I will not run this statement for long, because of the nature of what is coming afterwards, but it is important that it be taken.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the situation in Ukraine.
As of today, tens of thousands of Russian troops are positioned close to the Ukrainian border. Their deployment is not routine; they are equipped with tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, rocket artillery and short-range ballistic missiles. We and our allies have legitimate and real cause for concern that the configuration and scale of the force being assembled, supported by Russian air and maritime long-range strike capabilities stationed in the region, could be used for the purpose of conducting a multi-axis invasion of Ukraine, but whatever final decision the Russian Government take on the use of such forces, their presence and levels of readiness are contributing to a destabilising and coercive atmosphere that risks miscalculation at best, and at worst, conflict.
Furthermore, in recent weeks, we have observed hardening Russian rhetoric, heightened cyber-activity and widespread disinformation that could serve to provide a false pretext for a Russian military intervention. False narratives are very much part of the Kremlin’s playbook; they were used in 2008 before Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and in Ukraine in 2014. False narratives are being peddled again today: Russia has suggested that its military build-up on the border of Ukraine is in response to NATO aggression and an agenda by the west to use Ukraine to divide and rule the Russian nation. It has put forward this outlandish notion that NATO is attempting to encircle Russia.
Let me be clear. No one is trying to rule the Russian nation. Only one sixteenth of Russia shares a border with a NATO ally, and NATO is and always has been a defensive alliance. NATO, at its core, holds a belief that any country in the alliance, no matter how big or small, is by right of membership owed a pledge of mutual defence: if you attack one of us, you attack us all.
From 12 founding countries in 1949, the NATO alliance has grown to a total of 30 today. Those countries have joined the alliance not because NATO is making them do so, but because of the freely expressed will of the Government and people of those countries. Countries choose NATO; NATO does not choose them. If Russia has concerns about the enlargement, it should perhaps ask itself why, when people were free to choose, they chose NATO.
NATO is an alliance of like-minded nations that, as well as sharing a commitment to mutual defence, share a set of common values. The sovereignty of other nations is respected by all. Each nation has a sovereign right to choose its own security arrangements. That is a fundamental principle of European security—one, indeed, to which Russia has subscribed in the past—yet Russia now seeks a veto over who joins NATO.
The United Kingdom will stand up for the right of countries to choose their alliances. More important than the choice they make is the right to have that choice. On my recent visit to Sweden and Finland, two non-NATO countries, it was clear that Kremlin attempts to dictate what sovereign states can or cannot choose had been rejected across the political spectrum.
I must stress that no one wants conflict. The Ukrainians are not seeking confrontation, despite the illegal annexation of their lands in Crimea and the occupation of Donbass, and I am sure that ordinary Russian people who remember the first Chechnya conflict and other, older conflicts do not want yet another quagmire either. Last week, there were intensive discussions on the international front to achieve a diplomatic solution to the current situation, including at NATO and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Engagement at the NATO-Russia Council made it clear that NATO is open to dialogue with Russia on a range of issues to protect Euro-Atlantic security, including risk reduction, transparency, arms control and lines of communication, but we will not reward aggression.
We are open to dialogue on a bilateral basis. On
When the Prime Minister spoke to President Putin on
Russia has the largest conventional force of any single nation in Europe. It has a proud history. We have fought together. We celebrated the courage of the Arctic convoys at the 80th anniversary last year. Russia is a nuclear power. It does not have anything to fear from NATO or Ukraine or the other countries that strive peacefully on the continent of Europe. Today, I am extending an invitation to my Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to visit London in the next few weeks. We are ready to discuss issues related to mutual security concerns and engage constructively in good faith.
The UK’s position on Ukraine is also clear. We unequivocally support its sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, including Crimea. Ukraine is an independent, sovereign country of proud, independent Ukrainian people. The UK Ministry of Defence already 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 capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces through Operation Orbital, which has trained more than 22,000 Ukrainian troops. We maintain the right to deliver bilateral support to a sovereign nation when requested in areas that will better help them defend themselves.
