A few weeks ago, I commissioned an independent inquiry into a series of events in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office as well as some other Whitehall Departments that may have constituted potential breaches of the covid regulations. That process has, quite properly, involved sharing information continuously with the Metropolitan police, so I welcome the Met’s decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe that will help to give the public the clarity they need and help to draw a line under matters. But I reassure the House and the country that I and the whole Government are focused 100% on dealing with the people’s priorities, including the UK’s leading role in protecting freedom around the world.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the United Kingdom’s response to the situation in Ukraine. This winter, we have witnessed a spectacle that we hoped had been banished from our continent: a large and powerful country massing troops and tanks on the border of a neighbour with the obvious threat of invading. Russia has, of course, already attacked Ukraine, illegally annexing 10,000 square miles of her territory in 2014 and igniting a war in the Donbass region. Ukraine has scarcely known a day of peace ever since. Now, Ukraine faces the danger of a renewed invasion and, this time, the force arrayed on Ukraine’s frontier comprises over 100,000 troops—far bigger than anything that Russia has deployed against her before. If the worst happens and the destructive firepower of the Russian army were to engulf Ukraine’s towns and cities, I shudder to contemplate the tragedy that would ensue.
Ukrainians have every moral and legal right to defend their country, and I believe that their resistance would be dogged and tenacious and the bloodshed comparable to the first war in Chechnya, or Bosnia, or any other conflict that Europe has endured since 1945. No one would gain from such a catastrophe. Russia would create a wasteland in a country that, as she continuously reminds us, is composed of fellow Slavs, and Russia would never be able to call it peace.
For months, Britain has worked in lockstep with the United States and our allies across Europe to avoid such a disaster. We have sought to combine dialogue with deterrence, emphasising how a united western alliance would exact a forbidding price for any Russian incursion into Ukraine, including by imposing heavy economic sanctions. At the same time we stand ready, as we always have, to address any legitimate Russian concerns through honest diplomacy.
My right hon. Friends the Foreign and Defence Secretaries have both conveyed the same message to President Putin, and I am of course prepared and ready to speak to him again. Meanwhile, the American deputy Secretary of State met her Russian counterpart in Geneva on
But credible deterrence is the other side of the coin. Last night, I held a virtual meeting with President Biden, President Macron, Chancellor Scholz, President Duda, Prime Minister Draghi, Secretary-General Stoltenberg, President Michel and President von der Leyen. We agreed that we would respond in unison to any Russian attack on Ukraine—in unison—by imposing co-ordinated and severe economic sanctions heavier than anything we have done before against Russia, and we agreed on the necessity of finalising these measures as swiftly as possible in order to maximise their deterrent effect.
We in the UK will not hesitate to toughen our national sanctions against Russia in response to whatever President Putin may do, and the House will soon hear more on this from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We have already declassified compelling intelligence exposing Russian intent to install a puppet regime in Ukraine, and we will continue to disclose any Russian use of cyber-attacks, false flag operations or disinformation.
Amid all these pressures, Ukraine asks for nothing except to be allowed to live in peace and to seek her own alliances, as every sovereign country has a right to do. Last week, the UK acted to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend her soil by supplying anti-armour missiles and deploying a small training team of British personnel, in addition to the work of Operation Orbital, which, as the House will know, has trained 21,000 Ukrainian troops since 2015. Yesterday, we took the responsible precaution of temporarily withdrawing some staff and dependants from the British embassy in Kyiv, though I emphasise that the embassy remains open and will continue to provide consular assistance for British nationals in Ukraine, and I am particularly grateful for the dedication of our ambassador in Kyiv, Melinda Simmons.
I commend our NATO allies for the steps they have taken and are taking to protect the eastern flank of the alliance. Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic and deploying four F-16s to Lithuania to join NATO’s long-standing air policing mission; France has expressed its readiness to send troops to Romania under NATO command; and the United States has raised the alert level of 8,500 combat troops, preparing to deploy them in Europe at short notice. The British Army leads the NATO battlegroup in Estonia, and if Russia invades Ukraine we would look to contribute to any new NATO deployments to protect our allies in Europe.
In every contact with Russia, the UK and our allies have stressed our unity and our adherence to vital points of principle. We cannot bargain away the vision of a Europe whole and free that emerged in those amazing years from 1989 to 1991, healing the division of our continent by the iron curtain. We will not reopen that divide by agreeing to overturn the European security order because Russia has placed a gun to Ukraine’s head, nor can we accept the doctrine implicit in Russian proposals that all states are sovereign but some are more sovereign than others.
The draft treaty published by Russia in December would divide our continent once again between free nations and countries whose foreign and defence policies are explicitly constrained by the Kremlin in ways that Russia would never accept for herself. More than half of Europe, including a dozen or more members of NATO and of the European Union, would be only partially sovereign and required to seek the Kremlin’s approval before inviting any military personnel from NATO countries on to their soil. The Czech Republic—at the very heart of Europe, hundreds of miles from Russia—would have to ask the Kremlin for permission if she wanted to invite a company of German infantry to join an exercise or even to help with flood defences.
