I beg to move,
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
This week, the war that President Putin expected to last just three days reaches a year in duration. Russian forces have killed thousands of Ukrainians. Eighteen million Ukrainians have left their homes. Thousands have been forcibly deported to Russia. Historic cities now lie in ruins. Russia has targeted hospitals, schools and energy supplies, and because of Russia’s blockade of the Black sea ports and its economic blackmail, some of the world’s poorest people are now paying higher prices for food, energy and the means of survival.
In the areas liberated from Russian forces, the Ukrainians have uncovered mass graves, as well as evidence of rape and torture on an unimaginable scale. Putin is responsible for this. His invasion was unprovoked and it was illegal. He could stop it at once by withdrawing his forces from Ukrainian land, but he is making the lives of millions of people hell for the sake of his imperial delusions. He blundered into a war that he cannot and will not win. Ukrainians were always going to resist a hostile attack aimed at wiping out their country.
Early last year, in New York, I predicted that if Putin were foolish enough to invade Ukraine, Ukrainians would defend their homeland ferociously, and I have been vindicated in that prediction. Today, they are more unified, more proud and more determined than ever. As President Zelensky said when he addressed my right hon. and hon. Friends and Members from across the House in Westminster Hall on 8 February, “freedom will win”. We and the whole world remain united and resolute in our support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and for the defence of the UN charter.
I assure my right hon. Friend—I will make reference to this later on in my remarks—that the determination of the Ukrainian people is unbounded. I will talk about what further support we might give them later on in my speech.
The UK and Ukraine stand side by side in the face of this aggression. We have become the closest of friends and the most committed of partners. We are inspired by its heroism and by the resilience of the Ukrainian people. We come together as never before; we share a common purpose.
When I go out in my constituency, I am struck, a year on, by the support of the British people. Despite the adversity they face with cost of living pressures, they still think this is the right thing to do. Does the Secretary of State agree?
The British people, in every corner of the United Kingdom, have demonstrated a generosity of spirit that is admirable. That should make every single Member of this House proud.
Ukraine’s heroic armed forces have already recaptured thousands of square miles from the Russians, driving them out of more than half of all the territory it grabbed last year. But Putin shows no sign of withdrawing his forces. If we are to change his mind, Ukraine will need to take back more land. Today, the Russian army is on the defensive, morale is pitiful, casualties are immense, and its troops are running out of key weapons and ammunition. This is exactly the right moment for Ukraine to seize the advantage. That is why we and our allies must step up our effort to ensure that Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace. Justice must be served on those responsible for war crimes and atrocities, in accordance with international law.
The Foreign Secretary has made an outstanding start to the debate. Last week, the Vice-President of the United States said that the US has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity. Has His Majesty’s Government now come formally to the same conclusion?
We are looking very closely at the evidence that is being compiled. While we have not made a formal designation, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, and other right hon. and hon. Members across the House, that we will ensure that those who are responsible for atrocities, whether in the field or right up to the desk of Vladimir Putin himself, will be held accountable.
I thank the Foreign Secretary and welcome the Government’s move to freeze the assets of Russians engaged in supporting the Putin regime. The EU has already set out a plan for how it will move frozen assets into a rebuilding programme for Ukraine. Our good friends and allies, the Canadians, have also set out in legislation how they will be doing that. What is causing the delay with respect to the UK? Why have we dithered while others have acted?
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his assessment of how far forward other countries are in this situation. We are all looking at how we can ensure—I will make reference to this later in my speech—that the people responsible for the damage will ultimately pay for the damage. The facts are that he is wrong about how far forward other nations are. On Canada, I discussed the issue with Foreign Minister Joly on my recent visit. We have a similar legal system and it is testing the legal parameters. We will, of course, learn from its experience.
I thank the Foreign Secretary very much for his positive response—we expect that and thank him for it. Reports are filtering through about systematic rape, abuse and sexual attacks on women of all ages, from as young as four to as old as 83. They are systematic and approved at the top of the Russian Government and their troops. On taking action and collating all the evidence to ensure that those perpetrating these depraved and evil acts are held accountable, I am sure the Foreign Secretary will give the House the assurance it needs, but we need it as a nation as well.
That is an extremely important point, and one that, again, I will refer to later in my speech. I will say now, however, that when I visited Kyiv and Irpin and spoke with Ukrainians, and when I also spoke with Ukrainians during our Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict conference here in London, the testimonies that I heard were genuinely heartbreaking, and I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the perpetrators will not go unpunished.
As other Members have said, we are seeing terrible atrocities in Ukraine, and in retrospect this awful situation may be classified as a genocide. This is not the first time that Russia has undertaken a genocide; it did so in 1932-33 with the Holodomor, but we as a country do not recognise that as a genocide. I hope that when this is over—as soon as possible—we can look again at the Holodomor, in which millions of people were murdered, as they are being murdered now, and reclassify and recognise it formally as a genocide, as many other countries already do.
That is another extremely important point, to which I referred when I made some brief comments to the press after my meeting with Foreign Minister Kuleba in Kyiv. It would obviously be wrong to prejudge how this is defined in the future, but we know, because we have heard Vladimir Putin say it himself, that his intention is to eradicate the whole concept of Ukraine.
I will make some more progress, because a number of the interventions made so far have touched on points that I was planning to make in my speech, but I assure my right hon. Friend that I will give him an opportunity to intervene later.
Increased military support for Ukraine is the quickest and therefore the most humane way to end this war. I witnessed the extraordinary courage and resolve of the Ukrainian people when I travelled to Kyiv and Irpin three months ago: I saw for myself, and I understand fully, that they will defend themselves and their land whatever the cost may be. They will never give in. They will never surrender. Russia’s untrained conscripts, sent to the frontline of a war that makes no sense to them, will never be able to match Ukraine’s martial spirit. That is why Ukraine is going to win, and that is why we must ensure that it wins as quickly as possible.
The UK’s military, humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine since the invasion started has reached nearly £4 billion. I pay tribute to, and commend, my right hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) for the decisiveness and resolve, in the early stage of this conflict, which gave the Ukrainians a fighting chance, enabled them to defend their capital city, and bought them the time they needed to push back the Russian forces. I am very glad that both my right hon. Friends are present.
We are proud to be the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine, after the United States of America. We were the first country to provide the weapons that Ukraine needed to defend itself. In 2023 we shall at the very least match the £2.3 billion of military aid that we gave last year, and we shall add more advanced capabilities across land, sea and air.
My right hon. Friend referred to the importance of holding Russia to account for its crimes. He will be aware of the action that is already under way in both the International Criminal Court and in the Ukrainian judicial system, but can he confirm that the Government now support the establishment of a special international tribunal to pursue Russia for the crime of aggression?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We have joined a working group to look at a special vehicle for full accountability, because, as I said in response to an earlier intervention, it is not enough just to hold to account the people committing the rapes, murders and brutality; we must ensure that those who are ordering them to do so and facilitating that brutality are also held to account.
My right hon. Friend is right to commend the heroism of the Ukrainian armed forces, which has been second to none. Our military aid is therefore absolutely paramount and we are right to give it. There is clearly a continent-wide challenge that embraces all of NATO around our ammunition supplies and our ability to sustain the war effort in Ukraine in the way that is going to be required. Can he commit that we are reassessing as a matter of urgency our defence stocks, which must be severely depleted at this juncture, to make sure that we can sustain the effort, however long it takes?
My right hon. Friend is right to say that we need to support the Ukrainians until they are victorious. I have made the point on the international stage, including at the Munich security conference at the tail end of last week and over the weekend, that this equipment and this ammunition is to be used to fight in that theatre against that enemy. We are lucky that the young men and women who are conducting that fight are Ukrainians rather than British. We therefore have an enhanced duty to ensure that they are successful. I say to anyone in the international community or among our allies who is thinking of holding back their stocks for a rainy day: this is the rainy day.
Leading on from that, Biden has pledged a further $500 million for weapons, and we have given £2.3 billion from here. What message do we have for our European colleagues and those across the world on supporting us to come forward and make sure that Ukraine is successful?
I have had this conversation with NATO allies and others. This is not just about ensuring that Ukraine can defend its sovereignty, territory and people; as I will come on to later in my remarks, this is about defending the UN charter and the international order that has kept us safe since the end of the last war. All countries that believe in defending those principles should make every effort to assist Ukraine at this time.
We will give the Ukrainian forces the upper hand on the battlefield so that they can reverse Russia’s gains and limit Putin’s ability to target civilian infrastructure. We must also develop their force structures and capability so that they can build a deterrence force for the future. Over the last six months we have trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops to bring them up to battle readiness, and we will upskill a further 20,000 this year. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week, we will train Ukrainian fast jet pilots and marines as part of a long-term investment in their military capabilities.
When the Prime Minister and President Zelensky met earlier this month, they underscored our joint determination to achieve a just and sustainable peace. We shall work together in international organisations to achieve that, and to defend the principles of the UN charter. I am travelling to New York this week to speak on Ukraine in the UN Security Council. I will tell the truth about Putin’s brutality and Ukraine’s heroism, but we must always increase our efforts, with partners, to tackle the steady drip of poisonous Russian propaganda and lies. We will work together to help Ukrainian grain to reach world markets. The Black sea grain initiative and the Grain from Ukraine initiative boost food security for the world’s most vulnerable people.
I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. On the subject of training pilots, the aircraft that we have—the Lightning and the Typhoon—are totally incompatible with fighting in Ukraine. They require large sustainment and they operate from bases well away from in theatre. The aircraft that could be ideal is the Gripen, which the Swedes have. We do not have the people to train the pilots and we do not have the aircraft or the simulators on which to do it, so I am slightly concerned when the Foreign Secretary says that we are going to train pilots. I wonder how we will do it.
As my right hon. and gallant Friend knows, I am a good, old-fashioned team gunner, so I understand ballistic artillery and very little else, but I am assured by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, in close co-ordination with our Ukrainian friends, that the training contribution we are making is genuinely valuable and very much valued.
It is said that war is easy but peace is hard, which ignores the fact that war is never easy and that peace is a light we must all attempt to pursue to avoid an escalation of hostilities. The Secretary of State will be aware that the devastation caused by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria will have an impact on our ability to maintain the Black sea grain deal. What support is being offered to Turkey, and what is the UN doing to secure the position of food supplies to the rest of the world?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is not directly linked to the subject of this debate, but I can reassure him that I have been in regular contact with the Turkish Foreign Minister with regard to our ongoing support to Turkey and north-west Syria as they attempt to deal with the terrible consequences of the earthquake. I committed to keeping the House informed in my urgent statement, and I will make sure I do.
Given the number of people in the Chamber, I will try to make progress before taking another intervention.
In addition to our £2.3 billion of military support, we are providing more than £1.6 billion of non-military assistance, some £1.35 billion in lending guarantees through the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, £100 million in direct budgetary assistance and £220 million in humanitarian support.
Talking about gunnery, the Ukrainians are managing to maintain barrages of between 5,000 and 6,000 shells and rockets a day—they are probably receiving barrages of 20,000 a day from the Russians—which is equivalent to a small NATO country’s annual procurement before the war. Is my right hon. Friend confident that we and the Americans have the industrial capacity not only to maintain our current level of support to the Ukrainians but to increase it without diminishing our own stocks, which are getting fiendishly low?
The simple truth is that we have to make sure we provide the Ukrainians with the ammunition they need to get the job done. Our industrial base will have to step up a gear, I have no doubt, but we should be confident that our NATO allies, including the industrial might of the United States of America, will considerably outmatch the capability of the Russian Federation to produce ammunition.
