With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will update the House on Russia’s attacks on civilians and critical national infrastructure in Ukraine.
We are now on day 442 of the conflict. During this period, Moscow has, according to the United Nations, provoked the largest displacement of people in Europe since world war two, including almost 8 million refugees and almost 6 million internally forced from their homes.
We must not lose sight of those staggering statistics. Worse still, Russia’s battlefield setbacks have led to its cynically targeting energy infrastructure, putting millions of people at risk of sickness and death in cold, unsanitary conditions. Take the besieged city of Bakhmut, where there are now fewer than 7,000 residents, one-tenth of the original population. For the last nine months they have been hiding in basements, without clean water, electricity or gas and with minimal connection to the outside world.
From the scale of Russian attacks, it is clear that they have not limited themselves to military targets. Their purpose is simply to terrorise the local population into submission. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn when we look at Russia’s ever-expanding charge sheet of international humanitarian law violations. As of 2 April, there have been 788 attacks on healthcare facilities—hospitals, clinics and medical centres. There have been instances of damage to educational facilities—schools, day care centres and even nurseries.
Meanwhile, Russia has plundered crops and agricultural equipment on an industrial scale, destroying grain storage and handling facilities. According to estimates from the Kyiv School of Economics, Russia stole or destroyed 4.04 million tonnes of grain and oilseeds, valued at $1.9bn, in Ukrainian territories during the 2022 season. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s continued intransigence is contributing to the current backlog of grain exports.
Besides that, Russia has bombed industrial facilities, including the Azot chemical plant, risking toxic industrial chemical release and environmental impact. It has attacked Ukraine’s largest refinery at Kremenchuk on at least three occasions. It has bombed airfields, ports, roads and rail networks, preventing refugees from fleeing the danger. It has taken out communication networks, affecting banks, internet and cellphones, with residents in some areas now forced to barter for food. Kremlin strikes on substations, powerplants and powerlines have also impacted water treatment facilities, leaving cities such as Mariupol without water and reliant on delivery of bottled supplies.
At the same time, Russia has forcibly occupied and undermined the safe operation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe. As Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said:
“Every single one of the IAEA’s crucial seven indispensable pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security in an armed conflict has been compromised”.
He recently warned that the situation around the plant was “potentially dangerous”.
Sadly, at least 23,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed or wounded so far, although the actual figure is likely to be substantially higher. Thousands of citizens have been sent to sinister “filtration” camps before being forcibly relocated to Russia. Some 6,000 children, ranging in ages from four months to 17 years, are now in “re-education camps” across Russia.
Both the United Nations and United States investigators have found that Russia has committed war crimes, with reported evidence of executions, torture and sexual violence in civilian areas. In early April President Zelensky said that more than 70,000 Russian war crimes had been recorded since Putin’s invasion. The names of Bucha and Izyum have become synonymous with mass murder. The world will not forget the bombing of the drama theatre in Mariupol, where 1,200 civilians sought shelter under a giant sign reading “children”. No matter how much Russia tries to hide and bulldoze over the scene, we will not forget.
Even in the territories that Russia has illegally annexed, citizens find themselves subjected to the worst excesses of totalitarianism. A Russian passport is increasingly essential to access vital services—a nightmare for those with new-born babies. Civilian infrastructure such as healthcare facilities is being seized and repurposed to treat wounded servicemen. Kill lists of civic leaders have been drawn up, citizens executed in cold blood and concerted attempts made to erase Ukrainian culture, history and identity.
We should be clear: the targeting of civilians and infrastructure essential to the civilian population of Ukraine has not happened by accident in the fog of war. Much of it was planned Russian policy. Russia has form, and we have seen its handiwork in Syria. In March, President Putin himself was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
However, we should also be clear that, as numerous credible reports indicate, while Russia’s morally bankrupt approach might have been made in the Kremlin, it is often carried out willingly, not just by rogue units, but by the ordinary rank and file across the Russian armed forces. An even clearer picture of Russia’s barbaric approach emerges when we look at some of the weapons it is using against innocent civilians. I am not referring here to the extensive strikes against Ukraine’s electric power network from cruise and surface-to-surface missiles, the use of short-range ballistic missiles such as the Iskander, which infamously hit the train station in Kramatorsk, killing 60 and wounding more than 110, or even the two 500 kg bombs dropped by Russian fighter aircraft on that Mariupol theatre.
