I would like to update the House on our support for Ukraine.
It is almost four months since Putin launched this illegal war, bringing untold suffering to the innocent people of Ukraine. The United Kingdom has stood at Ukraine’s side throughout. We have led the charge in the G7, delivering six waves of unprecedented, co-ordinated sanctions that have caused a £256 billion hit to the Russian economy. The UK has pledged over £1 billion in economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine, making us the third largest bilateral humanitarian donor. And we were the first European country to deliver military aid, from armoured vehicles to multiple-launch rocket systems. This has spurred others to step up their support.
This united effort has been vital to back Ukraine, but we are approaching a critical moment. Russia is bombarding towns and cities in the east, and some outside Ukraine are questioning whether the free world can sustain its support and claiming that some are beginning to tire of this war. The people of Ukraine do not have that luxury. Our answer must be clear: we will never tire of defending freedom and democracy. Russian aggression cannot be appeased. It will be met with strength. We know what is happening on the ground in Ukraine. Evidence grows of heinous war crimes: the butchery of innocent Ukrainian civilians, rape, torture and abduction. We will ensure that these crimes are fully investigated and justice is done. Russian proxies are breaching the Geneva convention on prisoners of war, including with the targeting of British citizens. I utterly condemn these actions, and we are working, through the Ukrainian authorities, to secure their release and hold Russia to account. I am in close contact with my Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.
Allowing aggression to succeed would only bring further conflict and misery, and the war would not stop in Ukraine, so we are committed to stepping up our commitment, maintaining the pressure on Russia’s economy, and entrenching our policy of containment and isolation of Russia. In the coming weeks, leaders will meet at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and at the G7, G20 and NATO summits. These meetings are an opportunity to stand with Ukraine and stand up for sovereignty and freedom. Ukraine can and must win this war. We will never backslide on our commitments, however long this conflict goes on. Our determination to defend our principles will outmatch that of the aggressors. The result of Putin’s aggression so far has been to unite the free world. We are stronger now than we were four months ago and Russia is weaker. We must maintain this unity. We must be relentless in delivering military aid at this critical time. This includes long-range weapons and other vital needs, and improving the quality of Ukraine’s military equipment for the long term to NATO standards. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the UK-Poland joint commission in early April. We are working with Ukraine and other allies to shape its future defence strategy and deter future aggression.
We must also back Ukraine in negotiations. So far, Russia has shown that it is not serious about negotiations. We can never allow Ukraine to be pressurised into giving up territory in a way that we would never accept ourselves. Through the G7 and NATO, we are doing everything we can to strengthen Ukraine’s hand. We also need to make sure that our Baltic friends and our Polish friends are involved. Sanctions must be kept in place while Russian boots are on Ukrainian soil, and we must keep increasing the pressure. Today, I have announced our latest sanctions package. This includes Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has repeatedly abused his position to justify the war. It includes Russia children’s rights commissioner, who has orchestrated a policy that enables the forced transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children into Russia. And it includes four further collaborators in the breakaway republics, for their collusion in the occupation.
Although our immediate priority must be to help Ukraine win the war, we are also working to rebuild the country as fast as possible, with a new Marshall plan. At the Ukraine recovery conference in Lugano next month, we will rally the international reconstruction efforts, urging all our partners to bring ambitious offers to the table. I am working with Minister Kuleba on bringing new investment to Kyiv and to help reconstruct those towns in the region that have been liberated from Russia’s destructive occupation. Russia’s efforts to destroy Ukraine will only lead to it becoming a stronger, more prosperous and more united European nation.
We must also end Russia’s attack on global food security. The Kremlin is blockading Ukrainian ports, shelling civilian infrastructure and preventing Ukraine from exporting its produce. By driving up food prices and creating shortages, the Kremlin is punishing the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. At the same time, it is peddling lies and disinformation, claiming that the problems are because of sanctions. We are exposing those lies and working with our partners to unlock the export of grain and open the commercial shipping routes. We will stand with our friends in the Commonwealth and beyond who are suffering.
In the long run, there must be consequences for Russia’s actions. For would-be aggressors everywhere, Putin must not only lose this war but be denied any benefit from it. Any future aggression must be prevented and Russia must be isolated on the world stage. Ukraine must prevail, for the good of its people and to uphold the fundamental principles of sovereignty, self-determination, freedom and democracy. The UK stands with Ukraine for the long haul. I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful for the advance copy of the Foreign Secretary’s statement.
