanitarian crisis.
I turn to how we can afford the defence of the UK and our allies in Ukraine. The Government’s disastrous mini-Budget cost £30 billion—the equivalent of 60% of the UK’s current defence budget, which could have been better spent on hospitals, teachers and the cost of living crisis. That sheer amount of money—abused by the Government—is the cost of 23 brand-new Type 26 frigates. The MOD is the only Government Department in the current spending round with a real-terms revenue cut each year. New figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that, adjusted for inflation, that is a £2.7 billion real-terms cut to defence spending. At the Defence Committee, the Secretary of State for Defence said that with additional defence inflation, he has £8 billion of additional costs on his budget. If we are to continue to provide support to Ukraine and ensure that we can afford an enhanced forward presence for our NATO allies and our other NATO commitments, we need certainty that funding will be available as required for our armed forces.
I have been re-reading the rather good “Shifting the goalposts?” Defence Committee report, which shows that Labour Governments have always spent more on our nation’s defence than Conservative Governments. Does the commitment to raise defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 still exist? Can the Minister see a point where Government defence spending will fall below the NATO 2% of GDP target? Given the Minister’s and Secretary of State’s previous comments on defence spending, can the Minister say whether he and the Secretary of State will still be in their places if Defence funding is cut in the Chancellor’s autumn statement on Thursday?
On defence spending—I do not believe that this has yet come up in the debate—Putin is clearly using propaganda as a serious weapon in this battle, and it is one that we all have an interest in countering. It would be helpful if the Minister, in summing up, could give some reassurance that the UK is committed to the counter-disinformation unit and working in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure that we play our part so that this propaganda does not win in Ukraine or elsewhere?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She is right. Putin has invested heavily in disinformation technologies and resources to spread misinformation and disinformation in social media news feeds right across the world, including here in the United Kingdom. That investment was not made on a whim. It was made against a clear strategy, with the wish being to divide, split and misinform western populations and use our democracy against us. To protect our democracy and our allies, we must be absolutely determined to tackle disinformation, misinformation and those dark cyber-activities online. We are talking about not just state-sponsored hacking and cyber-attacks—that is one end of the spectrum—but all our constituents seeing things on their Facebook news feeds that are deliberately deployed and shared to try to split and degrade public opinion and create the impression that the United Kingdom’s support for our friends in Ukraine is somehow coming from a dark place, when it is not. That means further action to strengthen our work on social media. It means looking at where Russia is investing in disinformation and how we can strengthen our civil society against that in future. I hope the Minister and his colleagues, for instance those looking after the Online Safety Bill, will take that seriously, too. It is not just military grade activity we need to look at; it is everything through to how each of us uses our social media.
To conclude, let there be no doubt that Labour Members share the Government’s resolve to support Ukraine for as long as is necessary to defeat Putin. As the Ukrainian countryside turns to mud and then freezes over, we are about to enter an incredibly difficult winter, as military doctrine normally suggests, with frontlines frozen and civilian populations suffering further. The Ukrainians are showing incredible resolve in standing up to Russia, but they cannot do it without continued western support. How we use the winter months to prepare for the expected spring offensives—ensuring our supply lines, commitment, resolve and technologies are available to our friends in Ukraine—will be crucial in keeping the pressure firmly on the Kremlin and ensuring that Ukraine wins.
As we rejoice at the liberation of Kherson, we need to be mindful that Ukraine is still very much a country at war. As Russian Federation tanks rolled across the border on to sovereign Ukrainian territory on 24 February, the world bore witness to an attack against the post-second world war settlement of a magnitude and kind without precedent.
I congratulate the Government on the superb and consistent support the UK has provided to Ukraine, but the situation constantly changes and I believe we now need a rethink on sanctions. I frequently hear people, including UK Ministers, say that this is Putin’s war, not that of the Russian people, thereby laying the blame for an entire nation’s aggression at the feet of one man. This aggression, we must not forget, seeks to erase Ukraine from the map, destroy its culture, and turn back the clock to a period when the Russo-centric Soviet Union dominated eastern Europe and its peoples. Having had the opportunity to visit Ukraine, most recently in September, and speak with some of the brave men and women valiantly defending their homeland, the notion that this is solely Putin’s war is one that I reject. Of course, western-induced regime change within the Russian Federation is not a sound basis for the United Kingdom’s foreign policy, but even if it were I do not believe, as is mooted by some, that new leadership in Moscow would necessarily bring the war to an end. In fact, I believe that the opposite is possible: a new leader trying to burnish their nationalistic credentials by taking even greater destructive and indiscriminate military action. No Putin does not necessarily equate to no war.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and it was a pleasure to be with him in Kyiv earlier this year. He is making an incredibly important point, because sometimes we hear our allies say, “We have to make sure that Putin cannot do this again.” Actually, that is the wrong analysis. We have to make sure that Russia cannot do this again.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will try to prove that point further.
Many of those in leadership roles surrounding the current Russian President, such as the Chechnya leader, Kadyrov—who suggested using a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine—espouse rigid nationalist views. They should not, and cannot, be absolved from blame for the invasion, as the term Putin’s war may allow. It is also important to highlight that many towns in reoccupied Ukraine now have unmarked graves resulting from murders perpetrated by members of the Russian armed forces: the Bucha massacre is a poignant example that we all have a duty to remember and reflect on. Reports are also rife of mass rapes, looting, torture, removal of children and confiscation of vital food stuffs—again, all deeds done by soldiers and administrators of the occupying power. It is clear to me that many people of the Russian Federation are up to their necks in heinous crimes committed during the ongoing war against the Ukrainian people, and the individual perpetrators must bear full responsibility and be prosecuted.
A case against those actively engaged in the invasion is clear, but what about the wider Russian people themselves? The problem is that by using the term Putin’s war, it is possible to excuse, overlook or ignore that the war, in all its gore and injustice, remains very popular among most of the Russian population. It is not just Putin, his cronies and his oligarchs. Some Russians, a small minority, have laudably taken a stand, memorably and notably Marina Ovsyannikova, who staged an on-air protest in March denouncing the war. Such defiance has, however, been more of an exception than the rule. Indeed, polling from within the Russian Federation continues to indicate strong support of over 70% for both the war and Putin among the populace.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, as ever. The extent to which the Russians support the war is a complex issue. He is not wrong to say that it is still very popular, but I just wonder if there is a slightly more generous way of putting it. There is a hard core against—very brave people, as he has outlined. There is a hard core for—the military bloggers and the nationalist community, who are becoming increasingly concerned. But in the last 20 years, because of the amount of propaganda in Russian society, most Russians know to avoid politics as an issue; they let the people in power get on with things. Does he accept the point that, rather than the war being popular, the agnosticism towards politics means that it is kept away from as a subject?
I accept that it is a subject we could go into in some degree, but I would make the point that of those Russians who have been leaving Russia and going to places like Armenia, Georgia or the more than 250,000 who have gone to Turkey, it is by no means proven that they are anti-Putin. In fact, a lot of research says they are going to those countries because either they want to pursue their business activities, which sanctions prevent, or they do not want to be called up on the reserve list, not because they do not like President Putin.
What I am suggesting is that at some point citizens and leaders need to take collective responsibility for the actions of the state and the armed forces that operate in their name. For Russians, I would argue that that time has long passed. If we agree that there should be collective responsibility, we can make the moral case for collective sanctions—economic and travel. Travel restrictions, like those implemented by six EU states, are a more practical way of reinforcing the message of collective responsibility than economic sanctions, which mainly apply only to wealthier people.
As the situation stands, at the end of the war, whenever that may be or indeed before, assets that have been frozen, across the west and other areas of the globe, will be reclaimed by their owners, including here in the United Kingdom. The public, including many constituents in Huntingdon who I have corresponded with about the situation in Ukraine, naturally assume that a frozen superyacht owned by a sanctioned individual will be sold, with the proceeds used for reconstruction. We are talking about some £18 billion of frozen assets, not including real estate, in the UK alone. That is not, alas, currently the case. If the situation is not remedied, an embarrassing political situation, not to mention a morally dubious one, beckons.