The fact is that Russia has used cluster munitions with wholesale disregard for human life and civilians. They have been dropped near a hospital in Vuhledar. A 9M79-series Tochka ballistic missile delivering a 9N123 cluster munition warhead killed four civilians and injured another 10, including six healthcare workers. Russia has used Smerch cluster munition rockets in three neighbourhoods in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, resulting in reports of nine civilian deaths and 37 injuries, according to the United Nations.
Russia also relies on massed fires. Indiscriminate artillery bombardments of built-up areas account for the vast majority of civilian casualties—injured or killed. Moscow also makes extensive use of conventional anti-personnel mines and improvised booby-traps to indiscriminately harm civilians. Dead bodies, the homes and vehicles of Ukrainian civilians and even children’s toys have been rigged up as lethal devices. Russia has laid mines remotely and mechanically, covering significant areas of farmland, with scant evidence that it has either marked minefields or warned civilians about their presence. Those minefields will leave a legacy long after the conflict ends.
Russia has used hundreds of Iranian-made Shahed drones to attack targets in Ukraine. Loitering munitions sent on numerous suicide missions have repeatedly taken their toll on civilians. Last week, those weapons struck a university campus in Odesa and civilians were once more in the crosshairs in Kyiv.
From the start I have been clear that our support for Ukraine is responsible, calibrated, co-ordinated and agile. Aligned and united with the international community, we are helping the Ukrainians to defend their homeland. Most importantly, our support is responsive to Russia’s own actions. None of this would have been necessary had Russia not invaded, but now it is about pushing back Russian forces and deterring them from committing yet more crimes, by holding the Russian military establishment to account for their actions.
In December, I wrote to Russian Defence Minister Shoigu, setting out the UK Government’s objection to the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, and stating that further attacks—contrary to international humanitarian law, for example the principle of distinction codified in articles 48, 51 and 52 of additional protocol 1 to the Geneva conventions—would force me to consider donating more capable weapons to Ukraine so that the Ukrainians may better defend themselves within their territory.
Unfortunately, Russia has continued down that dark path. This year Russia’s leadership has continued to systematically target civilians and civilian infrastructure with bombs, missiles and drones. More medical facilities were targeted in January than in the previous six months combined. Russia has bombed power facilities in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Zaporizhzhia and Odesa oblasts. Incidents of civilian casualties have increased, especially in areas close to the frontline such as Kherson and Bakhmut.
In January a block of flats in Dnipro was wiped out by a 5.5 tonne Russian “Kitchen” missile that probably caused 124 casualties, including 45 fatalities. In March, a five-storey apartment block in Zaporizhzia was attacked with an S-300 missile that completely destroyed the building. Between 27 April and 2 May, Russian forces conducted strikes against Ukraine using Kh-101 and Kh-555 long-range air-launched cruise missiles.
Despite the Kremlin’s claims that it is targeting Ukraine’s “military-industrial facilities”, one of the buildings struck was a nine-storey apartment building. The salvo left 23 dead and dozens more injured. Last week, Russian shelling struck residential buildings and on Monday Russia bombed a Red Cross warehouse full of humanitarian aid.
Drone footage from Bakhmut appears to show white phosphorus raining down on a city ablaze. The use of such incendiary weapons, which burn at 800°C, within concentrations of civilians is a contravention of protocol 3 of the convention on certain conventional weapons.
As I have said many times in the past, we simply will not stand by while Russia kills civilians. We have seen what Ukrainians can do when they have the right capabilities. In recent days, 30 Shahed drones have been shot down. The Ukrainian air force says that 23 out of 25 cruise missiles fired from sea and land have been downed. We have also had confirmation from Lieutenant General Oleschuk, the Ukrainian air force commander, that even Russia’s much-vaunted “Killjoy” air-launched hypersonic missile has been brought down. That is why the Prime Minister and I have now taken the decision to provide longer-range capabilities.