Putin’s war is now 112 days old. Ukraine continues to show remarkable defiance, but Ukrainians are paying a dreadful cost for the war and they need our support more than ever. We support the steps that the Government have taken, including the recent provision of multiple-launch rocket systems, in co-ordination with our American and German allies. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm what additional steps the Government are considering to provide Ukraine with NATO-standard equipment? What efforts is she taking to urge other allies to do the same? Will she confirm that contracts have been signed to replenish stockpiles in the UK?
There are deeply troubling reports of not just the military assault but the devastating consequences for civilians, including mass internment and the removal of tens of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of those reports?
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine remains grave. The latest estimates from the United Nations suggest that 10,000 innocent civilians have now lost their lives in this senseless war, with many hundreds of children included in that number. More than 15 million people in Ukraine are in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance and protection. That includes millions who have been internally displaced and those who are unable to flee entrenched towns and cities.
Given the scale of the crisis faced by the people of Ukraine, and the hunger crisis that Russia’s war is driving around the world, how can the Foreign Secretary justify the decision, announced in the international development strategy, to cut the humanitarian aid budget by 35%? What proportion of the £220 million of humanitarian aid that has been pledged to Ukraine to date has been delivered on the ground? Will she provide to the House a breakdown of the allocations?
One of the gravest consequences of the war has been the disruption of global food supplies. Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black sea ports, which harbour 98% of grain exports, is driving a humanitarian catastrophe. Global food prices have risen by 41%. We know at home the pressures that this is causing around the world. In east Africa, which is already suffering severe drought, this could lead to famine. The International Rescue Committee projects that 47 million more people will face acute hunger this year. Putin must not be allowed to use hunger as a weapon of war.
What more can be done to facilitate the export of grain via the Black sea or alternative land routes? Will the Foreign Secretary support my call for an emergency global food summit to address this grave crisis, which is exacerbating humanitarian crises around the world? There is shocking evidence that Russia is laying mines in agricultural areas; what more can be done to support those trying to stop that? What diplomatic steps is the Foreign Secretary taking, including at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next week, to sustain and grow the international opposition to the war around the world?
Labour’s commitment to the security of our NATO allies is unshakeable. At the end of June, NATO leaders will gather in Madrid. The summit is an important moment for the alliance to build and sustain unity and support for Ukraine. It is a moment to hopefully welcome new allies in Finland and Sweden, the applications of which we fully support. It is concerning that Turkey has said it is willing to delay their entry by up to a year. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with counterparts in Turkey about the paramount need to avoid delays and sustain unity?
Last week, two Britons, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who were serving in the Ukrainian military, were prosecuted in an illegitimate court despite being legitimate prisoners of war. This breach of the international law of armed conflict is shameful. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office must urgently support the families of those soldiers who will be in deep distress at this time. The Foreign Secretary promised to do “whatever it takes” to secure their release. Will she update the House on what progress the FCDO has made in this vital task?
Finally, I want to ask about Alexei Navalny. There are now troubling reports that he has been transferred from the IK-2 penal colony without the knowledge of either his family or his lawyer, and that his whereabouts are unknown. Mr Navalny, alongside others such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, has been a towering voice of defiance against the corruption of Putin’s regime. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in sending a clear message that his treatment is unacceptable, that the world is watching, and that his voice will not be silenced?
Since the start of Putin’s illegal war, all parts of this House have utterly condemned Russia’s attack and offered our full solidarity to the people of Ukraine in their struggle for freedom and democracy. It is vital that, as this conflict rages on, we continue to support President Zelensky and Ukraine’s courageous people as they face this barbarism.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his strong support for the actions that we are taking to support Ukraine and to condemn Russia for this appalling illegal war. We continue to be in talks with the Ukrainians about what more we can do—we are now supplying, as I mentioned, multiple-launch rocket systems—but what is important is that they do get up to NATO-standard equipment. To develop those plans, we have the joint commission with Poland and Ukraine, and we will be saying more on that at the NATO summit.