There is nothing new about large and powerful nations using the threat of brute force to terrify reasonable people into giving way to otherwise completely unacceptable demands, but if President Putin were to choose the path of bloodshed and destruction, he must realise that it would be both tragic and futile. Nor should we allow him to believe that he could easily take some smaller portion of Ukraine to salami-slice, because the resistance will be ferocious.
Anyone who has been to Kyiv, as I have, and has stood by the wall of remembrance and studied the portraits of nearly 4,500 Ukrainians who have died in defence of their country since 2014—the total death toll stands in excess of 14,000—will know that the Ukrainians are determined to fight and have become steadily more skilled at guerrilla warfare. If Russia pursues this path, many Russian mothers’ sons will not be coming home. The response in the international community would be the same and the pain that will be inflicted on the Russian economy will be the same.
When I spoke to President Putin, I reminded him that at crucial moments in history, Britain and Russia have stood together. The only reason why both our countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council is the heroism of Soviet soldiers in the struggle against fascism, side by side with ourselves. I believe that all Russia’s fears could yet be allayed and we could find a path to mutual security through patient and principled diplomacy, provided that President Putin avoids the trap of starting a terrible war—a war that I believe would earn and deserve the condemnation of history. I commend this statement to the House.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Britain, Russia and the United States made a solemn agreement with Ukraine: in exchange for its giving up nuclear powers and weapons, Ukraine’s security was to be guaranteed and its independence respected. Ukraine has kept its end of the deal; President Putin has not. His Russia has annexed Crimea, has supported separatist conflict in Donbass and has now amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders.
These are repeated and unjustifiable acts of aggression, so Labour stands resolute in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. That was made clear when our shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, and our shadow Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend John Healey, visited Kyiv a fortnight ago, and I made it clear to the Ukrainian ambassador when I met him last week.
This is not just a local dispute on the other side of the continent. It is an attempt by President Putin to turn back the clock, to re-establish Russian force as a means of dominance over parts of eastern Europe, and it is a direct threat to the anti-imperialist principle that sovereign nations are free to choose their own allies and their own way of life.
That is why it is crucial that we in this House are united in opposing Russian aggression. Let me be clear: the Labour party supports the steps that the Government have taken to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. We support international efforts to deter Russia from further aggression and the vital diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation.
Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the UK and our partners will be resolute in our defence of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the security of our NATO allies? For too long, the implicit message to Moscow has been that President Putin can do what he likes and the west will do little to respond. We must now change course and show Russia that any further aggression will result in severe, real-world consequences. For Britain and our allies, that will mean taking tough decisions. It will not be easy.
Widespread and hard-hitting sanctions must include cutting Russia’s access to the international financial system. Europe’s overreliance on Russian energy supplies is well documented and simply must be addressed. In Britain, we have failed to rid our economic and political systems of the ill-gotten money used to support the Putin regime. If we take our obligations to global security seriously, we cannot go on allowing ourselves to be the world’s laundromat for illicit finance.
Labour has a four-point plan. [Interruption.] Really? First, we must reform Companies House to crack down on shell companies. Secondly, we must have a register of overseas entities to lift the veil on who owns property and assets in the UK. Thirdly, we need tougher regulation of political donations. Finally, we should implement the recommendations of the cross-party Russia report to bolster national security. Will the Prime Minister support those measures to rid the UK of the loot of the corrupt Russian elite? We cannot stand up to Russian aggression abroad while facilitating Russian corruption at home.
After the chemical attacks in Salisbury, after the annexation of Crimea and now the threat of invasion in Ukraine, it is time to send a simple, clear and united message. We support Ukraine’s sovereign right to choose her own destiny. We will stand with the Ukrainian people in the face of President Putin’s threats. His aggression will come at a high price for himself and his regime.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I am glad that he supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. He is right to ask about the assurances that this country has given to Ukraine. I have repeatedly told Volodymyr Zelensky, as I told his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, many times, that we stand four-square behind the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and we always will. We have a hard-hitting package of sanctions ready to go. It would be fair to say that we want to see our European friends ready to deploy that package as soon as there were any incursion at all by Russia into Ukraine.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks what we are doing to track down Russian money in this country and in the City. As he knows, we are bringing forward measures for a register of beneficial interests. I do not think that any country in the world has taken tougher action against the Putin regime. It is this Government who brought in Magnitsky sanctions against all those involved in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. It is this Government who got the world together—got 28 countries together—to protest against the poisoning in Salisbury. The world responded to that British lead by collectively expelling 153 diplomats around the world.