In December, I informed the House that I was developing options to respond to Russia’s continued aggression in a calibrated and determined manner. Today I can confirm that the UK is donating Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine. Storm Shadow is a long-range, conventional-only precision strike capability. It complements the long-range systems that have already been gifted, including the HIMARS and Harpoon missiles, as well as Ukraine’s own Neptune cruise missile and longer-range missiles gifted elsewhere. The donation of those weapon systems gives Ukraine the best chance to defend itself against Russia’s continued brutality, especially the deliberate targeting of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure against international law. Ukraine has a right to be able to defend itself against that.
The use of Storm Shadow will allow Ukraine to push back Russian forces based within Ukrainian sovereign territory. I am sure that the House will understand that I will not go into further detail on the capabilities, but although those weapons will give Ukraine new capability, Members should recognise that those systems are not even in the same league as the Russian AS-24 “Killjoy” hypersonic missile, Iranian Shahed one-way attack drones, or even the Kalibr cruise missile, which has a range of more than 2,000 km—roughly seven times that of a Storm Shadow missile. Russia must recognise that its actions alone have led to such systems being provided to Ukraine. It is my judgment as Defence Secretary that this is a calibrated and proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.
When travelling through Ukraine, as I have done several times since the invasion, one sees the smashed buildings and piles of rubble, where there were once thriving businesses and homes full of life. They reveal the truth of Russia’s invasion: needless destruction and gratuitous violence, and—despite warnings—Russia’s continued violations of international law and deliberate targeting and killing of civilians. They are the visible and tragic symbols of the Kremlin’s desperation.
Try as it might, the Kremlin cannot hide the fact that its invasion is already failing. The Russians can only occupy the rubble left by their destruction. All this week’s “Victory Day” parade did was showcase that historic failure. It demonstrated Putin’s efforts to twist the Soviet Union’s sacrifice against the Nazis, and was an insult to their own immortal regiment. It was the façade of power, a distraction from the faltering invasion, an appeal to unity while even Russia’s own leadership loses confidence, the hypocrisy of claiming victimhood while waging a war of their own choosing.
The reality is that this is a war of President Putin’s own choosing at the expense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and civilian lives. The UK stands for the values of freedom, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of civilians. We will stand side by side with the Ukrainians. We will continue to support them in defence of their sovereign country. I commend this statement to the House.
We are united in our determination to help in the defence of Ukraine and of our shared values. I welcome the Defence Secretary’s statement—his first on Ukraine since January, and the first announcement of new weapons to Ukraine since February. We welcome the vital new military support as the Ukrainians prepare for their expected counter-offensive.
Speaking in The Hague last week, President Zelensky said:
“We are not attacking either Putin or Moscow; we are fighting on our own territory, defending our villages and towns”.
Today’s announcement of UK Storm Shadow missiles will strengthen Ukraine’s fight to repel the Russian forces and defend against the brutal attacks that the Defence Secretary laid out in detail. What limitations are put on the use of those longer-range missiles? How have they been integrated with Ukrainian planes? Will other NATO allies now follow with similar support?
As the Defence Secretary said, it was six months ago that he told the House that he was open-minded about sending longer-range missiles. Three months ago, in February, the Prime Minister said:
“The UK will be the first country to provide Ukraine with longer-range weapons.”
So, as I asked in my urgent question two weeks ago, why has this taken so long? Ukraine needs all military aid on the frontline now. President Zelensky said last night:
“Not everything has arrived yet… We are expecting armoured vehicles”.
Have all 10 types of UK armoured vehicles pledged to Ukraine now been delivered to Ukraine?
The Defence Secretary is right that, although Putin proclaimed, “Here is to our victory!” in the Victory Day parade in Moscow this week, he cannot disguise or distract from his failure in Ukraine. Despite that, Russia is far from a spent military force. The next few weeks and months will be critical.
I am really proud of British military leadership on Ukraine over the last year. I want to be able to say the same in six months’ time. We want the UK’s momentum for Ukraine to be maintained and accelerated. So when will we see the 2023 action plan for Ukraine that the Defence Secretary promised last August? Why has no equipment bought by the UK-led international fund for Ukraine been delivered to Kyiv nine months after the scheme was set up? When will Ministers designate the Wager Group as a terrorist organisation, as Labour has argued for since February with support on both sides of the House? Why are the Government still refusing UK support for a special tribunal to prosecute Putin? Who in Government is responsible for leading, integrating and co-ordinating the UK’s backing for Ukraine?
