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Ukraine Update

Volume 819: debated on Tuesday 22 February 2022


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a Statement about the situation in Ukraine.

Last night President Putin flagrantly violated the Minsk peace agreements by recognising the supposed independence of the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. In a single inflammatory speech, he denied that Ukraine had any ‘tradition of genuine statehood’, claimed that it posed a ‘direct threat to the security of Russia’ and hurled numerous other false accusations and aspersions.

Soon afterwards, the Kremlin announced that Russian troops would enter the breakaway regions under the guise of ‘peacekeepers’, and Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers have since been spotted. The House should be in no doubt that the deployment of these forces in sovereign Ukrainian territory amounts to a renewed invasion of that country. By denying Ukraine’s legitimacy as a state—and presenting its very existence as a mortal threat to Russia—Putin is establishing the pretext for a full-scale offensive.

Honourable Members will struggle to understand how, in the year 2022, a national leader might calmly and deliberately plot the destruction of a peaceful neighbour, yet the evidence of his own words suggests that is exactly what Putin is doing. When I said on Saturday that his scheme to subvert and invade Ukraine was already in motion before our eyes, the events of the last 24 hours have, sadly, shown this to be true.

We must now brace ourselves for the next possible stages of Putin’s plan: the violent subversion of areas of eastern Ukraine by Russian operatives and their hirelings, followed by a general offensive by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops gathered on the frontiers, at peak readiness to attack. If the worst happens, then a European nation of 44 million men, women and children would become the target of a full-scale war of aggression, waged without a shred of justification, for the absurd—even mystical—reasons that Putin described last night. Unless the situation changes, the best efforts of the United States, this country, France, Germany and other allies to avoid conflict through patient diplomacy may be in vain.

From the beginning, we have all tried our utmost to find a peaceful way through this crisis. On 11 February, my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Radakin, paid the first joint visit to Moscow by the holders of their offices since Churchill—who was also Defence Minister at the time—travelled to Russia with General Alanbrooke in 1944. They held over three hours of frank discussions with the Russian Defence Minister, General Shoigu, and the chief of staff, General Gerasimov, demonstrating how seriously we take Russia’s security concerns, how much we respect her history and how hard we are prepared to work to ensure peaceful coexistence.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary delivered the same messages when she met her Russian counterpart in Moscow on 10 February. I have spoken on a number of occasions to President Putin since this crisis began and so has President Biden, while President Macron and Chancellor Scholz have both visited Moscow. Together we have explored every avenue and given Putin every opportunity to pursue his aims by negotiation and diplomacy.

I tell the House that we will not give up: we will continue to seek a diplomatic solution until the last possible second, but we have to face the possibility that none of our messages has been heeded and Putin is implacably determined to go further in subjugating and tormenting Ukraine. It is because we suspected as much that the UK and our allies repeatedly sounded the alarm about a possible new invasion, and we disclosed much of what we knew about Russia’s military build-up.

Britain has done everything possible to help Ukraine to prepare for another onslaught, training 22,000 soldiers, supplying 2,000 anti-tank missiles and providing £100 million for economic reform and energy independence. We stand ready to guarantee up to $500 million of development bank financing. I travelled to Kyiv to meet President Zelensky on 1 February, and I saw him again in Munich at the weekend. I spoke to him last night, soon after Putin’s speech, to assure him—I am sure that the whole House will agree that it was the right thing to do—of Britain’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Now the UK and our allies will begin to impose the sanctions on Russia that we have already prepared, using the new and unprecedented powers granted by this House to sanction Russian individuals and entities of strategic importance to the Kremlin. Today, the UK is sanctioning the following five Russian banks: Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and Black Sea Bank. We are sanctioning three very high-net-worth individuals: Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg. Any assets they hold in the UK will be frozen, the individuals concerned will be banned from travelling here and we will prohibit all UK individuals and entities having any dealings with them.

This is the first tranche—the first barrage—of what we are prepared to do. We will hold further sanctions at readiness, to be deployed alongside the United States and the European Union if the situation escalates still further. Last night, our diplomats joined an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, and we will raise the situation at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Let me emphasise what I believe unites every Member of this House with equal determination: the resolve of the United Kingdom to defend our NATO allies is absolute and immovable. We have already doubled the size of our deployment in Estonia, where the British Army leads NATO’s battle group, and when I met President Levits of Latvia and Prime Minister Kallas of Estonia in Munich on Saturday, I told them that we would be willing to send more British forces to help protect our allies if NATO made such a request.

