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Volume 822: debated on Thursday 16 June 2022


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier to the other place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary:

“I would like to update the House on our support for Ukraine.

It is almost four months since Putin launched this illegal war, bringing untold suffering to the innocent people of Ukraine. The United Kingdom has stood at Ukraine’s side throughout. We have led the charge in the G7, delivering six waves of unprecedented, co-ordinated sanctions that have caused a £256 billion hit to the Russian economy. The UK has pledged over £1 billion in economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine, making us the third largest bilateral humanitarian donor.

And we were the first European country to deliver military aid, from armoured vehicles to multiple-launch rocket systems. This has spurred others to step up their support.

This united effort has been vital to back Ukraine, but we are approaching a critical moment. Russia is bombarding towns and cities in the east, and some outside Ukraine are questioning whether the free world can sustain its support and claiming that some are beginning to tire of this war. The people of Ukraine do not have that luxury. Our answer must be clear: we will never tire of defending freedom and democracy. Russian aggression cannot be appeased. It will be met with strength. We know what is happening on the ground in Ukraine. Evidence grows of heinous war crimes: the butchery of innocent Ukrainian civilians, rape, torture and abduction. We will ensure that these crimes are fully investigated and justice is done. Russian proxies are breaching the Geneva convention on prisoners of war, including with the targeting of British citizens. I utterly condemn these actions, and we are working, through the Ukrainian authorities, to secure their release and hold Russia to account. I am in close contact with my Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.

Allowing aggression to succeed would only bring further conflict and misery, and the war would not stop in Ukraine, so we are committed to stepping up our commitment, maintaining the pressure on Russia’s economy and entrenching our policy of containment and isolation of Russia. In the coming weeks, leaders will meet at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and at the G7, G20 and NATO summits. These meetings are an opportunity to stand with Ukraine and stand up for sovereignty and freedom. Ukraine can and must win this war. We will never backslide on our commitments, however long this conflict goes on. Our determination to defend our principles will outmatch that of the aggressors. The result of Putin’s aggression so far has been to unite the free world. We are stronger now than we were four months ago and Russia is weaker. We must maintain this unity. We must be relentless in delivering military aid at this critical time. This includes long-range weapons and other vital needs and improving the quality of Ukraine’s military equipment for the long term to NATO standards. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister launched the UK-Poland joint commission in early April. We are working with Ukraine and other allies to shape its future defence strategy and deter future aggression.

We must also back Ukraine in negotiations. So far, Russia has shown that it is not serious about negotiations. We can never allow Ukraine to be pressurised into giving up territory in a way that we would never accept ourselves. Through the G7 and NATO, we are doing everything we can to strengthen Ukraine’s hand. We also need to make sure that our Baltic friends and our Polish friends are involved. Sanctions must be kept in place while Russian boots are on Ukrainian soil, and we must keep increasing the pressure. Today, I have announced our latest sanctions package. This includes Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has repeatedly abused his position to justify the war. It includes Russia children’s rights commissioner, who has orchestrated a policy that enables the forced transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children into Russia. And it includes four further collaborators in the breakaway republics, for their collusion in the occupation.

Although our immediate priority must be to help Ukraine win the war, we are also working to rebuild the country as fast as possible, with a new Marshall plan. At the Ukraine recovery conference in Lugano next month, we will rally the international reconstruction efforts, urging all our partners to bring ambitious offers to the table. I am working with Minister Kuleba on bringing new investment to Kyiv and to help reconstruct those towns in the region that have been liberated from Russia’s destructive occupation. Russia’s efforts to destroy Ukraine will only lead to it becoming a stronger, more prosperous and more united European nation.

We must also end Russia’s attack on global food security. The Kremlin is blockading Ukrainian ports, shelling civilian infrastructure and preventing Ukraine from exporting its produce. By driving up food prices and creating shortages, the Kremlin is punishing the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. At the same time, it is peddling lies and disinformation, claiming that the problems are because of sanctions. We are exposing those lies and working with our partners to unlock the export of grain and open the commercial shipping routes. We will stand with our friends in the Commonwealth and beyond who are suffering.

In the long run, there must be consequences for Russia’s actions. For would-be aggressors everywhere, Putin must not only lose this war but be denied any benefit from it. Any future aggression must be prevented and Russia must be isolated on the world stage. Ukraine must prevail, for the good of its people and to uphold the fundamental principles of sovereignty, self-determination, freedom and democracy. The UK stands with Ukraine for the long haul. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. As Putin’s war of attrition against the people of Ukraine continues, we must stand firm with our NATO allies in providing military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance. We are at one with the Government on their support for Ukraine.