The Defence Secretary knows that the Government have had, and will continue to have, Labour’s fullest support in providing military aid to Ukraine and in reinforcing NATO allies. NATO has overhauled its defences since Putin invaded Ukraine, and the Chief of the Defence Staff yesterday welcomed new NATO regional plans. Can the Defence Secretary confirm today that the UK will fulfil, in full, our obligations in those plans?
The British public are still strongly behind Ukraine. They want the UK to continue our support, to confront Russian aggression and to pursue Putin for his war crimes. We must, and we will, stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his and his party’s support. He knows as well as anyone that we are all determined to see this through. I think that this has been an exemplary example of Parliament at its best over the 440 or 450 days of the Russian invasion. I will get straight to the point and try to answer as many of his questions as I can.
On limitations, obviously we will not talk in public about whether there are limitations. The key here is to give Ukraine that capability to defend itself. What I can say is that, throughout this process, we always make sure that we gift having first examined, minimising escalation and unnecessary provocation of the Russian state—that is not the business we are in; we are in the business of helping Ukraine to defend itself within its sovereign territory. Of course, it is easy to forget that none of this would be needed—no deep-strike capability would be needed—if Russia withdrew its forces to the other side of the border and back into Russia. Every Russian force would be safe after that. Of course, that is why we are seeking deep fire within Ukraine, for example: because Russia has invaded so far into another country.
On integration with the plane, Storm Shadow is an air-fired missile. The right hon. Gentleman is correct, of course, that it is not easy to take a British-French missile and incorporate it with a former Soviet or Russian aircraft. That is one of the reasons for the time taken: working out whether it was technically feasible. I pay tribute to our scientists and technicians, who have done an amazing job—and not just with this type of capability —as well as to other scientists across Europe who have managed to produce integration of western weapons into Russian equipment, and innovative capabilities, at speed. I often question why I cannot have that speed when I try to commission some of those capabilities domestically, so there are lessons there. That is one of the areas.
I am not sure that there are many other powers with similar weapons systems providing similar support. There is, however, a drive by many allies to deliver further deep capability. HIMARS is obviously 80 to 90 km, but another American system that was gifted a few months ago—forgive me; I cannot remember its name—has a longer range.
One of our requirements in the second round of the international fund is the ability to do deep fire—deep strike. This took a long time partly because of technical feasibility, since putting a fifth or fourth-generation weapons system on what is sometimes a second or third-generation aircraft is not easy. We will see. I am not going to comment on when we expect these to be used. They have yet to be tested, and we will find out in the next few weeks or months the extent to which that has worked, but it takes time.
As I have always reassured the House, I wanted to calibrate our response. We need to make sure that we do these things in a way that helps Ukraine further its capabilities. Gifting these earlier when we were unsure whether they would necessarily work, without any form of offensive on the horizon, may have made them vulnerable and may not have made the difference that we are all trying to achieve. All I can say is that, having technically cleared the hurdles, and as everyone talks about an expected counter-offence, now is the right time to gift these to Ukraine, and they are now going into or are in the country.
No one should doubt any of our momentum here. Yes, the media come and go and cover different aspects of the world, and Sudan comes along, but if we look at the Government’s track record—Operation Interflex, which trained 9,000 last year and will train 20,000 this year around the United Kingdom, or the gifting of tanks at the beginning of the year—we see that our momentum continues.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about what has gone into the country, I know that all our tanks have gone into the country, as well as many of our Spartans and armoured vehicles. I do not know whether every single one has, and I am happy to write to him, but the big ones such as the tanks are all in country. They have trained and exercised both here and in Ukraine, and I know that the Ukrainian forces using them so far have enjoyed them very much and talk very highly of the Challengers. That also goes for the AS 90s, which have not only been put in but used. They seem to get excellent availability on the AS 90, so there are lessons to be learned for our capability.