I am grateful for the general tenor of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s comments and his support for NATO—belated though it may be from the Opposition Benches. I am grateful for it now. What I can tell him is that that same leadership in assembling a response to Russian aggression is being shown by the UK now, and it is absolutely vital that the west is united now, because our unity now will be much more effective in deterring any Russian aggression. That is what this Government will be pursuing in the days ahead.
As the Prime Minister articulates, the west is now regrouping, but the penny is also dropping: the threat of sanctions will not deter the Russian aggression, and a total or even partial invasion will have severe economic and security consequences felt right across Europe and beyond. Ukraine’s grain exports to Africa will be affected, global gas prices will be impacted and skyrocket, and where might an emboldened Russia turn to next? I ask the Government to liaise with the United States and consider a simpler and more effective option to deter this invasion by belatedly answering Ukraine’s call for help. It is not too late to mobilise a sizeable NATO presence in Ukraine, utilising the superior hard power that the alliance possesses to make Putin think twice about invading another European democracy.
I thank my right hon. Friend very much and I know that, emotionally, many people will share his view. He knows a great deal about Ukraine and the issues that that country faces. Of course, instinctively, many people would yearn to send active physical support in the form of NATO troops to Ukraine. I have to tell him that I do not believe that to be a likely prospect in the near term. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but what we can do—and what we are doing—is send troops to support Ukraine. I have mentioned the training operations that we are conducting under Operation Orbital, as we have for the past six or seven years, training 21,000 Ukrainian troops. Of course we are now sending defensive weaponry, which I think is entirely appropriate. We have sent 2,000 anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainians and we join the Americans in that effort; as my right hon. Friend knows, the Americans have sent about $650 million-worth of military assistance to Ukraine. That is the vital thing to do to stiffen Ukrainian resistance, but the real deterrent right now is that package of economic sanctions. That is what will bite; that is what will hurt Putin; and that, I hope, is what will deter him.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and join the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, in congratulating the Defence Secretary on making sure throughout that we have been kept informed of developments; it is most appreciated. It is important that all of us in this House stand together in solidarity with our friends in Ukraine in defence of their sovereignty.
We on the Scottish National party Benches share the deep concern over the escalation of tension, the prospect of military aggression and the threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty. Russia’s actions in recent weeks and months of amassing troops, tanks and heavy military equipment near the border of Ukraine are unacceptable. We continue to support, above all, measures to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, so will the Prime Minister provide reassurance that work to deliver a peaceful and diplomatic outcome remains this Government’s main priority? The threat of bloodshed on European soil is what is at stake.
We stand with the people of Ukraine and understand the fears and concerns of Ukrainians across these islands, many of whom live in the UK but have family in Ukraine. The bedrock of NATO as a defensive alliance remains the solidarity between its member states, and it is clear that we need that united alliance. It is becoming increasingly apparent that, should an incursion occur, what will be required is a tougher package of sanctions that are robust and have real, measurable impact.
We on the SNP Benches have called for co-ordinated economic sanctions against the Putin regime and the banning of Russia from the SWIFT—the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication—banking system. Can that be confirmed as on the table today? The measures must also include tougher action on Russian money laundering and include action by the Treasury to tackle the ongoing and improper use of Scottish limited partnerships, which have been used to funnel millions of pounds in dirty money. Without that, our credibility will lessen.
The Prime Minister raised the issue of Magnitsky, and let me say to him that it was cross-party support that led to these sanctions. He may well remember the meeting I had with him when he was Foreign Secretary to make sure that we worked collectively to deal with those threats. Will he also commit to introducing a transparent system of company registration and proper reform of Companies House?
Meanwhile, we all stand solidly with the people of Ukraine and urge the Government to continue efforts for diplomacy, as long as that is possible.
Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman and echo many of his sentiments. He is completely right to say that we should pursue every possible diplomatic avenue, in every appropriate forum; whether it is the NATO-Russia Council, the UN, the OSCE, the G7 or the Normandy Format, we must follow every avenue. He is right to press on what we are doing to track “dirty Russian money”, for want of a better expression. That is why we have the unexplained wealth orders and why we are bringing in measures to have a register of beneficial interests.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about SWIFT and financial transactions across the world, and there is no doubt that that would be a very potent weapon. I am afraid it can only really be deployed with the assistance of the United States—though we are in discussions about that.
The House needs to understand that one of the big issues we all face in dealing with Ukraine and with Russia is the heavy dependence, of our European friends in particular, on Russian gas. It was clear in the conversations last night that in this era of high gas prices we are bumping up against that reality. The job of our diplomacy now is to persuade and encourage our friends to go as far as they can to sort this out and to come up with a tough package of economic sanctions, because that is what the situation requires.
