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Volume 824: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current military situation in Ukraine.

My Lords, the United Kingdom remains very concerned by Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and is tracking it very closely. We are liaising closely with Ukraine to understand its evolving priorities as we continue to support it in its fight. To date, we have committed £2.3 billion of military support, including lethal and non-lethal materiel, and to delivering training to thousands of armed forces of Ukraine personnel.

I start by saying that it is good to see the current Defence Secretary still in place. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s early call to the Ukrainian President. I ask specifically, following the helpful update that the Minister has just given us, about the forthcoming conference in Germany on Thursday. The Defence Secretary, in his Statement, told the other place that at that conference he hoped that money for the new international fund for Ukraine, currently at €420 million, would be added to. He also hoped that a number of measures, including ammunition supply, would be agreed to, to support a longer-term strategy for our support for Ukraine. What specifically are our objectives now for this conference and for the longer term? In particular, can the Minister reassure us around the crucial maintenance of European and NATO unity with respect to their policy and Ukraine?

I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks about the Secretary of State. I think the value of that continuity at this critical time is obvious to all, and I will relay those good wishes to him. As the noble Lord indicated, the meeting tomorrow at Ramstein is important. The Secretary of State will meet counterparts from literally dozens of like-minded partner nations to discuss our ongoing support for Ukraine. We are approaching autumn, which will be followed by winter; we anticipate that demands may slightly change in character and want to make sure that we are suitably positioned in the United Kingdom and with our partner nations to respond to them. I reassure the noble Lord that the aim of the conference is to cohere and co-ordinate the international effort to support Ukraine, and to send a clear message that the international community is united politically and practically and continues to devote itself with resolution, resolve and tenacity to this task of supporting Ukraine. We are also ensuring, with our partner nations, that we work with industry to sustain and maintain support to Ukraine.

My Lords, is it not clear that the importance of supporting Ukraine at this time is that, were that in any way to fail, it would not be the end of Mr Putin’s ambitions? One would have the gravest concern for the future of the Baltic states as well, which could quite clearly be part of a future agenda were we not to succeed in supporting Ukraine.

I totally agree. That is a widely held assessment which is indicative of why NATO partners and members and the wider partnership of nations which wish to support Ukraine and defeat President Putin in his illegal incursion into Ukraine are very clear that we have to work to secure the security of the Baltic states, as my noble friend indicated. He will be aware that extensive co-operation now exists on a military basis up there, not least the forward presence, and training continues to ensure that our friends in that area are reassured that we are cognisant of risk and want to do our part to assist them.

My Lords, in her response on the Statement on Monday evening, the Minister pointed out that we are working as closely as possible with our allies on Ukraine. It was suggested in the Financial Times that the EU would invite the UK to join the European security summit in Prague. If it does so, will Her Majesty’s Government accept the invitation to keep those dialogues going, as they are just as important in a European context as NATO discussions?

The noble Baroness’s colleague posed the same question to me on Monday evening. I was able to pledge that I would take that matter back and have done so. I have referred it to officials; it will essentially be an FCDO responsibility. We have been very clear as a Government that we want to co-operate with all those who are sympathetic to supporting Ukraine.

My Lords, given the state of the ground conflict in Ukraine, I will ask a domestic question on reserves. In doing so, I declare an interest as the president of the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Associations. It is quite clear from the ground situation that both Russian and Ukrainian ground forces are sustained as combat effective only through the massive mobilisation of reserve forces. Compare that with our domestic situation, where the current policy, confirmed by a Minister in the other place earlier this year, is that the Army Reserve will be reduced over the next 10 years by 10%. Can the Minister confirm that this is still the policy and that there will be some urgent revisitation of it?

I cannot perhaps give the noble and gallant Lord the specific reassurance he seeks, but he will understand that, with a new Government and the constant presence of threats confronting us, we constantly review what we think our need will be and what we think will be our required capability. He will be aware that there is an exciting programme for the reservists to be much more of a united force with our regular service personnel. He raises an important point; I cannot answer him specifically but it is an area of opportunity.

My Lords, as an intelligence practitioner, to me it is quite clear that the vast majority of the information coming from the Russians and Ukraine is propaganda and untrue. Basing any judgment on any of it is wrong. This will be a long war and, as it goes on, Putin will become more desperate. Have we established red teams to look at the various possible things that Putin might do as he becomes more desperate, so that we can think through what reactions we should take as a nation and as an alliance?

I never cease to be amazed at the noble Lord’s gamut of experience and expertise. Frigates I am familiar with—intelligence, less so. At the heart of his question is an important point. He will be aware that the MoD has, perhaps unusually, been releasing intelligence. Defence intelligence will continue to provide public intelligence updates on the conflict via social media. These updates have consistently challenged the Russian false narrative and have provided the public with proper transparency of the events surrounding Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine. We shall continue to take measured decisions about what we can release to counter the misinformation, the disinformation and, quite simply, the wilful dissemination of propaganda, and we will do that in a responsible fashion.

My Lords, the training of Ukrainian soldiers here in the United Kingdom has been a tremendous success and we are about to reach our initial limit. Further to the question asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, I should declare my interest as director of reserves at United Kingdom Strategic Command, and there are probably lessons for training our own reserves in what we have done for the Ukrainians. Given the success of the training, will the Government now commit to extending it to another 10,000 or 20,000 Ukrainians, not least because it will send a very clear message to Russia that we, the United Kingdom, are in it for the long haul when it comes to supporting Ukraine?

I will say to my noble friend that the right honourable Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State, in responding to the Statement in the other place, confirmed that we were not working to some fixed schedule; we are working in relation to training the armed forces of Ukraine on the basis of what they want, when they want it, and we will endeavour to support that need. The training we are providing is actually providing the UK Armed Forces with a great learning opportunity, because our troops are learning what our enemy does in the latest battlefield situation and how we should deal with it, so there is a mutual benefit.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will have seen that, in the last day, President Zelensky has supported the call by the UN safety agency that a safety zone should be put around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, and that it has warned that the risk of catastrophe is accelerating. What are we doing to support the cause of President Zelensky and what more can be done?

We engage regularly with Ukraine across a wide range of issues, not least the power station and the concerns surrounding it. We are awaiting a report from the recent inspection; that will be produced at United Nations level and it will then be for a concerted response to determine how best to keep that area secure, and how to assist the Ukrainian population in that vicinity.