The people of Ukraine continue to show extraordinary heroism in defending their country against unprovoked and unjustifiable attacks that are having ramifications around the world, as the Minister put it in the Statement. Putin’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is now driving a global humanitarian catastrophe, leading to a rise of 41% in global food prices. As a result, the International Rescue Committee projects that almost 50 million people will face acute hunger this year. The World Food Programme puts the estimate at 47 million.

The Minister will recall that last week I asked him about the Government’s response to the EU President’s strong backing at the Security Council 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 fertilisers have unrestricted access to global markets. In his response, the Minister referred to the Prime Minister’s conversation with President Zelensky that week but was not able to give a precise read-out of their discussion, only to say that this issue was a key focus of it. Is he in a position to respond more fully today? What precisely are we doing to work in concert with the EU on this important area?

Also, what progress has been made in identifying alternative sources of food supplies to tackle the global food crisis? Will the Government deliver on Labour’s call for the UK to convene an emergency global food summit with the UN?

This is an international crisis, but we must also remember that the people of Ukraine are paying the highest price. Unfortunately, the recently published international development strategy weakened and cut UK support for the multilateral system, which has been crucial to the delivery of humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine. Can the Minister confirm how much of the humanitarian support pledged to Ukraine to date will be delivered through the multilateral agencies?

Even in Russia, Putin’s invasion is now having disastrous consequences. In recent days, we have read how Alexei Navalny has been removed from a prison, his whereabouts now unknown. Can the Minister tell us what the FCDO has been doing to raise Mr Navalny’s case with Russian counterparts and to seek assurances for his safety and security?

As much as we must recognise that many in Russia are suffering as a result of Putin’s illegal invasion, there is also a ruling elite that must be held to account, as the Minister highlighted in the Statement. The Government claimed some time ago that they were looking into the possibility of confiscating and repurposing frozen Russian assets to provide compensation to victims of war in Ukraine. Since then, we have seen the US, Canada and the EU all developing proposals in this area. Is the Minister able to confirm whether the Government are still pursuing this course of action? If so, what resources have they committed to seeking a solution?

We must also continue to ask what we can do to bolster the security of other democratic states in the region, which will be less safe and secure as a result of the invasion. We should stand in full support of Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, which we hope can be completed as quickly as possible. On that point, exactly what efforts is the FCDO making to persuade counterparts in Turkey to ensure that avoiding delays on these applications is paramount?

I welcome the Minister’s assurance in the Statement that the UK will continue to stand with Ukraine at this difficult and incredibly harmful period in its history. We stand with the Government in support of Ukraine.

My Lords, I also welcome the actions that the British Government have taken to support the Ukrainian nation and its people, including welcoming the provision of multiple launch rocket systems. However, sometimes I get the impression—and the flavour of this Statement indicates this—that the Government think they are the only leading supporter of Ukraine. Actually, we as a nation should be more interested in partnerships being strengthened through this action with other nations, particularly through NATO and with the EU, because that is the organisation that is right on the doorstep of Ukraine.

We know that Russia is using hunger as a weapon of war, with the continued Russian blockade on Ukrainian Black Sea ports, where 98% of Ukrainian grain and wheat exports are harboured. We know that this is a deliberate tactic of war that will have catastrophic global reverberations. Is the UK involved in plans to release those grain stocks, particularly over land? Who are we working with to secure vital future food supplies from these sources?

The war in Ukraine and the global fallout that it has caused are a crisis of epic proportions, which makes the Government’s actions on international aid even more bewildering. Does the Minister really believe it is still appropriate to cut the international aid budget by 35%, as laid out in the Foreign Secretary’s international development strategy? How much of the £220 million pledged to Ukraine has already been delivered, and what impact has it had on the war and the humanitarian crisis? Is that money being kept quite separate from our normal overseas aid plans?

The Liberal Democrats campaigned hard to put pressure on this Government for the golden visa scandal to be ended. It saw thousands of visas granted to Putin’s associates, who laundered their dirty money and reputations in our country—the very same people whom the Government have now sanctioned. For months now the Government have told us that the review into the scandal will be published in due course, but little clarity has been forthcoming. Why are they delaying the publication of that report? Will the Minister confirm a timetable for publication?

We welcome the concept of a Marshall aid plan, but, to be effective, that requires the wholehearted support not just of this country but principally of the USA and the EU. What discussions are taking place with the EU so that there is a genuine partnership to make best use of the limited available resources? Obviously Ukraine is likely to be the principal beneficiary of this aid but, given the migration, the problems in Ukraine’s economy and the impact in Europe, partnership in Europe is very important to the success of any Marshall aid programme. Will the Government please comment?

