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Ukraine: NATO

Volume 824: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they next intend to meet NATO officials to discuss progress in the conflict in the Ukraine.

My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to engage closely and regularly with our NATO allies as a key part of our response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The Secretary of State for Defence met his NATO counterparts on 12 October, where allies reiterated unequivocal support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We will continue to act alongside our NATO allies to counter Russian aggression.

My Lords, Ministers repeatedly blame the war for the economic crisis, and I agree. Can we have an assurance that with rampant inflation here at home, volatility in the international money markets and millions worldwide, including in the United Kingdom, facing deprivation, there are no circumstances whatever in which the UK would dispatch in isolation, or with others in NATO, combat military forces of any nature to engage in military action in Ukraine? We need to protect the international economy and seek to restrain Russian’s infrastructural bombing campaign before it is too late.

As the noble Lord will be aware, since the illegal invasion of Ukraine occurred the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of assisting the country in defending itself. We have been working closely in conjunction with our NATO partners and with our other bilateral partners and friends within the EU. That concerted effort is the best way, I think, to seek to reject President Putin’s illegal incursion; certainly the resolve of all countries to support the rule of law and respect the right of sovereignty is determined and resolute.

My Lords, will the Minister give us an update on Russia’s use of drones yesterday, which caused such devastation among civilian populations? Is there any way we can give additional support to Ukraine to shoot these down? Is it not time that we urgently seek an international treaty on the use of drones, for everybody’s sake?

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the consequences of the drone attack on Kyiv have been devastating. I think that everyone has watched with horror as again civilians are targeted, people are killed and others are seriously injured. The right reverend Prelate will be aware that part of the United Kingdom’s support to Ukraine has been air defence systems. NATO, plus other bilateral states, with Ukraine, have been doing their best to support Ukraine in what it needs. We are cognisant of the danger presented by this form of attack by Russia. We are also aware that the equipment supplied to date has been greatly assisting Ukraine in seeing off this kind of threat.

I think one way of discouraging the use of these murderous drone weapons supplied by Iran is to make it clear to Iran that this could have very serious and disastrous consequences for Iran itself. I want to ask my noble friend whether she would encourage at any such meeting that is going to take place a very careful examination of the changing position of China and foreign policy experts in Beijing. Has she heard reports that China is becoming increasingly worried that its control and influence over Mr Putin is diminishing, and that it is very fearful that he is going to use tactical nuclear weapons? Will she make sure that we make full use of any change of opinion in China? Without China’s support, there really is a good chance that Moscow might change direction.

My noble friend makes a very important point. I reassure him that the UK continues to engage with China at all levels in Beijing, London and the United Nations to make clear that the world is watching what China chooses to say and do and whether its actions contribute to peace and stability or it chooses to fuel aggression. We expect China to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to uphold its commitment to the United Nations charter. It has an important role to play and we want to be sure, as a sovereign state, that we keep open the lines of communication so that we can convey the very relevant points to which my noble friend refers.

My Lords, as a once young naval soldier in Germany and a former Defence Minister, I fully support western Governments in providing arms to Ukraine. Since membership of NATO involves mutual obligations well beyond this, will the Government publish a paper spelling out the pros and cons if NATO membership is granted to Ukraine?

As the noble and learned Lord is aware, the United Kingdom is sympathetic to Ukraine’s desire to join NATO. We are supportive of that aspiration, in line with the 2008 Bucharest summit declaration. However, at the end of the day, any decision on membership is for NATO allies and for aspirant countries to take.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned the drone attacks yesterday. What assessment have the Government made of the impact on Ukraine of the loss of power—about 30% of power has been lost—and is the West able to support Ukraine to keep the lights on?

As the noble Baroness will be aware, the best that we can do, along with our allies and partners, is to support Ukraine in the defence of its territory in trying to see off the barbaric and illegal attacks to which it has been subjected by Russia. The principal concern has probably been the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, for understandable reasons. We welcome the efforts of the IAEA and United Nations staff to be on site, and we hope that will enable a robust inspection to be concluded. We are cognisant of the risk, and we will do everything that we can to continue to help Ukraine to see off the threat.

My Lords, the interest of the House in the progress of the military situation in Ukraine is entirely understandable, but can the Minister reassure the House that the Government recognise the two very separate objectives of conflict termination and conflict resolution, and that it is not in policy formulation that we aspire to resolve the conflict through military means alone?

It has been clear from the outset that our desire—or mission, if you like—was to support Ukraine in its attempts to defend itself against this illegal aggression and invasion of its sovereign territory. That is our role, as it is the role of NATO and other partners. As to the future, and whether the conflict can ever be resolved and negotiations embarked on, that is absolutely for Ukraine to determine.

Was it not one of the beliefs of Putin, following his illegal invasion of Ukraine, that the members of NATO would split and start arguing among themselves? Is not one of the Government’s prime objectives, supported by all of us, that we maintain NATO’s unity in the face of that aggression? Can the Government reassure us that, at every opportunity, they will reiterate that to all our NATO allies?

The noble Lord’s point is well made. He will realise, from the evidence available to us, that in the actions of NATO members—not only in their regular engagements but at the summit in Madrid and the consequent developments from that, whether it was the comprehensive assistance plan or the development of DIANA, the accelerator for the north Atlantic—there is an absolutely united resolve to support countries that find themselves the victims of illegal activity, illegal aggression and illegal invasion. There is no question that the resolve of the member states of NATO is absolutely steady and stable. We are standing shoulder to shoulder to ward off evil—because that is what we are talking about.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that there have been very staunch attacks on civilians and a great number of attacks on hospitals, as well as attacks on schools and stations? When these are all put together, is it not very difficult to try to imagine that these are anything other than crimes against humanity?

I have no hesitation in agreeing with my noble friend. We have all been appalled by the barbarism of Russia’s attacks in Ukraine, not least in Kyiv. It is quite clear that deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are war crimes, and those responsible will be held to account. The ICC, with support from countries such as the UK, is doing a remarkable job in ensuring that crimes are investigated, evidence is gathered and the basis is laid for successful prosecutions.

My Lords, what concrete steps have the Government taken in their efforts to restore the stocks of missiles and other weapons which we have generously and properly supplied to the Government of Ukraine?

As I have observed to the noble Lord before, we continually manage and analyse our stocks of weapons and munitions against commitments and threats. We also review industrial capacity and supply chains, both domestically and internationally. These considerations have informed the numbers of munitions granted in kind to the armed forces of Ukraine and their avenues of supply.