Ministers should be prepared to consider, working with our allies, how frozen assets can be legally seized, sold and the revenue put to work for Ukraine’s rebuilding. The World Bank’s assessment made in September is that Ukraine will need $349 billion for recovery and reconstruction. It is worth saying that it is not just a question of law changes, but adopting a more aggressive attitude within the existing system. For instance, when the FBI boarded Mr Kerimov’s yacht Amadea in Fiji, it looks like the United States used the oligarch’s maintenance of the yacht as a criminal breach of sanctions, thereby allowing confiscation. We could and should be more assertive than we are.
As for possible law changes to facilitate confiscation, the first is a revisiting of the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939. During the second world war, that Act allowed the Government of the day to confiscate assets owned by residents of enemy countries in British territories. It focuses squarely on the assets of any person or organisation of countries with which the United Kingdom is at war. Thankfully, there has not been much cause to review it since 1945. An amendment to the definition of war, however, could provide a valuable basis for considering how Russian assets could be seized for the benefit of Ukraine and its reconstruction.
Secondly, Canada’s Budget Implementation Act 2022, which was passed in June, includes amendments that allow for the forfeiture of property that is subject to a seizure or restraint order under the Special Economic Measures Act 1992 and the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law) 2017. That is done under both regimes using forfeiture orders, allowing the relevant Canadian Government Minister to apply to a court to forfeit assets that have already been seized or frozen. A number of safeguards are rightly built into the legislation. For instance, any person who appears to have an interest in the property may be heard by the relevant court.
A further possible avenue that I wish to highlight is one proposed by the Washington DC-based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, which formulated a multilateral action model on reparations. In the model, the institute draws 13 convincing conclusions that lay the basis for an international, effective and legal reparations and compensation scheme. The model builds on the relatively recent and practical example of the Kuwait compensation fund, which, together with the UN compensation commission, paid some $52 billion in compensation to 1.5 million claimants over 30 years following the Iraqi invasion in 1990. The establishment of the fund and commission was possible only due to the agreement of those nations with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Unfortunately, as Russia is an aggressor in the case of Ukraine, that exact road map cannot be followed. The institute therefore makes the argument for working through the UN General Assembly rather than the Security Council.
The avenues that I have highlighted are but a number that are worthy of wider consideration—there are others. It is crucial, however, that the conversation surrounding compensation and reparations now begins in earnest, because just to continue saying, “This is only Putin’s war” is no longer relevant or morally sustainable.
I call the Scottish National party spokesman, Martin Docherty-Hughes.
First, let me associate myself both with the Minister’s words about the armed forces supporting the training of the men and women of the Ukrainian armed forces, and with the words of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), about Remembrance Sunday. I am very mindful that my brother, who is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, attended the Cenotaph in Whitehall for the first time at the weekend with former comrades.
It is welcome to be standing here following the statement about the liberation of Kherson. Like so many people, it has been a joy to watch the videos and accounts of the liberation over the weekend. Unfortunately, there is a pattern in this conflict of the elation after the liberation of towns and villages being followed by revulsion and anger as we discover the litany of crimes committed by the Russian armed forces and administrators during their occupation. I shudder to think of what happened to those who were brave enough to resist the invasion during the early days of February, as was so memorably caught on camera for the world to see.
None the less, forcing the invading force off the west bank of the Dnieper should be celebrated for the triumph that it is, along with the liberation of the last remaining regional capital under renewed occupation. The decision of the retreating forces to blow bridges and mine the lines of the withdrawal demonstrates the direction in which they believe the conflict to be moving. We must hope, however, that it can move as quickly as possible in that direction to avoid Kherson facing the same sort of retribution that Russia has visited on the likes of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv.
The fact that the targeting and destroying of civilian infrastructure has become such a feature of the Russian military handbook again demonstrates the weakness of its position and its repeated inability to abide by, as I think the whole House will agree, the key tenets of the Geneva convention—namely, its failure to avoid unnecessary suffering and to distinguish between civilians and combatants. That is as damning an indictment of its “Russkiy mir”, which it claims to be defending, as we are ever likely to see. I am sure that the Minister and others across the House will join me in beseeching the Russian Federation to withdraw from the rest of the country that it has illegally occupied since 2014, so that the suffering does not continue.
The liberation of such a large port also brings into focus, as the Minister touched on, the global consequences of continuing this unnecessary conflict, not only because Kherson’s famous watermelons can now be exported, but because that applies to a whole host of other agricultural products of Ukraine’s famous black soil. Those grains and vegetable oils have effectively been held hostage by the Kremlin, by Vladimir Putin, as part of a strategy of resource terrorism that seeks to punish some of the poorest people in the world as a way of putting pressure on those who would support Ukraine. As the G20 summit comes to a close, overshadowed by this coercive diplomacy, I am sure we all hope that we will not face the same issue come the next summit.
As we talk about exports, we must also think about the health of the Ukrainian economy as a whole. Let us not forget the importance of providing, as the Minister mentioned, long-term economic guarantees to Ukraine to ensure that it can rebuild when the end of the conflict comes, as it must. The incredible potential that it has hitherto been unable to fully realise can be released only with a generous range of measures and with full integration into western economic networks—as Ukraine would wish—including the European Union.
Regardless of the military and economic support that we give Ukraine and its people, we cannot forget the human element in all this and the fact that those people are fighting for so much more than economic growth or European security; they are fighting simply for the right to exist—that is, the right to exist not only as Ukrainians, but as who they are as people.
I am glad to have the opportunity to acknowledge the contribution made by the LGBTQ+ Ukrainians in this conflict. Their struggle is emblematic of what it is at stake, and not only because Putin and other Kremlin talking heads have specifically made their increasing prominence in that society a major plank of their spurious rationale for invasion. We know very well in this country that the realities of a wartime society can bring about large-scale social change, as previously under-represented groups come forward to demonstrate the role that they can play in society. It is through this conflict that we have seen how LGBTQ+ Ukrainians—known as the Pride brigade—have come forward to serve in their droves at every level.
I am very grateful for the work done by people such as Maksym Eristavi, who has documented the contribution that those Ukrainians have made to the defence of their common homeland. There is evidence that that is changing Ukrainian society for the better. Thanks to Maksym, I found out this summer that almost 60% of Ukrainians now have more positive attitudes to their LGBTQ+ siblings, a massive increase since 2016 when they were last asked the question. These people know what it is that they are fighting for: the possibility to live in a country where they are free from the dystopian control and coercion that we see too often in Putin’s Russia.
Let me bring my remarks to an end by thanking Ministers and the Government for ensuring that Ukraine can continue to push the invaders out of their country. They can be assured of the support from everyone on the SNP Benches, and essentially everyone across the House, in making sure that that continues to be the case. Here is hoping we will be marking the liberation of Ukraine sooner rather than later.
I will not try the House’s patience for too long; I just want to make some general points.
The Minister was completely right when he said that the Kherson victory was enormously important, regardless of whether it was significant in military terms or symbolically. He made the point that it is difficult for someone to invade a country if they are going backwards, as we can all agree. Although it is symbolically dreadful, I would say that it is not yet a military game changer.
To build on my question to the Minister, the current Russian strategy seems to be two-pronged. First, Surovikin, with his Syrian experience, has said to the Russian Ministry of Defence, “Give me a line that I can hold.” Because Kherson is on the western bank of the Dnipro, it was simply not holdable: it was a death trap and a disaster waiting for the Russian military. By pulling out of Kherson city and going over to the eastern bank of the Dnipro, Surovikin has effectively put the Dnipro river between himself and the Ukrainians.