It is important that Ukraine has the capability to defend itself. After Ukraine lost large parts of its navy to Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, it became important to help Ukraine build up and sustain a naval capability. We should not forget the thousands of Ukrainians who have lost their lives defending their country and who, every day, are murdered by snipers from across the divide. That is why, in 2019, I expanded Operation Orbital to include naval co-operation, and that is why, last year, we agreed a range of measures, including supplying Ukraine with two mine counter-measures vessels as well as agreeing the joint production of eight new ships equipped with modern weapons systems—defensive weapon systems.
As I said in the House last week, the framework agreement presented to Parliament in November 2021 affirmed the principles that the UK will provide both training and defensive capabilities to Ukraine to help it best defend itself. Within that same principle, I can today confirm to the House that, in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour from Russia and in addition to our current support, the UK is providing a new security assistance package to increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light, anti-armour defensive weapons systems. A small number of UK personnel will provide early-stage training for a short period of time within the framework of Operation Orbital before returning to the United Kingdom.
This security assistance package complements the training and capabilities that Ukraine already has and those that are also being provided by the UK and other allies in Europe and the United States. Ukraine has every right to defend its borders, and this new package of aid further enhances its ability to do so. Let me be clear, this support is for short-range and clearly defensive weapon capabilities. They are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia. They are to use in self-defence. The UK personnel provided in the early-stage training, as I have said, will return to the United Kingdom after completing it.
The Prime Minister has been clear that any destabilising action by Russia in Ukraine would be a strategic mistake that would have significant consequences. That is why there is a package of international sanctions ready to go that will make sure that Russia and its Government are punished if they cross the line. But the cost of an invasion will not just be felt by the west. I have visited Ukraine five times since 2016, and I know that the Ukrainians are a proud people who will stand and fight for their country, for democracy and for freedom. Any invasion will not be viewed as a “liberation”, but as an occupation and I fear that it could lead to huge loss of life on all sides.
The current difficult relationship with the Kremlin is not the one we wish to have in the United Kingdom. It does not have to be this way. The UK respects the people, culture and history of Russia. We have more in common than we may think—culturally, historically and technologically. We wish to be friends with the Russian people, as we have been for hundreds of years. There is a world in which we can establish a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia, working together on shared areas of interest and addressing mutual security concerns. The current gap is wide but it is not unbridgeable. I still remain hopeful that diplomacy will prevail. It is President Putin’s choice: whether to choose diplomacy and dialogue or conflict and consequences. But Russia’s current behaviour is not only threatening the sovereignty of a proud nation state; it is also destabilising the rules-based international order and challenging the values that underpin it. That is why it is all the more important that we stand in solidarity with those who share our values, including our NATO allies and partners like Sweden, Finland and Ukraine.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I welcome its contents and make clear Labour’s full backing for the steps the Government have been taking on international diplomatic efforts to de-escalate threats, on defensive support for the Ukraine military, on necessary institutional reforms within the country, and on tough economic and financial sanctions in response to any fresh Russian invasion into Ukraine.
There is unified UK political support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Crimea, in the face of escalating Russian aggression. This bilateral UK backing is hugely appreciated in Ukraine, as I and the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, confirmed when we visited Kiev last week. Four things were clear to us from our wide-ranging discussions. First, this crisis is made in the Kremlin. Ukraine’s independence and borders were guaranteed by Russia, alongside the US and the UK, in the 1994 Budapest agreement under which Ukraine also decommissioned its nuclear weapons, then making the whole of Europe much safer. What special role and responsibility does the Defence Secretary believe the UK still has as a guarantor of this agreement? Ukrainians warmly received recent visits from Defence Ministers, as well as the Defence Secretary himself, just before Christmas. When will the Foreign Secretary also visit Ukraine to underline the UK’s strong continuing support?
Secondly, talking is better than fighting. The international unity last week, especially at the NATO-Russia Council, is very important to Ukraine. NATO, as the Defence Secretary said, has acknowledged Russian security concerns. What are the areas it has offered as open to dialogue, and is any further international diplomacy scheduled with Russia?
Thirdly, Ukraine has faced active Russian aggression for many years. Russia’s big military build-up on its borders now is part of the continuous attacks Ukraine has faced, as the highly destructive malware detected by Microsoft at the weekend in many Government networks shows us and reminds us very strongly. What role will the UK play in delivering the new cyber co-operation agreement that NATO and Ukraine have signed today but the Defence Secretary did not mention in his statement?
