Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 11 October.
“Russia’s continuing assault on Ukraine is an unprovoked and premeditated attack against a sovereign democratic state and it continues to threaten global security. This week, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is meeting with Defence Ministers in Brussels to discuss further support for Ukraine, and later today my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be speaking to members of the G7.
I can assure the House that the UK and our allies remain steadfast and united in our support for Ukraine. As previously set out to the House, Defence is playing a central role in the UK’s response to the Russian invasion, providing £2.3 billion-worth of military support and leading in the international response.
We were the first European country to provide lethal aid to Ukraine. To date, we have sent more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, more than 200 armoured vehicles, more than 120 logistics vehicles, six Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak launchers and hundreds of missiles, as well as maritime Brimstone missiles. In addition, we have supplied almost 100,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, nearly 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition, 2,600 anti-structure munitions and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosive.
Defence is also providing basic training to Ukrainian soldiers in the UK. To date, we have trained over 6,000 Ukrainian recruits in the UK, and we continually review and adjust the course to meet their requirements. Defence will continue to respond decisively to Ukraine’s requests and the equipment is playing a crucial role in stalling the Russian advance and supporting our Ukrainian friends.
President Putin’s comments on nuclear are irresponsible. No other country is talking about nuclear use. We do not see this as a nuclear crisis.”
My Lords, I stress once again our full support for the Government’s actions to support Ukraine against Russia’s illegal invasion. Yesterday, the Secretary-General of NATO made it clear that the recent missile attacks on many Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, killing and injuring many innocent civilians, including children in their playgrounds, represent a significant escalation of the conflict. Can the Minister update the Chamber on the further provision of more anti-missile and anti-air capability, as requested by the Ukrainians? Can she also say how quickly that can be provided to enable the Ukrainians to deal with more attacks of this nature?
I thank the noble Lord for the tenor of his remarks, which is greatly appreciated. I think we all agree that what we witnessed from Russia in Ukraine was absolutely barbaric; it was brutalism, it was unforgivable, it was completely unacceptable, and indeed it constitutes a commission of war crimes. As the noble Lord will be aware, the UK has been very supportive and selective in the equipment that it has been offering. For example, we have found that artillery has played a huge part in this conflict, and we have supplied that. As he identified, air defence systems are extremely important. Monday’s attack shows that we were absolutely right to make bolstering Ukraine’s air defences a priority for UK military support. We are liaising on a daily basis with the Ukrainian Government, and we continue to respond to the requests to supply more defence and military equipment. I will be crystal clear to your Lordships: the MoD is utterly resolved to continue that support.
My Lords, from these Benches, I also associate myself with the comments made from the Opposition Front Bench that we strongly support the Government’s response to support Ukraine from the outset of the conflict six months ago. In his response yesterday, Minister Shelbrooke gave a list of the commitments that the MoD has already made. The noble Baroness has just reiterated the MoD’s commitment to continue giving as much support as possible to Ukraine. While that is welcome, we need some reassurance that the MoD has enough ammunition and other supplies—either available or coming on stream—so that these commitments can actually be delivered. Can the Minister reassure us of that?
That is an important question about an issue which I know occupies the thoughts of many. I reassure the House that the Ministry of Defence continually manages and analyses our stock of weapons and munitions against commitments and threats, while reviewing industrial capacity and supply chains both domestically and internationally. These considerations have informed both the numbers of munitions granted in kind to the armed forces of Ukraine and their avenues of supply. We remain fully engaged with industry allies and partners, and, as I said earlier, the MoD is utterly resolved to continue with this important support in kind.
My Lords, very sadly, it is highly likely that the barbaric—as my noble friend rightly said—treatment that has been meted out in Ukraine this week could lead to more refugees and more refuges for refugees. I am told—I hope this is wrong—that there is currently no Minister specifically answerable for refugee issues in either House, following the sad departure of my noble friend Lord Harrington. Can my noble friend clarify this?