I lived in Ukraine from 1990 to 1995. For those who do not know the geography of Ukraine, the Dnipro river from south of Kherson all the way up to Zaporizhzhia is 0.5 km at its thinnest. If we add the waterbanks, the Konka river, the marshland and the open grassland, it is a minimum of 3 km wide. Up at Zaporizhzhia, where the nuclear power plant is, it is more of a lake; it is 10 km to 12 km wide. By moving his forces to the eastern bank of the Dnipro, Surovikin has effectively made the Dnipro a considerable buffer between himself and the Ukrainian forces.
Realistically, a Ukrainian advance is not going to happen south of Zaporizhzhia, simply because of the geography—one might as well try to cross the channel. It cannot be done without phenomenal resources. It involves going across significant open territory. The casualty rate, even against forces as disorganised and demoralised as Russia’s, would simply not be acceptable. It would fail, and it would be a significant counter to the Ukrainians. By getting the Dnipro on the right side of him, Surovikin now has a defensible line all the way up to Zaporizhzhia.
The second thing that Surovikin has done is to prioritise the destruction of civilian morale. Sadly, those of us who followed him in Syria know that that is par for the course. One of the really awful and depressing things in Syria was that the Syrians and their backers from Russia, which is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, prioritised the destruction of civilian targets. Most importantly and most tragically—I have talked to many Syrian doctors about this—the Russians targeted hospitals for destruction. Destroying the hospitals first destroyed popular morale. Men would fight as long as their women and their families stayed, but for that to happen they needed some kind of food supply and they needed hospitals. Destroying hospitals meant that women and children fled. Without the women and children, men were effectively pulled back as well. Destroying civilian infrastructure destroyed morale.
There was another thing that the Syrians and their Russian backers did. For four years Aleppo had been bombed, and for four years it had survived: civilian life, in bizarre and horrendous circumstances, continued. Then the Syrians and their Russian backers used chemical weapons for 17 days and cleared the city. There were four years of bombardment and there were attacks on hospitals, which took a few months to clear civilian populations, but what cleared the city pretty much overnight was the use of chemical weapons.
I raise that point because the Russians are still making accusations against the Ukrainians and the Americans about bioterrorism, and we know that they are still talking about nuclear. The Russians are still holding out the option of using chemical and nuclear weapons. We should not simply dismiss that as bluff. It may well be bluff, but we do not know that—we cannot tell.
Those are the two prongs of the Russians’ strategy: getting a line that they think is defensible, and destroying civilian infrastructure. The current phase of the war started back in September, when I was in Ukraine with several hon. Members present; it is good to see them in the Chamber today. We saw Zelensky on the Sunday, and the Ukrainians were overjoyed because of the collapse of the Kharkiv positions. We were there as it was happening. That was the beginning of the new phase, in which the Russians realised that they could not win. That was the weekend when the Ukrainians thought, “Actually, we can win this war.” It was a very important moment.
By having a defensible line and attacking civilian infrastructure, the Russians bought some time—they probably bought themselves a few months. The next phase of the war will probably take place in the spring, when Russian positions come under significant pressure. If my understanding is correct, they will come under pressure in the south between Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk or in the east around the Luhansk area. The Ukrainians may try a feint to the south while attacking Donbas, because that is where their best armour is. Either way, when the new phase happens, with a spring offensive or potentially a late winter offensive, what we will witness—if we do witness it—will be the collapse of Russian positions.
The critical point for the strategy in the war is not necessarily securing a defeat in Donbas, which would be great for the Ukrainians, but the collapse of the land corridor between Crimea and Donetsk. If that happened, it would be the beginning of the end for the Russians. They could continue to hold the area of Donbas that they seized in 2014, and it would not make much difference; they could keep hold of Crimea, which I think will be last to go; but the destruction of the land corridor will mean the final defeat, or entering the endgame. It will be the beginning of the end for the Russian forces if that land corridor goes.
At that point, Putin will face a series of very important decision points, to use a military term. Does he go nuclear? Does he not? Does he use chemicals? Does he not? Does he blow up the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station? Does he not? Those questions will become critical, because Russian military defeat in war often signals the collapse of a regime. People like the KGB or the FSB—whatever they are calling themselves now—do not distinguish between collapse of the state and collapse of the regime. Collapse of the regime and collapse of the state are not identical, but they are much closer than they would be in our country.
Of the wars that the Russians have fought in the past 200 years, they won the Napoleonic war and world war two, but pretty much every other war they have lost, resulting in the collapse or significant reform of the Russian state. The Crimean war resulted in the end of serfdom. The Russian-Japanese war resulted in the 1905 revolution. The horrors of world war one resulted in the appalling disasters of the Bolshevik revolution. The Finnish war could have gone very badly wrong in 1940. The Afghan war heralded the end of the Soviet Union.
When this war is lost by the Russian state, we will have to start asking ourselves how desperate Putin will be and what will happen internally to Russia. On Wednesday morning, for those who are interested, Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov will be talking to the all-party parliamentary group on Russia about the potential for the collapse of the Russian state.
There are clearly some significant decisions to be made. Internally, Putin has arrested, murdered, killed off and imprisoned many of his opponents—most noticeably Navalny, whose health may or may not be slowly worsening in the penal colony where he is doing nine years. Putin does not face pressure from the democratic bloc, but he does face pressure from two groups and it is worth paying attention to them both.
One group is the nationalist-fascist military blogger community. These are people who have been very vocal; importantly, the state allows them to be vocal because they were significant supporters of the war. We know from reading sites such as Telegram, where they have half a million followers, that they are now despairing and calling for firmer, tougher action. Some public figures, such as Prigozhin, who runs the Wagner mercenary group, and the Chechen head, whose name I have temporarily forgotten, are also outliers in attacking bits of the military, various generals who displease them or the Russian Ministry of Defence. There is a problem building up in the nationalist-fascist community within Russia.
There is also a problem building up with the wives, mothers and partners of soldiers killed and injured. I have met on many occasions the mothers of soldiers in the Afghan war—a wonderful group of people. They fought very movingly for the memory of their kids; it was really sad to see. The number of Russians dead or seriously injured is probably pushing 100,000, which means 100,000 wives, partners, girlfriends, occasionally boyfriends, and mums and dads. That is a significant potential audience. The new soldiers’ mums and soldiers’ wives have not made common cause with the democratic faction, which is pretty much non-existent in Russia, and they have not yet made common cause with the nationalist-fascist blogger group, which I think would be difficult. Those are the two groups that I think Putin will be looking most nervously at.
Thank you for letting me speak for so long, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me now sum up the position. We have to start thinking about the endgame, because it will probably begin in the spring. Then we will have to start thinking about what will happen with nuclear decision points, and then we will have to start thinking about, potentially, the failure of Russia and what the disaster of a chaotic nuclear-powered Russia looks like—so there is much to do. I congratulate the Government on almost all they have done. I would just say that I think a bit more integration across Government Departments is always needed and we still do not have that.
When it comes to diplomacy—I asked the Foreign Secretary about this earlier—the United States and the United Kingdom have the best diplomatic networks in the developing world, while Ukraine has very few such networks and they are modest, certainly by comparison with ours. There is much more that the US and the UK can do systemically across Asia and Africa to make sure that we partner with the Ukrainians so that they can make their case. Those are the nations that are receiving grain from the Ukrainians and they want to know where it is. We must ensure that they know it is the Russians who are the problem in that regard and not the Ukrainians, but those are also the people who are most neutral to what the Russians are doing. We have to start to get them onside and get that community built.
On Wednesday evening this week, the Magnitsky awards will be presented, in memory of Sergei Magnitsky, beaten to death 13 years ago on Wednesday by agents of the Russian state because he was exposed while trying to investigate a $250 million Russian fraud. We remember people like Magnitsky, but we also remember many of those human rights activists. It would be great to see more non-aligned and neutral countries, and countries in Asia and Africa, bringing in their own Magnitsky laws so that they can start prosecuting these bad people, whether they are in Russia, in Iran or, indeed, in China—but that is a discussion for another day.