I give the House notice that I now intend to make progress. Our vital humanitarian assistance, delivered through the United Nations, the Red Cross and non-governmental organisations, is saving lives and helping to protect the most vulnerable in Ukraine and those forced to flee Russian attacks. The ongoing attacks on civilian infrastructure underscore Putin’s increasing desperation, and we have provided £22 million in direct support to Ukraine’s energy sector. This includes £7 million for more than 850 generators to ensure vital facilities such as hospitals have power.
I will make progress.
And we are providing £5 million for safety and security equipment for the civil nuclear sector.
We are working closely with international partners to reduce their energy dependence on Russia. The UK phased out Russian coal from August 2022 and banned imports of Russian liquefied natural gas from the start of this year. In December, alongside the G7 and Australia, we set a price cap on seaborne Russian crude oil to restrict Putin’s primary source of revenue for his illegal war. Despite elevated oil prices, Russia’s Finance Ministry has reported a $47 billion deficit in 2022, because of the decisive action we have taken. We will continue to work with partners to cut off Russia’s hydrocarbon revenues and accelerate the global transition to clean, reliable sources of power.
We have also imposed our largest and most severe package of sanctions ever against Russia. With our allies, we have frozen more than £275 billion-worth of Russian assets; in addition to the 1,200 individuals already sanctioned, we will introduce new measures against those in Russia and outside it who are supporting or profiteering from this war. We will crack down ruthlessly on those who seek to evade sanctions.
Abuses and violations of human rights have been committed by Russian forces on a systematic scale: torture and killing of civilians; rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war; and forced deportations. We will not allow these crimes to go unpunished. We will support the war crimes investigations, those of both the Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court. In March, the UK will host a major international meeting to support the ICC in investigating alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
When this war is over, Ukraine can never again be left vulnerable to attack. A strong Ukraine must be safe, flourishing and prosperous. With our Ukrainian friends, we will co-host the 2023 Ukraine recovery conference on 21 and 22 June, here in London. Together, we plan to mobilise the combined might of public and private finance to ensure that Ukraine gets the vital reconstruction investment that it needs. I know that this House will join me in calling on Putin to withdraw Russian forces from Ukrainian territory and immediately bring an end to the barbaric attacks against civilians. The Ukrainians have endured months of relentless attacks and bombardment, but their spirit is unbroken. We share their determination that Putin’s illegal attempted invasion will fail and this House demands that justice be done.
One year ago, we gathered in this Chamber fearing the worst. Alongside the shadow Defence Secretary, I had just returned from Kyiv. Russian forces were massed on Ukraine’s border, the intelligence picture was bleak, and the spectre of tanks rolling across the borders of 21st century Europe seemed both inconceivable and yet imminent. 24 February 2022 was a dark day for Europe. That morning, President Putin launched the largest conflict on our continent since the second world war. This illegal, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of choice has left tens of thousands dead; millions displaced from their homes; billions-worth of damage inflicted on Ukraine’s infrastructure; families torn apart; landmines strewn across once golden fields; and the dark trail of atrocities pockmarking the Ukrainian countryside.
Putin believed this would be a short war. He thought it would be an easy war. He thought that Ukraine would fold without a fight, perhaps because, in his warped world view, he thought these Russian invaders would be welcomed as liberators. He thought the west was weak and divided, but he was wrong on every count. Instead, Putin’s folly has been met with unity and strength. Ukrainians have paid a bitter price for this war, but they have defended their land with courage, ingenuity and that relentless commitment that comes from a righteous cause. Russia stands isolated and condemned on the international stage, its economy hamstrung by severe sanctions. NATO, rather than weakened, has been strengthened and invigorated, with new members poised to join. The transatlantic alliance has stayed united and this House, too, has stood united.
That was the message that President Zelensky received when he visited Westminster. It was a message that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) took to Kyiv personally last week: Britain stands united behind Ukraine. In that spirit, I want to pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary and our two former Prime Ministers, who deserve credit for the roles they have played. On Britain’s military help to Ukraine and on reinforcing NATO allies, the Government have had and will continue to have Labour’s fullest support.
This is pertinent because the Leader of the Opposition was not the only Member of Parliament in Ukraine last week, as I was there. Along with six constituents, I took 112 generators to the people of Ukraine. We have worked tirelessly since December to raise nearly £40,000 to take aid there. There was a bomb the night we were in Lviv, but luckily we were all safe. On our return journey, we took a little girl, her mother and their pet back to the UK, to a host family in Guildford, because they had had their home destroyed. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that this Government have done an awful lot of work to help the people of Ukraine, but will he also pay tribute to everyday men and women, throughout the entire UK, including my constituents, who have literally given up their day jobs to raise money and take humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, with whom they stand shoulder to shoulder? I can say now that the resolve and bravery of the people we met and the aid agency is unshakeable.
The hon. Gentleman is right: in sometimes fractious times in our country, the spirit of the British people and their generosity has known no bounds. Their compassion is humbling and their desire to continue to stand steadfast alongside the Ukrainian people is a tribute to our nation. We can also all be proud of the role our armed forces are playing in training Ukrainian forces. We can be proud of the contribution of our diplomats and our brilliant ambassador, Melinda Simmons, on the ground in Kyiv. As has been said, we can be proud of the way British families have opened their homes to Ukrainians fleeing war and supported their cause from home.
Putin’s war in Ukraine marks the end of the post-cold war era and we need a new mindset for these challenging times. The past year has illustrated some hard lessons. First, it has laid bare how naive and complacent we have been about Russian malign intent in this country and others. The invasion exposed a decade of chronic inaction against dirty money from Russia and other authoritarian states, which saw Kremlin-linked oligarchs and kleptocrats use London as both the hiding place and service industry for their ill-gotten gains. It should never have taken the invasion of Ukraine for us to act and although some progress has been made, the job is far from done. Labour will continue to hold the Government to account until Britain is no longer a soft touch for illicit finance.
Secondly, as the Defence Secretary himself conceded, for a decade we have hollowed out and underfunded our armed forces. Many in Europe believed that the era of wars between states was over. We reshaped our security, defence, intelligence and diplomacy to tackle different threats, allowing core capabilities to dwindle. Even when Putin broke international law and invaded his neighbours, our responses were weak. That must change, beginning with the immediate need for a stockpiles strategy to sustain support for Ukraine and rearm Britain.
As someone, not alone, who has called on both Front Benches for a very long time to commit to spend 3% of GDP on defence—a figure that we were still spending in the mid-1990s after the end of the cold war—I am used to hearing people say that we need to spend more when they are not in a position to do so. Could the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that if he were in a position of power, we would reach 3% of GDP as a minimum on defence?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee for all that he has said on this issue over many years. We in my party have committed to a defence review on day one if we were to come to office. I gently remind him that throughout our previous period in office, spending on defence per capita was higher than today, standing at 2.5% when we left office. We are seeing what is happening across the European continent—so many European countries are committed to spending more, including the 3% that he indicates. We must play our part alongside France, as 50% of Europe’s defence capability.
My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary will be aware of reports of Russian attempts to subvert Moldovan democracy and interfere in its political institutions. That could have far-reaching consequences for the war in Ukraine and for broader European security. Does he agree that the UK Government must act urgently to support Moldova and its democracy before the situation worsens?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of Moldova and its vulnerability at this time. I fully suspect that other Members will return to this issue in the course of the debate. Moldova is feeling very worried one year on from the start of the war. We must stand with them. My hon. Friend is right to refer to the cyber-terrorism alongside it that has become a benchmark of Putin’s aggression.
Thirdly, we must never again allow ourselves to become dependent on autocrats and their fossil fuels for our energy. Decarbonisation is now a vital national security imperative. The faster we can transition to clean power, the quicker we can undermine Putin’s war effort. Every solar panel is a shield to Putin’s aggression; every wind farm a defence against dependency. In developing our home-grown energy systems we can build the green jobs and the transformational industry of the future.
Fourthly, we are reminded of the essential relationship with our European allies. We have shared interests, shared geography and common values with our neighbours in Europe. NATO will always be the anchor of our defence and the cornerstone of European security, but it is more important than ever that we have strong diplomatic partnerships with our European allies and a close, co-operative relationship with the EU itself. This is too serious a time to be starting unnecessary fights or engaging in petty diplomatic squabbles.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the war, it is obvious that we are entering a new and dangerous phase. Last week, NATO and western intelligence agencies warned that Putin had started amassing fighter jets and helicopters near the Ukrainian border—a sign that as we enter spring, Putin is adopting a new approach to the war that could see greater use of Russian air power to support its faltering land offensive. In recent days, both Ukrainian and NATO officials have warned of ammunition shortages, dwindling domestic stockpiles and supply chains under increased pressure. If Ukraine is to prevail over what Putin will throw at it, the UK and our allies should set aside individual announcements and instead lay out a long-term strategy to provide the support that Ukraine needs, whether it be ammunition, additional air defence capabilities or NATO-standard weaponry.
We need to ensure that Ukraine has our total support to tackle the Russian threat from air and land. Alongside that military assistance, we need a new diplomatic drive to sustain and broaden the diplomatic coalition against this war. Russia’s invasion was an attack not just on Ukraine but on the international order itself. It is perhaps the most egregious violation of the UN charter since it was written: a sovereign UN member invaded by a permanent member of the Security Council.
We need to work with Ukraine and partners around the world to make clear the truth of this war and counter Putin’s propaganda; to make it clear that it is Russia that has chosen this war; it is Russia that is the aggressor; it is Russia that is willing to use global hunger as a bargaining chip; it is Russia that is trying to change international borders through force. We will be less secure if that aggression is allowed to succeed.
Our support for Ukraine must entail action at home as well as abroad. At home here in the UK, we must complete the job and get our own house in order. That means tackling Putin’s kleptocracy, closing the loopholes that continue to exist in our sanctions regime and properly enforcing our own laws on illicit finance. We will go still further. Russian rockets and Iranian drones have destroyed Ukraine’s hospitals, energy plants and homes. Whole villages, towns and cities have been reduced to dust, rubble and ruin. By some estimates, the damage to infrastructure is more than $100 billion. Without proper funding, the essential task of rebuilding Ukraine will take decades to complete.
As long ago as July 2022, the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), said that the Government supported using frozen Russian assets to support Ukraine. But since then, we have heard nothing. Sure, the right hon. Lady will refer to that in her speech later. The EU has already set out a plan to shift frozen assets into a fund to help rebuild Ukraine. As has been said, Canada has already legislated to do that, so why have our Government not done the same? Ukrainians do not have the luxury of time. This is an urgent point, so I ask the Foreign Secretary once more: what steps have this Government taken since July 2022 to ensure that seized Russian state assets can be used for the benefit of Ukraine? Further, will the Government support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), which would allow Russian state assets to be used for that same purpose?
Throughout the horrific last 12 months, the body of evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine has grown and grown. On a weekly basis we hear horrific reports of mass graves discovered in liberated areas. On the TV, we see sickening videos of schools, hospitals and churches bombed to destruction, and innocent civilians murdered and tortured. These crimes demand accountability and they demand justice. We strongly support all international efforts to document, investigate and prosecute these crimes. Again, we believe we should go further.
Since March, Labour has been calling on the Government to support the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Putin and his top brass for the crime of aggression. The Foreign Secretary knows that, while the International Criminal Court can investigate war crimes committed in Ukraine, it cannot investigate Russia for the crime of aggression. Only a special tribunal, working alongside the ICC, can ensure that this gap of accountability is bridged. The Ukrainian people want this tribunal. Zelensky wants this tribunal. The EU Commission wants this tribunal. France, Germany, Estonia, Latvia and countless others have called for it. So will the Foreign Secretary commit to its creation and, if so, what steps has he taken to make it happen?
Finally, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated more clearly than ever before how our security is connected with the security of the rest of Europe. The past 12 months have shown vividly what can be achieved when we stand united with our allies on the other side of the channel.