My right hon. Friend will recall that when he was Foreign Secretary the Foreign Affairs Committee published a report entitled “Moscow’s Gold”, which was about dirty Russian money flowing through our system and the call for us to have various registers not only of ownership but of foreign agents operating within our system. We have had a reminder only a week ago of why that is so important. Will he tell me what he is doing to work with partners across Europe to make sure that we stand together and do not just act as a voice outside the Kremlin, but make sure that Putin’s acolytes, who have profited from his kleptocratic regime, act as voices inside the Kremlin telling him what he is risking? The impressive work that the Defence Secretary has done in helping to support our Ukrainian friends could be undermined if the Kremlin does not listen to the very real danger it faces today.
It is absolutely right that the best way to get attention in the Kremlin and in Moscow generally is to have sanctions that are directed at the individual—like Magnitsky sanctions, for instance; that is what we will be coming forward with—as well as sanctions directed at companies that are of crucial strategic Russian interest.
In Kyiv and in Kramatorsk last week, we met politicians and community leaders who will not only be worrying for the future of their country, but be fearful for their own lives. I have been saying for a very long time that the arguments that President Putin uses about Russian speakers in Ukraine are exactly the same as Adolf Hitler advanced over the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. I agree with the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, that we need to see full implementation of the “Moscow’s Gold” report. I am sure there will be other sanctions coming—I do not quite understand why we have sanctioned only 25% of the people the American Government have already sanctioned. This House will stand ready alongside the Prime Minister if he needs, for instance, to introduce further legislation to seize Russian assets in the UK and to make sure that the unexplained wealth orders, which have worked in only three cases in the past four years, actually have an effect. We stand ready to stand by the Ukrainian people.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much, and I think he is completely right in his analysis of Russian, and certainly Putin’s, intentions towards Ukraine. I am sure he has read the 5,000-word essay by Vladimir Putin about Ukraine and the origins of Russia. It is clear what the psychological and emotional wellsprings of his thinking are.
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says on sanctions. As he knows, we are bringing forward a statutory instrument greatly to toughen up our ability to sanction people, and I hope he will support it.
President Putin has not even waited for the gas to start flowing through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline before exploiting the stranglehold that he has been building on the German economy. My right hon. Friend has already indicated that it may be difficult for Germany to impose severe sanctions against Russia if this invasion goes ahead, so does he not agree that it is vital from our security point of view that anyone with strong Russian or communist Chinese links should be kept well away from our own critical national infrastructure?
My right hon. Friend is completely right. That is why we brought in measures to protect our national security and our critical national infrastructure, and to ensure that we are able to stop investment that we think would be detrimental to our national security. I am afraid that he is also right about the German dependence on Russian gas. We have to be respectful of this, but the simple fact is that about 3% the UK’s gas supplies come from Russia, whereas about 36% of German energy needs come from Russian gas. Germany is in a very different position from us, and its sacrifice is potentially very large. We must hope that in the interest of peace it is willing to make that sacrifice.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. It is right that we stand united across the House to support Ukraine and to stand against Russian aggression, which we should remember has already resulted in over 13,000 casualties in the last few years. The Prime Minister has rightly talked about gas being an issue, particularly in Germany but also across central and eastern Europe. It could also impact this country, with the threat of increased gas prices at a time when families are already facing rocketing heating bills. Could I ask him to take further action on energy, as I did during the Russian invasion of Crimea? Alongside all the measures he rightly proposed in his statement, will he convene a summit of the G7 Energy Ministers, as we had back in 2014, to look at how we can improve short-term and medium-term energy security, protect consumers in this country and elsewhere against rocketing gas prices and give ourselves a much stronger hand in the face of Putin’s aggression?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. By the way, I think that much of the work he did on renewables when he was in office was prescient and valuable for this country, and it has put us in a stronger position to resist the Russian gas blackmail. As I told the House just now, only 3% of our gas supplies come from Russia, but he is right about the spike in prices, which is why we are working together with President Biden and other colleagues to see what we can do to increase the supply of gas both to Europe and of course to this country.
If Russia invades Ukraine, does my right hon. Friend see the potential, as I do, for it to lead to a flood of refugees crossing from Ukraine into the EU? Poland, Romania and Slovakia could see massive flows of displaced people. Indeed, it could be part of Putin’s thinking that the EU could be so distracted and full of infighting over refugees that it could not respond militarily. What does my right hon. Friend think the response from Brussels would be? Maybe the Poles should have a bus station at the border crossing ready to take people to Germany and France, especially as it is Berlin and Paris that have watered down any NATO response thus far. If this massive flow of refugees happens, it may well be the end of the EU.
My hon. Friend is making a valuable point, because we have seen only recently how refugees from Belarus have been used as tools of political warfare. We have to be conscious of the potential for the Kremlin to trigger exactly the kind of refugee crisis he describes.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and agree with him that should Putin invade Ukraine, tough sanctions will be necessary. However, the Putin regime exists because it floats on, and relies on, an ocean of illegal and illicit finance, much of which flows through the City of London. The Prime Minister has just said that the UK has the strongest laws against illicit money; I am sorry, but that is just not true. He should look at what our allies in the United States are doing. It is now time to attack what is happening, because that is the way to cripple this regime. Can the Prime Minister tell me when he will implement the recommendations of the Russia report? As my hon. Friend Chris Bryant has said, if that requires us to pass emergency legislation, let us do it.