Let me begin by thanking the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), who always speaks in a measured and informative tone. I always learn from listening to him.
We have seen horrors taking place in Ukraine throughout this year, but, sadly, there has been humanitarian need in the region for much longer. In 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea heavily affected the east of Ukraine. Since Putin’s illegal war began in February, it has led to an explosion in humanitarian need and to Ukraine enduring mass human rights violations. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that there are a staggering 17.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and an estimated 6.24 million people internally displaced within Ukraine. The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine estimates that there have been at least 16,150 civilian casualties, with the majority in the east, but emphasises that the true figure is likely to be much higher.
Evident violations of international humanitarian law have taken place, with Russian forces clearly targeting civilian infrastructure, as we have seen with the bombing of children’s playgrounds and supermarkets. Russian forces have hidden landmines across the country, restricting refugees’ ability to leave through humanitarian corridors and complicating access for aid workers. In March, the Chair of the Defence Committee, the former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), and I wrote jointly to the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), to highlight these issues, and I continue to urge the current Prime Minister to ensure that organisations such as the HALO Trust and the Mines Advisory Group receive the funds that they need to clear mines on the ground.
The current picture is extremely bleak, but with winter fast approaching, it is more crucial than ever that aid reaches people who desperately need it. In December, the daytime temperature rarely reaches above zero degrees in Kyiv, so generators, blankets and warm clothes are essential. Women and girls are being disproportionately affected by the conflict, with the UN reporting that girls are at increased risk of child marriage and being forced to leave school as a result of their families’ simply trying to survive. The UK has pledged £220 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since the conflict began, but I continue to express my concern that this aid is not being disbursed quickly enough. In his response to the debate, can the Minister guarantee that aid is reaching local charities and is being distributed in the most effective ways possible?
The conflict has been marked by mass human rights violations by Russian forces, including the widespread, despicable use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In October, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine published damning evidence of war crimes, with Russian forces responsible for the vast majority of those crimes. They included the executions of civilians, torture and ill treatment, of which there were consistent accounts, and the use of sexual violence against women and children. The commission concluded that those violations continue to have a devastating effect on victims and survivors, who emphasised the essential role of justice and accountability.
Of the many human rights abuses, notable examples include the massacre in Bucha, during which civilians were rounded up by Russian troops for execution, and the siege of Mariupol, when Russian forces encircled the city, preventing humanitarian supplies from being accessible and bombing a maternity hospital. There have also been reports of rape and torture during the Russian occupation of lzyum. Those responsible for countless and horrifying crimes must be held accountable, and there must be zero impunity for war crimes committed during the conflict.
The events in Ukraine have pulled the importance of a rigorous approach to atrocity prevention into sharp focus. We cannot allow such violations of human rights to occur on this scale, both within and outside conflict. My Committee, the International Development Committee, recently published a report on preventing future mass atrocities around the world, highlighting the need for the UK to develop an atrocity prevention strategy. I urge the Minister to heed our report, and to take urgent action to prevent further atrocities.
We cannot underestimate the value of a strong position taken by the international community on war crimes, with those who have committed crimes being sufficiently held to account. Victims and survivors deserve our support in securing justice and ensuring that these contemptible crimes cannot go on any longer. The UK’s support in Ukraine has been crucial since the invasion, but the Government must ensure that we provide joined-up responses to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, and prioritise assistance for local charities wherever possible. We cannot step away.
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and I want to develop some of the points that she made so powerfully about the humanitarian response. I want to talk about the local response and about support for refugees.
It is hard to believe that, for almost the entire year, we have watched the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, unleashed by Putin, and have witnessed an absolutely awful war and senseless bloodshed and violence. We have seen an incredible response from constituents across the country, and I have seen that particularly in my community, where we have opened our hearts and our homes to refugees in their plight. That is something quite special. There is no more personal response than the support that so many people are giving in opening up their homes to refugees from Ukraine, and I think we should be very proud of that.
Alongside the “big stuff”—the amazing international leadership we have shown in terms of sanctions and the forming of a coalition to support the Ukrainians with military technology, kit and training—there is the domestic “small stuff”. In fact, I think that some of the most powerful support we have given is the opening up of our homes to refugees. I want to send a huge thank you to everyone in my constituency who has done that. I am sure many other Members across the country have thanked their constituents as well.
May I echo my hon. Friend’s comments? In Watford, we have seen an incredible burst of love and care for Ukrainian people who are over here. Yesterday in St Mary’s church, as part of the remembrance ceremony—supported by Luther Blissett, the Watford football legend, and his partner Lauren—a lady in the group read a beautiful Ukrainian poem from the pulpit. It was an incredible moment, bringing home to us the loss of her family back in Ukraine since she has been here, but also the incredible strength that these people are showing by being here and giving support from afar.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It builds on a point I was about to make about paying tribute to particular individuals and groups. It is always invidious to do this because there are so many people to single out and so many groups to thank for what they are doing, but I want to raise four areas in my constituency that deserve special attention, in among the work that so many individuals and community groups are doing. One is the Revive café in Chertsey, which has a coffee morning for refugees. One of the key players there is a lady called Lizzie Wayland, who is a member of the Beacon Church, which hosts the cafe. It gives incredible support to people locally.
I also want to draw the House’s attention to Lesia Scholey and Councillor Charu Sood, who have set up Weybridge Friends of Ukraine. They have been pivotal in leading support in Weybridge, alongside Elmbridge CAN and the Weybridge community hub. We also have a lady called Olena Melnyk, a refugee from Ukraine who now works in Runnymede Borough Council helping with translation for Ukrainian refugees. I would also like to thank my team in my office who have been incredible in supporting people going through the visa application process and in working on many pieces of casework supporting refugees once they have moved into my constituency.
Building on that spirit, I would like to give my thanks to the Right Rev. Kenneth Nowakowski, the bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family in London, who came to speak to community groups in my constituency last week. I do not know whether Members have heard him speak, but he is incredible. Without doubt it was one of the best community speech events I have ever been to. He has been central to the refugee response from the start and he spoke about the support he has set up and the lessons learned, and gave a cautious commentary on what he sees for the future. He made two points in his speech that I hope he will not mind me mentioning. One of them really sent a chill through me. When he visited Ukraine recently, he went to a school and a little boy came up to him, very excited to see him. He said, “Come, come—you have to see our bomb shelter. It’s really cool.” That sent a chill, but in a sense it is also quite sweet, because it shows the resilience of children and the excitement of how life changes and we have to adjust in the context of conflict.
The other thing the bishop reflected on in his talk was when people can start thinking about forgiveness. Given where we are now, that is very difficult to contemplate, but of course every war ends and things move on. One of the important things that we are talking about today is the rebuilding of Ukraine and what peace will look like. I say this cautiously to the House, because it is a difficult statement to make right now, given where we are and the pain that everyone is suffering, but perhaps these could be the early stages of thinking about the future that we want to have and the future that we can start hoping for as this awful conflict comes to an end.
I would like to thank all the people who came to the event in my constituency: the community groups, the elected representatives and the people who have supported refugees across my constituency. Our communities are precious, and my communities in Runnymede and Weybridge are without doubt the things that make my constituency the best place, in my view—I am sure my colleagues would say similar things about their constituencies—and we need to support them. We need to recognise the incredible work that they do.
I was not intending to intervene in this debate, but my hon. Friend is making some excellent points. I attended a meeting of Ukrainian family sponsors in my constituency two weeks ago, and the thing I took away from it was the message that we need to encourage the Government to do more to support our fabulous sponsors and encourage them to continue to provide that service. In many cases, they are coming to the end of the six-month initial term, and in parts of Warrington we have high levels of Ukrainian families who are thinking about where they can live next. The sponsors have given up six months and they are thinking about what they do next as well. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government could take a more active lead in supporting and encouraging sponsor families to continue?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is almost as if he had foresight of my speech—which I know he did not—because I am going to go on to talk about the challenges when sponsor-refugee relationships break down. I will come on to that in a moment.
