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Ukraine: UK Military Support

Volume 822: debated on Wednesday 11 May 2022

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, I appear on behalf of myself.

With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my honourable friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“The United Kingdom strongly condemns the appalling, unprovoked attack President Putin has launched on the people of Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine and continue to support its right to be a sovereign, independent and democratic nation.

The United Kingdom and our allies and partners are responding decisively to provide military and humanitarian assistance. This includes weapons that help Ukraine’s heroic efforts to defend itself. We have sent more than 6,900 new anti-tank missiles, known as NLAWs, a further consignment of Javelin anti-tank missiles, eight air defence systems, including Starstreak anti-air missiles, 1,360 anti-structure munitions and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosives.

As Ukraine steadies itself for the next attack, the UK is stepping up efforts to help its defence. As we announced on 26 April, we will be sending 300 more missiles, anti-tank systems, innovative loitering munitions, armoured fighting vehicles, and anti-ship systems to stop shelling from Russian ships.

The UK has confirmed £1.3 billion of new funding for military operations and aid to Ukraine. This includes the £300 million the PM announced on 3 May for electronic warfare equipment, a counterbattery radar system, GPS-jamming equipment and thousands of night vision devices. The MoD retains the Humanitarian Assistance Task Force at readiness, with a headquarters at 48 hours’ readiness and the remainder of the force at five days’ notice to move should their assistance be requested.

The UK has pledged £220 million of humanitarian aid for Ukraine, including ‘granting in kind’ to the Ukraine armed forces over 64,000 items of medical equipment from the MoD’s own supplies. We are ensuring that the UK and our security interests are secured and supporting our many allies and partners, especially Ukraine.”

My Lords, we remain united with the Government in their condemnation of Russia and the actions that they have taken so far in meeting this threat. Once again, we also recognise the bravery of the people of Ukraine. We therefore fully support the Government’s recent announcement of the additional £1.3 billion of aid and, with that, the extra military equipment that they are providing. Can the Minister outline what the additional £1 billion of that £1.3 billion is to be spent on, and can she give any further detail about the inquiry into UK components ending up in Russian weapons?

In the light of the war in Ukraine and the provision of this military equipment, have the Government reconsidered any of their existing defence plans? Surely it is now time for a rethink on, for example, cuts to the number of soldiers—something that the head of the Army himself said only this week when he said that the British Army is too small.

I thank the noble Lord. I indicated in the Statement some of the equipment that is going out; I understand that this will include UAV systems to provide logistical support to isolated forces and that new, specialised Toyota Land Cruisers will be going out. I offer to write to the noble Lord with a more specific list of information. In relation to the use of equipment, we supply it to Ukraine and it is for the Ukrainian armed forces to then determine how they deploy and use it. However, our supply of that equipment is to enable Ukraine to defend itself.

On the size of the military, I refer the noble Lord to the integrated review, the comprehensive spending review and, importantly, Future Soldier, which detailed how we envisage the shape of the military in forthcoming years and was signed off at the highest levels in the MoD. It is interesting to reflect on how the conflict in Ukraine has unfolded. It has been clear that the might of Russia in terms of numbers of soldiers has actually been of questionable effect when, in Ukraine, an ably trained, very professional, well-equipped force, armed with intelligence, has been able to be very effective in its defence. These are complicated matters but it is perfectly clear that mere numbers are not sufficient.

My Lords, these Benches also support the action that the Government have taken so far and regret the size of the army and wish that it could be increased—although we may regret the bidding war that sometimes seems to go on between the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence, which seems to be slightly more about domestic than international politics. Can the Minister tell the House whether the medical equipment and other supplies that are being sent to Ukraine are being adequately replaced so that we can ensure security of supply at this end? Will she be able to make a Statement at some point on the security arrangements which the Prime Minister has just agreed with Sweden?

As the noble Baroness will be aware, extensive supplies of medical equipment have been dispatched and I understand that these are proving of huge support and assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces. As to what is currently in the system and what is still to come, I have no detail before me but I undertake to write to the noble Baroness with more specific information.