Fourthly, Ukraine is a different country now than it was in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and Russian proxies seized parts of eastern Ukraine. Some 13,000 Ukrainian lives have been lost in fighting since then. Its military, its sense of identity, its resolve to resist Russia, and its determination to become a good European country—as Prime Minister Yatsenyuk put it to us—have all become much stronger. It is critical that the Kremlin appreciate that any new military attack on Ukraine will be bloody on both sides. What is the Defence Secretary doing to get across to President Putin that important message on miscalculation? When did he last meet his Russian counterpart?
Finally, I turn to military support to Ukraine as a sovereign nation seeking to defend itself. The shadow Foreign Secretary and I were told many times last week how highly Ukraine values UK military training, and how frontline troops bring out their British Operation Orbital certificate when asked about the best help they have had. We welcome the recent expansion of bilateral British support to naval co-operation, and we back the new delivery of defensive weaponry that the Defence Secretary has announced this afternoon, but let us be clear that that will be framed by Russian propagandists as provocation. Will the Defence Secretary spell out clearly that those are defensive anti-tank weapons with a much shorter range than the US Javelin missiles that Ukraine has had for some time, and that they will not be used unless Russia invades?
These are dangerous days for security in Europe—especially for the Ukrainian people. Even at this 11th hour, we across this House hope deeply that diplomacy, sound judgment and respect for international law will prevail with President Putin.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour Front Bench for their support and for the detailed engagement that they have undertaken with the Ukrainians. I know that it has meant a huge amount to them to see cross-party support for their rights. I thank him personally for the effort that he and the shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr Lammy, have gone to.
These are difficult and dangerous times, as the right hon. Gentleman said. It is important to navigate the very thin path between provocation and defence of people who are clearly under threat and intimidation, so that whatever we do cannot be exploited by the Kremlin for its own narratives. I have continued to brief the Opposition and other Members of this House to make sure that they are fully informed.
I will try to answer some of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. First, the Budapest memorandum is indeed one of the three main treaties that Russia is in breach of or is not upholding. It was a fair deal done between the Ukrainians and Russia, and it is important that we remind Russia—through diplomatic channels first of all—of those obligations. The situation is a stark reminder that we cannot pick and choose from treaties that have been signed up to.
We believe that the subsequent Minsk protocol is something that we would wish to support and for Russia to engage in. It respects some of the concerns around the Donbass, and I hope that that is one of the best paths towards securing a peaceful resolution. It does not seem at the moment that Russia is engaging enough on that. I think that is definitely the treaty to look at. Of course, it is underwritten by France, Germany and the United States through the Normandy format, and we would support the use of that. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary plans to visit Ukraine soon, which is also important. I have spoken to her about it, and I think her office is just working out dates for her visit.
On cyber, I will write in detail to the right hon. Gentleman about the NATO initiative. We have supported Ukraine for a number of years with cyber-defence to ensure that its resilience is improved, taking the lessons that we have here and sharing and working with them. That is why it is so useful that the National Cyber Security Centre is not only domestically but internationally recognised. When its experts come to give advice, it certainly helps with resilience.
On what more we can do, one concern that we have to address is Russia’s sense of encirclement, as I said at the beginning, and a fear that is untrue and based either on a misconception or, indeed, a falsehood. One way to address that is through better transparency. We have had schemes such as the Open Skies scheme, and we have had a number of treaties, some of which have been broken by Russia, which is unfortunate, but I certainly think that more transparency is needed. We often have Vienna inspections in this country; we had some only the other month by Russian military personnel who visited an RAF base. That is one of the best ways to demonstrate the realities on the ground, and that NATO is not an aggressor and we are not planning some offensive.
More work can definitely be done to deal with that situation, and to give Russia its voice. I was delighted that we had the Russia-NATO Council, the first in two years, only last week, because it is incredibly important that we get to hear and meet Russia face to face. I have not met my counterpart, and obviously since the Salisbury poisonings relationships have been at a low ebb. For many years, the Russian Defence Secretary and the British Defence Secretary have not had periodic or routine meetings, and I think it is important we offer that. Whether Russia will accept it is a different issue, but it is important that we reach out, at the very least, and have a discussion, and give each other the respect that I think sovereign nations deserve.