Let me repeat what I said earlier. The right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that it is vital to guard against Russian dirty moneys flowing through the world, and he is right in his analysis of the way the kleptocracy works. That is why we have the unexplained wealth orders, why we are introducing a register of beneficial interests, and why we have a new corporate offence of failure to prevent tax evasion. We will and we do come down very hard on all those who are exploiting the City of London, or anywhere else, to wash dirty money.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s strong underlining of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Back in November, there was no unanimity across Europe, and increasingly even across the Atlantic, on the issue of Ukraine. That has changed over the last few months through the good offices of the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary.
The Prime Minister mentioned his conversation last night with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The Germans are a critical part of all this, in respect of both diplomacy and defence. They are a key international partner and ally. We can do it with the Americans and we can do it with others, but it will be far more effective if we do it with the Germans.
My right hon. Friend is completely right. I want to say a word or two in praise of Olaf Scholz, because it was clear from our conversation last night—as I have said to the House—how difficult this is for Germany. No one should be in any doubt about that. However, it was also clear that the new German Chancellor is determined to stand with the rest of the west to maintain a united front. Among other things, Germany has made it plain that Nord Stream 2 cannot go ahead—Germany cannot take part in it—if there is a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary on forming a very robust leadership with NATO and our European allies, and with the United States. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that right now we are facing an even wider threat? It is Ukraine today, but the powers of dictatorship have watched as we did nothing about Georgia, Crimea and South Ossetia, and they have been encouraged. Even now China is looking at Taiwan, watching to see what our reaction will be. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that we have to get our allies to recognise that we must never put ourselves in the position, when it comes to energy, of being dependent on these terrible regimes for our future? We need to get security into our energy now.
My right hon. Friend is completely right in what he says about the need for us to guarantee the independence of our energy—that is why it is so vital that we are building our wind power and other renewables so fast—but he is also right in his analysis of what is happening. What Putin basically wants is to go back to the Yalta system of spheres of influence. It is not just Ukraine that he has his eye on. Therefore, this moment now matters for the whole geometry and security architecture of Europe, and we must stand firm.
The military reality is that President Putin knows that if he invades he will not be facing NATO troops, and therefore the sanctions that we put in place have to be the strongest possible. Is the Prime Minister not concerned, given the answer he just gave about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the fact that discussions are still continuing about exclusion from the SWIFT system, that we are not demonstrating determined, united resolve at the very moment when we need the credible threat of strong sanctions to try and deter President Putin from invading Ukraine?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very important point. I think actually we are making a huge amount of progress. I want to thank my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary for the work that they are doing, because I think we are bringing together the west on a very tough package, and that is what we need.
I remind the House that we do actually guarantee the sovereignty of Ukraine, having signed the Budapest memorandum in 1994, along with the United States and Russia, and I think later France, and even China. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we really economically and financially strangle Russia with sanctions, Russia could well become bankrupt, and that alone might be something to cause Mr Putin to blink before he gives agreement to using military power and turning it into military force?
My right hon. Friend is completely right that we have the potential—the potential—to do very serious economic damage to Russia. What we have to make sure of, as everybody said on the call last night, is that we do not inflict damage on the western economies just as people are suffering in particular from high gas prices. That is what we have got to do. Do not forget, it is quite right to say that 41% of Russia’s GDP comes from oil and gas.
The truth about unexplained wealth orders is that only a handful of them have been issued, and that the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill has now been waiting for four years for action. So when the Finance (No. 2) Bill returns to this House, will the Government bring forward measures to tighten up on the flow of dirty Russian money in the UK—or is the truth really that he is perfectly content with that because so much of it appears to end up in Tory party coffers?
No, we do not accept foreign donations, as the hon. Lady knows very well. What we will do is bring forward targeted sanctions, which I think are the most effective way of doing it, targeting the sanctions at the personalities that surround President Putin and making them understand the price that they will pay.
There is no public appetite for using UK combat troops in Ukraine—absolutely none—but we do have other tools in our toolbox. Is the Prime Minister contemplating using the full-spectrum approach to cyber, including offensive cyber, that he talked about in March in connection with the integrated review?
Yes. The National Cyber Security Centre is indeed offering help to Ukraine for precisely that purpose. Russian cyber-attacks, as the House knows, can be extremely damaging and we can do a lot to help.