My right hon. Friend is making a brilliant speech. Was he as surprised as I was that there was so little mention of that kind of threat in the Integrated Review? Does he support the call that the next iteration of that Integrated Review absolutely has to put the re-containment of Russia centre stage?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has been crystal clear on that from the Back Benches. We await that review, but what he says has to be central. We must get it right. Obviously, we will scrutinise it in every detail. In many of the areas that have been critical to supporting Ukraine defend herself against Russia—sanctions, energy security and defence—our co-operation with the European Union has been critical—it has been critical to our support for Ukraine and, through that, Ukraine’s survival. It is more important than ever that we have strong structured mechanisms for dialogue and co-operation with our allies in Europe. That is why Labour has proposed a new UK-EU security pact that could cover deeper co-operation on foreign policy, defence, security and law enforcement.
Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable, yet the UK’s leadership in NATO could be at risk, with growing concerns over our capacity to meet NATO’s obligations in full. While 20 NATO nations have revised their defence strategies since the start of the invasion, this Government have not done so, so I ask the Foreign Secretary: will the Government commit to rebooting our defence plans, and will they halt their planned cuts to the British Army?
I support all that has been said about the need for a long-term plan to defeat Putin and to see justice done. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that we should heed the calls of not only Ukrainian civil society to provide more support for their lawyers and judges on the ground so that they can hear the tens of thousands of cases in Ukrainian courts, but the calls for psycho-social support for those Ukrainians who are going through trauma and who will need to be supported once Putin has been defeated?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. Earlier last month, I spent time with women in Kosovo, who reminded me of the horrors of war and sexual violence. In their own pain, they told me about the work that they were doing to help their Ukrainian sisters at this desperate time. It reminded me of the importance of that psycho-social support and the huge humanitarian effort in which we and others must play a part, not just over the next months, but for many, many years to come.
Inevitably, some people will flee the Russian advance that is coming in the spring, and some might reach the United Kingdom. Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that proper provision must be made to welcome them and also to find permanent accommodation for them if necessary?
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is why so many British people have opened their homes to Ukrainians at this desperate time. Of course, as this new offensive begins, there will most likely be further need over the coming months.
It is important to stress that this war did not begin for the Ukrainians one year ago. In fact, it begun in 2014 when Putin moved into the Donbas and when he annexed Crimea. One year ago, we hoped for the best, yet, faced with what seemed like unsurmountable odds, we feared the worst, but Ukraine stands defiant. The price Ukrainians have paid for their continued freedom is immense: tens of thousands of people lost; cities destroyed; and families shattered. While Ukraine stands tall, Putin stands condemned and isolated. While Ukraine has won the admiration and respect of the world, Putin’s ego has made Russia a pariah. While Putin expected the west to fracture and divide, his actions have drawn us together. But we cannot become complacent. In the coming weeks and months, Ukraine will yet again face new challenges and hardships designed by Putin to test her resolve and the resolve of us all. It is our duty to the people of Ukraine to do all we can to ensure that the country overcomes these challenges, in the same way that it has all the others. Ukraine must and will prevail.
I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary for the quality of their speeches this afternoon.
In the year since Vladimir Putin launched his vicious and unnecessary war in Ukraine he has failed in almost all of his objectives. He has failed to take Kyiv. He has been sent scuttling from the Kharkiv region. He has been forced to evacuate Kherson. He has cost the lives of at least 60,000 Russian troops, and seen probably more than 100,000 injured. In the areas that he has occupied in Ukraine, he has created a new Flanders Fields of mud, trenches and blasted trees, where months of high-intensity shelling and bloodshed produced gains that could be measured in yards. He has been forced to such desperate expedients as sending to the front prisoners or terrified members of ethnic minorities recruited from remote provinces. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out in his powerful speech, he is running pitifully low on the technically advanced weaponry that he increasingly needs.
The seemingly irresistible force of the Russian military is breaking on the immoveable object of Ukrainian resistance. We in this House remain lost in admiration for the Ukrainians, for their heroism and for the continued inspiration that they are given by Volodymyr Zelensky. Yet it remains all too possible that Putin can still achieve something that he can call a victory. All that he needs to do is hang on to some piece of land that he has conquered and the signal will go around the world that aggression can pay, and that borders can be changed by force. All he needs to do to claim some kind of victory is to continue the cynical policy that he has followed since the first invasion of 2014, which the shadow Foreign Secretary rightly dwelt on, to use his foothold in Ukraine to destabilise the whole country.
Unless Putin is purged from Ukrainian territory, he will twist his knife in the wound. He will bide his time. He will wait until he can attack again. He will continue to menace the lives of the Georgians, the Moldovans—as the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) rightly pointed out—the Balts, and everyone living in the periphery of the old Soviet empire. Unless he is finally defeated in Ukraine, Putin’s revanchist ambitions will be unchecked. That is why it is so crucial that we now accelerate our support for Ukraine and give them the tools to finish the job. We can all be proud of what successive Governments have done to help the Ukrainians whose armed forces continue to fight like lions. Indeed, it is they who deserve the credit, but we should be in no doubt that western equipment has been invaluable.
The story of the past 12 months is that, sooner or later, having exhausted all the other options, we give them what they need—from anti-tank missiles to HIMARS to tanks. If the choice is sooner or later, then, for heaven’s sake, let us give these weapons sooner. It is absurd for western supporters to keep pressing the Ukrainians, as they did at the Munich security conference, on how long this is going to take; the answer to that question is to a large extent determined by us.
It is a fine thing that we have finally promised tanks, but there is no conceivable ground for delay in getting them to Ukraine. We need those machines—Abrams, Challengers, Leopards—to make a real difference in real time in the next few weeks, not next year. It is admirable that we are proposing to train Ukrainian fighters to fly NATO fast jets—I hear the caution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—but it is curious that we are doing so before we have even taken the decision in principle to give them the planes. Let us cut to the chase and give them the planes too. If the House was in any doubt about the urgency of increasing our supply of equipment to the Ukrainians, it is becoming ever clearer that China is preparing to arm the Russians.
The Ukrainians have shown what they can do. They have the elan and the courage to sweep Putin from their lands, and they have the inestimable psychological advantage that they are fighting for hearth and home. With the right kit, including more long-range artillery, they can punch through the land bridge, cut off Crimea and deal a knockout blow to Putin’s plans, and they should not stop there.
It is time for us all to end our obfuscation about what we think of as a Ukrainian victory and what we think of as Ukraine. The Ukrainians must be helped to restore not just the borders of 24 February last year, but the 1991 borders on which they voted for independence. It was the west’s collective weakness in 2014, its effective acquiescence in Putin’s aggression, that helped to convince him that he could launch an attack last year. Whatever the good intentions of the Normandy format, we cannot say that it was a success; nor, frankly, can we say that the UK was right to absent ourselves from that format and from those discussions. We must not make that mistake again.
After a year of slaughter, we must do more collectively to show the people of Russia what they are losing by Putin’s misrule. We should tighten the sanctions on oil and gas wherever we can. I hear the arguments that hon. Members make about the need to use frozen assets and, whatever the complexities, I think the House deserves to hear those arguments properly thrashed out. We should be making it clear to Putin’s entire war machine, as well as to the regime in the Kremlin, that they will be held to account for their crimes, for the torture, rape, and indiscriminate killing they have sponsored. We must show them that the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind small.
We should designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, placing that country where it now rightly belongs on the list that includes Cuba, North Korea and Syria—and, by the way, we should designate the infamous and bloodthirsty Wagner Group a foreign terrorist organisation. That is a badge that is now richly deserved and long overdue.
I am just winding up.
Above all, we must give the Ukrainians what they need to win this war this year. By ensuring that Ukraine wins and Putin fails, we are making the best and most financially efficient investment in the long-term security of not just the Euro-Atlantic area, but the whole world. We all know that we in this country made a promise to Ukraine under the 1994 Budapest memorandum, when the Ukrainians gave up their vast nuclear arsenal. We said we would come to their aid in the event of an attack. Now is the time, finally, to do what we can to honour that promise. The Ukrainians are fighting not just for their freedom, but for the cause of freedom around the world. We should give them what they need, not next month, not next year, but now.
I start by echoing much of what has been said. It is very rare for us in this place to be in accord with one another—would that it was not the case that we had to talk about this at all, but it is, and on Ukraine we are in full accord.
I want to touch on some international comparisons. Estonia proposes an EU-wide ammunition purchase programme for supplying Ukraine. It would not have to be through the EU—pan-European or pan-NATO is probably a more helpful term in this legislature—but we need something to increase the co-ordination and depth of the ongoing ammunition delivery programme. I do not want in any way to undermine that which has been achieved, but it is quite clear that Russia is looking to prosecute a war of attrition for a very long time, and it would be helpful to demonstrate to the Kremlin that the west will meet that with renewed resurgence in its supplies to Ukraine.
Of course, doing so depletes the United Kingdom’s defence supplies and the supply chain has been caught short. That is not their fault, but the fault of a slightly less than strategic defence procurement plan—dating back many Defence Procurement Ministers, I hasten to add. We must ensure that we step that up at renewed pace. Interestingly, Norway has passed a five-year, £6.15 billion Ukraine support package and the terms on which it will be expended will be decided in concert with those in Ukraine. I wonder whether the UK should seek to emulate that, with ringfenced, dedicated funds over the next five years to send, again, a strong message.
I am not suggesting to the Foreign Secretary that the UK has not chipped in—of course it has, with many billions of pounds and no small measure of moral support as well—but such measures would help to show Putin that we are not going away and we are not shrinking from the challenge, however he wishes to present it. Canada, as other hon. Members have touched on, has changed its law to allow the seizure of Russian funds and started the process of seizing a first batch of frozen funds to send to Ukraine. The UK should follow suit in short order.
What progress has the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office made with our friends in India, to demonstrate to them that it is not acceptable to ride two horses in this way and that Russia’s criminality cannot just be dealt with by turning a blind eye or holding their nose on the altar of cheap oil prices? It is either in the rules-based international system, or it is not; I wonder whether that information has been conveyed to India in the most robust terms by the United Kingdom.
China is a concern. We in the west need to develop a narrative that goes beyond cultural differences, that is not open to interpretation and that lays out extremely clearly to Beijing that, if it were ever to make the miscalculation to supply Russia with arms, munitions and other supplies that would help it to prolong this egregious invasion of Ukraine, that would be met with very significant consequences from the west. I would be interested to know what the United Kingdom Government are doing in that respect.
I will get on to air power in a minute, but the threat of escalation by Russia is material and we should concentrate closely on it. Over the last 12 months we have, perhaps understandably, mithered over the definition of whether something is lethal or defensive, whether it is tactical or strategic, and now, we have moved that on to air power. Ukraine has received an extraordinarily large amount of financial support and military assistance, but there is a pattern perhaps coming into view whereby Ukraine gets the weapons it was previously asking for while it is asking for the next set of weapons. We should redouble our focus on what, whether or which we can do to support Ukraine with air power.
In terms of logistics, as I have mentioned, the west, or certainly the United Kingdom, is running out of surplus or even stores in ready use and further equipment purchases will need to be made. However, I do not have confidence that the supply chain of the defence procurement apparatus as it exists currently in the United Kingdom is up to that job. I would welcome any reassurance that the Secretary of State can give me in that regard.
We should commit to a multi-year spending package of ringfenced money to support Ukraine; again, that would provide the clearest possible message. I am pleased, to a certain extent, that the United Kingdom is training combat pilots for Ukraine, but I am left wondering to what end. I also wonder what is happening to the combat pilots in training with the Royal Air Force, some of whom—I am not making this up—are having to wait eight or even nine years to become qualified. What is the knock-on effect of training Ukraine’s combat air pilots? That is not to say that it is not the right thing to do, but every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and we should see the whole picture before we celebrate perhaps prematurely.