We cannot tell what will happen in the days ahead but we should steel ourselves for a protracted crisis. The United Kingdom will meet this challenge side by side with our allies, determined that we will not allow Putin to drag our continent back into a Hobbesian state of nature, where aggression pays and might is right. It is precisely because the stakes are so high that Putin’s venture in Ukraine must ultimately fail—and be seen to fail. That will require the perseverance, unity and resolve of the entire western alliance; Britain will do everything possible to ensure that this is maintained.

Now, our thoughts should turn to our valiant Ukrainian friends, who threaten no one and ask for nothing except to live in peace and freedom. We will keep faith with them in the critical days that lie ahead and, whatever happens, Britain will not waver in our resolve. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I also want to put on record my appreciation for the Privy Council briefings that I have had from the Government.

As we have watched events unfold and diplomatic efforts intensify, we have moved between hope that those efforts will succeed and despair that this could end in war. We should not underestimate that this is a moment of huge gravity. At this stage, we do not know how the next few days, or even the next few hours, will play out, but it is clear that this is a dangerous time for Ukraine and, in the longer term, for stability and security across Europe. It is no exaggeration to say that this marks a significant moment in global politics that will have far-reaching implications for future interaction with Putin’s Russia. So let us call this out for what it is: the Russian President has rejected the rule of law and Ukraine’s right of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Government have our full support in holding Russia to account. As we heard in the Statement, Putin has sought to create false justification for his actions. Russia faces no threat from NATO or Ukraine. Even at this 11th hour, efforts for a diplomatic solution must continue, but Putin has to know that our values mean that we have no other course but to stand shoulder to shoulder, united with NATO and our allies across the world, in support of the people of Ukraine. Let us be absolutely clear: we will not be divided in that support.

We welcome the military support that has been given to the rightful Government of Ukraine. The pressure they are under in their daily lives and at all times now is absolutely enormous. We can only admire their courage in the face of the threats and the hostile actions. As regional stability weakens, our friends and allies in eastern Europe will feel the closest threat, and we welcome the Government’s engagement with the Baltic states. The UK must always remain committed to the principle of collective defence and that an attack against one NATO ally will always be considered an attack against all. Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House say anything further today about discussions to strengthen the military assistance provided to our NATO allies in eastern Europe?

On sanctions, regardless of the direction that Putin now takes, a red line has already been crossed. We welcome and support the sanctions announced by the Prime Minister and will fully co-operate in getting this legislation through. But the Government have to go further. Putin needs to understand that his actions carry a huge cost, and that we stand firm with our allies in opposing them. Looking at what more can be done, can the noble Baroness say whether the Government will also consider excluding Russia from SWIFT and other financial mechanisms, and a ban on trading in Russian sovereign debt? We welcome the decision to sanction the five Russian banks, but they apparently represent only a fraction of those which, it has been reported, could be included. Further banks with links to the Kremlin remain active in London and across the West. I do not know how much more the noble Baroness is able to say today, but can she confirm whether work is continuing to prepare for further designations?

Again, as welcome as sanctions on the three named individuals are, we have to recognise that these individuals have already been designated by the United States for over four years. The noble Baroness may not know why we have been so much slower in taking action, but is she able to confirm today that in tackling this issue the Government understand the need to improve co-ordinated action with our allies? Also, what assessment has been made of the impact on Russia’s trading relationship with the rest of the world?

The invasion of Ukraine should represent a turning point for how we interact with Russia, but it is also an opportunity to look at the effects of Putin’s regime in the UK. The Kremlin’s misinformation campaign continues to target the West, with outlets such as Russia Today still able to broadcast its propaganda across the world. Will the Government now take steps to ban RT from operating in the UK?