The noble Lord is forgiven.

I welcome the words from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the emphasis he placed on the genuine cross-party nature of the support that this country has been providing for Ukraine. I know that is an authentic and genuine remark on his part, and it is a reflection of the reality. We have the kind of consensus here that we very rarely have, particularly in these days of political division, so I thank him for his remarks.

The noble Lord is right to put so much emphasis on the catastrophic impacts of Russia’s aggression on some of the very poorest people, communities and countries on earth. As has been said, there is no doubt that part of the Russian strategy has been to use Ukraine’s status as the breadbasket of Europe in order to trigger the kind of food insecurity that I assume the current leader of Russia thinks will help his efforts in Ukraine in one way or another. It is hunger, potentially even famine, as a weapon of war, and that must be added to the list of crimes he has committed.

The noble Lord asked what the UK is doing to address these issues. Many discussions are happening; I was talking to colleagues from the FCDO right before coming to this debate to get an update on what efforts are being made to try to create safe mechanisms for extracting grain from Ukraine. I cannot go into all the details of what that involves but we are urgently working with the UN, the G7 and the international community to look for the best possible solutions. There are some 25 million tonnes of grain currently stuck in Ukraine. Russia is not currently co-operating on this issue in the way that it really needs to. Ukraine is the fifth-largest exporter of grain in the world; it produces around 10% of the world’s wheat exports and feeds up to 400 million people worldwide, so this is a top priority for the UK. Before the invasion, 95% of grain was transported through the seaports; due to seaports being blocked by Russian military action, the UN has warned that potentially 25 million tonnes of grain are going to remain stuck in Ukraine unless we find a solution.

If noble Lords do not mind, I am going to switch from speaker to speaker. The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, suggested that the tone used by my friend the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister is that the UK is somehow doing this alone. I reassure him that that is absolutely not the case; there is no sense at all in which the UK is acting on its own. Indeed, the entire purpose and goal of the UK’s efforts in relation to Ukraine have been about using our abilities to galvanise the world into action. Only a world that is as united as possible will be able to bring this horror to an end and resolve some of the appalling mess caused by Putin’s actions, so there is no question of the UK working alone. I suspect there has not been a day since the invasion began when the UK has not been talking to multilateral agencies, and friends and allies around the world, with a view to aligning as closely as possible our response to this crisis.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked—I hope I am attributing the question to the right noble Lord—how much of the funding and support being provided is via international and multilateral institutions. Although I cannot give him exact figures, I can give examples: the UN’s Ukraine humanitarian fund has received £15 million from the UK to provide immediate life-saving assistance, including healthcare, food, shelter, water and sanitation. We have also provided £15 million to UNICEF for protection and support for the most vulnerable groups, in particular women and children in Ukraine. That includes nutritional support to pregnant women, mental health support to children and their caregivers, access to safe water and so on. We have provided £5 million to the Red Cross and are always looking for ways to ensure that the funds that have been promised, and in most cases secured, are delivered in the most effective way possible. We approach this very much with an open mind and are looking for the best possible solutions.

The noble Lord asked about the case of Mr Navalny. The UK has long been calling for the release of Mr Navalny. Anyone who watched that extraordinary documentary—I am not sure when it was released, but I watched it a month ago—will know that he is an extraordinary global leader and someone who is absolutely on the wrong side of the whims of a despot. I know that most in the West, if not all, would be supportive of his immediate release.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, asked about a return to 0.7%. All I can do is refer him to previous answers. I do not know when we are going to return but can tell him that, like perhaps virtually everyone in government, I am very keen for us to return as soon as possible to 0.7%. That decision was not taken lightly, nor was it one that anyone enjoyed taking, and when the conditions are right we will return to 0.7%. He can have my assurance that I will do all I can to ensure that we return to 0.7% as soon as we can, but I am afraid I cannot tell him more than that.

Finally, he asked how much of the resources that have been pledged in our humanitarian support for Ukraine come from the ODA budget, or whether it is separate. Not all the support promised by the UK, and in some cases delivered, is ODA money. Some of it is support using other mechanisms and tools we have available; for example, export credit and other governmental resources. Where the money is in the nature of humanitarian support, that comes from the ODA budget, just as it would for any humanitarian response to any part of the world that is in need of humanitarian assistance. That is right and proper.

My Lords, I also—now that I have the chance to do so—welcome that fairly punchy Statement which was repeated to us, and the speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Stoneham, both of which I do nothing but endorse.

