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Ukraine: Support

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 16 April 2024

Question

Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what action the Government are taking to maintain moral and physical support, in the United Kingdom and internationally, for Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion.

My Lords, no country has done more than the UK to maintain physical and moral support for Ukraine. Our military support has made a critical difference on the battlefield and paved the way for others to follow; our fiscal support has helped to keep the Ukrainian economy going; the British people have invited over 280,000 Ukrainians into their homes; and this July we intend to sign a hundred-year partnership agreement to demonstrate that a century from now the UK and Ukraine will still be standing shoulder to shoulder.

I thank the Minister for that, and for his efforts in the States recently. As he says, it is imperative that moral as well as military support is maintained, not just to reassure Ukrainians that we will back them till they win but to make sure that Russia knows that we will do that too. Given that the Kremlin watches our every move, would not a multi-year commitment have given a clearer signal to Putin that we were there until Ukraine won, rather than the programme for just one year and £2 billion that was announced?

I have just come from a meeting with a delegation from the Polish parliament, which thanks us for all the things that the Foreign Secretary has said and was full of praise for us. But those parliamentarians from Poland noted, interestingly, that they had not prepared their people for what happened in February 2022. They said that the challenge now was for all of us to persuade the people of our nations that this fight is worth it. Will the Foreign Secretary make the case domestically to stand firm against Putin in the interests not just of Ukraine but of the whole of Europe? Ukraine is actually fighting our war.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. One of the strengths of Britain’s position in this regard is the huge cross-party support for our backing for Ukraine. One can argue that multi-year packages would be even better than individual-year packages, but I think that Ukraine is and should be confident that we will go on providing the right level of support in this country in the years ahead. Of course, we do not know what that right level will be.

As for talking about keeping that support in the UK, as the noble Baroness rightly does, I think that there is an innate understanding in this country about the danger of giving into bullies in Europe. We learned that lesson in the 1930s, when appeasing Hitler did not bring peace—it ultimately led to war. The way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them and be strong, which is what this Government are doing.

My Lords, in addition to the obvious need of Ukrainians for combat aircraft and munitions, in the present situation can we at least make sure, with our allies, that they obtain the kind of super-efficient anti-projectile and anti-missile system as seems to be available to the Israelis? Can we ensure that the same standards are provided to the Ukrainians? Their system is good, but clearly it could be better still, and should we not work on that?

At the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting last week, there was a very clear request from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister for two things: first, the artillery shells to make sure that Ukraine stays in the fight against Russia in the days ahead but, secondly and crucially, air defences, particularly Patriot missile systems, which have been so effective. I know that action is being taken by us and others on both those subjects to make sure that we do everything that we can. My noble friend is absolutely right to point out how effective the Israeli anti-missile system was, and it shows what can be done if you have the right resources in place.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, reminds us about the UK commitment to Ukraine, and it is absolutely right that we keep focused on that. However, events at the weekend, and the fact that those Iranian drones did not succeed, remind us that many of the drones sent towards Ukraine from Russia are actually Iranian. What are His Majesty’s Government doing with allies to look at the relationship between Iran and Russia, and whether there is something that we can do, because we should not look at these incidents in isolation?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. We do not look at these things in isolation; in the contacts I have had with the Iranian Foreign Minister, we repeatedly make the point that supplying weapons to Russia is unacceptable. Over and above that, we are putting sanctions in place on every country and company that we can which we find is supplying these weapons. I am about to spend time at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting, where there are specific proposals to look at what we can do together to make clear to the Iranians that there will be consequences if they continue to supply drones and more substantial missiles to Russia. We are working together on this and recognise the importance of dealing with it.

My Lords, I declare my interests in the register. The UK led the world on legislation to ban Russian oil imports in 2022, but we still import Russian nuclear fuel, which is a major energy security and national security issue for this country. It is not due to be phased out until 2030. Does the Minister agree that we urgently need to legislate to bring this date forward to the near term, as our allies in the US are doing, with all the attendant benefits for our domestic industry?

I certainly agree that we should look at this. We have been effective at taking Russian gas and oil out of our system and it is pretty remarkable what steps have been taken across Europe to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas. Just last week, we made an announcement about excluding Russia from the London Metal Exchange and other related exchanges. This is the next area that we should look at. I have had a letter from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister that I saw just this morning about this issue. We will certainly take this away and look at it. It is the responsibility of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, as it deals specifically with Urenco, the company that delivers our nuclear fuel, but we will take this away.

My Lords, I certainly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s continued unity with the Opposition. We are at one with the Government on defeating Russian aggression. He said recently that we will ensure that Russia pays for its aggression through the use of frozen assets and that he would seek unity between the G7 and the EU. Can he update us on that? I have raised frequently with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the £2 billion from the sale of Chelsea, which is still languishing somewhere. Can the Foreign Secretary update us on that and say why we cannot ensure that this £2 billion is used for the immediate support of the people of Ukraine?

I can certainly update the House on both those issues. I have been perhaps one of the most enthusiastic about using the frozen Russian assets; you know that Russia will have to pay reparations, so you should give the money now to Ukraine and get it paid back by the reparations when they come. The difficulty is in getting consensus around the EU and in the United States. To be fair to European Union countries, the majority of the sovereign assets are in their countries and they have a direct interest in it, particularly Belgium and the money in Euroclear. I think there is an emerging consensus that the interest on those assets can be used to support much larger financial support for Ukraine, so I am confident that at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting and the G7 meeting there will be an answer around which America, the UK, France, Germany and others can coalesce. If we can get that done, we will be able to provide real financial firepower to Ukraine based on those assets, rather than delivering the assets directly.

The Chelsea situation is immensely frustrating; as the noble Lord says, what could be as much as £2.5 billion is sitting there in potentially one of the biggest charitable organisations in Britain, and it is very frustrating that we cannot get the money out of the door. The disagreement is over whether all the money has to go into Ukraine for the benefit of the people in Ukraine who have suffered from the war or whether any of it can be spent in other countries—although not Russia or Belarus—that have suffered from the Ukraine war. That is the difficulty with the people who set up this trust. We have to resolve that with the European Union and Portugal, where Abramovich has citizenship. We are working very hard because I do not want month after month to go by while the money has not got out of the door. It is difficult to get everybody into alignment, but we are on it.

My Lords, if we believe that Putin is a threat to the West, should we not start thinking about defending ourselves? If so, has my noble friend the Foreign Secretary considered following the Swedish example of a total defence service, including a selective system of conscription? It would, at any rate, bolster young people’s self-confidence, teach them to work in teams and give them the skills necessary to find a job once they leave the service.

Interestingly, I had lunch with the Swedish Foreign Minister yesterday to celebrate Sweden’s accession to NATO. It is an incredibly capable country. As it is financially robust and has very good armed forces and superb equipment, it will make NATO a lot stronger. I will not be tempted down the line of national service, but we will clearly need to improve the way that we encourage people, including young people, to join our Armed Forces and make sure that we get people to join our reserves and meet all our targets. The core of our effort is towards our highly professional Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, which are the key to our defence.