The right hon. Gentleman is also right about the appalling forced transfer of people to Russia, including children. That is why, in today’s sanctions, we are specifically targeting those who are enabling that appalling practice. He is right, too, about global food prices, and the appalling way in which Russia is weaponising hunger to pursue its ends in Ukraine. We are working with our G7 allies on helping to get the grain out of Ukraine. We are also in talks with the UN. We are doing all we can to facilitate Finland and Sweden’s urgent accession to NATO. What Putin wanted was less NATO, but what he is getting is more NATO, as people understand that the Euro-Atlantic alliance is vital to securing security across Europe.
We are in regular talks with the Ukrainian Government on the British citizens, who are prisoners of war; they were fighting legitimately with the Ukrainian army. What Russia has done is a complete violation of the Geneva convention, and we are taking all the steps that we can.
On the future of Russia, it is clear that we can never allow Russia to be in a position to undertake this aggression again—that is to do with internal repression as well as external aggression—which is why we wholeheartedly support Navalny. We are very concerned about the reports that we have heard, and we urge Russia to release him as soon as possible.
The rising price of food in this country and across Europe and beyond reminds us why Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe. As the Foreign Secretary has said, the port of Odesa, which is ground zero when it comes to exporting grain, is closed. As a starting point, to get that port reopened, may I ask her to use our P5 status at the United Nations to bypass the Security Council and go directly to the General Assembly to look at securing a resolution granting the port of Odesa international safe haven status? We have shown leadership in Ukraine. Let us show leadership in Odesa now.
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the very serious issues in Odesa. We are working with the Ukrainians on shore-to-ship weapons to help to protect the port. We are working with the United Nations, through the General Assembly and other mechanisms, to try to secure access to the port. However, it is also important to look at the coalitions of the willing that could take action, and the G7 is important in that; that is why I am having a video call with my G7 Foreign Minister counterparts. Turkey also has an important role to play, and we are also in talks with the Turks. We are doing all we can to get that grain out of Ukraine, because it is vital for the Ukrainian economy and to deal with the very real issue of world hunger.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of her statement. On the SNP Benches, we continue to stand in support of the actions of the Government and in absolute solidarity with the people of Ukraine. The fallout from this crisis has had an alarming impact on other regions. In the middle east alone, Lebanon’s wheat flour prices are already up 47%, Yemen’s cooking oil prices up 36% and Syria’s cooking oil prices up 39%. Chris Elliott from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast has said that there are likely to be famines in Africa because of what is happening in Ukraine, and David Beasley, the World Food Programme’s executive director, has told the world to get ready for hell.
The Foreign Office’s international development strategy, published just last month, locked in aid cuts imposed by this Government on countries such as Syria for years to come, so what steps will the Foreign Secretary take to reconsider those decisions? US President Biden has signed off on a plan to help to export 25 million tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine by rail because of the Russian naval blockade, with a plan to build silos in Poland. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with American and Polish allies to offer support in the construction and logistical delivery of that plan?
The actions of many in spreading misinformation are having a significant impact, so what action is the Foreign Secretary taking to clamp down further on bots and cyber-troops who perpetuate such misinformation? SNP Members are supportive of the Government’s sanctions regime against the Kremlin, which is essential as a component of our response to Putin’s heinous crimes in the invasion of Ukraine. With that in mind, I draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the effect of sanctions in non-Government-controlled areas. Sanctions prohibit the transfer of certain goods and technical equipment, including water pumps and refrigeration equipment, so what steps is she taking to ensure that humanitarian organisations can better get that equipment into those areas?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the major world hunger issues we face as a result of Russian actions. That is why the UK and our partners have stepped up with the largest-ever World Bank financial commitment to developing countries, to support them in the face of this economic hardship that results from the appalling war in Ukraine. In our aid strategy and aid budget we have moved funding into humanitarian aid and are one of the leading funders into Ukraine, but we are also annually increasing our budget into Africa to support those countries at this very difficult time. I am in regular contact with the United States Secretary of State Tony Blinken, talking precisely about how we can provide direct support, both humanitarian and military, to Ukraine.
The geopolitical consequences of hungry people in poor countries are not lost on our NATO ally Turkey, which is preparing plans to escort merchant vessels out of Ukrainian ports using its resources. What assistance can we give the Turks in that respect, particularly given our long and distinguished history of mine clearance on land and at sea? What naval assets can we offer to assist them in their plan, and will we continue to assist efforts to ship grain overland to Baltic ports and ports in Poland, to extract grain through that route also?