In recent conversations with Ukrainian MPs, they have made it very clear to me that their stated policy is not to give an inch of ground to the Putin regime. That is probably the right policy to put out there because, if you give an inch, the regime they are facing will take not just a yard but a kilometre, an oblast and possibly your entire country. However, the statistics show that media coverage of this conflict is beginning to decline, and at some point that may lead to a diminution of support or the beginning of a withdrawal of support for the Ukrainian cause. Meanwhile, the Putin regime has learned from its early mistakes and is now grinding slowly across southern Ukraine. Yes, it is taking heavy losses, but the Russian military has a very long tradition of being very careless with its expenditure of human life in the pursuit of a long-term objective.

At some point, we are going to be faced with two scenarios. The first scenario is that, at some point, the allies will begin to put pressure on Ukraine to sacrifice territory for peace. One way of doing that would be to start to dial down the military support we give them to protect themselves. The second scenario is that we have to double down and double down again on the military support and live with the consequences of where that might lead us. I would be very interested in the Minister’s reply to the question of whether scenario one or two is really more likely. Despite the very bullish things we are saying, are we really prepared to go the distance?

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. There is always a risk that people adjust to appalling things, and things which are entirely abnormal become normal. Before coming to the Chamber, I had a meeting with a group of extraordinary members of the Ukrainian Parliament, representing different political parties. Perhaps the noble Lord met the same formidable group, and so will know what I mean. This was exactly the point that was made to me: even for people in Ukraine, the sound of sirens, which would have put the fear of God into anyone when it first began, is becoming normal; people are gradually becoming used to them.

This is a risk, and there is no point pretending that it is not, but our job—not just as a Government but for all of us here, with our various platforms, and for anyone following this debate—is to do everything we can to keep this issue as live as possible in people’s minds. What is happening today is no less serious than it was a month ago, when this is all we were talking about. The noble Lord makes a very important point. We cannot dictate what occupies people’s attention, but we can do everything we can to raise this issue at every opportunity. The fact that we speak more or less with one voice in this place, as they do in the other place, helps. I take the noble Lord’s point very strongly.

In the meantime, in the UK, as with all such issues, particularly a dynamic situation such as this, we need to approach the problem with as open a mind as possible and look for more opportunities to provide more support to Ukraine. As the MPs I met said, they need a strong Ukraine and a weak Russia. There are a number of ways in which we have contributed already to tipping the balance.

But, of course, we can do an awful lot more, and we look for those opportunities wherever they are. We heard more about accelerating sanctions from the Foreign Secretary today, and we will need to hear more going forward—not just from the UK. We need to accelerate the process of unhooking the West from energy dependence on Russia. Since the conflict began, vast sums of money have continued to flow into Russia, and everyone acknowledges that that has to stop. I do not pretend that it is easy, but we have to be single-minded in our pursuit of that independence.

We need to be very clear—I can confidently reassure noble Lords that the UK has been from the start and will continue to be—that, whatever the nature of any settlement on this issue, it has to respect the sovereignty of, and be led by, Ukraine. It also has to acknowledge and reflect Ukraine’s right to determine its own future—it is not for the UK to be prescriptive in any way. But our starting point is of course to drive towards Russia simply leaving Ukraine alone, which is all that Ukraine is asking for at this point. We should not make the kinds of concessions that I think some are beginning to wonder whether we should pursue.

My Lords, I will follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, said. If we do not dial down this conflict, it could get completely out of hand and lead to an all-out war, which of course we could not win. I urge the Minister to try to get a common front among NATO members to make it clear to the Russians that Article 5 will be applied and vigorously defended for NATO members. Earlier this week, threats to Lithuania were made in the Duma by just a few Russian MPs. We have to start drawing lines because, at the moment, we are just waging a proxy war to destroy the Ukraine—all of the missiles that we are sending are actually blasting the Ukraine to pieces. So, unless we can dial down, we will not get anywhere.

Finally, President Macron, Chancellor Scholz and Prime Minister Draghi are in Kyiv. Of course, if we were in the European Union, we would be part of that central influencing body; we are not, but we ought to get behind them and try to make some form of move towards dialling down this conflict work.

I apologise for the length of my previous answer—I have not fully mastered the protocols of this format, and I thought that I was meant to be giving a more substantial answer. I thank the noble Lord for his comments. We want to be as aligned as possible with our allies; this is not about politics, Brexit or any of the other issues that have preoccupied us so much for the last few years. We need alignment, and we work very closely with our friends in Europe. We do not need to be in the European Union to be aligned on these issues—we have the necessary discussions in good faith and on a regular basis.