The fast-jet training programme that the hon. Gentleman is referring to, which is known as the military flying training system, is broken and everyone involved in aviation knows it. But we also have some tranche 1 Typhoons that have a lot of time left in their airframes and are sitting in a warehouse having been taken out of RAF service. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if given to the Ukrainians, a squadron of those could do a lot more to defend freedom, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) suggested a few moments ago, than it could sitting in a warehouse gathering dust?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. He asks whether I agree with him, and I am afraid that I do not. My understanding is that although tranche 1 Typhoons may have hours left, by the time the penalty factor for what they did when they were flying is applied, there would not be many hours left. They may look like Typhoons, but their combat air systems are very old, and they are perhaps not exactly what Ukraine is looking for. That is nevertheless a valid point, and it leads me directly to my next point.
Not a single Typhoon in the United Kingdom is available for use by Ukraine, which makes me wonder what we are training its pilots on—unless we are training them on NATO combat air standard protocol. That is all we can do, because they will not be getting Typhoons—mark my words—and they do not actually want Typhoons. People talk about getting pilots for Ukraine, but pilots are just the tip of the arrowhead. They need maintenance crews, avionics specialists, refuellers and armourers. The logistic tail for a fourth-generation combat aircraft is enormously long, and none is quite as long as the Typhoon’s. What Ukraine actually needs is something more akin to the Gripen or the F-16, and the United Kingdom does not have any of those. That means that the United Kingdom is just part of the puzzle of working with allies in NATO and in Europe. The Gripen in particular is ideally suited to the types of facilities that Ukraine will be able to operate from.
The Secretary of State said that Ukraine must “take back more land.” I wonder how he intends for Ukraine to do that without exercising air superiority. There will be a spring offensive, as I think most Members agree. We need to make sure that that offensive belongs to Ukraine.
One year ago on Friday, I got a phone call, at 3.30 in the morning, from my private secretary at the Foreign Office telling me that Vladimir Putin had begun a whole-scale invasion into Ukraine. Air strikes and a land invasion were targeting cities across that country, including Kyiv. It was devastating news, but although it was devastating, it was not unexpected. We had been seeing for months the way in which troops were being amassed on the border of Ukraine. We had very good intelligence showing us exactly what Putin’s plans had been.
We tried for months to forestall that invasion. At the Liverpool G7 summit back in 2021, we worked with our allies to come up with a package of severe sanctions, and we warned Russia that they would be put in place in the event of an invasion. For the first time in our history, we unveiled intelligence about what the Russians were planning. They were planning to install a puppet regime in Kyiv; they were planning to install false flag operations, with a view to trying to convince the world that it was not their fault that they had invaded Ukraine and that they had been provoked. Our intelligence prevented the world from believing that.
From 2015, we started training Ukrainian troops. We were also the first European country to supply weapons to Ukraine. We called out Russia internationally. I personally visited Moscow—as did many of my counterparts—to give directly to Sergey Lavrov and others in the Russian Administration the message of the severe consequences of their actions. Nevertheless, Putin went ahead. Despite the warnings, despite what he knew would happen, he went ahead, because fundamentally, he did not believe that the Ukrainians would fight, and he did not believe that the free world would have the resolve to stand up to him. He was proven wrong in both cases.
From day one, we saw sheer bravery on the part of the Ukrainians defending their country. We saw an Administration in Kyiv whom many people had expected to leave their posts—people expected Zelensky and his Cabinet to flee the country—but they did not; they stayed there. I remember being in a videoconference that evening with the Defence Secretary, and our counterparts, who were not in Poland or the United States but in Kyiv. They were defending their country and asking us for our help in what we could do.
We did all that we could. Together with our allies, not just in the G7 but from around the world—everywhere from Australia and Singapore to Switzerland—we put on the toughest sanctions. We pushed back the Russian economy by decades. We also supplied weapons to Ukraine. Many in this Chamber have said that maybe we should have supplied weapons earlier, but I can tell them—from working inside the Government—that we did all we could, as quickly as we could, to persuade allies, and we have now built up an alliance of countries supplying those weapons. I cannot wait to see tanks and fighter jets in Ukraine helping those brave Ukrainians. We also co-ordinated with our allies an international response. At the United Nations, 141 countries stood up against the Russian invasion and what Russia had done—that, too, was unprecedented.
But let us all be honest: we should have done more earlier. The reason why Putin took the action that he did was that he did not believe that we would follow through. And we did not take him at his word. As far back as 2007, at the Munich security conference, Putin made his intentions very clear. He has talked on many occasions about creating a greater Russia. He took action, as we know, in Crimea and the Donbas, but we did not do enough. We let it pass; we collectively turned too much of a blind eye. I am afraid to say that we—not just the United Kingdom, but Europe and the free world—also imported Russian gas and oil. We saw money flow in from Russia—money that was later to be used to buy the weapons that would be used against the Ukrainian people. We also failed to take action on defending Ukraine.
As my colleague the Member for Uxbridge—[Interruption.] I apologise; as my right hon. Friend Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—let us be honest, I should have more respect after everything—commented earlier, we signed the 1994 Budapest memorandum, which guaranteed the security of Ukraine. We should have provided more weapons to Ukraine and we should have allowed Ukraine to join NATO. Can we imagine this situation if Ukraine had been a NATO member under article 5 protection? It would simply not have happened.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that Russia is, of course, to blame, but we should hold ourselves to high standards and follow through on the commitments that we make, as should our allies such as the United States.
There is unfinished business in terms of offering Ukraine the security that it needed, which is why we need to learn the lessons of what happened. Frankly, we were complacent about freedom and democracy after the cold war: we were told that it was the end of history, that freedom and democracy were guaranteed, and that we could carry on living our lives without worrying about what else had happened. We were told that there would be no challenge to those basic principles and that we had won the argument. We know now that that argument is never finally won. We need to keep winning the argument, and we need to keep defending our values with hard security and economic security, if we are to succeed.
First, we need to do all we can to make sure that Ukraine wins this war as soon as possible. Every extra day means lives lost, women violated and towns destroyed. We need to do all we can, as fast as we can—in my view, that includes fighter jets. We have had a discussion today about which are the best possible options, but having spoken to the Ukrainians about it months ago, I know that what they want is an option. Let us work with our allies to get them an option to use, otherwise they will not be able to prevail. We also need to make sure that Ukraine has the economic wherewithal to continue the fight and that we are continuing to support it internationally.
Secondly, we must not be complacent when that war is won. I do believe that Ukraine will win the war—there is no way that Russia will win the war—but we need to make sure that the future of Russia is a more positive future than the one that we enabled at the end of the cold war. What does that mean? It means that we should never again be complacent in the face of Russian money and Russian oil and gas. Instead, we should make sure that any lifting of sanctions is tied to reform in Russia. We can never again have the situation where we enable freedom and free trade between the west and Russia, and that is then used to develop a kleptocracy, which is exactly what we have seen take place.
We need to make sure that Russia pays for the crimes that it has committed and that it is held to account for the appalling atrocities and war crimes—all of them. We need to make sure that money seized from the Russian state is used to rebuild Ukraine. That is vital. Of course, we in well-off countries such as Britain should contribute, but I cannot imagine a situation where Russia simply goes ahead as if nothing has happened and does not contribute to rebuilding Ukraine. That is vital and I will be pushing for it to happen.
Thirdly, we need to learn the lesson about how we deal with authoritarian regimes more broadly. President Xi has made very clear his intentions with respect to Taiwan. We have to take those seriously. During the Russia-Ukraine conflict—the invasion by Russia of Ukraine—we have amassed, for the first time in history, a group of nations that is prepared to put on sanctions and act together. We need to formalise this grouping, which I have described as an economic NATO—the G7 plus our key allies, such as the EU, South Korea and Australia. We need to bring that group together and start developing our plans now because, although we ended up doing those things after the invasion of Ukraine, prevention is far better than cure. Let us develop these economic tools and let us be clear with China exactly what would happen if there was an escalation with respect to Taiwan. Let us be clear about that now.
Let us also make sure that Taiwan can defend itself. Let us not leave another free democracy undefended for an authoritarian regime to invade. That is a very important principle. The reality is that, as a proportion of the world’s population, fewer people are living under democracy now than 30 years ago. Can we imagine what the world will look like in 30 years’ time if we do not act now? It is not a world that I want to live in.
We have heard some excellent contributions to the debate and I am pleased about the unity that we have seen and continue to see across the United Kingdom. We need to do all we can to support Ukraine and we need to act as quickly as possible. I am familiar with the vagaries of the Government machine, after spending 10 years in various Government Departments, so I will do all I can to support my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his efforts to make sure that things happen as quickly as possible.
We also must not forget the broader arguments. Freedom and democracy are the lifeblood of our society and other free societies around the world. We need to be prepared to do all we can to defend them now, before it is too late. The fact is that being tough is what will bring us peace, and that is what we need to do.
It is a great privilege to follow the excellent speech of the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), as well as that of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy).
I will add three points to the debate: first, on the importance of how we break the balance of force that we see arranged on the ground; secondly, on how we choke the oligarchs of war who are helping to supply Putin’s war machine; and thirdly, on how we commence the pursuit of justice. There is more to say about that, because I was unhappy to hear the Foreign Secretary, who is just leaving his place, not row in behind the Vice President of the United States and say that our Government had also arrived at the conclusion that Russia was committing crimes against humanity. One has to ask, how much more evidence do they really need?
We have heard the call loud and clear from two former Prime Ministers about the need to supply what Ukraine needs now. The truth is that both sides of the conflict will find it difficult to summon the 400,000 to 500,000 troops necessary to make a breakthrough one way or the other, so the challenge that may lie ahead is that Ukraine continues to suffer the pattern of more and more troops being thrown into infantry attacks under artillery fire in the east of the country and endless missile strikes on population centres. That is a grinding, terrible waste of life.
We have to leapfrog out of this bad habit that we have gotten into where first we say no, then we say yes, with an extended time period in between. On air defence, we said no to Patriot missiles until we said yes. On tanks, we said no until, months and months later, we said yes. Now, can we please just short-circuit the process and send the F-16s as fast as possible, with trained pilots? It is great to hear that we are training pilots, but at last week’s Munich security conference there was a clear consensus among Democrats and Republicans to send a very clear message to the President of the United States that it was time that fast jets were sent to support our allies in Ukraine. We heard directly from President Zelensky, just a few yards from this Chamber, that the wings of freedom are needed today, so let us jump out of the no and get to yes as fast as possible.
We gave 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Those are very capable tanks, but in and of themselves they will not change the whole course of the war. What they did do, however, was help unlock the delivery of hundreds of Leopards. What the Ukrainians really want are MiGs, which they are familiar with using, and F-16s. By the same argument, if we gave one squadron of older Typhoons that then unlocked hundreds of MiGs and F-16s, that would be worth doing, would it not?
Personally, I think it would, but my key point to those on the Treasury Front Bench is: can we please short-circuit the time it takes to get from no to yes? We have gone through this loop—this doom loop—at least twice before, so let us short-circuit the nonsense now and crack on with it. The Treasury Front Benchers will find that there is cross-party consensus on that question, so please just put the decision in front of us from the Dispatch Box. Last week, we heard from the head of the Ukrainian air force that those fast jets are needed now in order to change the balance of power on the battlefield, but also to protect the population centres from Iranian drones as well as Russian cruise missiles. Every single day that we do not take that decision is a day when Putin is allowed to continue raining terror down, not just on the troops of the brave Ukrainian armed forces, but on the civilians of Ukraine. He is using that capability now to perpetrate war crimes, and we in this country have a moral responsibility to damn well stop him.