We must all cherish our communities and the support that they are giving. There is something very special about that, and if we do not fight to protect, cherish and thank them, it will be too late and we will lose them. I am sure that that is something that we all share. For a few months now, sadly, we have been hearing in my constituency about breakdowns in the relationships between sponsors and refugees. This is getting more concerning as we approach Christmas. A lot of people, when they generously offered to take part in the scheme, saw it as only a six-month commitment. It is important to recognise that if some can continue after six months that is fantastic, but for those who cannot, it is fantastic that they have helped out. There should be no animus if people feel that they cannot continue beyond the initial six months.
I have had many conversations with the leader of Runnymede Borough Council, Councillor Tom Gracey, and its chief executive officer regarding concerns about the matching process. Some refugees are not able to be rematched, and Runnymede is going to give them homelessness support. It will help to rehouse refugees locally if they cannot be rematched. The concern is that this will put an additional burden on to the local authorities. I know that the Government have been very generous in their support to local authorities, but this will nevertheless be a challenge, especially in constituencies such as mine where the availability of affordable housing and affordable rents is very much at a premium.
I have a question for the Minister about cases in which a refugee’s sponsorship has broken down and they cannot be rematched, and the state effectively takes on the role of sponsoring them through homelessness provision. Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme as it currently stands, the sponsor gets a monthly payment of about 350 quid, so when the Government effectively take over in a state sponsorship role, could the Minister look at the possibility of local authorities getting that sponsorship payment in lieu of the sponsor getting it? That would seem to be a cost-neutral provision—those are at a premium at the moment—to support local authorities when those relationships have broken down so that the homelessness provision does not put them under undue pressure.
I am glad that the hon. Member has raised that point, because it is key. Is he also aware that the Home Office currently seems to be funding schemes such as these from official development assistance—foreign aid money—but it is able to attribute that only for the first year? I am very concerned that, come February, all the support that we are able to give to Ukrainian refugees here will come to an end. I am interested to see if the Minister has any information about whether the Treasury will step up and fund those people from that point forward.
I thank the hon. Member for her intervention. Looking back at the past year and the incredible support given to Ukrainians at all levels, I am absolutely confident that the Government will ensure that they are doing their part, but equally I too would be interested to know what the specific plans are. Unfortunately, given where we are at the moment, it seems that this is going to be a long war that will displace people for a long period of time, so it will be interesting to hear about the medium-term and long-term transition plans.
It is a pleasure and an honour to follow the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), who has such wonderful ideas, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion).
There have been many excellent contributions today recognising the remarkable Ukrainian counteroffensive, particularly in Kherson. To see towns, villages and people being liberated by Ukrainian forces, children inching out of their hiding places and families being reunited is deeply moving and a testament to the courage and resilience of the wonderful Ukrainian people.
Putin’s nuclear and dirty bomb rhetoric and his efforts to intimidate and divide the west are designed to distract from his losses. The best way to see off any escalation in rhetoric is by providing long-term support to Ukraine, for as long as it takes. With Putin and his gang using energy as a weapon, it is essential that Europe sticks together and holds its course in supporting Ukraine, standing up to Putin and working to maintain public support for Ukraine at home and abroad. Now is not the time for diplomatic squabbles with our allies and neighbours. We must support Ukraine for the long term, way beyond 2023—it will be needed.
The Government should set aside individual announcements and instead set out a clear strategy, in concert with our allies and Ukraine, for long-term military, economic and diplomatic support, and for rebuilding all of Ukraine’s infrastructure through civic society, charities and volunteers. We must help people rebuild their lives so that we can help to ensure that Putin’s invasion really does end in failure.
Make no mistake, Ukraine is fighting this war for our shared values of freedom and democracy. We must never forget that it is fighting a nation’s war. We owe so much to Ukraine, its people and its leadership, and we owe so much to our own forces and their families who suffer and worry about them when they are out in that country. Our support must be seen to match their unstinting commitment and suffering. We must thank them all, we must never forget them and we must be there until the end, until we see these people once again living a life worth living.
It is a great privilege to follow such remarkable contributions. It has been especially heart-warming to hear from Members who have talked about the people sponsoring Ukrainian refugees, because not just across this House but across this country, there is a shared sense that the brave men and women of Ukraine’s armed forces are fighting for freedom and to ensure that our values do not perish on the continent of Europe.
As we heard in the American elections, there are those who are beginning to argue that, now advances are being made and now Ukraine has recaptured about half the territory taken by the Russian invaders, it is somehow time to let up, to sue for peace and to question whether we are supplying too much to Ukraine’s armed forces. Those voices must be shut down as quickly as possible. Now that Ukraine’s armed forces are on the west bank of the Dnieper river, it is possible for them to begin targeting the supply lines into Crimea, which means Crimea suddenly comes into the crosshairs. It is now possible for us to think realistically about a battle of the Black sea in the months ahead.
I offer three thoughts to this debate—one about the military options and two about the political options—and I would be grateful if the Minister took them into account in his winding-up speech.
First, as former general Ben Hodges argued at the weekend, it is now possible for Ukrainian forces not simply to hit the lines of control into Ukraine with HIMARS from the west bank of the Dnieper river but, if we gave them longer-range ATACMS missiles, to extend the ambit of those fires into the Black sea. That would allow attacks on Russian navy assets, from which, let us not forget, Russia has been firing Kalibr cruise missiles at Ukraine’s water and electricity infrastructure, which is putting the pressure on morale that we have heard about this evening.
Hitherto, America and, I believe, NATO have said those longer-range fires are off the table. We have heard from the Americans that ATACMS missiles, because they have a range of 300 km and could be fired directly into Russia, will not be supplied to Ukrainian armed forces. We are therefore not equipping the Ukrainian armed forces with the full capabilities we have to offer.
Given the threat we know is coming from Russia, and given the threat we know is posed by the Russian navy in the Black sea, surely now is the time to take away that red line and make a much wider supply of weaponry available to Ukraine’s armed forces, so they can begin to double down on the advantage their courage has bought them with so much blood and treasure over the last few months.
Secondly, it is about not just projectiles but politics. There is a lesson to be learned from the way in which we brought Milošević to the negotiating table during the last Yugoslav war. It was very simple: we stated in terms that there would be an almost infinite supply of weapons to back the forces of goodness until he signed up to certain terms and came to the negotiating table. At that point, he knew there was no escape and that the bombardment would continue until he folded his cards. Sure enough, he folded his cards and came to the table, and the Dayton accords followed. Surely that is a lesson we should learn. Surely now is the time when we do not just say that Putin must leave, Russia must fail and Ukraine must prevail. Surely now is the time when we set out in terms the conditions that we are determined to see met and that, until they are met, there will be an infinite supply of weapons from us, as the arsenal of hope in this great conflict.
Those terms are very simple. First, wide blue safe skies across 100% of Ukraine. Secondly, 100% decolonisation of Russian forces from the territory of Ukraine, on 1991 borders—Russia must be removed from every inch of Ukrainian land. Thirdly, we must prosecute Russia for the crime of aggression. There are precedents for this in international law. We know how to do it, the case is very clear and we should make it very clear to Putin that the prosecution will now come. Fourthly, we should be prosecuting individuals for the war crimes of which they are guilty, not just in Bucha but across the black and blood-fouled earth of the territory that Russia has invaded. Finally, we must ensure there is a full exchange of prisoners, and a full repatriation of the up to 2 million people who the Russians moved from their homeland to various parts of Russia.
We know those are the five basic demands of Ukraine’s leaders, because many of us were in the presidential palace in Kyiv to hear them from President Zelensky. I do not understand why the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and perhaps even the Prime Minister cannot set out that there will be an infinite resupply of weapons until these terms are met. I do not understand why we are not making that crystal clear to President Putin, to the people around him and to the men and women of the Russian army, who are already fairly mutinous. We must make it clear that we are not going away, we are not backtracking, we are not retreating and we are there with the Ukrainian people and their armed forces until every one of those five objectives is met.
