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Volume 834: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2023

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, I will now repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given earlier today in the House of Commons:

“Since the Minister for the Armed Forces last updated the House on 28 November, the situation on the ground has remained largely unchanged. Ukraine has been fortifying its borders with Belarus with dragon’s teeth, razor wire and anti-tank ditches, and is pivoting to a more defensive posture following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 1 December 2023 call for rapid fortification across the front.

On 12 December, Kyivstar, Ukraine’s largest mobile network operator, suffered a cyberattack. The incident is likely one of the highest-impact disruptive cyberattacks on Ukrainian networks since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. The Russian air force is highly likely to have carried out the first use of the AS-24 Killjoy air-launched ballistic missile since August 2023. Killjoy has almost certainly had a mixed combat debut. Many of its launches have likely missed their intended targets, while Ukraine has also succeeded in shooting down examples of the supposedly undefeatable system.

We will continue to support priority areas for Ukraine in the coming months, including air defence and hardening critical national infrastructure sites. Our foundational supply of critical artillery ammunition continues. Most recently, on 11 December, the Defence Secretary announced that the UK will lead a new maritime capability coalition alongside Norway, delivering ships and vehicles to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to operate at sea. This represents a step change in the UK’s support for Ukraine both in defending against Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion and in developing Ukraine’s maritime capabilities for the future. The new coalition will deliver long-term support to Ukraine, including training, equipment and infrastructure to bolster security in the Black Sea. We could not be more clear: as the Prime Minster has said, we are in this for as much as it takes for as long as it takes.

The maritime capability coalition initiative reinforces our collective long-term commitment to Ukraine and provides a permanent mechanism through which we can support the development of Ukraine’s maritime capability. Agreed during recent meetings of the 50-nation-strong Ukraine defence contact group, it forms part of a series of capability coalitions to strengthen Ukraine’s operations in other domains, including on land and in the air. On 13 and 14 December, the Ministry of Defence, along with the Department for Business and Trade, successfully conducted the first UK trade mission to Kyiv since the invasion in 2022. The mission enabled discussions with and between UK and Ukrainian officials and industry on opportunities for long-term co-operation, and resulted in tangible agreements for industry.

The UK has committed £4.6 billion of military support to date as we continue to donate significant amounts of ammunition and matériel from our own stocks, as well as those purchased from across the globe. In addition, we have trained more than 52,000 soldiers since 2015. The UK and our allies have been clear that we will not stand by as the Kremlin persists in its disregard for the sovereignty of Ukraine and international law. This includes the recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty over its territorial waters, which is established in accordance with international maritime law”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Statement with respect to an Urgent Question. It is important to say at the outset that His Majesty’s Opposition continue to fully support the Government in backing Ukraine in its war with Russia. Wherever possible, we need to accelerate this support to meet the needs of Ukraine.

The noble Lord will know that President Zelensky recently warned that Ukraine needed the delivery of ammunition and vital shells to be speeded up. Can the noble Lord update us on the current situation, and on what plans the Government have to ensure that the supply of much-needed equipment and weapons to Ukraine is, in the words of President Zelensky, speeded up?

It is welcome that the Government and the Minister have repeated the announcement of a new maritime capability coalition, alongside Norway, to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to operate in the Black Sea. Is this now operating, or when does the noble Lord expect it to be fully operational? Is there any more he can say about what ships et cetera are involved with respect to that?

We are proud to support Ukraine and have always recognised that their fight is our fight, and that our resolve must not, and will not, weaken. I also welcome in the Minister’s comments the fact that the Government recognise that they are not only supporting Ukraine’s armed forces but that we need to do as much as we can to support the Ukrainian people in their fight as well. That is a very important part of the Statement and I urge him to continue with it.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, makes a number of very good points. On the final point, we have committed, including humanitarian aid, in excess of £9.5 billion—close £10 billion. I note his point about supporting the Ukrainian people and I would say that the way that the citizens of this country have opened their doors has been exemplary.

On the question of equipment support and ammunition, we are continuing to get as close as we can, as are the rest of the allies, to what President Zelensky is after. To date, we have supplied over 300,000 artillery shells. It is increasingly becoming an artillery war, certainly during the winter months—in fact, it is becoming a sort of manufacturing war, about who can manufacture the weapons fastest. Of those 300,000 shells, some 50,000 have been produced since July 2023. We have supplied 31 armoured vehicles, 14 mine ploughs to go on the front of the T-62s, 6 million rounds of small arms ammunition and, of course, spares for the AS-90 artillery guns. We are absolutely committed to maintaining that level of support and ensuring that Ukraine has the weaponry that it needs to continue to fight against the Russian aggressors.

What is interesting about the Black Sea is that everybody is trying to ensure that it does not become a sort of Russian lake. Through some extremely clever and intelligent use of small amphibious weapons, Ukraine has been successful in pushing the Russians further eastwards. It is that level of support and training that this new coalition is particularly enthusiastic to support.

At the same time, from a trade perspective, the opening of the maritime corridor across the Black Sea has started to have a fairly significant effect on the ability of Ukraine to earn foreign currency through its exports, particularly of grain. While it maintained overland routes and used the Danube ports, it is the maritime corridor across the Black Sea which really provides the greatest opportunity. In recent months, I think there were about 200 ships in total that got out for trade, including 5 million tonnes of grain. We are getting there; it is incumbent upon us all. The maritime coalition opened only on Monday. We have already got 12 countries involved, with three more expressing interest. It is obviously going to become very productive.

My Lords, I am aware that this is a UQ rather than a Statement, so I will not detain the House too long, to allow others to get in. This is obviously a welcome response to an Urgent Question. Maritime co-operation, particularly bilateral relations with our Norwegian colleagues, is hugely important, and that is very welcome. This morning, a Ukrainian general suggested that there was not sufficient military aid going into Ukraine. President Zelensky has just given a press conference and said that Ukraine is not losing. What are His Majesty’s Government—both the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary—doing to ensure that our partners in NATO, whether the United States or Hungary, are really going to give Ukraine the sort of support that the United Kingdom is still giving so clearly?

The noble Baroness is quite right to raise this issue. We were the first to support Ukraine in its endeavour and we continue to encourage everybody to come along. The Ukraine Defense Contact Group is very important, and we continue to push for support wherever it is possible with all our allies.

My Lords, I declare again my interest as a serving member of the UK Armed Forces. I commend the Government on their continued support, and indeed His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition for theirs, and for being convenor to ensure that the international community continues to support Ukraine. However, I have always had a concern. One day, this war will end, but what comes next? I often worry that we have not learned the lessons of the past, from the war in Iraq when we did not plan for what comes next. It has now been over a year since there has been an assessment as to what the reconstruction of Ukraine will cost. Unless we know that on an ongoing basis, it is very hard to bring countries together to commit to the reconstruction of Ukraine. I simply ask my noble friend to commit to put in the Library the latest assessment of the cost of reconstruction.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his repeating the Answer and follow on. Can he say a little more about the maritime capability of Ukraine? One of the aims of this maritime alliance or coalition is to reinforce the maritime capacity of Ukraine. It would be very helpful to know what exactly that maritime capability is.

My noble friend raises a particularly topical subject. There are obviously areas I cannot go into, but the new coalition will deliver long- term support to Ukraine, including training, equipment and infrastructure, to bolster security throughout the Black Sea.

My Lords, I take this opportunity to wish each and every one of your Lordships, the Deputy Speaker, Table Clerks, Hansard reporters, doorkeepers and everybody who makes this House such a pleasant place to work a very merry Christmas. It has gone a bit mild, but I am told we could have a white Christmas on high ground. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.

House adjourned at 6.19 pm.