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Ukraine: Lethal Weapons

Volume 820: debated on Tuesday 5 April 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to expand the range of lethal weapons exported to Ukraine.

My Lords, the UK is committed to supporting Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing aggression. With our allies, we are working to provide more lethal defensive equipment to help the armed forces of Ukraine. The Government continue to identify and pursue options to meet the requests and requirements of the armed forces of Ukraine, including by actively co-operating with our global partners. We will continue to rapidly assess a range of equipment types to meet those needs.

My Lords, does the Minister share my admiration for the bravery and tenacity of the Ukrainian defence forces as they take on a numerically superior enemy? Their actions have obviously been greatly assisted by UK-supplied anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile systems. Does she agree with me that, now that Ukrainian forces are moving on to the offensive in some sectors and counterattacking, the time has come to supply them with more equipment—heavy equipment —including armoured fighting vehicles, artillery and perhaps anti-ship missiles? Surely, in their time of need, our Ukrainian allies deserve our support as they take on an evil dictator who we now know is a war criminal.

I thank my noble friend, and I am sure that he speaks for the whole Chamber when he articulates our respect and admiration for the people of Ukraine in a quite breath-taking display of bravery and determination. I thank him for expressing these sentiments. We constantly review the situation. The noble Lord will be aware that we had the second international defence donor conference, and I can confirm that we will continue to give humanitarian and military support. We have offered to conduct logistics operations to support the delivery of donations from partner nations, and we set that out at the first donor conference. My noble friend is right: we constantly assess and review; we listen to what the Ukrainians tell us they want; and we assess these requests.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm—bearing in mind the large numbers of weapons being used by the Ukrainians—that the United Kingdom can continue to support those requirements without reducing our own defence needs below essential? What cost is the Ministry of Defence having to bear, if any, for all these weapons?

I can confirm to the noble and gallant Lord that the MoD continually manages and reviews all of its stocks of weapons and munitions to ensure that it can meet its commitments. That includes supplying to Ukraine while ensuring that UK Armed Forces stocks are sufficiently maintained. Where replenishment is required, this is expected to be funded from the HM Treasury special reserve.

My Lords, is it not the case that there is no more powerful reason for continuing with the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine than recent events at Bucha? If language fails to convey sufficiently the illegality, the butchery and the brutality of the behaviour of Russian forces, the case will certainly be that the pictures from Bucha will ensure that both the name of the place and the nature of the behaviour will never be forgotten.

Again, the noble Lord speaks for us all in the Chamber. This illegal war, with all its hideous and barbaric consequences, must fail. Certainly, we in the United Kingdom, with our allies and partners, are doing everything we can to ensure that Ukraine is robustly supported in its attempt to see off this evil.

My Lords, the question illuminates a difficult choice for the Government. The war in Ukraine, by military definition, remains limited. It is limited in strategic aim, in geography and means employed. Injecting greater lethal aid into that war is unlikely to be decisive. Indeed, far from it, it runs two very severe risks. One is the risk of prolongation and the other is the risk of escalation. The way to eliminate those risks can only be through dialogue. Can the Minister please update the House on what she believes to be the progress of that dialogue?

I think my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon answered a Question recently on this very issue. He was quite clear that, although normalisation of relations with Russia is not possible at the moment, robust diplomatic engagement is necessary. This is very much an FCDO responsibility. I can reassure the noble and gallant Lord that the MoD is regularly in dialogue, not just with our defence allies and partners—whether within NATO or outwith—but also, of course, with the armed forces of Ukraine.

Can the Minister confirm that there are considerable logistic problems in the supply of main battle tanks, which are, of course, vulnerable to air attack, and political problems in the supply of aircraft, which, again, are much needed? However, there are no such problems in the supply of air defence systems and, possibly, of missiles, which might protect Odessa from attacks from the sea. So will such be delivered?

The noble Lord will be aware of the mixture of anti-tank missiles that we have previously supplied. We have also taken the decision to supply Starstreak high-velocity man-portable anti-air missiles. This will allow the Ukrainian forces to better defend their skies.

My Lords, many Ukrainians attribute their successful defence to the lethal effectiveness of British weaponry. Who cannot be stirred by reports of Ukrainian soldiers shouting “God save the Queen” as they fire their missiles? But will my noble friend the Minister comment on recent remarks by the Russian ambassador that British arms will be treated as a target and that convoys will be subject to Russian military attack?

I respond to my noble friend by saying that the United Kingdom is a friend of Ukraine and Ukraine is a friend of the United Kingdom. We stand by our friends. We have a clear mission diplomatically, politically, economically and militarily as we continue our enduring bilateral partnership with Ukraine. As I said earlier, this hideous, barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin’s must end in failure.

My Lords, I start by reiterating our full support for the actions being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to help Ukraine in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression. We read in the media about the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary talking of the need to send more lethal weapons to Ukraine. Are we sending more of the same or are we sending different weapons? In other words, what does the Prime Minister’s statement actually mean? What is our response to President Zelensky’s call for more weapons of a type not only to defend Ukraine from Russia but to drive Russian forces from Ukrainian soil? Ukraine’s fight is our fight and we must do all we can to help.

I referred earlier to the second international donor conference held on 31 March. At that conference, the international community committed to widening its package of military support for Ukraine. This included exploring new ways of sustaining the armed forces of Ukraine over the longer term, including the provision of increasingly capable air and coastal defence systems, artillery and counter-battery capabilities, armoured vehicles and protected mobility, as well as wider training and logistical support. I hope that reassures the noble Lord that there is a coherent response.

My Lords, have the Government made any assessment of the industrial capacity for the increased production of the kinds of modern weapons that are being employed in Ukraine and of the resilience of their associated supply chains, particularly for sophisticated electronic components?

In so far as that impacts on our industry partners in the UK, yes, as I said earlier to the noble and gallant Lord sitting behind, we do make assessments and consult constantly with our industry partners. We are satisfied that we are balancing the need to support a friend in need with maintaining the necessary supplies for our own indigenous and domestic security.

My Lords, is it not important that we do not lose sight of the fact, notwithstanding what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, said, that Putin’s original aim six weeks ago was to accomplish annihilation? It is vital that the wonderful resilience that the Ukrainians have shown is supported in every possible way, because, if this were ultimately to end in the subjugation of Ukraine—which is possible—that would be a defeat for all freedom-lovers around the world.

My noble friend articulates a powerful sentiment; that is why there is such resolve on the part of the United Kingdom as a bilateral friend of Ukraine and in the global response—whether that is the response to calls for specific equipment and kit or the application of sanctions and financial restrictions. It indicates just how isolated Putin has become and how serious the consequences are for this ill-judged and disastrous expedition.

The re-election of Viktor Orbán in Hungary highlights again the very unhelpful and negative attitude shown by that country with respect to support for Ukraine. Does Her Majesty’s Government have any leverage or influence to persuade the Hungarian Government that in the long run, far from being a friend, Putin will be a threat to Hungary as well?

That strays very much outwith my immediate area of responsibility and into that of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ahmad would be happy to respond in more detail to the noble and right reverend Lord.