Similarly, allies of Putin are still able to use the UK to launder dirty money, so why are the Government still failing to act on the recommendations of the Russia report? And, with the Elections Bill introducing new loopholes to allow foreign donations to UK political parties, Ministers have to wake up to the creeping influence of Russian money in our politics. I should notify the noble Baroness that we will seek to amend the Elections Bill to remove these new loopholes, but, in the light of Russia’s recent actions, will she commit today to speaking to the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues about removing these provisions from the Bill, and report back to your Lordships’ House? Failing that, there will be an amendment in this House to remove those loopholes.

The most recent escalation looks set to trigger a prolonged conflict. No one will benefit from that, including the Russian people. We did not seek this conflict, and we always sought peaceful coexistence. But the UK and our allies must ensure that Russia will now feel the consequences of Putin’s aggression, so our sanctions have to be tougher and targeted. We in this Parliament must be as united as we are with our international allies in support of the Ukrainian people.

My Lords, this has been a very sombre 24 hours. President Putin yesterday set out his view that Ukraine had no legitimacy as a state, and said he was sending so-called peacekeepers—in reality an invading army—into Donetsk and Luhansk. Today, and even since the Prime Minister made his Statement, he has announced that he is recognising the whole of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and not just those parts of them already under de facto Russian control. Against this flagrant aggression and breach of international law, how well does the Government’s response match up?

We support the broad stance that the Government are taking in opposing the Russian aggression and the measures they have so far taken to provide Ukraine with training, anti-tank weapons and other support. We agree with the Statement that the UK Government—and, indeed, all western Governments—have given Putin every opportunity to pursue his aims by negotiations and diplomacy. However, I am a bit bemused by the assertion in the Statement that

“we will continue to seek a diplomatic solution until the last possible second.”

It seems to me that the last possible second expired last night. Can the Minister explain what more Putin would have to do to make the Government believe that there really was no diplomatic solution on offer any more? Surely, that boat has most definitely sailed.

Earlier in the month, the Prime Minister made it clear that, as soon as the first Russian toecap entered Ukrainian territory, the West would impose sanctions that would really hurt Russia. I know that the situation is far from clear, but Putin has already committed to sending in troops, and there are reports that the first have already been deployed. Germany, by announcing today the suspension of the Nord Stream pipeline, has already acted in line with the Prime Minister’s injunction.

What, then, are the Government proposing? They sanctioned four banks, most of which are minnows. They sanctioned a mere three individuals who, as the noble Baroness has already said, have already been the subject of American sanctions for a number of years. We are told:

“This is the first tranche of what we are prepared to do: we will hold further sanctions at readiness.”

Why are we holding further sanctions at readiness? What are we waiting to happen? What more does Putin now need to do? The truth is that the sanctions announced in this Statement are pitifully insignificant. Putin, if he hears of them at all, will simply be smirking at them.

The noble Baroness has set out a number of things that the Government could do, which I agree with. I would like to set out a number of things that I think the Government should do, and I invite the Leader of the House to explain whether the Government have these measures in contemplation—and if not, why not. They should revoke the golden visas of those Russian nationals who have known links to the Russian regime. They should impose a windfall tax on energy company profits, which is desirable in itself, but would hit Gazprom, which channels its trading revenues through London. They should freeze the assets of Russian companies in London and introduce the register of beneficial ownership Bill, which would shine a light on dirty Russian money in London. The Government could surely get this oven-ready Bill through the Commons in a day: tomorrow springs to mind. I am sure that your Lordships’ House would pass it with alacrity. Certainly, from these Benches, we would facilitate its passage as a matter of urgency.

We know that, in addition to London, there are very large amounts of Russian dirty money in Switzerland and Monaco. We could call on the Swiss Government and the Monegasque authorities to do the same as we might do in shining a light on this money. Perhaps we could ask President Macron to have a word with his colleagues in Monaco. So far, there is no evidence that the Government plan to do any of this—or, indeed, anything of any substance.

When Putin invaded Crimea, he got away with it at no discernible cost. When he undertook the Salisbury poisonings, there was no significant response. He has now committed his latest outrage. If we are to have any influence at all in persuading him and the Russian elite that these illegal, aggressive policies are not simply to be met by little more than a shrug of the shoulders, we need to see much more action contained in this Statement, and soon.

I thank the noble Lord and noble Baroness for their comments and their support for our standing together with Ukraine and the approach that we are taking.