Secondly, we have to move harder and faster to choke to death the oligarchs of war, starting with the dogs of war at the head of the Wagner Group. Frankly, we were too slow to implement the sanctions that we now have. I am glad that this House passed the measures with cross-party consent, basically allowing us to cut and paste the EU sanctions regime with a little bit of the American regime and to get that into place. It was a shame that it took the war in Ukraine to move a little further ahead with some of the anti-kleptocracy laws that we now have, but here we are—all progress is good.
There is clear evidence, however, that sanctions are being widely evaded, with goods and oil being exported to India and China, rebadged, and then re-exported from there. Given that the Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation thinks it is okay to issue sanction waivers to Prigozhin and his lawyers, I urge Treasury Front Benchers—together with the Americans, if necessary—to get a lot tougher in clamping down on that export and re-export business, because right now that business is supplying dollars that are buying weapons to support Putin.
The symbol of a different order of things has to be a radically different approach to taking on the Wagner Group. We know that today, the Wagner Group is recruiting from prisons—it is recruiting from all over. It is mobilising forces on the eastern front in Ukraine, and frankly, it has opened a second front against democracy in Russia as well. It is active in at least five countries and has business interests in at least another 15. It is short-circuiting the sanctions regime by trading in oil, manganese, gold and uranium—you name it—so it is a matter of concern to this House that we are woefully behind the sanctions regimes that the United States and the Europeans have put in place to suffocate Prigozhin and his forces.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that we also need to try to rein in the Wagner Group’s growing influence in Africa? It is having more and more of an impact on eroding democracy in many nations across the globe, so it is about time that our Government, working with allies, try to clamp down on that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The right hon. Member for South West Norfolk talked about the need for a global alliance to defend democracy—well, that global alliance has to extend to Africa. We should be concerned about the fact that the Wagner Group is now active in five countries and is poised to make something of a breakthrough in the Sahel after the French evacuation from Mali. Frankly, we should be getting a lot tougher on the Wagner Group, and that should start with a much more comprehensive sanctions regime. When the Minister winds up, I urge him to tell us that the Government will replicate the United States sanctions regime on 21 different individuals who are associated with the Wagner Group and on 16 different corporate entities. That is three times as many sanctions as we have against individuals or businesses associated with Prigozhin.
Let us go further. On 26 January, we heard a very clear pronouncement from our allies in the United States declaring the Wagner Group to be a proscribed organisation, because it is patently a transnational criminal organisation. That contrasts with the situation a couple of weeks ago, when the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty), who is not in his place, came before the Foreign Affairs Committee. We were grateful to him for doing so, because for some time the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence could not quite decide who was the Minister responsible for taking on the Wagner Group. In due course, the machine did its job and the poor Minister was summoned before us. He was not able to say when the Wagner Group was going to be sanctioned; indeed, he extracted himself from that line of questioning by saying, of course, that it was not his job but a matter for the Home Office—joined-up Government at its very best.
What we have at the moment is not good enough. We need a clear plan, a clear timetable and a clear commitment from the Minister responding today that the Wagner Group will be sanctioned here, just as it is in the United States of America. We need a clear commitment that the individuals who have been sanctioned by the Americans and the European Union will also be sanctioned here.
Finally, while we are at it, could we now end the complete scandal of the Treasury itself licensing sanction waivers for Russian warlords to fly lawyers from London to St Petersburg to summon up a case and to sue journalists such as Eliot Higgins in English courts? What a complete scandal. To top it all, Eliot Higgins was told last week that he is the security risk, and as such cannot be allowed to go to cinema showings of the new film about the brave Mr Navalny. What have we become when we are licensing English lawyers to sue English journalists in English courts? It is not good enough. It is an outrage and it needs to stop, and we need to send a clear signal from this House this afternoon that it ends now. While the Minister is at it, he might consider paying Mr Eliot Higgins’s legal bills. This will surprise the House, but I am told that Mr Prigozhin has not paid his legal bills, which are about £116,000, while poor Mr Higgins has. He has had to cough up about £70,000, so perhaps the Government could do a little whip-round for Mr Higgins and supply an apology to him and to Bellingcat at the end of the debate.
We have to make sure that the weapons supplies are in place and that the sanctions regime is far more effective, and the third piece of the puzzle is that we have to commence the search for justice. It is excellent that the United Kingdom has come together with its allies to ensure that there are prosecutions for war crimes, but many of us in this House will want to see prosecutions for the crime of aggression as well. The abuse that has been laid out has been appalling, with murder, torture, rape, deportation, executions, electrocutions and the crimes of Bucha. The sexual assault of a four-year-old child was reported to the United Nations last week. That is why all of us in this House today should welcome the statement by the vice-president of the United States last week that the US has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity. We should make the same declaration ourselves. We should do it quickly, and I hope we will hear a gameplan for just that from the Minister at the end of the debate.
Speaking as someone who has given evidence in war crimes trials—five of them—the thing that really horrified me was that we only got a very small percentage of the people who carried out such crimes. I am talking about genocide and war against humanity. It was a percentage so small that it is almost impossible to measure. If we are going to do this properly, we have to put a heck of a lot of effort into having war crimes trials—almost more effort than with the Nuremberg trials and so on.
The whole of the House is grateful for the work of the right hon. and gallant Member, because we know that more people were prosecuted because of the work he did than otherwise would have been the case. He is absolutely right to say what he has said. It was 80 years ago that the free world came together to ensure the prosecution of the guilty at Nuremberg. The table of crimes presented was clear. It was crimes against humanity, and we should remind ourselves in this House exactly what that table of crimes entailed: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and persecution on political, racial and religious grounds. Those are precisely the crimes that President Putin has committed in Ukraine, and we must make sure, just as we did in Nuremberg, that the free world comes together once more to hold him, as well as his henchmen, to account.
It is a matter of great satisfaction that we have American visitors present today to witness the absolute unity of outlook on both sides of this Chamber. It can never be stressed too often that three concepts lie at the heart of defence and security: deterrence, containment and the unpredictability of future conflicts. To give an example of the last, one has only to look at the exchange between the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and myself on the day of the invasion. I asked him:
“If, as appears likely, Ukraine gets overwhelmed, will we offer to give sanctuary to a Government in exile, pending Ukraine’s future freedom?”
The then Prime Minister replied, quite sensibly:
“One of the points I made to President Zelensky this morning was that it might be necessary for him to find a safe place for him and his Cabinet to go.”—[Official Report, 24 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 570.]
I was quite sensible in asking that question, and my right hon. Friend was quite sensible in giving that answer because, let us be frank, not many people—at least, not many outside the Cabinet and Government of Ukraine—thought that Ukraine had much chance of resisting what appeared to be, and indeed was, a massive, albeit ill-conceived, onslaught against numerically far smaller forces. I said there are three concepts, and that is an example of the unpredictability of future warfare.
I remind amateur strategists, such as myself, in all parties, that just as we were not prepared for the successful resistance of Ukraine, we should not now become too complacent that Ukraine cannot possibly be defeated. We could wake up tomorrow to find that there has been some terrific, unexpected Russian breakthrough and the whole strategic situation has changed completely. That is why the appeals being made so strongly from both sides of the House are that we must, to coin someone coining someone else coining a phrase, “give them the tools to finish the job”.
It can be argued that deterrence failed, but why did deterrence fail in terms of Russia invading Ukraine? I am sorry to share this with friends from across the Atlantic, but one reason deterrence failed in this context was that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia came almost six months to the day from the catastrophic and bungled exit from Afghanistan by NATO. I am not saying that that planted the seed in Putin’s mind to do what he did, but it certainly may have affected the timing of him doing something that he had almost certainly wanted to do for a long time. We have to bear in mind what sort of signals we were sending. The answer is that we were sending signals of weakness, and when signals of weakness are sent to an authoritarian—that is the rather mild term used these days for what most of us from another era would call the totalitarian—type of government, we ought to know what to expect their behaviour to be.
I have talked about unpredictability and the limitations of deterrence. There is one element of deterrence—nuclear deterrence—where the results are more certain, should one dare put it to the test; but it nevertheless has to be considered in every scenario, no matter what sort of terrible fighting and atrocious behaviour may go on below the level of the nuclear threshold.
Let us talk a little bit about containment. Containment is what one has to do when faced with a deeply hostile opponent. It is no good talking about battling for “mutual understanding”. The trouble is, we can have mutual understanding where one person understands that the other person is a democrat and the democrat understands that the other person is a totalitarian dictator. That is not a recipe for peace; it is actually a sound portrayal of a situation where, unless the democrat shows the dictator that he cannot get his own way by force of arms, the dictator will try to get his own way by force of arms.
I have two other topics I shall touch on briefly in this contribution. One is to draw attention to an important analysis that appeared on the website “Desk Russie” on 30 December 2021, just two months before the invasion. It was by an old friend of mine whom I have known for the best part of 40 years. She is a brilliant French historian and former Sovietologist called Dr Françoise Thom. She drew attention to the texts of two draft treaties that were unveiled by the Russian Foreign Ministry on 17 December 2021. One was a draft treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on security guarantees, and the other was a draft agreement on measures to ensure the security of the Russian Federation and the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It was made absolutely clear that these were take it or leave it offers. They were encapsulated by the deputy Foreign Minister Grushko, who said:
“The Europeans must also think about whether they want to avoid making their continent the scene of a military confrontation. They have a choice. Either they take seriously what is put on the table, or they face a military-technical alternative”—
that is war to the rest of us. This is a deputy Foreign Minister stating in terms that unless European states do what Russia wants, they can expect to be embroiled in armed conflict.
A former deputy Minister of Defence, Andrey Kartapolov, of the Duma Defence Committee, said as follows: “Our partners”—meaning our partners in the west—
“must understand that the longer they drag out the examination of our proposals and the adoption of real measures to create these guarantees, the greater the likelihood that they will suffer a pre-emptive strike.”
What was in those draft treaties? I will give the Chamber one example. Article 4 states, in part, that
“the Russian Federation and all participants which were, as of 27 May 1997, member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, shall not deploy their armed forces and armaments on the territory of any other European state in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997.”
What is the significance of 1997? Well it is this, Madam Deputy Speaker: it was only after 1997 that 14 of the present 30 members of NATO joined the alliance. Starting in 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined, and then almost a dozen more followed.
What the Russians were basically saying was that, unless America agrees to withdraw its support from all those newly freed democracies, and unless all NATO countries agree to withdraw their armed forces from all those NATO member countries, they can expect to find themselves in an armed conflict with Russia. The trouble is, statements of that sort do not get reported in the west as clearly as they should be—if they do at all. They are generally kept in, as it were, the specialised centres and the highly learned brains of people like Dr Françoise Thom.
I am basically saying that there are three outcomes when we get into a situation such as this. The first is that we can capitulate. The second is open warfare. The third is containment, otherwise known in the old days as cold war. I really resent it when people say, “Oh, you don’t want to go back to the cold war.” If the alternatives are capitulation or open warfare, then cold war is the very best we can do in staring down an aggressor.
I end where I began when intervening earlier to draw attention to the state of the UK’s defence budget, notwithstanding the considerable injection of cash that was made under the previous Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Even that only brought our percentage of defence expenditure up from about 2.1% of GDP to 2.3%.
A few years earlier, in 2015-16, there was a change in the accounting methods for calculating what our expenditure on defence was as a proportion of GDP. That was not an illegitimate change; it just led to us including certain items which NATO counts towards defence expenditure that we had not previously counted. If it had not been for that change in accounting, our expenditure on defence would not have been at 2.1%, which was what it was before the cash injection given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip; it would have been at 1.8%. My right hon. Friend’s cash injection would have taken it up to 2.1%.
