The Ministry of Defence has a long-standing relationship with our Ukrainian counterparts, and we continue to provide support in many areas including security assistance and defence reform. Since 2015, the UK has helped to build the resilience and capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces through Operation Orbital, which has trained over 22,000 Ukrainian troops.
It became very clear after 2014 that Ukraine had lost large parts of its navy to Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and it is important to help Ukraine build up and sustain a naval capability. We have continued to invest in that, and last year we signed not only an MOI but an agreement to sell naval patrol boats with weapons systems to the Ukrainian Government.
My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to staff at PJHQ. Both civilian and military staff constantly work around the clock to deliver a whole range of international operations and, in terms of the frontline, are always ready and prepared to deploy to wherever we need in the world, including in Ukraine.
As I have said, in June last year, we entered into an agreement with Ukraine to supply eight fast ships equipped with modern weapons systems. That was a significant agreement as it affirmed the UK’s openness to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons systems as well as training, and that principle remains.
May I thank the House for the kind words about our friend, Jack Dromey? He is a loss to my party, to the wider Labour movement, and, indeed, to Parliament.
The threats made to Ukraine are part of a wider pattern of behaviour by Russia, ranging from Belarus to the Balkans, to test NATO and the west. We also have to tackle Russian misinformation, as it is a huge tool in President Putin’s arsenal and has been used to devastating effect against our allies. What steps are the Government considering taking to counter that huge problem, along with other grey zone attacks?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The false narrative is that, somehow, NATO is surrounding Ukraine, when only one 16th of Russia’s border is shared with a NATO member. It is also a false narrative to say that NATO, as some sort of single entity, looks to expansion. People seek to join NATO often as a result of other issues. The question for the Kremlin is why so many countries have sought that membership.
On what I am doing to counter that information, I think we all have a role to play. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has engaged the media, and I will continue to do so as well. This House had an extremely good debate on the subject, and I listened to many Members’ speeches. I urge anyone who has not read the debate, to read it. It is important to call out the false playbook. I also urge right hon. and hon. Members to read the article written by President Putin himself in July last year in which he exposes his real views towards the people of Ukraine.
Lots of people spoke in the debate last Thursday about the hybrid warfare that Putin is effectively waging against the west at the moment. Is the Secretary of State for Defence convinced that the UK is doing enough to tackle the dirty money that comes from Russia into London? Is he convinced that we are doing enough not just on the misinformation that Russia perpetuates here, but on the number of dodgy companies that are functioning here?
The hon. Gentleman will know from my time as Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime that I was always pushing to do more—and there is always more to do. The unexplained wealth orders were one step, but more transparency and more rigorous checks in places such as Companies House are also important steps. I think that he is right that Russia goes after a whole range of our vulnerabilities. Perhaps, in the way that we function as an open liberal society, we should make sure that we protect those places and not just the more obvious places, such as the military.
May I associate myself very warmly with the comments made about my good friend, Jack Dromey? He was a friend to us all in this House.
Given that there is a need for maximum co-ordination and co-operation with our allies if we are to counter the threat from Russia effectively, what measures are the Government taking to enhance our co-operation with our European partners to make sure that we are an effective alliance?
The United Kingdom has uniquely at its disposal a strong partnership with the United States, and a partnership also with the EU and indeed in NATO. We are working all those avenues to make sure that we present a united and strong front. This week, I will visit a number of countries in eastern Europe and Scandinavia, many of which are very, very worried about what has been happening. We have continued with the diplomatic track. In 2019, I extended Operation Orbital to continue to help build Ukraine’s capability to defend itself, which is incredibly important. All of us should call out those false narratives to make sure that, should anything happen, we have a package of sanctions ready to deliver to make sure that Russia’s bad mistake is punished.
Putin’s ultimatum in December, placing unrealistic demands on NATO’s forced presence in eastern Europe and giving Russia licence to invade Ukraine, was clearly designed to be rejected. Will the Secretary of State confirm that we will not concede to Russia’s threats; that NATO’s defence posture in eastern Europe, and in the Baltic states in particular, will not change; and that we will commit to a long-term strategy of supporting Ukraine through joint training exercises, arms sales and the eventual inviting of Ukraine to join NATO?
First and foremost, we need to deal with the central charge, which I think is a false charge, of NATO aggression and a NATO surrounding of Russia. NATO is defensive by its very nature—if you attack us, you attack us all—and it is a defensive alliance; it is not offensive. There are no NATO bases in Ukraine, which is also alleged. The United Kingdom will work with whoever wants to work with us and shares our values. We will not be deterred by bullying, and we will not be deterred by distance. We shall step up and help those countries in eastern Europe and Scandinavia, and Ukraine—that is its right as a sovereign country—should they wish to have our assistance. We respect their rights as free, sovereign countries, and I ask other countries to do the same.
The worrying developments in Ukraine along with those in Kazakhstan demonstrate the need for us to be able to understand the Russian Federation and its motivations, however misguided its actions. Thankfully, the Ministry of Defence has the Russian military studies centre in Shrivenham, which is a resource of outstanding pedigree built on a proven research record. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the centre will be able to preserve its independence following the review that his Department is undertaking? It would be a great pity if the unique pedigree of that research centre was lost.
Not for the first time, the hon. Member raises an interesting point that I will be delighted to look at. It is important that we all have independent advice. This month, I will make the Chief of Defence Intelligence available to hon. Members of the House, to brief those who so wish on the current situation in Ukraine. We should not forget that what the Russian Government—not the Russian people—are frightened of is not NATO but NATO’s values.