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Ukraine Conflict

Volume 835: debated on Wednesday 7 February 2024


Asked by

My Lords, we support a just and sustainable peace that restores Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, underpinned by the UN charter. However, Russia’s actions on the battlefield demonstrate that President Putin has no interest in such an outcome. President Zelensky has clearly demonstrated Ukraine’s commitment to peace in his 10-point peace formula, and together with our partners the United Kingdom is providing Ukraine with the support it needs to both protect and defend its sovereignty.

My Lords, with some defence chiefs calling for national mobilisation, more equipment and intervention in Ukraine, and the Defence Committee arguing that we do not have the resources, despite the highest tax rates in recent history, and having in mind the sensitive national debate now under way in both Washington and Ukraine, where is the voice of reason that believes it is better for all to sit down and talk through resolution of this conflict? I profoundly disagree with those who say that it is not possible and the Russians will never talk. Is it not cheaper for all? It would save lives—300,000 have been lost to date—protect the international economy and preserve the peace that is now threatened worldwide.

My Lords, no one wants peace more than the Ukrainians. Anyone who has visited Ukraine can see that. President Zelensky wants peace; that is why he has put forward a 10-point programme. The noble Lord shakes his head, but perhaps at some point I will be able to convince him. As we mark this anniversary yet again, let us go back two years. Who invaded whom? Who is the aggressor and the responsible actor that created this war? Russia created the war; Mr Putin can stop it and he should do so now.

My Lords, I am sorry for not following convention but I want to intervene at this stage to make clear that the Official Opposition are fully behind the Government’s position on Ukraine. We support their actions, and the fact that this House is united is an important element in ensuring Ukraine’s victory.

In our debate on Ukraine, the Minister said:

“We will squeeze Russia’s war machine”.—[Official Report, 26/1/24; col. 932.]

That will involve sanctions, so can he update the House on the new agency delivering them? How quickly can we bring it in and strengthen our sanctions against the Russian war machine?

My Lords, we are at one, as the noble Lord knows and as is required at this time. Only last week I met the prosecutor-general of Ukraine, who underlined the strength and courage he finds in the support from not just this House but the British people.

Together with our international partners, we have unleashed probably the largest and most severe package of sanctions. As the noble Lord knows, I often share some of the insights behind them. Cumulatively, between February 2022 and October 2023, £22.7 billion of Russian assets were reported frozen due to UK financial sanctions regulations. The UK has committed £50 million to support the new deterrence initiative, and the new Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation will strengthen this further. As I have said before, we will continue to report on specific progress made.

My Lords, the cost of this war will pale into insignificance compared with the cost of reconstructing Ukraine. It is at that point that the coalition in support of Ukraine will be truly tested. Can my noble friend give the UK’s current estimate of the cost of reconstruction and say what leadership we as a nation are showing in pulling together a reconstruction fund? Also, if I may correct the record, no service chief has called for national mobilisation.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend, who provides a great deal of insight on this. The debate about Ukraine across our country reflects the very freedoms that the Ukrainians are fighting for—the freedom to debate, challenge and provide insight. I thank my noble friend for providing his own insights.

The UK led on this last summer by hosting a conference on reconstruction. Various figures are being put forward, but the challenge is that there can be no effective assessment of the overall reconstruction plan until Russia pulls back from the areas it has occupied. It has caused damage environmentally, not just in the buildings and lives lost. At the Ukraine Recovery Conference last year, the UK announced £250 million of new capital to de-risk investments in projects to support economic recovery. Once that full assessment has been made—tragically, it will run into billions of pounds—we will need to stand up collectively, and the private sector will play a role. At a time when Ukraine is facing these challenges, it is vital that we stand at one and support its energy renewal, reconstruction and war effort. We stand with Ukraine.

My Lords, in a recent speech in Sweden, President Macron said that Europe needed to do whatever was necessary to ensure Ukraine’s success, irrespective of what political decisions were made in America. What discussions are His Majesty’s Government having with France, Germany and other European allies to help turn such rhetoric into reality?

My Lords, we always listen carefully to what President Macron says—France is an important ally in every sense, and we are working closely with France and our European partners. We are aware of the discussions going on across the ocean in the United States but, equally, we need the US to be part of this effort, and the reconstruction effort. The debate we had only the other week illustrated this large component. Not only are we making that case to our European partners but we continue to advocate the case for Ukraine in the United States.

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord stole part of my question—I was going to ask about relations with our neighbours and what discussions His Majesty’s Government were having. I will rephrase it and ask the Minister what assessment, beyond France and our closest allies, His Majesty’s Government have made about the solidarity in Europe to support Ukraine. There was a wobble during 2023. Do the Government think that Poland, for example, is now firmly back on the right side and giving as much support as possible?

My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness has noticed that there is a change in the Polish leadership. We have also seen, when it comes to issues of the defence of Europe, the importance of our advocacy within NATO. It is very clear in the discussions we are having, particularly through that organisation, that Europe stands together, and stands with Ukraine.

My Lords, will the UK persist with merely doing enough to prevent Ukraine being defeated, rather than any more than that?

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. We need to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend its sovereign territory. Let us go back in time. Since we saw the invasion and annexation of Crimea, the UK’s position has been consistent—indeed, it is a position shared by His Majesty’s loyal Opposition. Loyalty is an important word here—loyalty to each other but also to Ukraine. We will stand steadfast in ensuring that the defensive capability that Ukraine needs is fully supported.

My Lords, according to both Ukrainian and Russian media, former PM Boris Johnson, in a visit to Kyiv in 2022, persuaded President Zelensky to reject a peace deal with Putin that would have led to the withdrawal of Russian troops in return for an undertaking that Ukraine would not join NATO. Does the Minister agree that this was an opportunity missed and has since cost thousands of lives?

My Lords, I am not going to respond to media speculation. I have had the opportunity, as I am often reminded, to serve under a number of Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers—including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson —and, since this war started, it is very clear that the United Kingdom’s position has been consistent. It has been strong and firm, whether led by Boris Johnson or his successors—including our current Prime Minister, who visited Kyiv. The position from the UK is clear: we stand with Ukraine.

My Lords, there is a catastrophic food shortage in Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and other countries in the Sahel. Historically, they have relied on grain exports from Ukraine, and indeed from Russia as well. Since Russia renounced the Black Sea grain initiative in July, those exports from Ukraine have fallen by 34%. Can the Minister give his assessment of the current situation? What more can be done to get more grain exports out of Ukraine to those hard-pressed parts of Africa?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. Ukraine supplied to many across Africa—more than 400 million people were the beneficiaries of Ukraine’s grain exports. I can share with my noble friend that Ukraine is now exporting more grain than at any time since the war began. Monthly export figures for January saw in excess of 4.6 million tonnes of grain go through the Black Sea, which is a 32% increase on the peak month of the Black Sea grain initiative. That has become consistent because—although we praise the UN and other parties, such as Turkey, that brokered the deal—since it has been rejected by Russia, we have continued to stand steadfast. We have helped in the Black Sea and, although it is still very much early days, that is why we are beginning to see an increase. Long may that continue.