Under the old system of accounting, in the mid-1990s, we were still spending 3% of GDP on defence. At the height of the cold war, in the mid-1980s, as I have said time and again to this House, we regularly and consistently spent—under the old system of accounting—between 4.5% and 5% of GDP on defence. We hear talk of arguments between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury on whether some extra billions will be made available. We all recognise that if Ukraine succeeds in defeating this aggression, while they will be doing it for their own benefit, they will benefit the whole of the western world. It will mean that the odds of us ever having to engage in that sort of fighting ourselves, against a regime of the sort there is in Russia, will be massively reduced.
Ask yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, what we would do if we found ourselves against our will forced into a conflict of that sort. Immediately, the amount we had to spend on defence would shoot up, not to 3% but probably to something like 10% or 15%. It would take every single scrap of effort, financially, economically and industrially, that this country could possibly generate. That is what always happens if we find ourselves in a war—not to mention all the costs in human life, treasure and misery. Therefore, this should be seen as an investment. If we increase our defence budget, we are investing in the freedom of Ukraine, and we are investing in the freedom and peace of the whole of the western world.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), and to hear such unity across the House. A year on, this war will leave lasting imprints on every Ukrainian and, indeed, on world history. This time, and this milestone, will mean something different to every person affected by the war. Here today, we know that this moment shows that history will stand on the side of the Ukrainian people.
International security and the stability of the world order were threatened when Russian Federation forces began their invasion on 24 February 2022. While the future appeared uncertain, through the indescribable bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people, its military forces and its Government, Ukraine has exercised its power and turned what could have been a brief moment in time into an historic struggle for freedom.
I have spoken before in this place about the human impact of this war. In December, I visited Lviv, Kyiv, and the region of Kharkiv with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). We joined the charity Siobhan’s Trust, whose humanitarian aid reflects our core British values. Its work in feeding over 4,000 displaced Ukrainians every day is to be both admired and applauded. Everywhere we went, the real power of the Ukrainian people was clear to see. Putin’s forces had inflicted horrific damage on their towns, cities and villages. I saw blocks of flats—people’s homes—gutted by missile attacks in Kharkiv, schools destroyed in Slatyne, and homes peppered with shrapnel in Ruska Lozova.
One soldier told me about the horror of removing the dead bodies from bombed out buildings—mostly homes. He showed me a photograph of a dead little boy laid out on a bench. He told me that the boy’s father had clung on to the boy with desperation and had had to be pulled from his son. In typical Ukrainian understatement, he said, “It’s hard.” He told me of his men who had found it too hard and had gone home and shot themselves. He worried for his men—men who urgently needed help in dealing with the impact of stress while still serving on the frontline. Despite the inhumanity of war, the Ukrainian people live with dignity and compassion as they fight on bravely towards victory.
I met with businesses that were working to keep Ukraine’s economy functioning in the most challenging of circumstances, under bombing and planned power cuts. Businesses such as the potato factory have, despite the war, kept their investments in Ukraine. That is their contribution to the war effort: to keep the economy going, to provide food for the nation and jobs for workers, and to pay taxes to fund Ukraine’s war efforts. Those people and businesses defy Putin’s best efforts to crush the free spirit of Ukraine. They are essential to success in the war, and when the time comes, they will continue to support Ukraine as it flourishes again as a peaceful and independent state.
Of course, we must continue to support Ukraine by providing it with the necessary military capabilities. Equally, we must support the recovery effort. I praise the upcoming Ukraine recovery conference, jointly hosted by the UK Government and Ukraine, because no matter when the war ends, we must begin laying the foundations for structural and economic recovery now.
To close, everywhere I and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green went in Ukraine the same message was delivered to us: “Do not forget us!” Ukraine can claim astonishing victories already. The war may well continue, but Ukraine has achieved what many had once believed was impossible. For the last year, it has firmly withstood a hostile invading force intent on bringing democracy to its knees. History is being rewritten. History is being written by Ukraine. Freedom will win. Slava Ukraini!
It is an honour to follow both the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) and the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), who really brought this back down to the individual experience of a terrible war, for which I am grateful.
I am going to spend the next few minutes arguing that we should provide for war and prepare for peace. We in the UK should increase seriously our industrial production for defence—Ukraine’s and our own—while also isolating Russia and seizing diplomatic opportunities when they arise. We could characterise this as better preparation and jaw-jaw. I would also like to identify a couple of events from the last century or so that can shine a light on the situation that Ukraine finds itself facing and that Ukraine’s partners find ourselves facing: the 1915 shell crisis in Britain, and the 1999 withdrawal of Yugoslav security forces from Kosovo.
First, however, let us recall NATO’s role in this war. In Russian propaganda now, Moscow is characterising this as NATO’s war. The Kremlin suggests that the Government in Kyiv is a puppet and that NATO is pulling the strings, but that could not be further from the truth. The provision of arms by Ukraine’s partners, such as the UK, is often a reactive response to requests for support. I give credit to the British Government and credit to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Ministry of Defence for repeatedly stating that this is Ukraine’s war. Ukraine is our close partner and we are supplying Ukraine with equipment and support, but contrary to Russian propaganda, this is not NATO’s war and there is no sense in which NATO is threatening Russia.
However, we are not in the business of subcontracting policy to the Government in Kyiv. We should not be answering each and every request on this reactive basis. There are times when we should be supplying equipment proactively. For example, the British Government announced they would be supplying Warrior infantry fighting vehicles when asked, though the Liberal Democrats had been calling for this in the months prior to that announcement. We should anticipate requests by Ukraine, rather than wait for them to land. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) suggested that there is a pattern of saying no until we say yes, but the UK is rightly stepping up its provision at a time when we know that our allies have moved or are ready to move.
I suggest to the right hon. Member that if we send fast jets to Ukraine, it is going to be a symbolic gesture. When he and I visited Kyiv last September, Minister Reznikov was asking for Gripen aircraft, as we have heard in this Chamber today. If we are to do so, it would not be because we have a capability that is particularly useful to Ukraine, but because it would be a symbolic first mover gesture that others can follow.
Another example of this is the provision of main battle tanks once we knew that other countries were at least considering or almost ready to provide them, but we must have greater anticipation of what demand will arise before it takes Zelensky to visit us to make such requests.
We have heard that Ukrainian forces are firing up to 5,000 artillery rounds per day. Ukraine’s partners will struggle to maintain supply at that level from our existing stockpiles, and we are going to need to procure artillery rounds quickly. Just-in-time acquisition might play well on spreadsheets, but it has not played well in relation to our inventories.
There are times when matters of supply really are crucial. Britain found itself short of high explosive rounds in 1915. David Lloyd George was appointed the inaugural Minister for Munitions—a position that, when he became Prime Minister, he gave to his fellow Liberal Winston Churchill, who became Minister for Munitions in 1917—and the creation of a Ministry for Munitions indicated just how serious Britain was in prosecuting the war. I am not for a moment suggesting that we need to promote the Minister for Defence Procurement in such a way, but we do need to co-ordinate the purchase of munitions with our allies, given that we are drawing on the same western suppliers in many instances, and we need to do it on an enduring basis.
We see now that Russia is moving increasingly towards a total war footing, where it is increasingly mobilising the resources of its society and its economy to the war effort. It may have sought to play down the so-called special military operation last February, but it is increasingly having to recognise what it has created following the full-scale invasion. The time will eventually arrive for Ukrainian negotiation, and it should come from a position of strength for Ukraine. When the time comes for negotiation, we should be open to the leverage that Beijing will have with Moscow that NATO nations do not.
To illustrate that, recall how the orders were eventually given for the withdrawal of Yugoslav security forces from Kosovo. Yugoslavia conceded when it realised that it was isolated. If we think about the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in the spring and summer of 1999, NATO was bombing military sites across Serbia and Montenegro in pursuit of the withdrawal of Yugoslav security forces. This followed ethnic cleansing that Yugoslav security forces had perpetrated against Kosovo Albanians. The NATO bombing campaign had gone on for more than 10 weeks, but there was no sign that Slobodan Milošević was prepared to concede and to withdraw Yugoslav military and paramilitary personnel from Kosovo.
The NATO enforcement action seemed to be stuck, and NATO bombing sorties were striking the same targets repeatedly. President Yeltsin played an important role in persuading Milošević to withdraw Yugoslav security forces from Kosovo. As Boris Yeltsin’s Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin communicated to Milošević that Belgrade could no longer depend on diplomatic support from an ally. Chernomyrdin was later to become a dreadful Russian ambassador to Ukraine, and he is rightly very unpopular in Ukraine, but he was successful in persuading Milošević that he had no ally to whom he could turn for support. Milošević chose to consent to the withdrawal of Yugoslav security forces only when he realised just how isolated he was.
So let us not be too dismissive of China’s offer before we know what it is. Of course, we should pay careful attention to the speech by President Xi coming up on Friday. It will probably be full of platitudes, and it may offer nothing except a ceasefire based on the current possession by Russian forces of Ukrainian land, in which case it would clearly be completely unacceptable. However, the current statements made by China relate to the importance of sovereignty and territorial integrity. We are not there yet, but China may have a role to play in pressuring Russia into its eventual withdrawal from Ukraine.
We would have such a discussion while not being naive about China’s motives. Russia and China have been adversaries, so it might suit China to have Russia and the west depleting their weapons stockpiles in a conflict taking place far away from the Asian Indo-Pacific. However, it does not suit China to have the west threatening consequences against China, as Blinken has warned would result from the supply of arms by China to Russia. Russian people need to know that this is Russia’s war. It is not NATO’s war, nor is it China’s war. We in the UK do need to prepare UK defence now as if this war is our own. We must supply Ukraine so that it can capture more of its territory before it seeks to enter into a ceasefire. At that point, we should be open to recognising the value that Russia’s partners can have in persuading Putin to pull back.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) and Members from across the House.
I speak as a socialist, an anti-imperialist, and someone who feels disgust at the thought of war. It is not despite those values that I support the Ukrainian resistance; it is because of them. To me, socialism means self-determination for ordinary working people, not ceding power to tyrants seeking to oppress them. Anti-imperialism means opposing all states that seek to extend their power by dominating others, regardless of what flag they fly. It is impossible to talk about the war in Ukraine without addressing the bloody history of Russian imperialism. It is a history that our friends across eastern and northern Europe do not need to be reminded of. They know that what is at stake is not just lines on a map and whose flag flies above a town hall. No—a nation that survived the holodomor understands the invader’s aims: the erasure of a people, the eradication of its culture and the destruction of its democracy.
It is easy to debate geopolitics from the comfort of London, but the stakes feel very different when I hear directly from someone sleeping in a bomb shelter. When I speak to workers, to trade unionists in Ukraine, or to refugees hoping to see their home again, their message is clear and heartfelt: don’t abandon us. It would not be an anti-war stance to turn our backs on Ukraine. It would be sending a message to despots around the globe that war crimes pay. It would be accepting a global order based not on international law and respect for sovereignty, but on torture, murder and nuclear threats. The Ukrainian resistance is not asking us for thoughts and prayers. Solidarity means helping Ukraine to defend itself—and we can and must do more. Over 1,000 military vehicles were sold off by the Ministry of Defence last year. Why are we not donating them to Ukraine instead?
But of course, Putin does not just fight with tanks and missiles; he fights with disinformation and manipulation, flooding the internet with propaganda. Discouraging Ukraine’s allies is a key part of his plan, and we will not fall for it. As the UK struggles with a painful cost of living crisis, Putin wants us to blame support for Ukraine, but while soaring energy bills are forcing workers into food banks, energy giants are popping champagne bottles, celebrating their record profits. Instead of giving up on solidarity, we must tax those who profit from war and misery.