The final thing we should be doing is increasing the political pressure on Putin and those around him. I agree with 100% of what the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) said this evening, but I would go further. We need to ask ourselves in this House today: why are we not proscribing the United party of Russia as a terrorist organisation? Are we seriously saying, here in this House, that that party is somehow better, cleaner than Hamas, Hezbollah or the Basque separatist organisation ETA? Those are all “political organisations”, be that with a capital “P” or a lower case “p”, and we proscribe them for the terrorist organisations that they are. So why are we not taking the United party of Russia through that process and why are we not challenging every member of that party to leave it and leave it now?
I totally agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I believe the Prime Minister referred to Russia as a “rogue state” today or yesterday, and one would have thought that the consequence of that would be exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is saying.
One absolutely would have thought that, because there is no excuse not to think that. When we put the point to the Foreign Secretary when he came before the Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon, he did not take it off the table, but nor did he give the Committee a timetable for that action. The hon. Gentleman is right, because not only should we be proscribing the United party of Russia for the terrorist organisation it is, but we should be designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. That is an appellation we have plonked on the Government and state of Iran since, I believe, the early 1990s. We knew even before the invasion of Ukraine that there was a good case for this, because Russia is a sanctuary for the Russian Imperial Movement, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist organisation. Russia has been providing a safe harbour for that designated terrorist organisation for some years, so why are we not going to commence now the business of designating Russia as a terrorist state sponsor?
That has all kinds of implications, not least one of the suggestions that I think the hon. Gentleman was aiming at, which is to begin banning tourist visas for those from Russia immediately. There will always be people in this House who say, “We can’t go to war with the Russian people. We have to accept that there are good people among those tourists.” I hear all of that, but if we are serious about making sure that Russia is not able to do this again, we have to make it clear to the Russian people the way in which we see the sins of their nation and make it crystal clear that they must act within their country to deliver a different kind of leadership in the years to come.
The final piece of the puzzle, of course, is sanctions, and I hope that we will be able to have a longer debate about that when the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill comes back for its Report stage. It is ludicrous that the $45 million yacht, Phi, which the Minister and his colleagues have frozen, is down the road in St Katharine docks as yet unseized. We heard today that Mr Abramovich’s money from the sale of his football club has still not made it to Ukraine to begin with the reconstruction. When are these things going to happen? It is time that we do not simply freeze assets, but start seizing them and rechannelling the money into supplying Ukraine and its reconstruction.
Let me finish with a simple message: we in this homeland of Europe learnt something a long time ago in international relations from the approach the Athenians took to the poor Melians. They were the people confronted several thousand years ago with the message that might somehow makes right. That is not something we subscribe to in this country. This is a country that stands up to bullies and when we see others, like-minded souls, standing up to bullies such as Putin, our job is to back them every inch of the way.
What a powerful speech to have to follow from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne). I echo the comment made earlier by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion): this has been a very informative debate. I found the contributions from the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) really worthwhile listening.
The falling back of the Russian army from Kherson in recent weeks and days presents us with an opportunity to reflect on what the UK and its allies intend will be achieved by our support for Ukraine. To date, our position has simply been that we reiterate our moral and material support, and quite right too. But there have been voices in NATO and here in the UK who have since the spring been urging us to have aims that are independent of those of the Government of Ukraine. I am strongly of the view that as 2022 draws to a close we should not have stated aims that differ from those of the Government in Kyiv.
The Government in Moscow are determined to paint the war as one that Putin did not seek. When addressing the Russian people and extending the mobilisation of Russian citizens, the Russian Government seek to stimulate fear of the west. It has been said several times this evening that the UK supports Ukraine because of our outrage at the invasion, in the 21st century, of a sovereign state that posed no threat to its neighbours. But an additional reason why the UK’s aims and Ukraine’s aims are indivisible is in order to undermine Russia’s claim that this is a proxy war where NATO is using Ukraine to fight on its behalf.
Lord David Richards of Herstmonceux has argued that the UK and its NATO allies should have a grand strategic war aim with a defined end state. He said in April that without such a well-defined end state
“there is a risk that events overtake us in the way that happened in 1914”.
But there are some fundamental differences between now and then. In 1914, the UK intervened directly in support of Belgium and deployed the British Expeditionary Force, whereas NATO Governments have been at pains to demonstrate our restraint by supplying Ukraine with materiel while avoiding the direct involvement of our armed forces personnel in the conflict.
There are perhaps stronger parallels between the situation we see today and the one that arose in 1916, when it had been rumoured that some in the US were seeking to engage Germany and the entente powers in dialogue, with a view to peace. That was at a time when the aggressor was still in possession of territory that it had acquired directly as a result of its aggression. Britain’s then Secretary of State for War, the Liberal Minister David Lloyd George, pointed out that Britain and its allies were only just beginning to see some successes and that negotiating a compromise at that time would serve only to reward aggression. Lloyd George talked about the need to ensure that
“military despotism is broken beyond repair.”
Last week, it was suggested in the press that some voices in the US might have been leaning on Ukraine to alter its objectives. The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, said:
“We’ve seen the Ukrainian military fight the Russian military to a standstill…Now, what the future holds is not known with any degree of certainty, but we think there are some possibilities here for some diplomatic solutions.”
When questioned about that, the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said:
“The United States is not pressuring Ukraine…We’re not insisting on things with Ukraine.”
We should just stand back and reflect that Baron Richards and General Milley have been or are the professional heads of their armed forces, so they have seen enough of war to know that it is a blunt instrument, that it is unpredictable and that it is inferior, in most ways, to diplomacy. They and others are entirely right constantly to ask questions about the NATO grand strategy and whether we might be able to articulate our own end state or see a diplomatic way out.
On this point, I disagree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill that safe skies implemented by way of no-fly zones policed by NATO would be the right thing, although that was something Ukraine called for early in the war. I was with him in Kyiv when we heard about the sorts of demands that were being articulated by Ukraine today, and I would agree with him that removing Russia from all of Ukrainian territory was much more along the lines of what is being called for today than anything else.
I, too, do not believe that there can be a NATO-policed no-fly zone, but what I do believe is that there can be a much a greater supply of air defence weapons that we have and that Ukraine needs.
I thank the right hon. Member for correcting my understanding.
I talked last week to a Ukrainian MP from the sister party of the Liberal Democrats and he told me how we in the west have failed in the past two or three decades to fully understand that the Soviet Union was an empire. He suggested that we never fully appreciated that there was not consent for states to belong to the USSR in the first place and that it had been a Russian KGB-led empire all along, which some in Russia would like to see recreated.
Those are some of the reasons why the west should not at this time seek to have aims that differ from those of the democratically elected Government of Ukraine. Instead, I urge that we act solely in support of our Ukrainian allies. In the 21st century, there is no case for the logic articulated by Catherine the Great when she said:
“I have no way to defend my borders but to extend them.”
I call the shadow Minister to wind up for the Opposition.