The Government’s position is that sanctions will be deployed against Russia if there is an incursion, but would the Government consider deploying some sanctions now, as a clear signal to Russia, and saying that if President Putin stands down his troops and withdraws his forces, further sanctions will not be deployed? Would that not be a more effective sequencing of the process?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful argument. As I have said, we already have Magnitsky sanctions in place on the Russian regime, sanctions in response to the seizure of Crimea and Sevastopol already in place—a wide variety of sanctions. I think what we need to do, if I may say so, is build up an instant, automatic package of western sanctions that will come in automatically in the event of a single toecap of a Russian incursion into more of Ukraine.
I welcome the robust sentiment behind my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is important that the unity that exists across this House is expressed in opposition to Putin if we are to make that a reality. My right hon. Friend mentioned Bosnia in his opening remarks, and he will be aware of the sabre rattling in Republika Srpska, encouraged by Russia. He will also be aware that there is still occupied territory in Moldova. Can he reassure me that these areas are also under discussion with the allies?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The crisis around Ukraine will be replayed across the whole map of eastern Europe if we fail now, and if we do not stand up to Putin. She is entirely right in what she says about the Balkans.
It is not just Ukraine; we have military forces in Estonia, which is a member of NATO and a true friend of the UK. The Prime Minister said that if Russia invades Ukraine, we will bolster up our NATO allies. Should we not have more forces in Estonia now?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I have been to see the 850 troops in Tapa, as I am sure he has. They do a fantastic job in Estonia. We are looking potentially to increase our presence in the NATO south-eastern flank as well.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, which puts the United Kingdom at the forefront of the response to President Putin’s monstrous military intimidation. Will my right hon. Friend personally pledge himself to the defence of the new democracies of eastern Europe, who suffered under the Soviet yoke for so long and still want to be free? Will he acknowledge that this change must happen anyway, whether or not the invasion takes place? We must make sure that we are prepared in a new cold war against this kind of intimidation until the Russian regime is removed.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I know that he speaks for many friends and many good allies in eastern Europe. In Poland, in the Czech Republic and in the Baltic states there are people who would precisely echo his sentiments, and that is why we have to stand strong and united today for Ukraine.
The Prime Minister describes Ukraine and Russia as equal parties, and we know he likes a party. He also said that
“Ukraine has scarcely known a day of peace” since the 2014 Russian invasion and illegal annexation. Indeed, in December there were 128 shellings of Ukrainians in Donetsk, and three Ukrainian soldiers have been murdered by Russian-backed forces since January. The question is why the Prime Minister has not acted sooner, and why is he even now saying we must wait for full-scale invasion before further sanctions—including on access to SWIFT—and the “Moscow’s Gold” report recommendations are implemented? Why wait?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman must have missed what I already said. We already have a very wide package of sanctions in place since the Russian incursion of 2014. We have personal sanctions and other sanctions for what the Russians did in Crimea and Sevastopol. What we are going to do now is to ratchet those sanctions up very considerably. I am afraid he is not right in what he says about abandoning Ukraine since 2014. With Operation Orbital, the UK has been out there in the front, helping to train 21,000 Ukrainian troops since 2015.
The Prime Minister will know that Ukraine is not a full member of NATO, but may I ask him to comment on the feasibility of direct military action by NATO, notwithstanding that article 5 does not apply?
I thank my hon. Friend very much, and I go back to the answer I gave to my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood. I know that, emotionally, many people will want to commit NATO troops to the defence of Ukraine. We have UK troops there now, and members of the Ranger Regiment are going to supplement those we already have.
I have to say that no member of NATO is currently willing to deploy in Ukraine in large numbers to fight Russian aggression in the way that my hon. Friend suggests. Indeed, we have to beware of doing things that would constitute a pretext for Putin to invade. We have to calculate and calibrate what we do very carefully, and I think that the right approach is to build a strong package of economic sanctions, continue to supply defensive weaponry and do all the other things that we are doing.
The Prime Minister said that we have already declassified compelling intelligence exposing Russian intent and that
“we will continue to disclose any Russian use of…false flag operations or disinformation.”
How much of that declassified information will be made fully public so as to blunt or halt the spread of Russian disinformation by letting the people who see it know that it is false before they decide to press the “share” or “send” button?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. It is very important that people in Ukraine and around the world should be able to trust the information that we are giving out. I have no doubt that the intelligence that we shared about the coup attempt—or the people conspiring against the regime—in Kyiv was right, but we will divulge as much of our sourcing as we can without compromising our intelligence sources.
Naturally, we are all alarmed and share concerns at the risks that the people of Ukraine face but we take confidence from the Prime Minister’s statement and actions in helping to co-ordinate the western response. Does my right hon. Friend agree that NATO must always leave the door open for Ukraine joining?
My right hon. Friend is completely right and puts his finger on the fundamental point and the thing that we cannot bargain away. A sovereign country must have the right to choose her own destiny, and that is what Ukraine must have. Of course, the path to NATO membership will not be easy for anybody and no one is saying that that is going to happen immediately. But a country must be allowed to choose its own way forward, and that is what we are sticking up for.