My Lords, this is going to be a long haul. Is not one of the best immediate ways of helping Ukraine to cut off the billions that are still flowing into the Russian exchequer to help Putin finance child murder in the Ukraine area, and is not the quickest way to do that to find other sources for the millions of barrels of oil a day and to increase gas, which would immediately reduce prices and undermine the Russian position? Are we, as a coalition, making real efforts to press the producers who have available flowing capacity to do that, because clearly the EU is divided and the UN is paralysed, for reasons that we well know?

I do not in any way diminish the importance of my noble friend’s question. It is somewhat wide of my responsibilities but I am certain that the matters to which he refers, some of which have already been addressed not just by the United Kingdom Government but by the EU and other global partners, are certainly having some effect on the Russian economy. As for the more specific matters to which he refers, these are matters for consideration by the Government as a whole. However, in the daily consideration of the situation in Ukraine, every option continues to be looked at, and I am sure that my noble friend’s words will resonate.

My Lords, Churchill famously said in his Fulton, Missouri speech that the thing that the Russians despise more than anything else, as he learned in the Second World War, is weakness. As we speak, we are reducing the size of our Army and cutting the numbers of our ships and aircraft. Does that sound to my noble friend like strength or weakness?

As I have indicated to the Chamber before, in the light of the settlement that was made for defence and which was examined in detail under the comprehensive spending review, defence has enjoyed an extent of resource which has been unknown for many years. As my noble friend will be aware, there is a very ambitious shipbuilding project under way for naval craft, not least Type 26s and Type 31s and the other embryonic versions of more sophisticated destroyers and frigates. We are in a good place. As I have said before, there will be differing views of what constitutes an effective military in future warfare. As was clear from Future Soldier, all the evidence shows exactly what the shape of that needs to be. Quite simply, with technology we can do a lot more with fewer people.

My Lords, do the Government agree that Russia is breaking international law by blocking the export of Ukrainian food across the Black Sea? Will they seek agreement on how to make such exports possible?

I have noted the noble Lord’s observations. These are matters which fall under the responsibility of my colleagues in government, but I am sure that his comments will be noted.

When we make available equipment of the kind described by the Minister, do we continue to offer training in the use of that equipment?

I reassure the noble Lord that we have offered training to ensure that, when they get the equipment, the Ukrainian armed forces can use it effectively. We are all aware of how effective that response has been and its impact.

Are the Government confident that the supply of western military equipment, which is so desperately needed by the Ukrainians, is getting through, given the recent Russian activity in bombing supply lines such as railways?

The noble Lord will understand that, for reasons of operational security, I cannot comment in detail on supply routes, but we are satisfied that the supplies are reaching the Ukrainian armed forces.

My Lords, Russia wants to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea. If it is successful, it will be disastrous for the West in areas such as food security but, to do so, it needs a strong Black Sea fleet. Having suffered recent losses, it is unable to reinforce its Black Sea fleet because of the Montreux convention, which limits military movement into the Black Sea. I simply ask my noble friend what reassurances the UK has had from Turkey, which is effectively the custodian of the Montreux convention, that Russia will not be allowed to reinforce its Black Sea fleet.

We routinely engage with Turkey on regional matters, at all levels. Recent engagements have included the Montreux convention and vessel movements through the Bosphorus strait during the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Given the risks of escalation in the military elements of the conflict in Ukraine, it is quite clear that any further military aid will have to be less than decisive. In policy terms, therefore, is a prolonged and mutually self-hurting stalemate between Ukraine and Russia probably the best that can be achieved in the current circumstances?

My honourable friend in the other place used the adjective “attritional” to describe the conflict. That is probably pretty accurate. We are very clear about the magnitude of what the Ukrainian armed forces are contending with. Our role, along with that of other NATO partners and other global allies such as the United States and the EU, is to support the Ukrainian armed forces in their endeavour. I am afraid this will not be resolved in the near future. It is important that, as a country, we do everything with our allies to support what is right and to ensure that Ukraine is assisted in seeing off what is wrong.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness seriously saying that, in the light of current experience in Ukraine, there is to be no fundamental review of our defence capacity?

We always keep our capacity under review. The integrated review, with the comprehensive spending review, have laid out the strategic direction for defence in this country. We constantly review threat and commitment, and constantly assess what we require to discharge that role. That is kept under constant surveillance.