I thank colleagues from across the House for their contributions to today’s debate. We have had some really fantastic reflections. I also add my thanks to all the United Kingdom troops and officials who are playing such a critical role in supporting Ukraine, particularly as we remembered the sacrifices of past generations this weekend.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who was in Kyiv with me a few weeks ago, made some very important points. He said that the crimes of the Russian regime go much wider than Putin; I thought particularly of Russia’s children’s commissioner, who has been effectively justifying the separation and kidnap of Ukrainian children. The hon. Member also made some important points about the seizure and the repurposing of assets. We heard a powerful speech from the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), again demonstrating the unity of support from all parties across this House.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) always makes very important points. His reflections today on the same brutal tactics that we saw in Syria, such as the targeting of hospitals, and his thoughtful remarks on the next stages of the war and the use of our diplomatic networks were very well put. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) spoke about mines and unexploded ordnance and the huge challenge that comes with that, the humanitarian need that exists, and the human rights violations that we have seen tragically revealed with each advance.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) spoke powerfully about the work in our own communities and the support that is being given. Indeed, I have seen that in my own constituency in Cardiff South and Penarth. We have seen a new community centre opening up in Butetown and regular demonstrations and protests, ensuring that people remain engaged with the challenges that will tragically continue for some time and that, importantly, we keep it all on the agenda.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) spoke powerfully about the scenes that we have seen in the past few days in Kherson and the need for the UK to have a long-term plan for as long as is needed. Indeed, that was reflected in the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), who rightly said that we must shut down the siren narratives from what he gently called the Putin whisperers—whether that is in the UK or, indeed, among our other allies—and, again, emphasised the need for long-term commitment and long-term supplies for as long as is needed. It was a very powerfully made point. The Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord), spoke about the importance of aligning ourselves with the requests and demands of the Ukrainian Government. He also gave us some thoughtful reflections on history.
We have had a very useful debate. Today’s proceedings are a true reflection of Britain’s solidarity with the people of Ukraine, of our collective commitment to Ukrainian freedom and of our unwavering unity in opposition to this illegal war. Indeed, those were points that I and my right hon. Friends the shadow Defence Secretary and shadow Foreign Secretary made on our visit to NATO this weekend. We spoke of not only the importance of our continued support for Ukraine, but our continued support for our NATO allies in light of the threats that we face.
We are now more than eight months into a war that Putin expected to be over in days; instead, we are here. We have seen incredible scenes in the past few days in Kherson, lifting thousands from the yoke of Russian occupation and dealing a devastating blow to Putin, with the price of his miscalculations becoming ever more apparent to his people. Indeed, the scenes we have seen today of President Zelensky in the centre of Kherson are absolutely remarkable. The situation, although obviously very dangerous, is testament to his bravery and determination from the very top. The one thing I saw in Ukraine—from the bottom to the top—was the determination of the entire country to stand together in the face of this barbarous activity from the Russian regime.
I am sure the whole House will agree that, although the façade of Putin’s invulnerability is beginning to dissipate as the war falls into further disarray, this is no time for complacency. We have all seen the critical infrastructure that has been destroyed and the damage that has been done. Despite the huge significance of this victory, with communications, electricity, water and energy utilities decimated and, indeed, heinous traps often left by the occupiers, the days ahead will be challenging for the people of Kherson and the other regions that are liberated.
We also know that Russian shells will tragically continue to fall on the city, that airstrikes will continue to affect Ukraine’s urban centres—undoubtedly in retaliation for this defeat—and that the days and weeks ahead will be critical in setting the future course of this war. Indeed, on our visit I saw for myself the damage on the outskirts of Kyiv, and again I draw attention to my declaration on that matter.
I want to ask the Minister a number of questions. First, will he say a little more about the support being provided to Ukraine on demining and the removal of unexploded ordnance? That question came up in a number of the contributions. I know we have played a critical role so far, but it will be a very long job.
Secondly, we have heard many comments in the debate about the risks of siren narratives and Ukraine fatigue creeping into the domestic politics of our friends and allies around the world. We saw some of those narratives before the US mid-terms from some elements of the Republican party, and we see them in other countries, too.
We have also seen the Wagner Group not only committing horrific atrocities, but being very clear about what it intends in terms of disinformation and undermining our democracies. Prigozhin said himself:
“We have interfered, we are interfering and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do”,
through disinformation and misinformation. The Wagner Group openly targeted a number of key races in the United States, and we know what it has done in elections around Europe.
Will the Minister say more about our efforts to counter that disinformation and ensure the robustness of our democratic systems and processes, our media, our elections and our political processes, and what steps is he taking with our allies to do that, not only in this country, but across our global alliances? With the G20 taking place in the coming days and the Prime Minister there in Bali, could the Minister also say what steps are being taken to ensure that support among our allies and partners is as ironclad as it was in February, and that all wings of our diplomatic coalition recognise that we are in this until Ukraine is the victor?
I must also address the attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. We have seen terrible attacks against energy, water and other utilities and the use of Iranian drones. Will the Minister say more about what conversations he has been having with allies and with Israel regarding the wider risks posed by allowing Iran to supply and use that type of weaponry, and what steps we can take together to counter those risks?
I am grateful for the Minister’s responses to my questions about the generators we are providing to Ukraine. I understand that 850 have now been provided. I note his earlier comments about support for electricity generation, but what conversations have Ministers had about long-term needs in that regard, and what conversations have we had with UK manufacturers to ensure a joined-up approach to providing power and critical infrastructure to the people of Ukraine?
It is also worth pointing out that Russia’s attacks on fuel depots and other utilities have released toxins into the air and groundwater, threatening the environment of Ukraine. In comments at COP today, Ukraine’s Environment Minister said that the emissions caused by Russia’s actions were equivalent to having nearly 16 million more cars in the UK for two years. Those actions are causing not only death and destruction in cities, but environmental degradation and risk to our climate.
We have heard a lot about the repurposing of assets and compensation. Indeed, during this debate there has been a vote at the United Nations, which made clear that the United Nations believes that reparations should be paid and that there should be mechanisms for ensuring that compensation is provided to Ukraine. Will the Minister say a little about how he sees the diplomatic efforts in that regard progressing?
There are many other concerns that have been raised, including about domestic support. I hope we can have an update soon from the Home Office about the Homes for Ukraine scheme and how our support for refugees will continue. There are many unanswered questions, including about practical things. Many Ukrainians have raised concerns with me about driver’s licences and permits, since they were temporarily allowed not to register. What conversations has the Minister had with Department for Transport colleagues to resolve that issue?
In conclusion, eight months since Putin launched this illegal war, we must remind ourselves of one inescapable truth: for Ukraine, this is a war of necessity and survival, but for Putin, it is a choice—a barbarous choice—and an attempt to erase Ukraine from the map and to fulfil his warped imperial ambitions. That distinction must underscore our continued engagement with allies and partners in emphasising why holding firm, standing united and supporting Ukraine is so critical.
Whether on ensuring that food comes out of Ukraine and that we stand up fully against Russia’s attempts to block that, on working at the United Nations, on sanctions, on military and civilian supplies, on macroeconomic support or on building political and diplomatic coalitions, we must stay the course. We in the Opposition are committed to working with the Government in supporting Ukraine in the difficult winter ahead and well into the future, for as long as it takes. Ukraine must win, and with our support we can ensure that this victory ends the Kremlin’s cycle of warmongering for good.
I am honoured to wind up this passionate, constructive and positive debate. I am grateful to all who have contributed. I will try to cover off as many points as possible in the brief time I have.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for pointing out that this is day 264 of this brutal and illegal conflict. Of course, Putin has strengthened, not weakened, the western alliance. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reassurance of support for the Government’s position. He made some interesting reflections on the utility of Operation Interflex and the remarkable training that we are doing, with our allies, for our Ukrainian friends. He pointed out the need for resolve, and we are resolute.
The hon. Gentleman appealed for a long-term plan. I can give him the assurance that we do have a long-term plan. We have announced that, next year, we will match or exceed the £2.3 billion that we have put into military assistance next year. Of course, we will underwrite and grant in excess of £1.5 billion of humanitarian and fiscal aid to our Ukrainian friends through the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
We have been using up our own supplies, so could the Minister reassure us that, as well as giving supplies to the Ukrainians, we are being mindful of our own needs and supply base?
My hon. Friend will have noted that the Minister for Defence Procurement was on the Front Bench earlier and we were discussing exactly that point.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport asked for a refresh of the integrated review. I will not give a running commentary, but we should remember that the integrated review was basically proved right. We are refreshing it—it is an organic, evolving document and it is in good shape. He mentioned NLAW production, which is a valuable point; we are working with industry to ensure that there is a pipeline.