On the Wagner Group designation, proscribing an organisation is a matter for the Home Office, done via collective write-round. I cannot comment on when or how those things happen. We have heard the calls from both sides of the House to proscribe it. The Wagner Group is a thoroughly nasty organisation, from not only what we see in Ukraine but what we have seen in west Africa and Syria, and does pose a threat to the United Kingdom and her allies, either directly or indirectly. It is a group that needs dealing with, although Mr Prigozhin seems to be making himself deeply unpopular with the leadership in the Kremlin at the moment—if I was him, I would not stand near any open windows if I was dealing with Mr Putin. Nevertheless, Wagner is here and we have to deal with it.
On the regional plans, I am trying—they are over 3,000 pages long and are written in NATO-speak, which probably makes them the equivalent of 12,000 pages long when we try to decipher them. It is important that we try to make commitments that meet those plans and also support others if they do not have that capability, because the strength of NATO will be whether it can carry its political determination into a military plan that makes a difference and deters—that is what we are really about—Russia or any other aggressor. There are a few more weeks and months to go, but I am wading my way through the 3,000 pages, and after this statement I am heading off to the Army on Salisbury plain to discuss exactly that.
I very much welcome this statement. I recently returned from Ukraine, and there is massive appreciation for what Britain has been doing and continues to do—not just the lethal aid provided by the Government but the humanitarian support gifted from the British people. There is huge anticipation about the counter-attack that is likely to take place, but there is also a message, as I hope the Secretary of State will agree, that it may require a second, third, or fourth counter-offensive to take place. This is not going to end simply when the Ukrainians decide to push forward. We should expect Russia to go ugly and to use unconventional systems in response.
I welcome the announcement on Storm Shadow. Britain is yet again stepping forward. Are the Americans going to match with ATACMS—the army tactical missile system? There is still a request for jets to be gifted as well. Finally, Trump last night refused to say that he wanted Ukraine to win. This is a material factor, because he could win the United States election next year, and that might be what Putin is banking on.
My right hon. Friend’s characterisation of the counter-offensives is correct. I do not think it is a case of “One last thrust and everything will be over by Christmas.” I think this is a matter of Ukraine quite rightly finding and exploiting, as any good general would, weaknesses and opportunities. We should always manage our expectations that it will all be over by Christmas. When we have a Russian army that does not mind sacrificing hundreds of thousands of its own people, we are not up against rational leadership that recognises, as anyone else would do, that the game is up already. Having lost 10,000 armoured vehicles, and with over 250,000 of its own soldiers dead or wounded, most people would have recognised that the game is up. That is one of the big challenges.
There are other weapons systems that Ukraine has asked for, and the ATACMS is a well-documented capability. We are pretty confident that Storm Shadow will plug some of that gap and definitely deliver the deeper range that HIMARS used to achieve when it was at 80 km. The Russians, after suffering significant losses to HIMARS, obviously worked out and moved beyond range ring, so we think Storm Shadow will absolutely help the Ukrainians make that difference.
The US President today is President Biden. I have a good relationship with him, as do the Government. They have stood firm, with $87 billion of donations. They have put their money where their mouth is. A huge amount of effort has gone into their support. I lived in America for a few years, or my parents did, and I know that the decent and good people of America would recognise that their rights are just as important as those of the people of Ukraine. Their constitution upholds rights. I think that is what will unite them, and I am confident that whoever comes next as President will continue to support the battle to uphold human rights.
I thank the Secretary of State for this detailed statement and advance sight of it. I assure him that the SNP condemns, and will continue to condemn, Putin’s unprovoked invasion of a peaceful, democratic neighbour in the strongest possible terms.
I join the Labour party in asking once again for the UK Government to formally proscribe the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation. Could the Secretary of State tell his colleagues in other Departments that we would like to see a plan to support Ukrainian refugees to seek damages against the Wagner Group in the UK courts? He mentioned Iran. I would add that the Government should be considering proscribing as a terrorist organisation the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
President Zelensky has said that Ukraine is constrained by delays in the delivery of armoured vehicles. What action plan do the Government have, along with their allies, to ensure that those armoured vehicles are delivered to assist in those efforts? Finally, could the Secretary of State comment on reports that India’s imports of Russian oil rose tenfold in 2022? What do the Government plan to do alongside allies to ensure that oil products originating from Russia do not reap record profits?
