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Ukraine: Military Equipment

Volume 816: debated on Monday 29 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to sell missiles to the government of Ukraine; what discussions they had with the governments of (1) Germany, (2) France, and (3) the United States of America, prior to opening negotiations on the supply of military equipment to Ukraine; and what assessment they have made of the impact of any such sales on peace in the region.

My Lords, we have signed a number of agreements with the Government of Ukraine to work together and with industry to boost Ukraine’s defence capabilities. This is part of the UK’s ongoing commitment to the Ukrainian defence capabilities and the support announced during President Zelensky’s visit to the UK in October. The UK maintains close dialogue with key allies, including Germany, France and the US, regarding Ukrainian military development. These agreements reflect and underline the UK’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

My Lords, in eastern Europe, we seem to be drifting towards a war that we will inevitably lose, since we are outnumbered by about four to one. Would the Minister like to take back to the department the need for a comprehensive conference to deal with the frozen conflicts of eastern Europe, most of which date back 20 years? We need to review the Minsk II agreement and possibly look at an Austrian state treaty solution to the problems of Ukraine. Can we have a new initiative please, and not just a drift to war?

I thank my noble friend for the question, but I do not share his analysis. No one is disputing that there is a serious situation within Ukraine and on the Crimea peninsula. That is precisely why, over the last 20 years, and particularly in the past six years, the UK, along with allies and partners, has been supporting Ukraine with training, in capacity-building missions and maritime and other training initiatives. That is what the recent agreement was predicated on when we signed the treaty with Ukraine on official credit support for UK Export Finance. It is all about supporting that country and helping it to build its military capabilities.

To build on what the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has just said, it was General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, who only recently spoke of a drift towards an accidental war with Russia. Can the Minister explain to us how, in our desire rightly to stand by our ally in Ukraine and our other allies, we are going to stop that drift to any sort of accidental incident or war with Russia?

The accidental occurrence to which the noble Lord refers would obviously be very negative and unwelcome, and what all powers, particularly the UK and NATO allies, are anxious to avoid. The noble Lord will be aware that, within NATO, we are focused on dialogue and discussion and on doing what we can to provide support to Ukraine, not in some provocative sense but, simply, in a sensible and supportive manner, helping it to build a capability. A lot of very good work has gone on in that respect, not just from the UK but from our other allies and partners.

My Lords, Operation Orbital is the long-standing military training package that we have offered to Ukraine for some years. Historically, it has only ever delivered defensive training. Now that we are looking at delivering military hardware to Ukraine, has the time came also to offer lethal training?

My noble friend is quite right in that Operation Orbital was conceived and has been delivered as a training mission, again with the objective of building Ukraine’s military capacity. As I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, this is part of a chain of events—and this is why we are moving on to assist Ukraine with acquiring other support for its military and naval capability. We wish to support an ally and a friend and partner, and make sure that we can use our expertise and skill to enable it to be stronger—that is what this composite package of measures is about.

My Lords, capacity building is obviously important, but last week the Daily Telegraph reported the defence intelligence chief of Ukraine as saying that there were 92,000 soldiers massing towards Ukraine’s borders. Can the UK Government really help capacity building to the extent that that can be offset? If not, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, can some other action not be taken so we can begin to look at diplomacy rather than military capacity building?

Operation Orbital, the training arm of what the UK has been doing with Ukraine since 2015, has actually trained around 22,000 Ukrainian troops to date. Operation Orbital delivers tactically focused training to the Armed Forces, such as medical logistics, counter-improvised explosive device training and maritime and air domain training. We have other training initiatives as well. In addition, we support Ukraine in the defence reform space, and we do that with our allies, so a great deal of support is being given to Ukraine. We regret the attitude and posture adopted by Russia and urge it to de-escalate pressure and help to stabilise the region.

My Lords, the Question refers to “peace in the region” but, unless I have got it wrong, it is Russia that has invaded South Ossetia, annexed Crimea, Moldova and now Donbass. Surely nobody can doubt the malign intent, and determination for aggrandisement of Putin’s regime. Does my noble friend agree that to take a disinterested or neutral stance on the conflicts in Ukraine would be to the detriment of world peace?

My noble friend is correct in his analysis that the perpetrators of the pressure are indeed the Russian Government. We have significant concerns about their aggressive pattern of military build-ups on Ukraine’s border, certainly in the illegally annexed Crimea. That behaviour is unacceptable. We and our allies are monitoring the situation and continually call on Russia to adhere to its international obligations and commitments.

My Lords, anyone who has studied Russia knows that if the Ukrainians try to retake the Russian-populated areas of Donbass and Crimea by force, Russia will go to war. Meanwhile, as the Minister said, we are providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, training its military and providing loans so that it can buy military equipment. May I press the Minister to say what effort Her Majesty’s Government are making to seek a peaceful solution to this conflict?

The noble Lord will be aware that we engage in discussions with and make representations to Russia. Indeed, the Prime Minister spoke to President Putin on 25 October and was very clear about the views that we hold. We understand and sympathise with Ukraine, which obviously feels vulnerable, and it is our duty along with our allies and partners, particularly in NATO, to provide support and reassurance. That is what we are endeavouring to do.

My Lords, the greatest risk to the survival of mankind is not global warming, it is an accidental thermonuclear war. One has only to look at the dreadful behaviour of Putin, not just around Ukraine but in a number of other ways, and his very loose talk about his de-escalatory policy of using a nuclear weapon should he be losing a conventional war, to see what the real risks are. I believe it is very important that we get the people who were around the table in Minsk when we made the Ukrainians get rid of their nuclear weapons who have failed since that time in terms of their handling of Russia. Does the Minister agree? We dealt with Crimea badly; everything that has happened with Ukraine has been dealt with badly. We need urgently to get back round the table or there will be a mistake—and, goodness me, that will be it.

That would be a very alarming prognosis and a very unwelcome outcome, which I obviously hope can be avoided. The noble Lord is aware of the programme of engagement that has continued over a number of years with Ukraine. It is not just on the part of the UK, it is with our other allies, not least, as I said, within NATO. Ukraine enjoys a strong bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom; it is a relationship that we value and nurture and, as recent events have indicated, is it one that we support by deeds in addition to words.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, asks about the impact of arms sales on peace in eastern Europe. In the light of the US and allied withdrawal from Afghanistan, the broader pursuit of “America first” policies from Washington, and the fact that the UK is the world’s second-largest arms exporter, with the majority going to the Middle East, are the Government reviewing all arms sales and indeed the place of the UK arms industry? Are they truly counting the cost on UK and global security of our arms industry?

The UK Government take very seriously our responsibility for the security of this country and our support for our global allies. That is why we have a strong defence capability. The noble Baroness will be aware that exports of arms and weapons are monitored extremely closely under a very robust regime.