The hon. Gentleman made a valuable point about dual-use technology. I am reassured that our sanctions provisions cover that, but I will look at that RUSI report and ask my MOD colleague, the Minister for Defence Procurement, to reply on that important report.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned war crimes. Two weeks ago, I was at the Hague meeting the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who has the bit between his teeth. Clearly, he is independent, but we will support him institutionally as much as we can to hold those who are prosecuting war crimes to account not just for reasons of natural justice, but to deter any further possible war crimes.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the humanitarian crisis that will surely emerge this winter. We are pleased to be providing £220 million of humanitarian aid and, of course, 850 generators to keep homes warm. He mentioned the defence budget. I will not speculate from the Dispatch Box about events this Thursday. I know that he will be patient in waiting to hear the detail that will be laid out then.
Moving on, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) spoke interestingly of his visit to Ukraine. He shared some interesting reflections on the nature of Russian leadership and on the fact that no Putin does not necessarily mean no war—I thought that was a very interesting way of looking at it. He also speculated whether it is Putin or Russia that should be held accountable. He also spoke about the reconstruction effort and the funding thereof. I remind him that we are proudly hosting the Ukraine recovery conference in July next year. Given his long-standing interest in Ukraine, I know that he will take a good deal of interest in that event.
The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) spoke movingly about accountability and war crimes. Again, I reiterate that I have visited the ICC and our determination and expectation that those who have prosecuted war crimes will be held to account. He set the conflict in a useful global context, which I thought was very interesting, and referred to resource terrorism, which is exactly what the constraints on the flow of grain from the Black sea amount to. He spoke about the existential nature of the Ukrainians’ noble struggle, and I was very interested to learn about the activities and operations of the Pride brigade, which is most welcome. I thank him, as ever, for his and his party’s ongoing support for the Government’s position on Ukraine.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) spoke with characteristic knowledge and insight about the two-pronged approach of the Russian war machine and Surovikin—the use of the Dnipro defensive position on the river, and the abhorrent and entirely outrageous attempts to smash civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. He drew a morbid parallel with Syria, which was interesting, but of course it is deeply worrying. He also raised the terrifying spectre of the use of chemical weapons. I think he is right in his judgment that Putin has bought some time, but is there perhaps some sort of revolutionary endgame—who knows? I thought that my hon. Friend’s speculation and the various scenarios he laid out were interesting and based on a deep knowledge of that country, given his former residence there.
Given that the Minister recognises the risk of Putin damaging Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, why does he argue that we should not be providing longer-range fires to Ukrainian armed forces to counter that?
All options remain on the table. I note that Ukrainians have, thanks to western support, been terrifically effective in taking down some of the ballistic barrage in defending their skies, but I am not going to rule out anything from the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), the Chair of the International Development Committee, made a good remark about the HALO Trust. I can confirm that we continue to support the HALO Trust, which has so far cleared 16,000 square metres of land in the Kyiv oblast and will continue to do so. We have pledged £220 million of humanitarian aid. I assure her that that is reaching the frontline, as it were: the people who need it. We are working with the United Nations, the Red Cross and NGOs. Some 13.4 million people have been helped so far with funds distributed. She also mentioned accountability, and I draw reference to my previous remarks about the International Criminal Court. She appealed for a joined-up approach, which is exactly what we are after. I have not yet read her report, but I look forward to reading it, and I am grateful to her for bringing it up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) made a moving speech reflecting on the great compassion shown by his constituents. He referred to the remarkable way they had opened up their hearts and homes. Every Member of this House will have seen that in their own constituency; I have certainly seen it in Aldershot. I second the thanks he put on record to the Revive café in Chertsey, the Weybridge Friends of Ukraine and the Weybridge community hub. He asked a technical question about Homes for Ukraine and the extent to which provision might be made directly to the local authority if it was not going via host families. I have not got an answer right now, but I will ensure that a colleague from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities writes to him, as well as the Chair of the International Development Committee.
May I share the points that colleagues and Members from across the House made about the need to support Ukrainian refugees in the long term, for as long as they need to be here? Will the Minister reflect on how we support their mental health as they deal with crisis from afar? In particular, will he reflect on how Government and local government can give support to support groups that are helping so many at the moment?
My hon. Friend’s intervention is well noted, and I put on record my thanks for what he does as a mental health champion and for his support of our Ukrainian friends in his constituency.
The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) spoke movingly in an appeal for solidarity among the allies on Ukraine. That is what we see on the diplomatic front, on the military front and in terms of reconstruction. I see that visibly and powerfully when travelling and talking to allies right across Europe, and we are bold in our resolve to see this through.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) spoke passionately and laid out three interesting points, first on the military dimension and an appeal to provide long-range fires. As I said, I am not going to rule anything in or out at the Dispatch Box, but all options continue to be under review. I appreciate how he described the Ukrainians’ courage as having bought them a huge advantage, and I think that is at the heart of the successful prosecution of their counter-attack. Their courage has bought them significant advantage. He also referred to the utility of having an infinite supply of arms and drew an interesting historical parallel with Miloševic. I thought that was interesting in the context of there being an arsenal of hope in the western allies. I thought that was useful and I am grateful.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill referred to political pressure and forthrightly challenged the Government to designate the United Russia party and Russia as a state sponsor of terror. That is an interesting proposition. I will not make a pronouncement about that but I am grateful for the passionate way in which he raised those questions. He also raised some interesting technical questions about sanctions. We are getting after not just sanctioning but seizing and ensuring that things such as the moneys from the sale of Chelsea football club get to those who need it. I am grateful for his interest.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) made an interesting parallel to 1916 and gave some good insights from his discussions with a Ukrainian MP colleague, for which I was most grateful. He made an interesting remark about Catherine the Great’s approach to her borders, which is worrying given the imperial parallels that are sometimes drawn by the Russian leadership themselves.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) gave some good reflections on the impressive sight of President Zelensky visiting Kherson, leading from the front as ever. I was grateful for his remarks about that. He speaks from a position of knowledge, having visited Kyiv recently. I am grateful for his constructive and positive tone, as ever. We will continue to support the HALO Trust’s effort to continue de-mining. We are working with allies to counter disinformation across the region in all domains. That continues at pace. On the appeal for unity, I think we do have that with our allies. He mentioned drones and Iran; we are getting after that with our very aggressive sanctions policy, but we will look at dual use in that regard.
I asked whether the Minister had yet raised that issue with Israel. There are rumours that Iran has been supplying medium-range ballistic missiles to Russia, to be stationed in locations capable of targeting Kyiv.
My understanding is that that has been, but I will check and write to the hon. Gentleman. I want to be complete in my answer. He mentioned generators; we are getting after that, and 850 have been committed. I should also say that £10 million has today been committed by the Foreign Secretary to the technical reconstruction of power-generating capability. The first £5 million has been committed today but there is a £10 million fund. He mentioned reparations; again, that is something to be broadly considered.
Let me reassure hon. Members that we will not be deterred from supporting Ukraine. I want to draw attention to the fact that a good measure of our resilience and the strength of our alliance is that last month at the United Nations, 143 countries—three quarters of the membership—voted to condemn the outrageous and illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory. That was a measure of the fact that Ukraine is strong because it has many friends. Russia, despite having a very long border, has very few friends. We are proud to stand with our Ukrainian friends for freedom, democracy and the sovereignty of nations around the world. We will proudly continue to stand with them until they are victorious.
On Thursday, I was privileged to be at a Ukraine fundraiser at St Paul’s Church at Wilton Place in London. There was a very Welsh theme—that is why I am looking at you, Stephen—with the London Welsh choir and my good friend, the soprano Rebecca Evans, singing. It was ethereal music for a just cause. I hope that we raised substantial sums of money and I pay tribute to all those throughout the country who are helping to raise funds for the Ukraine cause.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.