On weapons systems, I concur with the right hon. Gentleman. Absolutely—these weapons are short-range. They are not strategic; they are tactical. They are the sort of systems you use if someone is attacking you. This is an infantry-level type weapons system, but nevertheless it would make people pause and think about what they are doing. If tanks were to roll into Ukraine and invade, it would be part of the defensive mechanism.
I thank the Defence Secretary for not only keeping the House informed, but for working tirelessly behind the scenes to push NATO to do as much as it can, given the limits of that alliance. Talks in Brussels, and indeed Geneva, have reached their conclusion, or inconclusion. Cyber-attacks have now commenced, and we now see that Putin clearly intends to invade as part of his wider strategy to expand Moscow’s sphere of influence, and indeed help to label and retain NATO as the adversary that Russia must stand up to.
Russia has now amassed the land forces, weapon systems, and even the field hospitals to allow an invasion to take place. Will the Secretary of State say when the anti-armour weapon systems that he is providing will be operational in Ukraine? If Putin gives the green light to invade, what additional military support does the Secretary of State believe NATO could provide or offer to Ukraine to help to thwart Russian aggression east of the Dnipro river?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. There is still a way to go. We still have NATO, we still have our alliances, and we still have the international community and its efforts to try to find a diplomatic solution. We will carry on doing that until the very last moment. I think that President Putin has still not made a final decision, but I hope that that is enough to ward the Kremlin off. A united front on sanctions, which is what we are developing, is prepared and ready if something were to happen, and the strong resilience in Ukraine should, at the very least, give people pause for thought. On the wider issues about the systems, the first systems were delivered today in country, and the training will take place. As I have said, these are not major strategic weapons systems, so therefore they are fairly simple and the training package will not be drawn out. As I have said, the trainers will then return.
If Russia attacks militarily, the first and foremost response will be, as we have said, in the areas of sanctions and diplomacy, and in the consequences that President Putin would face as a world leader in what could potentially be a very bloody war, triggered by an invasion that is neither within international law nor what anyone wants in this world. First, reputationally, economically, and militarily we would of course explore whatever we could in those areas, but as I have previously made clear, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and British troops will not be deploying to fight Russians.
Many thanks, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We remain clear that Russia’s actions in recent weeks and months, with the massing of 100,000 combat-ready troops, tanks and heavy military equipment near Ukraine’s eastern border, is unacceptable. In that we are in accord with the Government.
The behaviour of Russia in causing the crisis is wholly inconsistent with the norms of state behaviour on matters of sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is therefore incumbent on us all to stand firm in the face of such threats to the international rules-based order and to stand behind our friends in Ukraine in the face of that aggression.
We can see from the tone and content of Russia’s preconditions for de-escalation that there remains a major diplomatic challenge in resolving the crisis through dialogue, yet that must remain the Government’s principal objective. Russia’s demand that NATO withdraws troops and military equipment from countries neighbouring Russia, which of course include not only Ukraine but our NATO allies in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is clearly designed not to be acceded to. Nevertheless, it would be heartening for the Baltic states to hear the Secretary of State underline what an absurd proposition the demand is on NATO, that it will never happen and that the bedrock of NATO as a defensive alliance remains the solidarity between its member states.
Will the Secretary of State confirm what role the Russian military studies centre at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham has in informing the Government’s thinking in this crisis? Can he reassure the House that the work to deliver a peaceful and diplomatic outcome remains this Government’s main priority? Within that dynamic, what is the role of negotiations on Nord Stream 2?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and his party for supporting our progress so far. His responsible response is very welcome, and I will continue to brief the party spokespersons as information comes to us. First, on solidarity with the Baltic states, I am off to Latvia tomorrow. The Baltic states are among the smallest in NATO, but they are right on the frontline. It is important to get the message across that we are there to defend the countries in NATO, big or small, as they share our values. It is also important to remind neighbouring states such as Finland that the right to choose is more important even than what they choose. I would defend Sweden and Finland’s right to choose. If they choose not to join NATO, that is their choice. But we should never take away the choice, which is what is so unreasonable about the Kremlin’s demand that, somehow, countries between the United States and Russia do not get to have a say on their own sovereignty. That is incredibly wrong.