As both noble Lords rightly said, with his actions in the Donbass region overnight, and the further developments today, President Putin has flagrantly violated Ukrainian sovereignty: he has sent troops in, broken international law, repudiated the Minsk agreement and torn up the understanding from Budapest that Ukraine’s territorial integrity was to be respected. We are working tirelessly to co-ordinate our response with our allies, and will not allow Russia’s violation of its international commitments to go unpunished.

NATO allies remain committed to a dual-track approach to Russia: strong deterrence and defence combined with meaningful dialogue. The noble Baroness asked what other actions we had taken. A small number of marines have already deployed to Poland from the UK, and more will travel next week. These personnel were originally due to deploy on Exercise Cold Response in Norway but have been reassigned to Poland. We are also preparing to reinforce the British-led NATO group in Estonia; that will include deploying RAF Typhoon fighters and Royal Navy warships to protect south-eastern Europe. Further details will be provided as things develop.

We are also working with international partners on options for further economic and defence support for Ukraine, but, as noble Lords will know, we have supported the development of the Ukrainian army. Last month, as I mentioned in the Statement, we sent 2,000 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine alongside a package of training by our troops, and last week we provided more equipment. Over the last eight years, under Operation Orbital, we have trained more than 22,000 members of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about sanctions. The ones announced today are only the first tranche, and are targeted at people and financial institutions who have supported Putin’s violation. We will step up sanctions if Russian aggression continues, and we have been clear that in that regard nothing is off the table.

Our toughened sanctions regime will enable us to sanction oligarchs and companies of strategic importance to the Kremlin: this is the toughest sanctions regime against Russia that the UK has seen. The five Russian banks that the noble Baroness referred to are all active in bankrolling the Russian occupation, and Bank Rossiya in particular is close to the Kremlin. We will also look at sanctioning those Russian parliamentarians who supported the recognition decision taken last night.

The noble Lord rightly mentioned today’s announcement by Chancellor Scholz of Germany, which we very much welcome, that he has instructed his economic ministry to withdraw its earlier security of supply report on Nord Stream 2, with the consequence that it will not be certified for operation. Again, that is something that we have been talking to the German Government about, and we are grateful for and pleased by this morning’s news.

The noble Baroness asked about disinformation, which we take extremely seriously. We are working collaboratively with our allies to build a better understanding of the different techniques that can be used as part of malicious information operations, and our counter-disinformation unit in DCMS brings together monitoring, expert analysis and capabilities across government. We will continue to see what further action we can take in this area.

The noble Baroness also mentioned the ISC’s Russia report. As noble Lords will know, we published our response immediately on its publication. Many of the recommendations are already in train and we will continue to work on further implementation.

The noble Lord asked about the register of beneficial owners. We have set out plans to establish a register of beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property, in order to combat money laundering, and we have been clear about our intentions to significantly reform Companies House to strengthen our ability to combat economic crime. We will be taking that forward.

Last week the Home Secretary announced that she was closing down the tier 1 investor visa route to all applicants with immediate effect. That route has been under constant review and has given rise to security concerns, and we will be making reforms to the innovator route as part of the new points-based immigration system. Closing this route is just the start of a renewed crackdown on fraud and illicit finance. We are soon to publish a fraud action plan, while the forthcoming economic crime Bill will crack down on people abusing our institutions.

Finally, the noble Baroness talked about the Elections Bill, which is having its Second Reading tomorrow. I am sure my noble friend Lord True will listen very carefully to the concerns raised during that debate and we will have discussions as we go forward.

My Lords, instead of threatening alienation, conflict and isolation, can we not seek, even now, to negotiate the agreed-timeframe non-NATO Ukraine that I have been calling for in this House in recent months, in return for buffer state protectorate status under Ukraine for Donetsk and Luhansk? With China wooing Russia and prolonged tension in Europe, undermining economic development and cybersecurity, we do not need turmoil in these volatile times. We are humiliating Russia. German humiliation led to Versailles and war.

I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord’s comments. The action President Putin has taken represents a further attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It signals an end to the Minsk process and is a violation of the UN charter. Unfortunately, it demonstrates Russia’s decision to choose a path of confrontation over dialogue. We remain willing to talk, but it must de-escalate its aggression towards Ukraine.