Any Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a very serious breach of the terms of the United Nations charter. In 2014, the seizure of Crimea was discussed in the Security Council on seven occasions, I think. Eventually, a resolution was passed to the General Assembly that left Russia extremely isolated. What plans do the Government have to pursue the current crisis through the UN? Given the reality of a Russian veto at the Security Council, we could perhaps look once again to the General Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman is completely right. It is an underestimated point in our favour that I do not believe, in the end, that Russia wants the kind of isolation that would ensue. Of the global institutions, Russia takes the UN very seriously. Russia values her membership of the UN Security Council. What he proposes about using the General Assembly is entirely right. But it is very important that we not only have tough measures but provide the avenue for diplomacy as well.
I thank the Prime Minister for sending such a strong and clear message to Vladimir Putin and everyone across the House for backing the Prime Minister on such a crucial issue. At such a worrying time, can the Prime Minister reassure British nationals in Ukraine that our embassy in Kyiv remains open to provide assistance should they require it?
Yes, I am very happy to give that reassurance. As I said just now, the embassy continues to function. At least 30 staff are there to look after British interests in Kyiv and around Ukraine.
The Kremlin does not act in isolation; it acts against a plan. Will the Prime Minister set out what additional support we will be providing to our allies on NATO’s eastern flank, especially that using UK forces already stationed in those countries, to deter any future Russian aggression after any invasion of Ukraine?
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. What we are all discussing at the moment is what we can do to fortify NATO’s eastern/south-eastern flank. The French are looking at Romania. There are questions about Hungary and what we might do there; as he knows, there are complex issues involving the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. Everybody—particularly the Americans; he heard what I said about the 8,500 troops getting ready to go to Europe—can see the need now to move NATO forces, to fortify NATO’s eastern flank.
The diplomacy of the velvet glove must be supported by a steel fist if it is to be effective. Does the indirect threat to NATO inform the Prime Minister that NATO must spend more money on its conventional forces? In that respect, will he reconsider the 10,000 cut to our Army?
We have spent record sums on our wonderful Army and it is now more agile, lethal and deployable around world, which is why we are able to move at speed and not just deploy in Estonia but, as I said to Luke Pollard, look to move to other parts of NATO’s eastern frontier.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and for Defence for their resolute and strong stance. The UK, NATO and the USA have committed troops to the Baltic states and Poland; to combat and stop Russian aggression, similar support needs to be given to Ukraine. The pictures in the press last week that showed Ukrainian militia training with wooden guns very much illustrated the David and Goliath struggle. Will the Prime Minister confirm that military assistance and boots on the ground are needed urgently in Ukraine right now?
I too saw those pictures of Ukrainian civilians training with wooden weapons. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are supporting the Ukrainian army. There is now a strong tradition in Ukraine of militias and people who understand how to fight a guerrilla war. The message we need to get across to the Russian people is that it would be a disaster for them and a political disaster for Vladimir Putin.
In his very strong statement, my right hon. Friend rightly spoke about the need for western unity. It seems bizarre that Germany, of all countries in Europe, needs to be reminded that murderous dictators will never be satisfied with a single land grab and that any attack on Ukraine is, ultimately, an attack on all of Europe. Will my right hon. Friend remind the Germans of that?
My hon. Friend and I have discussed these types of issues over many years. Actually, given the extreme delicacy of the matter in Germany—given the dependence on Russian hydrocarbons that I have described to the House—I really think that Olaf Scholz is doing a huge job of moving and getting us to a position where we have a united western approach and I commend the German Government.
For reasons we do not need to go over just now, Germany has blocked some NATO allies from providing certain military assistance to Ukraine. What assessment have the Government made of that blocking? Where it is necessary for Ukraine to defend itself, will the UK Government and others ensure that it gets the maximum spread of capability we are able to provide?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point but, as he knows and as I have told the House, given the NLAWs, or next-generation light anti-tank weapons, that we have sent in addition to all the aid we have given under Operation Orbital, we are the second-biggest contributor to the defence—I stress: the defence—of Ukraine. I saw a poll of the Ukrainian people that said that the UK was now the most popular foreign Government in Ukraine, second only—[Interruption.] Not second only to the Scottish Government but second only to Lithuania.
The UK is proving to be the pre-eminent European nation in the support and defence of Ukraine, so I thank my right hon. Friend for his leadership on that. Nobody could doubt our commitment to European security. I have been encouraged by my right hon. Friend’s remarks about Germany, but it is critical that the German Government play a full part if we are to deliver the unprecedented package of financial and other sanctions that he described and that were set out in the call last night. How confident is my right hon. Friend of that and what more can he do with Chancellor Scholz to ensure it is delivered?
My right hon. Friend is right: Germany is absolutely critical to our success in this matter. We have just got to keep the pressure up together.