We are all working for a peaceful outcome, and no one wants conflict to happen. We think the conflict would be long and bloody. It is also important that we recognise there is other thinking in the Kremlin. We can engage on the NATO debate, but I point hon. and right hon. Members to the article written by President Putin in July. In those 17 pages, NATO appears in one paragraph. This is really about ethnonationalism, a sense of reuniting a mother Russia that did not quite exist and picking dates to fit the narrative. The article written by the President of Russia should concern us all, and I have previously read such articles in other areas, and they usually lead to the most awful bloodshed.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as helping Ukraine militarily, we constantly need to make it clear to President Putin that his very concept of a Russian near abroad—a veto on the security and foreign policies of his geographic neighbours—is at odds with international law and completely at odds with the concept of self-determination? Does my right hon. Friend agree that what we are witnessing now is a classic example of the KGB doctrine of reflexive control, which is all too often a precursor to Russian military action?
What we are seeing, as the United States said, is the playbook narratives, cyber-attacks, disruption of minorities and division all used to prey on that country. There is also something else. What are the consequences for the rest of Europe of a successful military invasion of Ukraine? I visited Sweden and Finland last week. When such countries—strong European countries that are not members of NATO—are genuinely concerned and worried about their neighbours, all of us in Europe should sit up and listen. If there were a successful invasion of Ukraine, what would it mean for President Putin’s other ambitions?
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and commend him for his article in The Times this morning, which laid out clearly the false narrative that President Putin is using to justify his actions against Ukraine. What more can be done in the information war? Will he specifically back an initiative by Congressman Gerry Connolly, the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, who is calling for a centre for democracy within NATO to argue the case for why the freedoms of thought and action are so important?
On the latter question, I would definitely support NATO and NATO members going out and about and supporting not only the values we stand for, but my point about the right to choose, even if the choice is not NATO. I think we have forgotten about what we have often argued for. We have taken for granted our values and the cost of freedom around the world. We must never stop arguing for that and making the case. Too often over the decades, it has been too easy to stop making that case, or indeed to trade it off against an economic issue. That is why Nord Stream 2 is important. It is important that we recognise that, if it is a success, it will not be a success for Europe, but it will increase friction and division. We should press our German friends to do more, should Russia invade Ukraine.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the support across the House for the Ukrainian people. It is quite true that a free people choose freedom, and the Ukrainian people are trying to do just that. Would my right hon. Friend care to mention other failures of the Putin strategy, such as turning former friends and allies of Russia against it? Is this not an extraordinarily sad day for the Russian people, who have been so abused by this tyrannical dictatorship under Putin? Even countries that have had such strong relations with them, including the Ukrainian people, are now seeking assistance from us to ensure that their homes are not violated by Russian troops?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. If the aim of President Putin is to de-escalate, or push back NATO from his borders, he should reflect on why so many people have wanted to join NATO. It is predominantly a consequence of his actions, whether that is in Georgia or Crimea, or the sub-threshold actions that are putting real fear into countries such as Sweden and Finland. It is no coincidence that, in the Finnish and Swedish Parliaments, a sense of being closer to NATO than they have been in the past is growing. That is not because of NATO—there is no secret plot—but because of the actions of the President of Russia.
The Defence Secretary is absolutely right. When Putin talks of trying to bring together ethnic Russians into the motherland, it does remind one of the 1930s, when Hitler referred to trying to bring all Germans, including Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia, back into mother Germany. Of course we are right to be very cautious. When the Defence Secretary says he has offered this invitation to his Russian counterpart, I hope that does not mean that we are announcing that we are normalising our political relations with Russia. The all-party parliamentary group on Russia has been keen to ensure, as have the House and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, that we are not normalising our political relationships until such time as Russia is able to hand over the evidence that is clearly needed in relation to Salisbury.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right on his last point. I was the Security Minister when Salisbury happened. This is not about normalising relations, but about opening a line of dialogue so that we can hopefully address a range of issues. The GRU belongs to the Russian Ministry of Defence, and I will not be forgetting that in any way, but I do not fear anything by engaging with my counterpart. On his point about ethnic nationalism, it is something that in the UK is against our DNA, because of the lessons we have seen over hundreds of years. People would be wise not to believe that that article that the President wrote is the right course of action; the course of action is through dialogue and addressing the here and now, not harking back to snippets of history.
