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Ukraine: International Conference

Volume 822: debated on Tuesday 7 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to convene an international conference on Ukraine.

My Lords, the UK Government have been at the heart of the international response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have played a prominent part in international co-ordination, including conferences convening key humanitarian donors and contributors of military support. As well as providing direct support to Ukraine, we continue to work closely with international partners, particularly through the G7, to co-ordinate our sanctions and economic measures on Russia and our wider diplomatic backing for Ukraine.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what he said and acknowledge what has been done by this country, but he did not answer my Question. The convening of an international conference could do much to bolster President Zelensky. It could indicate that we would in no circumstances contemplate an inch of Ukrainian territory that was occupied by Ukraine on 24 February going anywhere else, but also that we are deeply disturbed by the massive destruction and increasing loss of life. We should tell President Zelensky that we need to agree what is achievable, and then do everything in our power to achieve it, for a defeat of Ukraine is a defeat of us all.

My Lords, I acknowledge that I did not directly answer my noble friend’s question, but that is partly because it is very hard to answer. There are any number of international events, some of which we have co-ordinated and convened; others have been convened by allies and partners. This is a continuous process. At the G7, we took the unprecedented step of taking away Russia’s most favoured nation status at the WTO. At UNGA, the UK led 141 states in condemning Russia’s invasion; 140 voted with Ukraine on a separate humanitarian resolution. I could spend the rest of the 10 minutes detailing events that have happened internationally, many of them convened by the UK, where the message has been sent as loudly and clearly as possible that we support Ukraine in its battle against Russia and that we will absolutely stand up for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.

My Lords, security guarantees in some indiscernible form continue to be referenced as a major issue in ending the war in Ukraine. We understand that Kyiv is now in discussion with the Quad about them. Yesterday, the Prime Minister met President Zelensky and No. 10 briefed the press that they had discussed security guarantees. When will the Government make a Statement to Parliament about what is being discussed and the implications for us, the United Kingdom, of these guarantees?

My Lords, the UK position has not changed. We have been providing support continuously since the beginning of this grim episode. I think it is true to say that we are the second largest contributor of military equipment and the second largest supporter of Ukraine through humanitarian efforts. We have always maintained that, although it is for Ukraine to determine the final settlement, arrangements or agreement, if such an agreement is reached with Russia, our support is unambiguously with Ukraine.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned sanctions. What assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of the sanctions so far imposed, and will they continue to be imposed even if there is a ceasefire?

On the second point, I am afraid I cannot answer; it is not for me to discuss future policy in relation to sanctions. However, there have been a number of assessments of the effect of the sanctions. We believe that the sanctions have had an inhibiting effect in relation to Mr Putin’s ability to mobilise his forces. For example, several weapons manufacturers have had to suspend their activity as a result of lack of access to parts, and defence company capabilities have been restricted, limiting Russia’s ability to replace advanced tech, including drones. Russia’s domestic vehicle sales have dropped by around 80%, partly due to lack of components. It is also forecast that Russia’s GDP is shrinking by anything between 8% and 15% this year, with the IMF expecting its economy to shrink further next year. As I said, it is not appropriate to speculate on specific future designations as that would undermine their impact, but there is no doubt that the sanctions are having an effect.

The President of Senegal, as chairperson of the African Union, met representatives at the EU summit last week. He warned of the collateral damage that is putting between 8 million and 13 million people in Africa—especially in central Africa and the Horn of Africa, which I will visit next week—in imminent danger of absolute hunger. There is a great need for urgent international co-ordination between the IMF, the World Bank, the G7, the EU and the UK. Will the Minister consider a London summit on humanitarian relief for the collateral damage being inflicted on the most innocent and vulnerable in the world, through no fault of their own, as a result of Putin’s aggression?

My Lords, it certainly is the case that Russia, and in particular Vladimir Putin, has used hunger as one of the weapons in his war against Ukraine, with effects not just for people in the region but across the whole world, as the noble Lord said. The UK has announced additional finance as an immediate relief for those countries most affected. For example, we are addressing, through investment, food insecurity in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. We have pledged £286 million to meet needs in Afghanistan. Over the next three years, we will direct £3 billion to the most vulnerable countries and people to help them recover from the crises. In addition, the World Bank has announced $30 billion to address food insecurity globally over the next 15 months, much of which—although not all—is a response to what is happening in Ukraine.

My Lords, I want to pick up the last point the Minister made, on the global food shortages caused by the failure to get grain out of Ukraine. What is the Government’s response to the EU President’s strong backing at the Security Council this week for UN Secretary-General Guterres’s efforts to get a package agreement that would allow grain exports from Ukraine and ensure that Russian food and fertiliser have unrestricted access to global markets? What are we doing to work in concert with the EU on this important area?

I believe that the EU and the UK are completely aligned on this issue. Yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke to President Zelensky, and freeing up Ukraine’s grain supplies was top of the list of priorities in their discussion. However, I am afraid that I do not have a precise readout of their discussion, other than to say that this was a key focus of it.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the one requirement that Ukraine has above all others is more heavy weaponry and artillery? What more can the UK do, and what discussions has the Minister’s department had with our EU allies and counterparts?

My Lords, alongside our allies and partners, we are supporting Ukraine to defend itself against Russia. We have committed £1.3 billion so far in military support for Ukraine. As of 25 May, we have sent 6,900 anti-tank missiles, including NLAWs and Javelins; air defence systems, including Starstreak anti-air missiles; 1,360 anti-structures munitions; and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosives. We sent over 200,000 pieces of non-lethal aid—helmets, body armour and so on—and on 22 April the PM announced that we will send Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Poland to backfill and thus enable Poland to give tanks to Ukraine. As we have made very clear, our support will continue for as long as necessary.

My Lords, Ukraine’s economy is under severe strain. Does the Minister agree that the leading western economies of the world are well capable of providing the necessary economic support to stabilise the Ukrainian economy? Do the Government have any plans to organise a meeting or a conference to ensure that that support is put in place, so that it can demonstrably be seen by Ukraine’s main adversary that we will continue to support the economy in whatever way is necessary?

My Lords, we have given £74 million to support the Ukrainian Government’s day-to-day spending. We have given a £100 million three-year package to reform energy supply and to support their energy independence moves. The Foreign Secretary has reiterated that we stand ready to guarantee up to a billion dollars in government loans. We have instructed the UK export credit agency to retain £3.5 billion of financial support for trade with Ukraine, and on 9 April, the Prime Minister announced an additional half a billion dollars in World Bank guarantees to support Ukraine’s economy. As the noble Lord will know, the UK is absolutely not standing alone here. World leaders are discussing what the final support package will have to look like in order to help Ukraine rebuild and stand up again. We fully expect that Russia should be required to contribute significantly to that cost.