I am grateful for the SNP’s support on this. I think we all recognise what Ukraine is fighting for, and it appeals to our decency and the fact that we must all stand up for it. The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion of a financial penalty or suing the Wagner Group in the courts is an interesting one. It reminds me, from my previous role as Security Minister, that proscription is an important tool, but it rarely unlocks any more than a brand or labelling of something. What I suspect will have a bigger impact on Wagner will be suing in the courts, given that mercenaries do not hang around if they do not get paid. Seeking damages through our amazing courts system, whether in Scotland or London, which is world-renowned for being fair and respected, has a long tentacle. I have listened to his suggestion. While I cannot advise victims of the Wagner Group, I think that hitting Wagner in the wallet will probably be a stronger method, even though I hear that proscription is also wanted.
I also listened to the call to proscribe the IRGC. Iran is absolutely supplying Russia with drones. It cannot hide it; it cannot pretend: it is supplying Russia with drones. Of course, in return, Russia is funding the Iranians and the IRGC to make those drones—it is funding that industry. That poses a wider threat to the region, whether to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Houthis or Iraq, where we see Iranian drones being used already. No good shall come of it, shall we say?
As far as delays go, one part of the assistance we provide is that we have people in Poland, Slovakia and Romania helping to co-ordinate delivery and helping the logistics of it. We stand by to help any other nation do that, and at our next meeting of colleagues—either NATO Defence Ministers or others—I will be very happy to find out who is having difficulty. We stand by, ready to help.
Some of the great work we have done in Ukraine that does not get written about is in things like logistics: flying aircraft to pick up people’s donations and bring them back to the hubs. All of those people—the members of the RAF who fly those aeroplanes—are heroes to me. We do it often and, in a sense, not secretly; it is just that the media do not seem to want to write about it, but I know about it, and I think it is really good work. We will keep the momentum—we will keep the supplies coming in—but I think we should all recognise that, as any Members who have visited the Ukrainian training will know, there is a lot of hardship still to come.
I welcome the delivery of Storm Shadow, because we must do all we can to even the odds for our Ukrainian friends who face a well-armed terrorist state. However, I am concerned that at this point, we have not managed to suffocate Putin’s war machine. Yes, we need to deliver military aid, but we also need to make sure that we suffocate the finances that allow Putin to continue to wage this war. As such, I urge my right hon. Friend to lobby the Chancellor to establish an economic Ramstein of G7 Treasury Ministers or those from allied nations who can come together and make sure that economically, we are doing what is needed to stand up the phenomenal war effort being led by my right hon. Friend and all of our allies around Europe.
That is a good idea, and I will definitely pass it on to the Chancellor. Work has already been done through the G7 with the oil cap, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that Russia needs funding—it needs to sell its oil and gas. Currently, there are reports that it sells it to China and India at huge discounts in order to get it there. The Foreign Office and the Treasury work tirelessly to close any loopholes that are brought to their attention, whether by Members or anyone else, including the law enforcement agencies. Russia has shown itself to be adept in using those loopholes, but we do see that the Russian industrial base is now struggling with the rearming of some of its equipment. So many of its subsystems seem to have come from the west that it is now definitely finding it hard to resupply itself.
The announcement about new munitions to Ukraine is very welcome, but we also need reassurance that the Secretary of State’s Department will be able to restock. Can he tell us what the Department is doing to ramp up and sustain production capacity, including supply chains, not only to support Ukraine until the end of this conflict, but to ensure we restock our own armed forces?
The right hon. Gentleman consistently asks about this matter, and he is right that we have to keep restocking ourselves. Some of the restocking has started, including the next-generation light anti-tank weapons, if Members remember the very first gifting—that restocking started a few months ago—and the low and high-velocity anti-aircraft missiles. I am hoping to be able to inform the House in June that we have placed a long and enduring contract in the UK to replace our 155 mm shells. One thing that this conflict exposes is that we need those types of fires available. Restocking is important, and in the autumn the Treasury gave me £560 million for some of that refurbishment, but there was also other funding in the latest Budget, which I will of course make sure is spent on keeping our forces refurbished.