I simply echo an earlier comment: there is a very real sense that if we, our friends and allies or Ukraine were to concede so much as an inch to Russia, it would then almost inevitably seek to take further inches and end up with the full mile. Clearly, no one wants escalation into full-scale global war—you would have to be insane to crave such a scenario—but it is precisely by not appeasing the kind of figure that currently rules in Russia that the risk of further escalation of this conflict can be prevented or at least minimised. So we are on the right track.

My Lords, it has come to a very sad state of affairs when I feel that I have to welcome the sanctions on Patriarch Kirill, given his role in leading the Orthodox Church. Having said that, it is important to keep back channels open when these things are going on, and the Church of England has close contact with the Russian Orthodox Church. Will Her Majesty’s Government work with the Church of England, through our diplomatic and other links, so that we can at least try to keep some conversations open, at the same time as rightly imposing these strong sanctions?

I strongly agree with the right reverend Prelate’s remarks. I am certain that my colleagues and fellow Ministers at the Foreign Office, for whom I am standing in, would be very keen to have that discussion and to learn more about how we can benefit from the kind of reach that the right reverend Prelate has.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Many people in the House and the country will welcome the provision of additional multiple rocket launchers. I have two brief questions. First, are the Government confident that the military aid is actually reaching the people in Ukraine who need to use it? Secondly, in relation to that part of the Statement that says

“We cannot allow Ukraine to be pressured into giving up territory in a way that we would never accept ourselves”,

is it the Government’s unshakeable and unwavering policy that Ukraine should remain in the borders that existed on 23 February? In the light of some of the other questions that have been asked, is there any concern in the Government that varying points of view may emerge that make it difficult to have a common front on that question?

In reverse order, I am going to have to refer the noble Viscount to a previous answer—that it is not for the UK Government to be prescriptive. There are principles that we can stand for, and the principles are that Ukraine must be in the driving seat and that whatever solution there is has to reflect its sovereignty and right to self-determination. But it is for Ukraine to make those decisions.

I understand the point that the noble Viscount and a previous speaker made about Ukraine being pressured. We will not be, and we are not, part of that pressure. We do not know what is happening in the meeting that was just raised by a previous speaker; I do not know what is being discussed in that meeting. But the UK position will be exactly as it was a few months ago when the invasion began, and it will not change.

On military support, it is our view that the support that we are providing—as certainly seems to be the view of our friends and allies within Ukraine—has been exemplary and well targeted. I have to assume that that is the case as I have heard nothing to the contrary.

My Lords, many of my concerns have already been addressed by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Stoneham, and by the Minister, but might I go a little further? We are, unfortunately, getting used to and even inured to ever more dire predictions of catastrophic food shortages, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. I fear very much that, despite taking into account the rhetoric, the famines in Ethiopia of the 1970s, and certainly of 1984, will be but a pale reflection of what is likely to come. People will not sit around and wait until they and their children starve to death; they will move in very larger numbers to feeding centres, where many will die because of contagious and infectious disease, and others will move inexorably and relentlessly as refugees towards Europe and the West.

Are there any moves, and is there any wish on the part of the international community, to set up some kind of international movement that is not the UN, which is so beset with international politics and bureaucracy, to address what is going to affect the entire world? It is not just a question of finding out where there is food and shipping it in small quantities; it is about having massive political will to ensure that there is food distribution in those countries—again, I particularly mention sub-Saharan Africa—that are in most need.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right to highlight this. I mentioned earlier, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the scale of food production for which Ukraine is responsible is some 10% of world wheat exports. It is really hard to exaggerate how important that is and, therefore, how serious this situation is. We have been taking a leading role in G7 efforts to enable Ukraine to export that grain, ensuring that multilateral organisations deliver on their pledges—for example, the World Bank Group’s $30 billion package. We have been fully supportive of the G7 president-led Global Alliance for Food Security to scale up support for food production and for vulnerable peoples in developing countries in a needs-based, co-ordinated manner. We are targeting support for those countries in most acute need at the moment.

The noble Baroness is right to compare the current situation—or potentially where this current situation could end up—with the appalling famines in Ethiopia which traumatised and shook the world. She is also right to say that this is not just about getting food from A to B; there are bigger and longer-term issues. This is one of the reasons why it is our view—a view I am pleased to say was reflected in the international development strategy—that we must not allow these appalling crises with which we are dealing in relation to Ukraine and elsewhere to deter us in our efforts to tackle big global challenges which will dominate future generations, such as climate change and environmental degradation. The repercussions of these, in terms of hunger, will be even greater than anything we are seeing today.

House adjourned at 5.50 pm.