If we talk about poverty, we must think about Ukraine too. After a year of relentless attack, the country is devastated and ordinary people are paying the price: its economy contracted by a third last year; inflation stands at 26%; and more than a quarter of people are unemployed. It will take years for the nation to heal and rebuild. And when Russian troops are finally pushed out, our solidarity cannot end. It is not enough to freeze Ukraine’s debt; it must be cancelled. Let us close loopholes in our sanctions regime and liquidate seized assets to fund reconstruction.
Future economic support cannot come with conditions of brutal austerity. The international community must come together to support the rebuilding of Ukraine’s public services, the creation of green jobs and the strengthening of its democracy. Decisions about the reconstruction process cannot be made by oligarchs and foreign companies seeking to profit from it, but by the Ukrainian people themselves, with input from trade unions and civil society. Meanwhile, we must accept all refugees seeking safety from the war, and ensure their access to decent housing and the services they need.
To all Ukrainians in the UK today, I say: you’re always welcome here and to call this country your home, but I know that is not what many of you want, so I hope—and sincerely believe—that soon you will be able to return to a free and peaceful Ukraine. Slava Ukraini.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. All speakers this afternoon have referred to the war, but I want to be more specific. My stance on Ukraine is well known in this Chamber and has been consistent, as has everybody else’s: I believe we need to do more to support our allies in Ukraine. I said that before the visit of President Zelensky, who by his very nature inspires everyone he meets, and provides the leadership that Ukraine needs.
Russia’s aggression must be halted, not simply for the lives destroyed in Ukraine, but for the message that must be sent. My heart aches as I watch the news and see lives torn apart in Ukraine, and as I look into the eyes of the refugees who have come from Ukraine to Northern Ireland and see their hurt. The eyes tell much when it comes to conveying the issues and how people feel. Through the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, I had occasion to visit Poland and see some of the conditions it offered. The refugees there never had to tell us anything about what they had been through; their eyes told us everything of their pain, suffering and memories.
In Northern Ireland, we have been pleased to take many refugees, but they have left their loved ones and their homes behind. As they wonder whether they will ever be able to go home and what that home will now look like, and as we see the bombs and the Russian destruction, it is clear that this House and our Government, perhaps with others, must step up and do more. In an intervention on the Secretary of State, I mentioned Russia’s aggression and the systematic abuse carried out by Russian soldiers who have been given authority at the highest level of government—from generals right down. To give the House an idea, that systematic cruelty has included the rape and sexual abuse of women and girls, some as young as four and some as old as 83.
I would also like to draw attention to the violations of freedom of religion or belief. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, it is important to note that attacks on religious freedom and other human rights are escalating. Reports show that the Russian military have destroyed, damaged or looted at least 494 religious buildings, theological institutions and sacred sites in Ukraine since the start of the invasion last year. According to international humanitarian law, unjustifiable attacks against religious sites constitute war crimes; we in this place all recognise that.
Such attacks are happening in tandem with attacks on pastors and religious leaders in the region. The attacks are against not only the Ukrainian Orthodox believers and their churches, but evangelicals and evangelical prayer houses—there are many home churches across Ukraine, especially in the east of the province—and Catholic, Jehovah’s Witnesses’, Jewish and Muslim sites.
The Institute for Religious Freedom has found that Russian forces have abducted Ukrainian pastors, and tried to enlist them as Russian spies and propagandists. Baptist churches have been systemically destroyed and damaged by bombs in the eastern part of Ukraine. Baptist pastors have gone missing over the last four to five years, and some have never been found; we question just what has happened to them. From 24 February to 15 July 2022, the institute recorded 20 cases of illegal imprisonment of Ukrainian religious leaders, accompanied by attempted rape; mock executions; deprivation of water, food and access to toilets; and threats of violence against not only Church leaders, but their families as well.
It is not only Ukrainians who suffer at Russia’s hands; Russia’s religious leaders who voice opposition to the war in Ukraine also fear for their lives. Moscow Patriarchate priest Aleksandr Dombrovsky fled Russia in January, shortly after the police told him the FSB had opened a criminal case against him. He had repeatedly preached against the war in Ukraine;
“Everything related to my anti-war position was recorded in a most thorough manner,”
he told Forum 18. That is just one of many cases where religious leaders are targeted and suffer for speaking the truth and in accordance with their conscience.
I want to put on record my thanks to our Government, our Ministers, and the former Prime Ministers who have both spoken in this Chamber today, the right hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), for their strong stance on these issues; their leadership at that time inspired not just the United Kingdom but the rest of NATO and countries across the world to stand strong with Ukraine, and I thank them for that.
One thing is clear: we must not allow Russian aggression and Putin to beat us with this long-waged war. War fatigue is real, and I welcome President Biden’s commitment today to another $500 million in military aid and the commitment from our Prime Minister and Government along those lines, but some of the other European countries should step up and match that.
The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) told us at an earlier time that he was in Ukraine about a month ago and that many soldiers were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The papers referred to that today, and I ask the Minister if we can do any more for soldiers who are suffering from PTSD, and who perhaps have war fatigue, because that is a real condition.
As our attention rightly goes to global emergencies such as the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from our commitment to Ukraine, and I trust the message today from this House is clear: we will not be deterred from helping our allies; we will continue to stand against Putin, and all the badness, evil and wickedness he represents; and it is not all quiet on this western front, where the battle is. We will be using our voices in this Chamber, munitions from our factories, and our voices elsewhere to continue to reject the invasion of Ukraine. In keeping with the Ukrainian spirit—that courage and inspiration they have given all of us across the world—we will not be beaten down; we will not give in to this despot.
The grim reality is that war in Europe is no longer in our rear-view mirror; it is happening now. We are living through a bleak new chapter in the history of Europe as Putin seeks to destroy the sovereignty of our Ukrainian friends and to attack the principles of democracy that the rules-based world order is built on.
As the UK falls silent on Friday morning for a national moment of reflection for Ukraine, we are reminded of the devastating toll that this war has taken on the Ukrainian people: the tens of thousands of lives that have been needlessly lost; the families that have been torn apart and displaced from their homes, with over 100,000 of them now here in the UK ; the women who have been raped and violated; the children who have been stolen by Russia; and with the economic and social fabric of the nation left in tatters.
There is the ongoing struggle for peace: it is the Ukrainians’ fight, but it is also our fight. Yet despite all the suffering and horror that Ukraine has endured, the flame of freedom burns bright in Kyiv: we need only look at the extraordinary resilience of the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression that we have heard about in speeches from both sides of the House today, praising the skill, bravery and fortitude of the Ukrainian military to defend their homeland, and, as we heard from the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the incredible and inspiring leadership of President Zelensky. Just under a fortnight ago, Members in this House were privileged to hear from President Zelensky in his address in Westminster Hall. His speech moved us all and reminded us what is at stake.
Colleagues from across the House have made extraordinary contributions in this debate and I am saddened that more of us were not present to hear them. It is good to have two former Prime Ministers speaking in a debate; if I am honest, it is not normal for those two individuals to elicit cross-party support given the events of the past year, but there has been an extraordinary level of cross-party consensus in this debate. There is a unity that goes across political parties, across nations, and across our continent in our support for Ukraine and our determination that Putin must lose. That is a message Putin hoped would never be thought or shared, because he hoped to fracture the west and to change the united position we had to one of division where we turn against each other, and that has not happened.
I think I am the oldest person in this Chamber by a long way. I remember the Vietnam war, and the Americans were forced to withdraw from Vietnam by public pressure at home, largely. We have not talked in this debate about what is happening in Moscow and other parts of Russia, but it must be horrendous, with 60,000 dead, and with huge numbers returning with post-traumatic stress disorder, I am sure. We must put huge effort into getting through to the Russian people, to convince them that this war is not fair and not right and they should put huge pressure on their own Government to get rid of Putin and sort this out and withdraw. As the former Prime Minister my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has suggested or implied—perhaps he will correct me—in the end we also must have a Russia that works and is a decent place for Russians to live, because Russian soldiers are just like our soldiers: they are doing their duty and they do not really have much choice.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. “You are what you eat”: that is true of food as it is of the media we consume, and the media the people of Russia are able and allowed to consume tell a very one-sided story. They tell a story only from the point of view of the Putin mouthpiece in the Kremlin. There is no challenge and no debate, so how we deal with misinformation and Putin’s deliberate calculation to deny his own people the truth is quite a challenge. We must address that in terms of information operations and how we tell a story, which the BBC World Service has been so good at, and which is a purpose for it now.
In this debate we heard about the UK’s past complacency in respect of Russian gas from the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), who, sadly, is not in her place at the moment. We also heard from Members on both sides of the House about why the Wagner Group should be listed as a terrorist organisation—it not just a sponsor of terrorism; it is the terrorism. If we do not act now, we will be repeating the mistakes of the past, because we are looking in the rear-view mirror to comment on what has happened when we should be looking forwards. We have seen what the Wagner Group has done in Syria and we see what it is doing in Ukraine, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) said, we can see what it could potentially be doing in Africa as well. So we need to hurry up and make that decision.
Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine is appalling, brutal, and unjust. Putin displays contempt for international institutions, humanitarian law and the rules of military conflict. Above all, Putin shows a callous disregard for human life, Ukrainian and Russian. He treats human life as nothing more than pawns to satisfy his monstrous ambitions, and that is why the Leader of the Opposition has said clearly that he should stand trial for his crimes at a special tribunal at The Hague.
As we know, Putin’s aim is not simply to take Ukraine. We are facing a tyrant ready to use his war to redraw the map of Europe. He wants to destroy the unity of the west, and one year on, as the former Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip has said, there is still no sign that any of Putin’s strategic aims have changed, but nor have they been achieved.
This war can only end in failure for Putin: he will fail because he miscalculated the incredible resolve of the Ukrainian people to defend their homeland; he will fail because he has underestimated the strength of resolve on these shores and across the west to support Ukraine for as long as it takes to defeat Russia; and he will fail because the millions of voices defending democracy will over time drown out the hate and division of tyrants and dictators.
The Government have had Labour’s fullest support on Britain’s military help to Ukraine. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition said on his visit to Kyiv only a few days ago, for as long as Putin continues to wage this criminal war, the Government will continue to have Labour’s fullest support, but as we head into the second year of this conflict there are several important questions that I would like to press the Minister on.
Does my hon. friend agree that rather than the Ministry of Defence selling off 1,105 vehicles last year, either to authoritarian regimes or auctioned to private arms dealers, those vehicles should have been donated to Ukraine to support its resistance?
It is really important that when it comes to military disposals we look carefully at where the equipment goes. There has been good support for Ukraine so far, but we would like it to go further, which I think was the point my hon. Friend was trying to make.
As the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), said, although 25 NATO nations have rebooted their defence plans since the start of the invasion, the UK Government have yet to do so, despite Labour having been arguing for Ministers to reboot defence plans since last March. In next month’s review of the integrated review, and in the spring Budget, the Government must take the opportunity to move on from ad hoc announcements and set out a more systematic approach to support for Ukraine.
Will the Minister confirm when the Government will set out a full 2023 action plan for military, economic and diplomatic support to help to give Ukraine confidence in a sustained stream of future supplies, as Labour has consistently argued for? Will he also say whether now is still the right time, as he has suggested, for the Government to proceed with cuts to our armed forces before the integrated review reports? Will the Minister also reflect on calls from Members on both sides of the House to restrict the Wagner Group? My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) set it out clearly when he set the objective of suffocating the Wagner Group and closing the sanctions loopholes. There is cross-party support for that and I encourage the Minister to get on with it.
Let me turn briefly to the issue of stockpiles, which was raised by Government and Opposition Members. Labour Members welcome the £2.3 billion that the Government allocated for Ukraine last year and this year, and the £560 million to fill some of the empty stockpiles, but we need to be clear that that is not enough. There is an immediate need to replenish our stockpiles, which have been depleted in supporting Ukraine. To date, the Government have acted too slowly to replenish them. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough, the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) and the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) made that point quite clearly.