I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are in talks with Turkey and our G7 allies about all the assistance we can give and all the UK resources that we can deploy, both for the sea route and, as he mentions, the rail routes. There is more that we can do to increase the capacity on those rail routes to get grain out faster, but ultimately to get the full harvest out, we need to use the sea routes as well, and that is why we are in talks with the Turks, and with our G7 allies.
I welcome much of the statement, but can I press the Foreign Secretary a little on the application for Sweden and Finland to join NATO, because it is simply not on for Turkey to threaten to delay the application for a year? Will she make forceful representations to Turkey to make it clear that what it is proposing is simply not on?
At the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting, I raised my concerns directly with the Turkish Foreign Minister. I am due to be in touch with him again next week. The Prime Minister has spoken to President Erdoğan as well. We are clear that it is vital that Sweden and Finland join NATO—it will help to strengthen the alliance—and that the Turkish Government need to agree to make that happen.
The forced transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children is simply unspeakably cruel, so I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcement of further sanctions this morning. Will she confirm that when this is over and Putin has failed, the UK Government will continue the leadership role they have played in diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to reunite these families?
It is simply unspeakable that the Russian children’s rights commissioner has been orchestrating this appalling policy of the forced transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children into Russia. We are clear that we are doing all we can to stop that taking place, and we are doing all we can to support Ukraine. When this war is over—when Ukraine has won this war—we will of course continue to support the country and its families in helping the country to recover and in reuniting those families.
Response Rescue International, a charity that trains dogs to recover human remains following natural or manmade disasters, wants to provide services to the people of Ukraine. Since the UK left the EU, the charity is required to pay £75 per dog for them to be seen by a vet every time the dogs are called to another country to find human remains. The service could be seen as an emergency service, and given that they are going to travel to Ukraine, will the Secretary of State work with other Departments to see whether those charges could be waived?
We have already made sure that we are providing funding to the HALO Trust for de-mining in Ukraine, and we have allocated a budget of £220 million of humanitarian aid. We will look at the best possible use of the money, and I strongly encourage the charity the hon. Member mentions to apply directly to the Foreign Office, and we will look at that proposal.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and commend the Government on the strength of their response to support the Ukrainian people in their struggle against this Russian aggression. Can she confirm that we will redouble our efforts to support them with humanitarian aid, medical aid and food, as the people of Ukraine are suffering horribly?
I can confirm that, and we have already dispatched a significant amount of our £220 million budget. We are doing further allocations to make sure that there is a continued supply of food and medical equipment into Ukraine. We are also seeing organisations such as the national health service donating equipment directly, as well as the British public being very heavily involved, too.
Brave men and women fighting in Ukraine have been granted a short period of leave for respite and to refresh before going back to fight again. If their families are placed in Europe, there are no restrictions on their travel, but if their families have come to the UK, there are. Will the Foreign Secretary work with the Home Office to ensure that there are no barriers for people coming to the UK in that short period, so they can spend the maximum time with their families?
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement. The United Kingdom has led the world in supporting the people of Ukraine through military, diplomatic and economic means, so the world looks to the United Kingdom for the next steps. She said that the United Kingdom is working with G7 partners to support our Ukrainian friends in the negotiations. That being the case, has she seen any constructive proposals from any counterpart for an effective endgame and next steps? It is absolutely crucial that we achieve that.
Within the Foreign Office, we have established a negotiations cell, which is working with our partners in the Quad to make sure that Ukraine gets the best possible support in any negotiations. At present, the Russians are simply not serious about negotiations; I suspect that it is only when they are pushed back and pushed out of Ukraine that they will become serious about negotiations. We are clear that we cannot have a repeat of Minsk, where Ukrainian territory was carved up in an unfair peace settlement. We are clear that we are supporting the Ukrainians to maintain their territorial integrity. We need to not only deal with the future of Ukraine, but make sure that any future settlement contains future Russian aggression. That is the position we are taking, and we are working closely with our allies to make that happen.
I attended a chilling meeting yesterday with Ukrainian MPs, Airwars, the HALO Trust—which the Secretary of State mentioned—and the Mines Advisory Group, which all highlighted the challenges of the dangerous mines that Russia has left behind. Their impression was that it will take years to remove those mines before rebuilding can even begin; I welcome what she said about rebuilding. Can she tell me about the wider programme of demining all the affected areas so that rebuilding can start? Not a single brick can be laid in the ground until we can be assured that it is safe to do so.
