Skip to main content


Volume 823: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they are having with NATO member states on developments in the conflict in Ukraine.

My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to engage closely and regularly with our NATO allies as a key part of our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the recent NATO summit in Madrid at which NATO stated its unequivocal support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. At the summit, the Prime Minister also encouraged fellow leaders to increase their economic, military and political support to Ukraine and announced a further £1 billion of UK military aid to Ukraine. We will continue to act alongside our NATO allies to counter Russian aggression.

We have on the one hand the brutal and unrelenting savagery of Putin’s army and, on the other, the inflexible commitment of Ukraine to a conflict which is already seven years old, where the only war aim is the total withdrawal of Russian forces. On what basis can the European powers justify indefinite spending on a war which is causing global inflation, insecurity across Europe and poverty at home, and which now threatens a winter with many people dying of the cold? When will wisdom and the need to negotiate trump wishful thinking?

My Lords, it is wisdom which ensures that we stand up united against anyone who aggresses in the way that Russia has. We are doing so with our European allies, the US and others. The noble Lord describes the conflict as one that is seven years old, but what is very true is that Crimea was annexed illegally; it is occupied illegally. We need to ensure that Russia stops this and the very issues the noble Lord alluded to, and it can do it now. Pull back and stop the war.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the coldest winter that Europe—and, indeed, the rest of the world—could possibly experience would be if Russa were to win this vicious war that it started? This war cannot succeed in the way that Russia wants if the rest of the world is to move forward.

My Lords, on these Benches, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, we believe that Russia needs to be defeated. But, as we are moving towards the Summer Recess, can the Minister say what wider scenario planning NATO is doing, beyond what is happening in Ukraine? August is often a difficult month. What is the FCDO doing to ensure that a Minister will always be in place over the summer?

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, there always is a Minister at the FCDO over the summer—as I was. Some of us cancelled our holidays to ensure that we were there. I assure the noble Baroness that, even when people take deserved holidays, there is always substantial experienced cover, as will be the case for this crisis and others. On the noble Baroness’s first point, of course we are working and engaged with our G7 and NATO partners. Later this afternoon, I will leave for The Hague to look specifically at accountability for the crimes that are being committed daily in Ukraine.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Russians are committing unforgivable war crimes virtually every day? Does he agree that any form of appeasement with that kind of regime is wholly unacceptable?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. This is why we are working with our key partners, and with 42 other member states on issues at the ICJ. As I said, I am leaving for The Hague to meet the prosecutors from the ICC and Ukraine to see what further assistance and support we can provide to ensure that crimes are documented, that victims get the hope they need, that Ukraine gets the support it needs and that we can bring justice.

My Lords, the Minister knows the Official Opposition’s position: we are at one with the Government on ensuring that Russia’s aggression is defeated and that any future negotiations must be led by President Zelensky—there is no alternative to that. I will be a little political with the Minister: last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we were committed to 2.3% defence spending and that Ukraine was a major cause of this. We now have a Chancellor saying that every department should cut 20%. I admire the Minister’s longevity in post, and I do not want to harm it, but can he tell us where that 20% cut will be made in the MoD and the FCDO? This matters in the fight for Ukraine.

My Lords, the noble Lord will not need to wait too long to see what happens with the leadership of the Conservative Party and our country. There are some very able candidates for Prime Minister and leader of the party. But, on the more substantial point, the Ministry of Defence and the FCDO are fully equipped, engaging diplomatically and militarily. As I said, we have made an additional commitment of £1 billion in support and defence of Ukraine.

My Lords, as this conflict in Ukraine is unlikely to be over quickly, what discussions are Her Majesty’s Government and European colleagues having with the Government of Ukraine about a sustainable economic model for Ukraine, particularly in the agricultural sector and with regard to agricultural exports?

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord raises an extremely important point. We are working closely with Ukraine and are one of the leading donors. Our total commitment is £3.8 billion, including £1.3 billion in guarantees for EBRD and World Bank lending to Ukraine. This is coupled with £220 million of humanitarian support. The noble and gallant Lord is right to draw attention to the food crisis. From a global perspective, an estimated 300 million people will suffer because of the war in Ukraine by the end of this year. We are looking towards working with key allies, including Turkey, to seek alternative routes to shift that grain from Ukraine.

My Lords, it is a national disgrace that our Armed Forces are not actually ready today for peer-on-peer war. Our commitment to the new NATO strategic concept in Army terms is an armoured division. The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that we will have an armoured division ready for peer-on-peer warfare with the right stockpiles and weapons in the 2030s, 10 years away. Does the Minister not agree that that is too long a timescale and that, at the very least, we should spend money today on getting our defence firms to produce equipment and weapons on a 24/7 basis to restock our stockpiles and provide weapons to the Ukrainians?

As I have said to the noble Lord on numerous occasions, I agree on the principle that we need to be ready to ensure that we meet the challenges that we face. That is why we have been able to stand ready to support Ukraine with the support that we have extended, as the noble Lord well knows. Of course, he has made a number of points on the importance of spending now and investing now to meet the challenges of the future, and I am sure that is something that my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence have taken into account.

My Lords, the unlawful and illegal invasion of Ukraine was carried out following an intention not to invade by such people as Lavrov and Putin, and it now continues with the world watching. It is good to see that allies are providing munitions, particularly precision long-distance artillery. Can the Minister—who I have to say is an excellent Minister—give the House an assurance that such critical support will continue until every Russian invader is removed from Ukraine?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. On the issue of Ukraine, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, summed it up very well. We stand united with Ukraine; it is right that Ukraine leads the efforts in terms of any discussions, including those on peace. We, as an ally, partner and constructive friend, stand strong in our support on humanitarian issues, on the economy and on the military. We stand with Ukraine in every sense. I wish to record the broad range of support across your Lordships’ House —indeed, across both Houses—in support of this central and key objective.

My Lords, when later today the Minister has talks with Karim Khan, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will he talk to him about the use of starvation as a weapon of war, which is a war crime? Will he refer specifically to the burning of Ukrainian wheat fields over the past few days, as well as the blockading of the export of grain to countries in the third world, but specifically into famine-ridden countries that are already facing drought, locusts and the rest, in the Horn of Africa and east Africa?

My Lords, I shall actually be seeing Karim Khan tomorrow, I think—by the time I get there it will be quite late. On the specific points, I have a bilateral whereby I shall be engaging with him on the very points that the noble Lord raises about the increasing level and spectrum of crimes that are taking place in Ukraine against the people of Ukraine, including conflict-related sexual violence. We will be documenting it—that is why the UK has led the way in ensuring that Ukraine’s own prosecutor, who visited the UK, is equipped not just with money and the technical support she needs but with the expertise, including that of Sir Howard Morrison, that is helping her directly in ensuring that those crimes can be documented so that we see successful prosecutions.