There is now a growing need to set out a clear stockpiles strategy to sustain support for Ukraine and re-arm Britain in the long term—a clear strategy that works with industry, allowing it to invest with certainty. We need to be certain, when we make a pledge to support our friends in Ukraine, that we have the industrial capability to honour that promise. That has been said by Members on both sides of the House. For example, in respect of the NLAW anti-tank missiles that have been vital to Ukraine, it took 287 days after the latest invasion before the MOD got its act together and signed a new contract, and the first new NLAW will not come off the production line until 2024. We need to shift parts of our defence industry and MOD procurement to an urgent operational footing, both to support Ukraine for the long-term and to rebuild the UK’s stocks for any future conflict.
Will the Minister set out how long it will take our armed forces and our industry partners to replenish UK stockpiles to ensure that we can defend our shores while honouring our commitments to Ukraine and NATO? If the UK is to be the first nation to send long-range missiles to Ukraine, as the Prime Minister stated in Munich, by what date will they be sent? Assuming that they will be Storm Shadow missiles, how will they be replaced and what is the plan? What plans is the Minister’s Department making to urgently ramp up our own industry so that we are better equipped to deal with future conflicts? The Government have far too often raided the stockpile to make efficiency savings. That is a mistake that has now come home to roost and we need not to repeat it.
Russia is not a spent force, in spite of the huge damage that Ukraine has inflicted on its military. The spring offensive that is now perhaps only days or weeks away will see Russia massively expand its war effort. It is conscripting more people and, although it is sending them into a bloodbath that few of them will survive, against high-end western weaponry, the war could continue for a very long time. Only last week, NATO’s Secretary-General said that
“we are seeing the start already”
of a new Russian offensive in Ukraine. Will the Minister update the House on whether the UK is on track to send the 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine in order to support Kyiv with the new spring offensive? How will they be supported in the field? It would be much easier for the Minister if he would agree to set out a long-term plan rather than making ad hoc announcements.
I pay tribute to all those people across the United Kingdom who have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes and fundraised for them, and who have gone the extra mile to deliver supplies and aid to our friends in Ukraine themselves. This has been a huge undertaking. I also thank the officials in the Home Office who have helped to facilitate the Homes for Ukraine scheme, along with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. But we need to recognise that there are now holes in those schemes that need to be filled. That is not a partisan critique; it is just about making something work properly. We need to look at those schemes properly to make sure that if the war continues, as I fear it may do, the support we can offer to those who have fled war can be consistent and long lasting.
The invasion of Ukraine did not start a year ago: it started nine years ago. We must learn the lessons from how we were complacent at that time, how the west was sleeping and how we effectively gave a dictator and tyrant in the Kremlin the green light by not taking stronger action. The UK must be prepared to support Ukraine for the long term, renewing our resolve in confronting Russian threats, pursuing Putin’s crimes and standing with Ukraine. It is important to say that should there be a change of Government at the next general election, there will be no change in Britain’s position of support for Ukraine. The phrase “never again” is said too often in this House, but never again is now. We must rise to the same heights as our Ukrainian friends to ensure that Putin loses and Ukraine wins.
We have had a serious, sombre but spirited debate, as befits the subject at hand. There have been many powerful speeches—including from two former Prime Ministers, no less—and I will touch on a number of them in due course, but let me begin by noting a clear and overriding message that emerged from our deliberations: the solidarity from all sides of the House for our Ukrainian friends. Their sheer bloody-minded defiance in the face of unprovoked and brutal aggression has moved and inspired us all.
And it is indeed unprovoked and brutal aggression. History is littered with examples of conflicts where, in truth, it is far from clear which side has the better claim to the moral high ground. The issues are murky, facts are contested and arguments cut both ways. This is not such a conflict. Putin’s actions—invading a sovereign country at peace with its neighbours and that posed no threat—are self-evidently morally bankrupt. They lack even a shred of justification. Indeed, Putin’s pretext—namely, that the Jewish Ukrainian President was somehow a fascist—is as preposterous as it is desperate. No, the Kremlin’s invasion is depraved, cruel, unnecessary and illegal. It is a war of choice that has brought needless death and destruction. It has taken thousands of lives and wrecked countless more, and it has brought appalling suffering to innocent people, including countless children. The world knows it. Ukraine knows it. Vladimir Putin knows it.
This debate has a special poignancy, coming as it does so close to the one-year point since the full-scale invasion. Until that first missile was launched into Ukraine, in truth many doubted that Putin’s illegal invasion would actually happen. “Surely this is just sabre-rattling,” they thought. It is important to note that it was this country, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), that worked with the United States to expose a cynical Kremlin plan for a false-flag attack involving fragments of unmanned aerial vehicles and staged casualties in Russian-occupied territory to set up the phoney pretext for an invasion.
On 17 February 2022, the Ministry of Defence published the first defence intelligence showing Putin’s planned invasion routes, just as the Russian President was denying harbouring any such intention. By the date of the full-scale invasion, 22,000 Ukrainian service personnel had already been trained by British soldiers across land, sea and air. Weapons and ammunition, including the now-famous NLAWs made here in the UK, were already in the hands of the Ukrainian army, ready to defend that country from the onslaught to come. Indeed, the United Kingdom was the first European country to provide lethal aid. And how the Ukrainians used it. In those vital first few weeks, they used it to hold back the Russian flood. Russian soldiers, who had packed special uniforms for the expected victory parade, were stopped in their tracks and instead harried with an intensity and bravery that stunned the world. It was a feat of arms against overwhelming odds that takes its place in history.
Russian forces were pushed back in a great sweeping retreat, forced into a gruesome drive-by past the scene of their many crimes, not least Bucha, a name destined to forever stain the conscience of the Kremlin. Russian forces have now abandoned all territory west of the Dnipro river. At day 361, Russian forces are still not where they expected to be on day three. Meanwhile, the combat effectiveness of their army has been reduced by 40%. Nearly two-thirds of their modern tanks have been destroyed or disabled. Indeed, Putin’s campaign appears to have failed to meet any of its operational and strategic objectives, while Ukraine has managed to wrestle back more than half of its stolen territory. Despite all the bombast, despite the continual indiscriminate assaults on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and despite the repeated human wave attacks with young men used as cannon fodder, Russia continues to fail. A little over a week and a half ago, a Russian brigade attacking Vuhledar was completely wiped out, losing more than 1,000 people in two days. Those figures must be added to the thousands and thousands that have gone before. The Russian military has suffered up to 200,000 casualties, including between 45,000 and 60,000 dead. That is the blood price of a perverse and ahistorical nationalist fantasy. Meanwhile, Putin breaks his army on the anvil of Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainians are displaced, towns have been razed to the ground, and there are credible reports of rapes and the forced deportation of thousands of children. There were the harrowing accounts relayed by the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins). She reminded us that some had said, “Don’t forget us.” We will not. Those responsible for unspeakable acts will have to answer for them. Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) and the Minister of Justice and Security for the Netherlands will be hosting the Joint Ministerial Council in March to support the vital work of the Office of the Prosecutor in the International Criminal Court. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was right when he referred to systematic cruelty. Let that be exposed. Let those crimes be brought to justice. Let people pay for the cruelty and illegality they have perpetrated. Just as time and again Russia has reckoned without the courage, tenacity and ingenuity of Ukrainian people, so too did it underestimate the resolve and unity of the international community.
Does the Minister agree that when Putin invaded Ukraine, he thought the west would look the other way? A year on, he is probably deluded in believing that we would be apathetic over time in our support for Ukraine. What the debate today shows, and what the minute’s silence on Friday will show, is that we will never give up. Slava Ukraine.
My hon. Friend puts the point extremely well and I cannot improve on that. He is right. Today, NATO is stronger than ever. And by the way, it is not just NATO. We should not fall into the trap of assuming it is NATO. What about Australia, which is providing support to Ukrainians? What about the New Zealand troops here in the UK who are helping to train Ukrainians? Let us not give in to that Putinesque rhetoric and narrative. This is the world community coming together. It is a fact, however, that NATO is set to grow, with the accession of Sweden and Finland. The UK alone has sanctioned almost 1,300 individuals and over 130 entities since the start of the invasion. Other countries have acted decisively, too. We have sanctioned the Wagner Group. We have sanctioned Yevgeny Prigozhin. We have sanctioned his family. We have sanctioned Dmitri Utkin. We have sanctioned Arkady Gostev, the director of the federal penitentiary service of the Russian Federation.
We have sanctioned the Wagner Group in its entirety, so there really is no place to hide. [Interruption.] Yes, we have. And there is no place to hide for those who aid, abet, counsel or procure the actions of the Wagner Group.
The UK has been amongst the foremost nations supporting Ukraine politically, militarily and with humanitarian assistance. It is worth taking a moment to consider what that support actually involves: over 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 5,000 anti-tank weapons. A point was made about armoured vehicles. The UK has provided over 200 armoured fighting vehicles, including some of the so-called dogs of war that saw service in Afghanistan: the Mastiffs, the Wolfhounds, the Ridgbacks and so on. That is what we have done, to say nothing of the winter weather gear, the Sea King helicopters and 3 million rounds of ammunition. All that we do, and more. We do it so that we send a message that might is not always right, that the international rules-based order stands up and stands for something, and that this country will meet aggression where we find it.
Last month, the Defence Secretary announced we would be sending Challenger 2 tanks and AS90 self-propelled guns. As I indicated, that comes after NLAWs, Javelins, Brimstone missiles, night-vision goggles, medical supplies, winter clothing, and search and rescue helicopters. The training for tank crews has already begun, and our armed forces are putting Ukrainian recruits through their paces in a range of crucial battlefield skills. I will just share this with the House. There are few more poignant sights than flying over the training grounds, with Ukrainian troops beneath, and seeing trenches scarred and etched into those fields of the United Kingdom. That is what this has become: trench warfare in parts of our continent.
In 2022, we trained 10,000 new troops. In 2023, we intend to double that number. As hon. Members will be aware, our armed forces will be training Ukrainian aviators to fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighters in future. We expect to begin training the first Ukrainian pilots in spring. We cannot supply the jet before we have trained the pilot and no time is being wasted in that endeavour. We have committed to match the £2.3 billion of military aid spent last year. We continue to lead the international military and diplomatic effort, too. As we saw with our tank donations, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) indicated, our role can be to have a force multiplier effect. We can catalyse the work of other nations. That is why the Prime Minister signed the London declaration with President Zelensky, cementing our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and urging others to do the same.
There is much more I could talk about, but let me just come to this. On Friday, the nation will stand in silence to commemorate a year on from the invasion. As well as His Majesty the King sending his support to Ukraine, over 100 events will take place across Whitehall. This will be an opportunity to remember all those who have lost their lives and all those who have seen their lives irrevocably changed. It will be an opportunity to remember all those who continue to fight for their liberty. It will also be an opportunity to redouble our resolve, ensuring that when the time comes, that proud nation will build back stronger than before. That is why on 21 and 22 June the United Kingdom, jointly with Ukraine, will host the international Ukraine recovery conference.
The signal we are sending to Vladimir Putin could not be clearer. He has turned his country into a pariah and the most sanctioned nation on the planet. Meanwhile, the world stands with Ukraine, ready to support that proud and defiant country to defend its territory and its people. One year on, with Russia gearing up for a new offensive, Putin remains unrepentant. His only coherent war aims are for more war, more death and more suffering. His desperate hope is that the world will lose its nerve. It will not. Together we will defy him. Together we will prove him wrong. As President Zelensky told us in his stirring address to the House two weeks ago:
“We know freedom will win. We know Russia will lose. And we really know that victory will change the world”.
Slava Ukraini, heroyam slava.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.