My Lords, I first applaud both the Prime Minister and the Government in their resolve. Putin has tested the resolve and unity of the West and he has found it wanting. Like all bullies, he senses weakness. I am afraid that the Government’s reduction of our Armed Forces—the Army by 11%, and the number of our Royal Navy ships and RAF airplanes—will also be seen by him as weakness. Will my noble friend take back this plea? Action in increasing our defences—in rearmament, if you like—will speak louder than sanctioning three individuals.

I thank my noble friend. As he knows, we are one of the biggest contributors to NATO. We are looking at investing in our Armed Forces. We have major investments in ground-based air defence, cyber and electronic warfare, a modernised tank fleet and accelerated procurement. We are committed to ensuring that our brave military has the equipment and training it needs.

My Lords, has the Leader had a chance to reflect on the request I made to her some weeks ago that there should be a full-scale parliamentary debate, in your Lordships’ House, about the situation in Ukraine? Can she tell us anything about the position of UK nationals in Ukraine? Will she answer the question put to her by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, about the SWIFT financial system? I do not think she referred to it in her response. Does she not agree that, under the cover of this darkness, other authoritarian regimes will take their opportunistic chances? I think particularly of the situation in Taiwan. Was Churchill not right when he said that, if you go on feeding the crocodile, one day, the crocodile will feed on you?

Our advice to British nationals is that they should leave Ukraine now. In the event of any military incursion, commercial routes out of Ukraine are likely to be severely disrupted and roads across Ukraine closed. British nationals should leave while commercial travel options remain open, as they are likely to close or become severely limited if an incursion takes place. In addition to any Statements, Questions, debates on statutory instruments and other things we will be doing over the coming weeks—including, no doubt, on Ukraine—we will make time available for a general debate on progress by the middle of March. That will take place in Grand Committee.

My Lords, I fully support—we should all fully support—the Government and the resolution of the West against this unprovoked attack on an individual nation state. It is outrageous, and we are at a very dangerous point in European history. But I suggest to the Government that we need to do much more to answer some of the disinformation now being put out by the Russians. For example, President Putin tries to pretend that he has had nothing to do with agreements regarding the sovereignty of Ukraine, but in 2002 Vladimir Putin signed the Rome declaration; I actually have his signature with me here today. The declaration said that the participating states

“respect … sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security, the inviolability of borders”.

That was signed up to by Vladimir Putin 20 years ago, and now he seems to pretend that Ukraine does not exist. Surely we need to do much more—the Government need to do much more—to counter some of the lies that are coming out, because the battle of the narratives is going to matter just as much as the battle of the military on the ground.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord. We will continue to expose Russia’s false flag operations, disinformation and cyberattacks. Russia is using disinformation to falsely cast Ukraine as a threat, to justify its aggressive stance. That was one of the reasons why we released intelligence to expose its attempts to install a puppet regime in Kyiv and to fabricate a pretext for invasion. We will absolutely continue to focus on this area and call out Russia where we have evidence and can do so.

My Lords, judging by the content and delivery of Mr Putin’s speech last evening, it is very unlikely that he will be satisfied. Indeed, using the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, where he has deployed nuclear-capable missiles, he may well turn his malevolent intentions to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I welcome the extra deployments to which reference has been made by the Minister but, if he does, we will require professionalism, strong leadership and unity of purpose in NATO, perhaps to a greater extent than has ever been the case. Can we be confident that Her Majesty’s Government will make a proper contribution if that is necessary?

I cannot remember whether it was mentioned in the Statement or in my response to the noble Baroness, but when the Prime Minister was in Munich he made it clear that, if we were asked for further contributions to NATO, we would provide them. We have been working very closely with NATO allies in this area and within the broader region, and we are absolutely committed to defending and supporting Ukraine; we certainly will be playing our part.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us what she thinks are the pros and cons of maintaining a stance of ambiguity on Ukrainian membership of NATO?