We are working closely with the HALO Trust and the Ukrainian Government on demining in those areas. A number of our international counterparts have demining vessels to operate in the sea, as well as land-based support. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that it will take years to get right. Our approach has been to fund the HALO Trust to get on with that work so that we can clear those mines as soon as possible and life can get back to what it should be in Ukraine.
I can confirm that there has been £256 billion-worth of impact on the Russian economy. We have also seen the economy pushed back by roughly 15 years in the availability of goods and services in Russia. That sends an important message to Russia and to the Russian people that their Government’s actions in supporting this appalling war are simply unacceptable.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for her statement. Her colleague the Defence Secretary has said that “China is watching”, which makes the outcome in Ukraine even more important. What engagement has she had with counterparts in Taiwan, who will be feeling anxious as the war in Ukraine continues?
The hon. Lady is correct. I have spoken to my Chinese counterpart and made it clear how unacceptable any Chinese support for Russia in this conflict would be. I am very concerned about the recent statement by President Xi on that subject. Of course, we continue to trade with and support Taiwan, and to defend internationally the principles of sovereignty, self-determination and freedom that should govern the international order.
Shaun Pinner, a British citizen and a member of the Ukraine armed forces for many years, was captured while injured by Russian proxy forces. Since then, he has been coerced into making calls to his family to seek a trade for his life, he has been put through a show trial with no independent legal support, and he has been given an arbitrary and unjustified death sentence—all without any access for the Red Cross. He is a prisoner of war, and many of those actions, sanctioned by Russia, are against the Geneva convention. Will my right hon. Friend redouble her efforts to work with Russia to secure Red Cross access to Shaun and other British citizens held by Russian proxies in Ukraine?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that on behalf of Shaun Pinner and the other British citizens who are being wrongly detained. They are prisoners of war; they were fighting legitimately for the Ukrainian army. Those actions by Russian proxies are completely abhorrent. We are working very closely with the Ukrainian authorities to seek the urgent release of those people.
At the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the Ukrainian school in my constituency, which has seen a massive surge in numbers from 250 students to approximately 900 students. It is also employing refugees who were teachers in Ukraine but now live in London, so that Ukrainian pupils can continue their Ukrainian lessons and get their qualifications. Will my right hon. Friend talk to her counterpart in the Department for Education to see if we can give that Ukrainian school any support, financial or otherwise?
The Ukrainian community in the UK has been a vital part of our response. I was pleased to visit the Ukrainian club in Bolton; I know that there are many such clubs, schools and other institutions around the country. I will certainly talk to my colleagues in the Department for Education about potentially visiting the school and seeing what more can be done. I am pleased to say that 95,000 people have now been granted visas to come to the United Kingdom, and they are contributing to life in the UK and, of course, to our aim of supporting Ukraine in this appalling war.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and everything that she and the whole Government are doing to support our friends in Ukraine.
If I may return to the issue of getting the grain out of Ukraine, the commitments that my right hon. Friend has made are welcome, but what further reassurance can she give the House that in the talks that she is having and the plans that are being put together, there is an awareness of the severe time sensitivity? With grain stores full now and harvests nearly upon us, if we do not solve this problem within weeks, it will go on for years.
I commend the Foreign Secretary and the Opposition Front-Bench team for their resolute support for Ukraine, which was expressed again today. How is she working with our international allies inside and outside NATO to ensure that their support is unwavering as well?
My hon. Friend is right that the Ukrainian people have the support of both sides of this House, and of all the people of the United Kingdom. When we look at opinion surveys on the level of support for Ukraine, it is significant that the United Kingdom is always near the top of the list, alongside Poland and our friends in the United States. We can see that from the Ukrainian flags flying in towns and villages right across the United Kingdom. That, along with the steps that we are taking by providing the weapons and putting on more sanctions—we put more on today—helps to encourage others that this war can be won. We need to make sure that the Ukrainian people continue to have hope that there will be a better future, and the way they can get that is through the strong support of the international community. I am proud that the United Kingdom has led on the supply of weapons and on sanctions. We will continue to do that and continue to work with our allies to move forward.