It is certainly somewhat outwith my ministerial responsibility. I understand that there is an overall responsibility falling on the Home Office, and I am sure that the Government will clarify specifically how they wish to address these issues. I am aware that very positive work has been going on already in relation to the Homes for Ukraine initiative in this country, which has been very successful, and we are very conscious of continuing to support it beyond the six-month period.
My Lords, as we contemplate the possible escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, the West is strikingly united. However, the key external player is China. Can the Minister inform your Lordships’ House about contacts with Beijing to ensure that the Chinese are also conveying the necessary messages to Moscow?
As the noble Lord will be aware, the whole thrust of what the UK has been engaged in has been partly unilateral with Ukraine and partly multilateral and bilateral in conjunction with our partners and allies—that is very much a western response. I quite agree with him: China could have a very important role of influence to play. We maintain diplomatic relations with China, and I am certain that, through the usual conduits, representations will be made.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what efforts the Government are making to support those—Ukrainian prosecutors in particular, as well as international efforts—who are now part of the big effort to try to prosecute, document and investigate the war crimes committed by Russian forces?
From a fairly early stage, we volunteered our support for, and co-operation with, the International Criminal Court, which is the pivot for driving forward both the investigation of the commission of crimes and the gathering of the evidence that will be necessary if these crimes are to be successfully prosecuted. We have provided advice and expertise, and we continue to do that. We are in constant communication with the International Criminal Court, and we want to play our full part in supporting the multinational initiative to bring war criminals to justice.
My Lords, the destruction of towns, cities and villages across Ukraine, as we all know, is continuing and the damage to the Ukrainian economy is getting worse. Therefore, the cost of sustaining Ukraine and rebuilding afterwards will be very considerable. I have just returned from a conference in a European Union state where there was much discussion of how we manage the very large long-term effort to support and rebuild Ukraine on a multilateral basis, through the European Union, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a number of other multilateral institutions. Can the Government assure us that not only will they play their full part in that multilateral effort but that the visceral hatred of many Ministers for anything to do with the European Union will not get in the way of making sure we do so?
I was finding myself largely in sympathy with the noble Lord’s remarks until that point. To be clear, I have never displayed any visceral hatred of or towards the EU, and many of my colleagues are in exactly the same position. The EU has been a very important presence in the multinational response to Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. I think we all recognise the fundamental values of respect for law, democracy and sovereignty of a country. That conjunction of resolve and will, including the EU’s approach and support in all this, has been extremely important. Rebuilding Ukraine will be a huge challenge, but I think every state and the EU will want to play their part.
My Lords, I look forward to the forthcoming public vote at the United Nations General Assembly condemning Russian annexation of the four Ukrainian territories and, I understand, calling for a negotiated settlement. That will pass easily but, despite these recent indiscriminate attacks, as the Secretary-General described them, it looks likely that there will be a large number of abstentions from the majority of the developing world. Can the Minister say why so many countries remain non-aligned and what steps are being taken to address their concerns? In that context, would she accept that, with so many developing countries feeling the impact of the war, the Government should not look to balance their own books by cutting the aid budget further?
Although I am sympathetic to the tone of the right reverend Prelate’s questions, they are all outwith my ministerial responsibility. However, I hear what he is saying and am sure that those with influence in these matters will be listening carefully to him.
My Lords, I welcome everything that my noble friend has said. With this awful illegal war dragging on and potential escalation, have the Government made an assessment of Ukraine fatigue setting in in the public mood and mainstream media in this country?
All the evidence suggests that the country beginning to experience depleted morale and to pose questions about the morality and wisdom of this illegal war is Russia and the advisers surrounding Putin. The morale of the Ukrainian people under the extraordinary leadership of President Zelensky is very clear to me; I think we are universal in our admiration for it. He really is a figurehead who inspires, motivates, encourages and reassures. Our job, along with our other allies and partners, is to stand absolutely shoulder to shoulder in supporting him and his people and ensure that their morale, which shows no sign of flagging, remains high.