It is obviously up to Ukraine whether it wishes to apply to join NATO. Under NATO’s open-door policy, all European democracies are entitled to pursue membership; the decision over whether to seek membership is for the people of Ukraine.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that kleptocrats, like drug dealers, do not like having their money—their ill-gotten gains—removed from them? We have sanctioned three individuals and five banks. That really is not enough. President Putin has vast sums squirrelled away in the West, held by nominees. The Government must know who these nominees are; I suggest to my noble friend that they speedily sanction all those whom they know to be doing President Putin’s work.

As I said, the sanctions announced today are only the first tranche, and we will step up sanctions if Russian aggression continues.

My Lords, the Leader has made clear that sanctions will be the cornerstone of the UK’s response. To be effective, sanctions have to be international and co-ordinated. The country that is sanctioning suffers along with the country that is sanctioned. So if Germany is to do everything we need on energy—not just Nord Stream 2 but Nord Stream 1, which provides 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year for Germany—and all of that has to be in place, so must everything that the UK can contribute via the City of London. This needs to be an international effort. It would usually be co-ordinated through the United Nations, but the Security Council is clearly not available as the Russians have a veto, so in what international forum will HMG co-ordinate the necessary sanctions effort?

We have been working with partners through NATO, the UN, the OSCE and the G7—we are anticipating a further G7 call later this week—and obviously we have been having bilateral meetings with countries around the world. Ministers have talked to our allies in Kraków, Kyiv, Brussels, Tallinn, Munich and New York. We are working internationally and are co-ordinating our response with our allies and partners, for exactly the reasons the noble Lord gave.

My Lords, I share the puzzlement of those who wonder what else President Putin has to do to get the full barrage of UK sanctions fired at him. The Statement says that he has

“flagrantly violated the Minsk peace agreements”.

The noble Baroness said that he has flagrantly violated Ukrainian sovereignty and the Statement says that

“the deployment of these forces in sovereign Ukrainian territory amounts to a renewed invasion of that country.”

What are the Government waiting for as a further threshold before there is a full barrage of sanctions? The Statement also says that, when the Defence Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Staff visited Moscow and talked to their counterparts, they demonstrated

“how seriously we take Russia’s security concerns”.

What are Russia’s valid security concerns? NATO is not going to invade it, so why are we taking its so-called security concerns at all seriously?

What we have said, with our NATO allies, is that a dialogue would cover what Russia says it wants, from strategic nuclear weapons and force posture to exercises and incidents at sea. It is a serious offer which would improve European security for Russia and NATO, but we have been very clear that these talks must be based on de-escalation and an end to aggression against Ukraine.

My Lords, we must not delude ourselves: Russia has invaded Ukraine. There is an element here which is almost as if it has not done so. It has invaded Ukraine. Putin has weighed up that this is what he wants to do. Let us face it: he said he wanted to do it and we knew he wanted to. He has weighed up against that the pain he will suffer from doing it and has made a calculation that the pain is not that much. I have to say that, at the moment, I would rather agree with him; he is not getting that much pain.

The other area we must not delude ourselves on is defence. I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan: since 2010 we have reduced our military by a third, and that has not gone unnoticed. Are we now putting money into our factories to fill the gaps? There are many gaps; again, we must not fool ourselves when we make statements about how wonderful our equipment is and how many forces we have. There are huge gaps in terms of missiles, capability and renovating equipment. We should be calling up reserves. There is a lot that should be being done there, as well as all the other things that people have talked about. Otherwise, Putin is not going to feel pain and will think he can move on and go further.

In terms of combating him in the war of words, my noble friend Lord Robertson is absolutely right. With GCHQ and the NSA, we have far better resources and can run rings around the Russians if we really want to. We should be getting ready to do that with the NSA to really make his eyes water, so that he knows what he has done.

We have specialist teams of cyber experts and intelligence analysts working around the clock to detect, decipher and deter Russian threats beyond physical borders. This cell, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, is focused on fighting disinformation and ensuring that the UK can combat warfare threats. We have introduced a new autonomous cyber sanctions regime, set out a national cyber strategy and announced new legislation to provide security services and law enforcement with additional tools to tackle evolving state threats. As I said, we are strong supporters of NATO. We set out last year our integrated review and set out plans and investment in defence. We take it extremely seriously, and that work continues.