We have led western Europe in supplying kit to the Ukrainians—ably administered by MOD Defence Equipment and Support, it should be noted—but we have not yet sent jets, despite the fact that we have a squadron of tranche 1 Typhoons sitting in a hangar and despite the fact that in Westminster Hall recently, President Zelensky very publicly called for us to do so. The Secretary of State knows from his own experience that when the long-awaited counter-attack begins, those Ukrainian brigades must have local air superiority over the battlefield to succeed, and what is left of the Ukrainian air force is far too small for it to do that on its own. As such, can I ask him specifically what we are doing, first to send jets, and secondly to encourage other western allies to send MiG-29s, F-16s or even A-10s to Ukraine? It would be a tragedy, literally, if the counter-offensive ran out of momentum because it lacked air support.
My right hon. Friend is right to talk about how we maintain momentum and about the need for air support because, of course, while Russia’s army has been very badly decimated, a significant part of its air force remains in a good condition. Therefore, it is vital that that air attack potential is minimised.
On particular jets, we offered the Ukrainians training on Typhoons, as my right hon. Friend will know. I recently received a letter turning that off as a request and asking us for support on the F-16, which of course we do not hold. However, I would encourage anybody to gift F-16s to help the Ukrainians. In the meantime, we already use some of our funding and support to buy spares for the likes of the MiGs and everything else, if that is required, because the other challenge this year is going to be sustainability. A lot of equipment has been gifted and huge numbers of Russian tanks have been captured. If we can refurbish and sustain them, that is the best and quickest way for Ukraine to continue its fight, so we need to keep its air force flying. On the F-16s, I am very happy to encourage any of my colleagues to donate them, and if they do, we will happily move them.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I am very grateful both for advance sight of the statement and for its substance. Two days ago, the Washington Post reported that the UK
“now appears poised to send Kyiv the long-range missiles the Biden administration has long denied it.”
What is the United States Government’s position on the UK’s decision to supply that deep-strike capability?
The issue I take with Washington Post is that the US has not denied Ukraine longer-range missiles; it has put in the high mobility artillery rocket system and, indeed, some other western systems. The difference is that the army tactical missile system is a different type of munition. Storm Shadow has the capacity to hit below ground—it can go into a bunker—and the ATACMS is more of an area weapons system, so it is a different weapons system. The Americans have been clear on their donations, or not—at the moment, they are considering their donations. As far as the use, donation or gifting of Storm Shadow goes, the United States has been incredibly supportive of the United Kingdom’s decision to do so.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his very sobering statement. The sheer scale of atrocities against civilians is horrific: it is heartbreaking that over 23,000 civilians have been wounded or killed. Last month, UNICEF told us that the number of children who have been killed is over 500, and we must not forget the thousands of children who have been kidnapped by the Russian child-catchers. Given the attacks on medical facilities and the level of casualties, can my right hon. Friend update us on what medical support the UK has been giving to Ukraine?
Yes. My right hon. Friend sitting next to me, the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, who himself is a naval surgeon, has been incredibly proactive in co-ordinating and supporting that support. He has met a number of times with the Ukrainian surgeon general, and will do so again soon. We have provided healthcare training and equipment for medical purposes, including rehabilitation, and the Department of Health and Social Care has provided support alongside that. I am very happy to write to my right hon. Friend with the details of the purely civilian medical help and assistance we have given—often, that is with things like generators, ambulances and other medical supplies.
The Defence Secretary himself has said that the Conservatives have “hollowed out and underfunded” our armed forces, so why is he still pushing ahead with further cuts to the British Army of 10,000 troops and £2 billion real-terms cuts in day-to-day MOD spending, which will mean less money for forces pay, recruitment and families?
It would be good if the hon. Lady actually quoted me correctly. I did not say “the Conservatives”; I said that successive Governments, including her own party’s, have hollowed out the armed forces for the past 30 years, and that is why we need to rectify it. It is why we got £24 billion recently, and an extra £5 billion at the last Budget, not only to refurbish but to modernise our armed forces. Get the quote right next time.
Storm Shadow is a potent weapon, so I cautiously welcome the announcement today on the basis of what the Secretary of State has reported to the House. I am also reassured by the undertaking that Storm Shadow will be used only to prosecute targets inside Ukraine, because NATO’s aim has to be to eject Russia from Ukraine, not to wage war against Russia. My point is this: in the same way that Challenger 2 pre-empted the deployment of Abrams and Leopard 2, can we assume in this case that the deployment of Storm Shadow might pre-empt other medium and long-range weapons being deployed from other NATO nations? Also, can he give an answer specifically on what it will take for F-16s to be deployed?