Mr Putin knows that NATO will not start world war three to defend Ukraine, but has he been made aware of precisely what non-military sanctions will follow? For example, are Finland or Sweden likely to proceed with an application to join NATO, as has been suggested?
First, there is a basket of sanctions that are prepared both by the United Kingdom and the United States. Indeed, the EU is addressing and formulating a package and, obviously, Sweden and Finland would be part of that. I cannot speak for Sweden and Finland about whether they would join NATO. One of the fundamentals of NATO is the open door policy. We have been clear on that, but, as I have said, I am even more clear that defending a country to choose is actually more important often than what it chooses. We enhance and work our relationship with Finland and Sweden through the joint expeditionary force, which is 11 nations—Scandinavian and Nordic, and Britain—working together and exercising together in the defence world. That is brilliant: it binds together the EU, NATO and other members to make sure that we can deter by being as professional as possible with our armed forces.
In the recent negotiations, NATO rightly rejected the wholly unreasonable demands of Russia for the reasons that the Secretary of State has so clearly set out to the House, but it did indicate that it would be willing to talk about other matters. Does the Government support, for example, putting arms control and limits to military exercises on the table in any further discussions?
Certainly when it comes to arms control, we have always felt that arms controls are good things. I am old enough to remember the 1980s and the work people went into to get those, and it has been sad that Russia has breached a number of those treaties and the United States pulled out of the open skies treaty not so long ago. I think we should try to work towards getting back to a place where we can have more confidence in each other, first and foremost.
On exercising, first, NATO should exercise in order to keep itself at the best it can be for defence. I also think it is the right of a sovereign country to choose to exercise in its land. If Lithuania or Estonia wish to exercise militarily, either bilaterally or multilaterally, that is a choice for that country, and we are always happy to work together. I am not sure I want to give Russia a veto over where we exercise, but I am very supportive of making sure that we are as open as possible, so that people do not miscalculate when we do exercise and they recognise that it is an exercise rather than an operation.
Like the Defence Secretary, I read President Putin’s essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” this summer. In it he clearly does not recognise Ukraine in its current borders, but he also lays out what he thinks are justifiably Russian lands: the oblasts—the counties—that run along the north side of the Black sea linking Rostov with Transdniestria and Odessa. Did he get the same thinking from reading the article?
My hon. Friend is right. The article even goes further and talks about Carpathian Ruthenia, which is part of the Czech Republic. The other bit that I think was deeply sad was that anyone who disagreed was effectively described as Russia-phobic. I cannot tell you how wrong that is. It is perfectly possible to disagree with the Kremlin and the actions of President Putin without disagreeing with the people of Russia or, indeed, supporting Russia. I am a proud Scot, and the Scots and the Russians spent most of their time in each other’s courts—there were admirals, there were generals and there were physicians, and 150 years of Scottish-Russian links helped to build the Russian medical system that we know today. I think the worst part of his article is the part that says that to criticise is to be anti-Russian, which is quite wrong.
The Norwegian Prime Minister has recently spoken about Russia increasing hybrid operations, including cyber-attacks and signal jamming. I compliment the Secretary of State for his visits last week, but clearly one of our great allies is Norway. Can the Secretary of State outline to me what specific steps have been taken during the Ukraine crisis to ensure that in no way is Norway’s security compromised?
The hon. Gentleman will know that Britain and Norway are really old allies—indeed, we can almost see Norway from his constituency—and I was there as well, after Finland and Sweden, last week. First, we exercise regularly at all levels in all areas. Both our intelligence relationship and our military relationship are strong. The Royal Marines have been present in the high north for decades, and we were planning even more exercising to do together.
Norway also plays a really key role in bringing alongside a NATO country Finland and Sweden, so we exercise in the Arctic and the high north, which is of course a growing domain and, indeed, an area where Russia can use sub-threshold activity—everything from migrant flows. There was a period in its history when it put migrants on bicycles—it gave them free bicycles—to drive them across the border not so long ago. I think it is really important that we work together to have the shared understanding, and to say to Russia that the messaging in that part of the world is, “We are all one people”. Our links go across for centuries, but understanding what it is up to is as important.
