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Volume 836: debated on Thursday 29 February 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to bring about a sustainable peace as the war in Ukraine passes its second anniversary.

My Lords, restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and securing a just and lasting peace underpinned by the UN charter is the UK’s foreign policy priority. The quickest path to peace would be for Mr Putin to withdraw from Ukraine. President Zelensky has already demonstrated Ukraine’s commitment to peace in his 10-point peace formula. We must strengthen Ukraine in the fight this year and ensure that Ukraine will win the war. If Mr Putin prolongs it and lays the foundation for Ukraine’s long-term future, we must act and stand with Ukraine.

I thank the Minister for his Answer, but I am trying to understand the logic of the Government’s position. Is it still the Government’s expectation that Ukraine will win a complete victory in the sense of recovering the territories it has lost since 2014? If so, can the Minister confirm that this remains the Government’s position? If not—most experts now do not think that is a feasible endgame—should the Government not couple support for Ukraine with a public push for a negotiated settlement, such as has been advocated by many countries in the world, while they still have leverage on the table, not least to avoid the unnecessary slaughter of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, we want to stop the slaughter of innocent Ukrainian citizens. The best way to stop that slaughter is for Mr Putin and Russia to stop the war now. There are no two ways about it; we cannot allow it. This is a P5 member which has invaded a sovereign founding member of the United Nations. We back Ukraine, Ukraine’s leadership is important, and the United Kingdom stands firmly behind it.

My Lords, I reiterate the Opposition’s support for the Government’s position. We said from day one that a peace negotiation is a matter for the Ukrainians to determine. The best leverage that the Ukrainians can have in those negotiations is our fullest support and the arms behind that, so I hope that we will continue with this. Ursula von der Leyen yesterday urged the EU to use profits from frozen Russian assets to help arm the Ukrainians. Will the Minister reassure us that we are doing everything possible with our EU neighbours to do that and to make sure that the Russians pay for this outrageous war?

My Lords, I acknowledge and thank the noble Lord. We are very clear that we speak as one nation in our united stand against Russia’s illegal war. On the point he raised about profits, myself and my noble friend Lady Swinburne—I was delighted she was able to join me for the meeting—have had some constructive talks about the position of the UK and what is happening in the EU, engaging directly with EU colleagues. We need to ensure that any action we take is legally robust; I know the noble Lord supports that.

My Lords, following a bleak winter stalemate, we have arrived at a grim second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With Putin’s imminent re-election and troops mobilised, we must be prepared for things to get worse and to step up if need be. Does the Minister agree that standing by our NATO commitment of 2% of GDP is an important part of this? Will he urge others in NATO, including those who seek to lead, to do the same?

I agree; we are proud to do so. I assure my noble friend, who asked me only last week about the position of Hungary on the accession of Sweden—I am sure we were all delighted to see progress—that we follow through what we promise at the Dispatch Box. When I met the Foreign Minister of Hungary, the first thing he said to me was “Tariq, you mentioned me in Parliament the other day”. I said, “Yes, and I now need an answer”, and we got it.

My Lords, I do not agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. Has the Minister seen the recent newspaper report of a Ukrainian officer lamenting the fact that

“I have the Russian soldiers in my sights, but no shells to fire at them”?

Does that not summarise the perilous position of the Ukrainian forces? Does it not also underline the urgency of all nations in western Europe, including Britain, giving additional aid now to the Government of Ukraine?

I agree, which is why my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary announced on Saturday that the UK will spend a further £245 million throughout the next year to procure and invigorate supply chains to produce urgently needed artillery ammunition for Ukraine.

My Lords, I associate these Benches with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about supporting the Government’s position on Ukraine. However, we and Ukraine appear to be in this for the long haul, and we will need to spend a lot of money on defence and diplomacy to get this right and ensure that not only Ukraine but the Baltic states are secure. Given that, what are the Government doing to ensure that the citizens of the United Kingdom are wholly behind this as well? We do not want people to start thinking that support somehow is not here in this country. I regret to say that we want the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, to be proved wrong.

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned defence and diplomacy. I referred to the additional funding for munitions. I underline the fact that every diplomatic engagement that we are undertaking gives that reassurance directly to the Ukrainians. I was in India last week, and I made sure that I met the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine, who was there. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has been extensively engaged. He attended the UN Security Council meeting in New York marking the second anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion, and addressed it. Only yesterday I returned from Geneva, where a key part of my address to the UN Human Rights Council was on Ukraine, and I met its ambassador, together with all our colleagues from the UK mission. It is very clear that this Parliament, the Diplomatic Service departments, government and indeed our people stand with Ukraine, and we are proud of the 140,000-odd Ukrainians who have now made Britain their temporary home—I use “temporary” definitively, because they themselves yearn for a return back home to Ukraine.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fowler is quite right that this needs the full support of Europe, but it is not just Europe. The trouble is that half of Asia—indeed, half the world—is either neutral or actively supports Russia through its economies and weaponry. What new initiatives are required, beyond general United Nations support—for instance, mobilising all the nations of the Commonwealth or reapproaching, at least on this issue, some aspects of China and other Asian powers? Only then, when Putin feels he is a real pariah and that the whole world is against him, will the Minister get the change he wants.

My Lords, I recall a previous Question that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, engaged with. When we look to our European partners quite directly, the ability for them to step up and do more in this respect is equally important, and we need that to happen. Of course, we will continue to work with the United States on this important priority, but my noble friend is right that we need to ensure that a diplomatic effort is afoot as well. We have been succeeding. You can count the countries that voted with Russia on a single hand, and that has been consistent over an 18-month period. This shows the strength of British diplomacy, together with our partners. Russia is increasingly feeling isolated, with $400 billion-worth denied to it because of the sanctions. Of course we have to look at circumvention and loopholes, but I assure my noble friend that our diplomacy continues in earnest.

My Lords, I hope the Minister is reassured by the support on all sides of the House. He has got a clear message that appeasement never works. When he looks forward to the long term, what representations have been made to the Treasury on the future of the defence budget?

My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord said. It is clear not just to me but to Ukraine that it has strong support from the United Kingdom across the piece, from Parliament and from people. On budgets, of course we are very much seized of this. As I indicated in my Answer, this is a priority for not just the Foreign Office but the UK Government. Of course we work with colleagues, including those in the Treasury, to ensure that we can back the priority that we have made to stand with Ukraine today, tomorrow and until this war ends.