There are other nations with similar but not exactly the same types of weapons system, and I have seen already that our next bidding round for the international fund will include deep-strike and long-range fires that we will procure through this international fund, which includes Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and so on. There is more to come from both the market and from gifting, depending on what that is. What I would say is that the assessment is that the Storm Shadow we are so far planning to gift—for operational reasons, I will not say the exact number—is currently enough to satisfy Ukrainian demand for that capability. We will keep that under review to ensure we can make the difference.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, and I commend him on his strong and determined leadership. He reflects what we all want him to do and he does it well, and we thank him for that. President Zelensky has stated this morning that Ukraine needs much more time to prepare to launch the highly anticipated counter-offensive against Russia, as the military still needs the western aid it has been promised. The Secretary of State has indicated some of the things that are happening. To prevent further loss of life, what immediate steps will the Foreign Office take to deliver the much-needed and announced vehicles to assist Ukraine in pushing back Russia as it intensifies its attacks in Donetsk oblast?
None of us should underestimate the political weight on the shoulders of the President of Ukraine. It is easy for us in the safety of London, behind an alliance of 30 in NATO, to forget that he will have to make a decision at some stage this year to send men and women of their armed forces across minefields towards machine-gun posts to take back their sovereign territory. There is no easy way to predict when they will do that, and the President has to balance that with an economy deliberately destroyed by Russia. I wish them well in that. We will continue to support them to the end—that is what I believe and what we stand for. We will keep supporting them. If he delays because he is waiting for the equipment, I would understand that fully. We will do everything we can to make sure that everything gifted is in the right place at the right time, so that when he makes that decision, those men and women have the best chance of survival.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and announcement. He has set out a list of atrocities that surely shames Putin and Russia. I have seen for myself in Ukraine how evilly and deviously landmines and other booby-traps are contrived to cause maximum casualties and maximum danger to civilians. Can he confirm that the UK Government will continue to support the day-to-day work of the HALO Trust and the Mines Advisory Group in the removal of these mines, because they are the imminent threat on a day-to-day basis to so many civilians?
The HALO Trust is an amazing organisation, first founded under the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, I think. That is where its pedigree comes from. Recently, I met some people who had been working for the HALO Trust in Ukraine. The conflict is ongoing now, but long after it is over, I know those organisations will be there, and the Government will do everything we can to support them, whether through the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office and other Departments.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Before 2022, the Ukrainian army uniform had not been adapted for women’s bodies. Today, women form about 23% of the army in Ukraine, with roughly 7,000 fighting on the frontline. Does he agree that the bravery of those women should be recognised? What support have the Government provided to Ukraine to ensure that female soldiers have the equipment that they need?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. When my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) did her report about women in the armed forces, one of the main recommendations for our armed forces was to make sure that we are buying equipment for women and not just for all. We have started to do that and as such our industry has become one of the leaders in that area. As a result, some of the work and gifting to Ukraine reflect exactly that, to ensure that they get something specific that makes it easier to live in those trenches and survive. I thank her for prompting me because, when I go to Salisbury plain in about 25 minutes, I will make sure we get a catch-up on the training of Ukrainian personnel and find out whether Ukraine is still getting those uniforms.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the update he has given today and for all the work he is doing, which is tremendous. I spent a very short time—just a few days—in Ukraine earlier this year, and I saw the devastation coming from the illegal invasion. He touched on Operation Interflex. Can he say any more about how that work is progressing?
I took the First Lady of Ukraine to Interflex last week. We have nearly 700 foreign troops helping, from Australia, New Zealand, most of Scandinavia and the Netherlands, alongside some 750 British troops. We trained 9,000-plus last year and are on course to do 20,000 this year. We have now expanded at the request of the Ukrainians to do not just basic training, but training non-commissioned officers. Just last week, we started platoon commanders courses. We are starting in the development of the low-level leadership that a country needs to start rebuilding its armed forces. We expect to continue to get requests. We have had another request to expand the training. We are absolutely in the middle of it. I will be having a conversation about that this afternoon and I hope to have more to announce to the House later.