I welcome the Defence Secretary’s statement today. He will know that, in 2014, Russian aggression severely degraded the Ukrainian navy. Will he update the House on the Ukrainian capabilities enhancement project? What progress has been made since that was signed in June?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the Ukrainian navy was snatched, effectively, with the invasion of Crimea, which was one of the main navy bases, and it has been operating predominantly on gifts of patrol boats from the United States. That is why last year we entered into an agreement to help Ukraine to build boats to enable it to protect its coastline, and to put infrastructure investment into ports so it could start to rebuild its navy. It is important that Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, has the ability to export and free navigation. Russia has already threatened that, and we saw the aggressive action toward HMS Defender earlier in the year, so it is important that we help the Ukrainians to help themselves.
Although it is important that we take Russian security concerns seriously, we must resist at all costs any attempts by Russia to re-imperialise eastern Europe. May I press the Secretary of State on two dimensions of his twin-track strategy? First, how ready is NATO to accede to requests to join not only from Finland but from countries in the western Balkans and Georgia, so that any tactical advance into Ukraine is a strategic defeat? Secondly, will the Secretary of State say a word about the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, because it is hard to envisage an arms control framework for Europe without some measure of control over ground-launched cruise missiles—even if they are non-nuclear—on the continent of Europe?
On the latter question, may I write to the right hon. Gentleman about where we are with that? Overall, as I said about strategic treaties, better transparency is really important. The last thing any of us wants is a growing arms race, but we want to have confidence that as the technology grows it does not become more dangerous, and the treaties can adapt with technological growth.
What is the narrative that the Kremlin does not want to hear, but is true? The No. 1 point is that it has been shown that a consequence of this aggression is the expansion of NATO, not a contraction, and plenty of other countries are watching. If there is one message I want to get to President Putin it is that others are watching, and the track record shows that they will do the opposite of what he wants when he behaves in this way.
What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of our Ukrainian allies’ resolve to not just repel but resist a further invasion, and what further capabilities are required to enhance this? Will he also keep an eye on Bosnia, given that we know Putin is seeking to cause similar issues for our friends there?
The other part of the article said that, somehow, the Ukrainian people were just waiting to be liberated. The other message I want to give President Putin is that these people will fight; they are strongly of the view that Ukraine is a sovereign country and they will stand and defend their freedoms. It is not the case that they will welcome with open arms a great liberator and/or rush back into the fold. That is another important lesson.
I commend the Secretary of State for his announcement this afternoon. His realism in December has been repeated today. The factual position of Ukraine not being a NATO member and the restrictions that places on us also add to our vulnerability. Does he envisage circumstances in which the position of no deployment of UK or allied troops might be revised?
The United Kingdom will always work with its allies to do what it can for its own and its allies’ security. We will always keep all options open, but I have to be honest: Russia has the biggest armed forces in Europe and Ukraine is not a member of NATO. In that environment, it would be holding out false hope to say that British armed forces would unilaterally go to join forces alongside the Ukrainians. That is why we are putting all the effort into helping the Ukrainians to help themselves, the sanctions package and diplomatic efforts.
How can we reach out to the Russian people and tell them that NATO is a defensive alliance, so they do not have to swallow wholesale the Putin narrative that we are aggressive and trying to take over Russia?
First, as the international community we have to be consistent in that messaging. The other message, as my hon. Friend will know, is that Russian mothers and fathers do not want to see their sons and daughters come back as they did in the first Chechnya war. We should remind them that this will not be cost-free on either side, and it is not the way forward. However, we do that multilaterally together, both as NATO and as the international community, and we keep that messaging going all the way through. We do not detract or let them distract with false narratives.
It is mere coincidence that I am wearing the tartan tie of the Republic of Estonia today, Madam Deputy Speaker. Reflecting on that nation’s history, will the Secretary of State advise the House? When the Estonian Republic was illegally occupied by the former Soviet Union, the continuity of its Government was assured here in the UK. Will he make that assurance—that continuity of a democratically elected Government, if required, for the Government elected by the people of Ukraine?
Not for the first time, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. I will happily look at it and discuss it with my colleagues in the Cabinet.
