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Ukraine: Ceasefire

Volume 830: debated on Monday 15 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to assist the realisation of a ceasefire followed by negotiations in the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

My Lords, on today’s visit of His Excellency President Zelensky, the UK remains steadfast in its support for Ukraine’s brave defence against Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion. Ukraine and its partners seek a just and lasting peace for Ukraine, which affirms its territorial integrity and sovereignty and provides stability for the global community. However, if Russia is serious about advancing the prospects for peace, it must immediately cease attacks against Ukraine, withdraw its forces from the entirety of the country, and commit to meaningful negotiations.

My Lords, this war has now been going on for a year, and it is getting worse. We have started to see incidents within the Russian Federation’s borders. Unless someone makes some effort soon to get peace talks going, we are going to head into a tragedy. Is it not the job of His Majesty’s Government, as a member of the P5, to start taking the initiative for peace, instead of constantly fanning war?

My Lords, I refute my noble friend’s assertion. We do not fan war. The aggressor is Russia. As my noble friend knows, Russia is also a P5 member. It is about time Russia stood up to its responsibility as a P5 member. We want peace; the Ukrainians want peace. Does Russia want peace? We want the answer.

My Lords, do the Government agree that Russia should be forced to pay for the damage, both human and material, that it has caused? What options are being considered?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important question about the devastation that has taken over Ukraine: cities damaged, lives destroyed, lives taken. Of course, it is important that we look at the full context, and that is why I am delighted that the United Kingdom will be hosting this year’s Ukraine Recovery Conference. As part of that, we will engage the private sector to see how we rebuild. Of course, Russia’s accountability is at the forefront of our minds, including that those who have perpetrated this war will be held accountable.

My Lords, if one is looking for a tragedy, one can find it in the daily life of the citizens of Ukraine. It is a rather curious way in which to describe it. This is not a day to discuss a ceasefire; we know that the President is in town—at Chequers, rather—and that his issue is precisely how much more aid we can give to support the counteroffensive. That should be the focus, certainly of the Government—I am sure that it will be—but also of those of us in this House who support the Government and their policy. I will ask the Minister to clear up one ambiguity. There is, from time to time, speculation about the fact that the United Kingdom might give RAF Typhoons. The fact of the matter is that the Typhoon is not a suitable aircraft for what is required. We have obligations on the Quick Reaction Alert, in the Falklands and to NATO. We do not have an aircraft of the type that is required; nor do we have sufficient of the aircraft that we have already.

My Lords, I agree with the entirety of the noble Lord’s opening statement. It is a mark of the unity we have seen in your Lordships’ House and in the other place on this important element. That must stay firm, particularly in the light of continuing Russian aggression. On the noble Lord’s second point, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister committed in February that we would train Ukrainian pilots. The aircraft of choice remains the F16, but the noble Lord may have followed, as part of the announcement we put out today, that we will commence an elementary flying phase for cohorts of Ukrainian pilots. Of course, we work hand in hand with our allies to ensure that the Ukrainians are fully equipped with the defence they need to stand up to this war of aggression.

My Lords, has my noble friend noticed that the Chinese are seeking to play an increasingly active part in possible peacemaking in Ukraine? What is the Government’s view on that?

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we welcome all initiatives to bring about lasting peace, but we are equally clear that the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine must be maintained and sustained in any peace agreement that is reached.

My Lords, I reiterate the Opposition’s full support for the Government in providing military, economic and diplomatic support to Ukraine, but one thing is absolutely clear: the negotiating table will be open to the Russians only if they are responding to the sort of pressure—particularly the economic pressure—that we put on them. I know we will debate sanctions tomorrow, but what are we doing to ensure that the sanctions we are imposing act as a real deterrent to others so that people can see there is no profit in this war for them? Can we not promote our actions a bit more ably?

My Lords, I totally concur with the noble Lord. I thank him once again for both his support from the Front Bench and that of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition for the Government’s position. That is important: whether we talk of the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Labour Benches, the Government Benches or indeed the Cross Benches, the unity of purpose and action in standing up with and for Ukraine is very clear.

The noble Lord raises the important issue of sanctions. I agree with him. We need to articulate more clearly. Let us be absolutely clear: every sanction has within it—[Interruption.] I welcome those sound effects, which, I believe, amplify the voice of this Chamber. Every sanction the United Kingdom applies in this respect has a carve-out for humanitarian support. We have articulated that. On Saturday, I was pleased to receive an invitation and attend as part of His Majesty’s Government a meeting with our European partners and those in the Indo-Pacific. I was delighted that, as part of one of these sessions, we were addressed by Foreign Minister Kuleba from Ukraine, who underlined the importance of unity not just within Europe but elsewhere in the world.

My Lords, I welcome the support being offered to Ukraine, including the training of pilots, but the truth is that we have had a hard enough time over the past few years training our own pilots with the capacity we have. Have the Government finally learned the lesson that we need to retain sufficient military capacity and resilience in our own country if we are to be secure in the years ahead? This is something they have signally failed to do in recent years.

My Lords, I recognise the valuable insights of the noble and gallant Lord, and I assure him that we are doing just that by ensuring that we replenish any support we are giving to Ukraine in terms of ammunition, missiles and other equipment, because the first responsibility of the Government is the security of our own nation.

How many Challenger tanks have we supplied to the Ukrainians and what are we doing about the special ammunition they will require?

Without going into the details of the full deployment, we are working very closely with not just the Ukrainians but our other key partners to ensure that not only do they receive the equipment, including tanks, that they need, but they receive full training and, importantly, the munitions they need to fulfil their obligation to defend their nation.

My Lords, last weekend, speaking publicly, the former head of MI6 said that President Putin’s strategy in Ukraine is one of attrition—“to wait it out”. With the possibility of a more isolationist United States post the presidential election, my suspicion is that Putin is measuring as much by western electoral cycles as by more conventional military metrics. So what discussions are we having with our allies about a diplomatic framework that could bring this conflict to an end; in particular, about the nature of the security guarantees that will be offered to Ukraine to ensure a lasting, equitable peace?

I have in part already answered the noble Lord’s second question. We welcome all peace initiatives and anything leading towards that. The grain deal was a good example of working with international partners, including the UN, but we are seeing that there is a reluctance on the part of Russia even to sign off a valuable lifeline in terms of grain. In terms of electoral cycles, the real strength of democracy is illustrated here, in the US and elsewhere across Europe. The unity of purpose and action is shared by parties of different political spectrums. The message going out to Mr Putin is that he may think the electoral cycle may deter the United Kingdom or the United States, but it will not.

My Lords, is it not up to the Ukrainians to decide whether there should be a ceasefire and whether negotiations should start? Given the current situation, where Germany, the UK, France and Italy are helping with additional military aid, maybe this time is not now because maybe now we could finally defeat Russia.

Of course, I agree with my noble friend. It has been the long-standing position of His Majesty’s Government that ultimately it is for Ukraine to determine and to be at the negotiation table, and as a friend and partner of Ukraine, we will stand with the decision that the Ukrainian Government take.