My Lords, these are dark days indeed for Europe, but unlike the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I welcome the commitment in the Statement to unrelenting diplomacy. Does the Leader agree that the stronger the sanctions, the better placed that diplomatic work will be? Is there a particular contribution that Britain can make in the diplomatic engagement even now?

We are continuing to work with our allies in diplomatic terms. As I said, the Prime Minister spoke to President Zelensky yesterday evening and President Macron this afternoon. We are anticipating a G7 call this week. We will be working through all the channels that we can with our international allies. As I have set out, we have introduced the first tranche of sanctions, which is a strong, tough sanctions regime, but we will increase and step up sanctions if we continue to see Russian aggression.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Statement. I regret I am going to disturb the unanimity of the Front Benches, and, in fact, all previous speakers, but I am very disturbed about the trend of events. I very much welcome the assurance given to my noble friend Lord Alton that we will have an early opportunity to debate this. My first question is: can the Government give us an assurance that no British troops will be deployed in Ukraine? Secondly, coincident with the economic sanctions, will the Government urgently and imaginatively search for a diplomatic agreement on the Ukraine problem? I say “imaginatively”; I am sure there has been some urgency, but the lack of imagination and the lack of understanding of Russia’s position is absolutely appalling, in my view, and very depressing. The atmosphere of the House reminds me very much of 2003 prior to the invasion of Iraq.

I am afraid, again, I cannot agree with the noble Lord. Russia has been falsely accusing NATO of provocation and nothing could be further from the truth. NATO has always been a defensive alliance and poses no threat to Russia. As I have also said, NATO allies remain committed to a dual track approach: strong deterrence and defence combined with meaningful dialogue. But Russia has to stop its aggression towards Ukraine.

My Lords, could I suggest to my noble friend that we—global Britain—convene an international conference here in London with all our European friends and allies, with whom we must get closer and closer, because if we do not have a united front we have a defeated front? When we come to debate this issue in the House, could it please be on the Floor of the House and not, as my noble friend suggested, in Grand Committee?

I have set out what we will be able to do in terms of a debate, and we are delighted to be able to give the House the opportunity to discuss such an important issue. Of course we are consistently meeting our European allies both at home and abroad. I mentioned all the travel, and I am sure noble Lords will have seen the Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary travelling around talking to allies. I am sure they will be convening meetings across Europe, and indeed, more widely globally, in which these important issues can be discussed, and we can continue our co-ordinated approach.

My Lords, in the event of serious conflict, has consideration been given to offering medical treatment in this country to seriously wounded Ukrainians?

We are working closely with partners to ensure that we can quickly provide emergency humanitarian assistance. We have also announced 1,000 more British troops will be put in readiness in the UK to support the humanitarian response in the region, should it be needed. I cannot go into huge specific details, but we are working with international partners because we recognise that there may be a need in the area.

My Lords, we can impose sanctions on the three people who have been identified in the Statement, but we cannot guarantee that we can freeze and seize their assets, because we will not know where they are. They will be hidden behind all sorts of complexities of shell companies and transactions. My right honourable friend Keir Starmer in the other place asked the right questions. He said:

“We need to draw a line under Companies House providing easy cover for shell companies. We need to ensure that our anti-money-laundering laws are enforced … and we have to ensure that money is not pouring into UK politics from abroad.”

When will we be able to say that we have that assurance?

As I have said, we have set out plans for a register of beneficial owners of overseas entities and we have set out our intentions to reform Companies House. Extensive criminal and civil powers are available to the NCA, including seizure of the proceeds of crime and the ability to deny serious criminals and corrupt elites access to their assets. The NCA has increased its investigations into corrupt assets. The Registration of Overseas Entities Bill will ensure transparency for foreign-owned land in the UK, which is currently easily disguised through offshore companies. A lot of work is going on; as I have already mentioned, we will introduce a new economic crime Bill to take further action in this area.

My Lords, I first went to Kyiv with Margaret Thatcher some years ago. I was very concerned later on with the port of Odessa, which has been blocked by warships, which will cause trouble for granary movement throughout the world—so it goes far beyond that. A great deal of that grain goes to the Sudan, Libya and Yemen; they badly need it, because they have starving people. It goes much further abroad. Does my noble friend know whether they will continue to block that port, which is the key port for everything that moves into and out of Ukraine?