I heard what the Prime Minister said earlier to the Leader of the Opposition about the introduction of a register of beneficial interests, but my question is: when? It has been six years since such a register was promised at that Dispatch Box and nothing has happened. Every moment that we wait undermines our position. I have introduced my private Member’s Bill on the issue and it has support from both sides; will the Prime Minister please take it up? We need to send the message that cronies’ money is not welcome in this country.
The hon. Lady is completely right. In addition to the unexplained wealth orders and the crackdown on tax evasion, we want a register of beneficial interests. I can tell her that the Leader of the House tells me that we will do it as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I have a vibrant Ukrainian community in my constituency, many of whom I met earlier this month. Will the Prime Minister reassure them of our commitment to the defence support package for Ukraine and our readiness to unleash economic sanctions on Russia, and will he stand firm for freedom and democracy alongside the Ukrainian people?
Yes, the UK has been at this for a long time now. It was an important signal, which I hope my hon. Friend will take back to his constituents, that we stuck up for Ukrainian rights of navigation when we sent HMS Defender through that route. If hon. Members remember, the Government came under pressure from people for taking what was described as a “provocative” route, but all we were doing was sticking up for the rights of freedom of navigation for the Ukrainians.
The Russian regime is a clear and present danger to the rules-based international order, so the SNP will be part of the coalition in Ukraine’s defence. In that spirit, does the Prime Minister accept that the real frustration of Opposition Members is that his credibility and the credibility of his Government and of us all has been undermined by continued inaction in implementing the “Moscow’s Gold” report and the Russia report? We would support the legislation to strengthen his credibility, so let us get on with it.
I do not think that is fair. The Government have been absolutely ruthless in applying Magnitsky sanctions, which Ian Blackford helped to promote. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor produced them and they are a great thing. We have targeted people involved in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and we will use direct targeted sanctions now against the Putin regime.
Ukraine has very strong historical and cultural links to my constituency, with the Ukrainian embassy, the Ukrainian Cultural Centre and the Ukrainian Institute all based in Holland Park. Can the Prime Minister assure me that we will do everything to support the people of Ukraine in their desire to live in peace?
Yes, indeed. I am familiar with the statue of St Volodymyr in my hon. Friend’s constituency and I know the amazing contribution of the Ukrainian community to our great capital. I hope that she will pass on the message that we stand four-square with them.
A percentage of our natural gas comes from Russia and Putin has already said that he will turn off the taps if he deems Moscow to be unfairly sanctioned by the west. My constituents are already struggling with rising fuel costs, which is why I voted for the SNP motion in our cost of living increases debate yesterday. Does the Prime Minister accept that he must bring in a package of domestic policies to help families to pay for bills so that the international issue does not compound the problem?
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the price spike in energy around the world. Actually, Russian gas comprises only 3% of the UK’s gas supplies, but we have to mitigate the impact of the cost of energy on families with the cold weather payments and everything that we are doing to increase the living wage—all the support that we are giving families throughout the winter and beyond.
May I commend the Prime Minister on his tough statement? The point has already been made about the disinformation that is coming from the Kremlin, but he will appreciate that much of that is targeted at NATO. Will he use this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that NATO is a defensive organisation and that it should not in any way be construed as being offensive or threatening?
Yes, my hon. Friend is so right, because that is the misconception, whether witting or otherwise. Russia persists in the fiction that NATO is somehow an aggressive alliance and a threat to Russia. NATO is not an aggressive alliance; Russia is not encircled by threats. It is absolutely vital that we convey that to Vladimir Putin. If he can understand that, that is the route to progress and that is the diplomatic path that we have to follow.
The Prime Minister will get every support from the SNP Benches for defending national self-determination within Europe. Does he not agree that it is time that the UK Government sign a robust security and defence agreement with the European Union to replace that in the Lisbon treaty—most critically, article 42.7 of that treaty?
If we look at what is happening, the conversation I had last night was with European partners comprising the vast bulk of defence spending in the west; we work very closely with our European partners, as we do with all our NATO partners. NATO remains the primary vehicle for our defence. NATO is a very valuable interlocutor with Russia. The NATO-Russia Council has proved its worth in the last few months.
My hon. Friend is completely right. As so many colleagues have said, this is not just about Ukraine. This is about the ambition of the Kremlin to seize this moment to try to reimpose a new order and a new security architecture in the European continent, one that we absolutely reject. We stand for the rights of free peoples everywhere to determine their own fate. That was the fantastic achievement of the end of the cold war, the fall of the Berlin wall, and that high moment in 1990 when we had a Europe whole and free. That is what we are trying to protect.
There are reports of some Ukrainians beginning to stock up on non-perishable goods. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government have plans in place to support provision of necessities to ordinary Ukrainian people if necessary?
Of course we will do what we can to provide economic support in the event of a disaster, but the most important thing we can do now is to try to prevent that disaster from occurring by unifying the west in the way I have been describing this afternoon.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I am sorry not everybody could get in, but we have to move on to the next business.