On his point about Estonia, I am going next door to its neighbour Latvia, which of course has a Scottish embassy from the old days; Scotland and England did not trade together, so we went to Riga.
In the early 1980s, a Soviet refugee from Ukraine called Mr Bailey had the unfortunate task of trying to teach me the cello. He was much more successful at teaching me about the proud history of Ukraine. What does this announcement do to our longstanding friendship with Ukraine more broadly in this context?
I hope that it does what it does for all nations in Europe. Britain will always be interested in the security of Europe, whether we are in the EU or not. The security of Europe is important for our security as much as it is for that of others. Britain will mean what it says. Britain will not just say, “Please don’t do this” on behalf of those people; we will help people defend themselves. That is why this announcement today is just one of those steps. That is sometimes the difference between us and others.
When the Minister meets his Russian counterpart in a few weeks’ time, will he use that opportunity to widen the debate into nuclear disarmament and security measures in general, to build up a dialogue with Russia so that we can deal with all the issues and also de-escalate the dangerous tensions, which are rising? Will he assure the House that no British troops are going to be sent to or stationed in Ukraine?
First of all, I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept my invitation; I have made it, and I hope he does. Of course we will start the process of establishing a dialogue on a whole range of issues, which hopefully will involve security, confidence in each other and transparency, to make sure that there is no miscalculation going forward.
British troops who are orbital have been based in Ukraine for years. They are not NATO bases, as President Putin alleges: no one is setting up NATO bases in Ukraine and no one is positioning strategic weapons in Ukraine. This is unarmed orbital: we train people in all sorts of methods. As I said, the trainers that come over on these systems will leave once the training is done. All I can say is that this is not new—we have had people there for years. But of course we are there at the invitation of the sovereign nation of Ukraine.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. It is hard to fathom the seriousness of the situation as it is developing. Can he shed any light on unconfirmed reports that Russia is now moving armed forces into Belarus—on to the road to Kiev in Belarus, and now threatening from the north of the country? If those reports are confirmed, will the Secretary of State undertake to return to the House to make a further statement?
My right hon. Friend makes the point about this very worrying build-up that we have seen and is growing; the latest is that there has been very sizeable movement of aircraft and aviation capabilities in the last few days. Significant numbers have been moving to key areas.
I will go back and look at the details around Belarus as well. I absolutely commit to Members that I will come to the House and keep them updated periodically—not only about the build-up, if that does continue, but about every next step.
I commend the Defence Secretary for his statement. It is clear that President Putin is trying to destabilise a number of countries in eastern Europe: we are seeing things happening not only in Ukraine, but in Bosnia. We are also seeing, to some extent, Belarus and Poland being destabilised by his actions.
In his statement, the Defence Secretary said:
“Each nation has a sovereign right to choose its own security arrangements.”
If Russia does invade Ukraine, as I think likely, it would seem that Ukraine will not have that choice. International sanctions will obviously play a role after that, but are the Defence Secretary and our allies thinking that in the longer term this may mean more than just economic sanctions and military assistance?
I think that in the long term, if President Putin does invade Ukraine, there are two worries. The wider worry is what happens in other parts of Europe, but Europe, the United Kingdom and the international community should not let President Putin forget the consequences. I think that one of his calculations is that a number of countries will just forget about it in a few months or years and that he will be able to carry on as normal. If it happens, I think the international community has a duty to remind President Putin that what he has done is unacceptable, that only the return of the sovereign territory to Ukraine is acceptable, and that he faces the consequences of his actions. Until he does so, he may well end up very isolated.
We know that Russia is the master of misinformation to advance its military ambition. Does my right hon. Friend think that the provision of this defensive security system package will be spun by the Russian media as an act of provocation?
I expect all sorts of allegations, but that is why I have come to the House: to be transparent about it, not strategic. Secondly, the United States and other countries have already provided support over months and years to Ukraine. You cannot cry wolf more than once or twice. Indeed, the Russian media themselves approached me at the conference of the parties about our sales of missiles for patrol boats. If it was not provocation a year ago with another nation, I think it would be unreasonable to allow them to peddle that message.
Order. I am afraid that we cannot take any further contributions. It has become normal for every question on a statement to be taken, but that is not actually normal practice. The House must be aware of the next business, which will require some time, so we will have to conclude questions on the statement.