May I, too, welcome the Speaker of the House of Representatives—it was a delight to sit next to her at the G7 Speakers conference—and also Congressman Adam Smith, the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee? The United States is truly our closest friend and ally, and in times like these we need each other more than ever.
The United Kingdom is unwavering in our support for Ukraine, along with allies and partners. We are committed to defending regional security. We have long supported Ukraine’s defence capability, as well as regularly exercising with its armed forces and via defence engagement channels. We must not allow Russia’s destabilising behaviour to influence the territorial integrity of any other sovereign state. The UK remains steadfast in its support for Ukraine.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the call he held for MPs last week, during recess, following his trip to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart. Could he expand on the value of that visit, and does this mean that defence engagement with Russia has been re-energised?
Diplomacy is, we feel, the only way out of this crisis. We are working through NATO and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but Russia must uphold the international commitments it freely entered into and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. Dialogue plays a full part in the United Kingdom and allied approach to mitigate mutual risk and enable both sides to discuss the full range of security issues, including where we differ.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer a few moments ago, and for his leadership in ensuring that both deterrence and diplomacy are used to stand up for the sovereignty of the people of Ukraine. Given the reports of thousands of civilians being taken from their homes and taken to Russia as part of forced evacuations—a clear breach of article 49 of the Geneva convention—can I ask the Secretary of State what discussions he and colleagues across Government have had about any future role for courts, including the International Criminal Court? It is vital that perpetrators know that they will be held to account for their actions in future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The ICC obviously only has effect on the many members who are signed up to the treaties, and not every state is; the United Kingdom is, however. I think, fundamentally, this is about international law, and whether Russia respects international law and the previous commitments it has made to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine. If it fails to respect that international law, the international community will see it for what it is.
A few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend set out the defensive equipment that the UK is providing to the Ukrainian military. Since that time, there has been considerable additional build-up on its borders, so can I ask my right hon. Friend what plans he has to provide further equipment to the Ukrainian military?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that we have stood by our friends in Ukraine and, alongside the United States and other countries such as Canada and some of the Baltic states, provided lethal aid, as we call it. It is, however, important to recognise that, in this timeframe, there is only so much that can be deployed effectively. We will, however, keep everything under review, and it is important that we help people defend themselves.
For a decade, Russia has targeted Ukraine with cyber-attacks to damage its economy, undermine its democracy and terrify its people. In recent weeks, those attacks have grown both in magnitude and frequency. Can the Secretary of State outline what the UK is doing to assist Ukraine in protecting its critical national infrastructure from the current onslaught of Russian cyber-aggression?
Over the last few years we have been actively engaged in helping Ukraine both internally and externally across its whole government. Indeed, when I was Security Minister we were engaged there and I visited on two occasions for exactly that purpose. Currently the National Cyber Security Centre is involved in giving advice and support alongside our international allies to make sure Ukraine’s resilience is strengthened against the Russian playbook, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says.
The Secretary of State for Defence will know that I think he is a breath of fresh air in the job, but I also know that he shares my concern that we have been pushing down the numbers in our armed forces consistently over recent years. Can he give me an answer on this today: has the situation in Ukraine changed the mind of the Government, and will they now build up our armed forces so we can offer credible help to the poor people in Ukraine?
Our armed forces right now are providing support in covid, in the channel, in eastern Europe, and in Ukraine and elsewhere. We are currently running at about 78,000 for the strength of our Army, and the hon. Gentleman will not have noticed, although he is obviously in agreement with me, that we increased the original commitment up an extra 500 from 72,500 to 73,000. I have always said the size of our armed forces and defence budget should be threat-led: if the threat changes we should always be prepared to change it. At present, I am minded to stay where we are, but we should also reflect that what we see in Ukraine is that our real strength is our alliances: 30 countries in NATO is the strongest way to achieve mass against a force such as Russia. That is why NATO remains strong and united.
It is very difficult to know what is going on in President Putin’s mind. Does the Defence Secretary spot a difference however between the perceptions of General Gerasimov and the other generals about the wisdom or otherwise of an invasion of Ukraine and those of the Kremlin? Secondly, given that President Putin has stated that Ukrainians and Russians are the same people, would it not be phenomenally hypocritical to launch an attack on people he considers to be the same people?
I regret to say there was absolutely not a slither of difference between the President and General Gerasimov and Minister Shoigu when I met them a few weeks ago; they are some of his closest advisers and supporters and it is clear that their vision of Russia matches that of their President. The hon. Gentleman is also right to point out that they claim the Ukrainians are their brothers—in fact they are their “kin”, rather than brothers—to launch attacks on people who were part of the Soviet Union for decades together has a retrograde effect. As we know now, Ukrainians who probably were not that bothered 10 years ago about which way they faced are absolutely determined that they are going to stand for Ukraine and fight for their freedom.
I call the Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood.
Last week I saw at first hand how UK and American efforts are working hard to support our friends in Ukraine, so I commend both Governments on their efforts, but I remain concerned that NATO, the most formidable military alliance in the world, could have collectively done more in previous months to deter an invasion but chose to hide behind the fact that Ukraine is not a NATO member. Yes, we have shored up our NATO flanks, but that still leaves Ukraine exposed. Does the Secretary of State agree that Ukrainian security is European security, and by committing greater support to Ukraine we are trying to prevent a war rather than start one? And with the threat of invasion imminent, may I also call on the Secretary of State to provide more military support to Ukraine?
I fully agree with my right hon. Friend that Ukraine is part of Europe; Ukrainians consider themselves European, and it is absolutely the case that the ripples of anything that happens in Ukraine will be felt right across Europe whether it is in NATO or not. NATO is not preventing individual countries from strengthening Ukrainian security and capability through bilateral arrangements: the United Kingdom has done it, and so too has Sweden—it is not part of NATO but nevertheless stood up for its values and stood side by side.
The Government have Labour’s full support in assisting Ukraine in confronting Russian aggression and pursuing diplomacy even at this eleventh hour, and we also fully support moves to reinforce the security of NATO allies, as the Labour leader and I told the Secretary-General at NATO HQ earlier this month. However, although the doubling of UK troops in Estonia is welcome it looks like an overlap in rotation, not a reinforcement; for how long will this double deployment last, and beyond the steps already announced what more is the Secretary of State willing to do to reinforce allies on NATO’s eastern flank?
I am grateful to the right hon. Member. Mr Speaker, may I make a quick apology? There will be a statement on Ukraine after questions, but the statement has not yet arrived with my colleagues, or indeed with me, even though I did write it. There we are—bureaucracy in action. I do apologise to the House.
As the right hon. Member said, the overlap on relief in place can be there for as long as we like. We can keep it that way and we can reconfigure. Indeed, one purpose of forward-basing our armoured vehicles in Sennelager in Germany is to allow us that flexibility, with the vehicles forward and the people interchangeable. We will keep it under constant review. In addition, we have sent up to 350 personnel into Poland to exercise jointly and show bilateral strength, and 100 extra personnel from the Royal Engineers Squadron are already in Poland helping with the border fragility caused by the Belarusian migration. In addition, at the end of March we have Exercise Cold Response, which will involve 35,000-plus.
Whether or not President Putin gives the go-ahead to military invasion, this unprecedented military intimidation is part of a long pattern of aggression against western nations, including attacks on British soil and against British institutions. Does Ukraine not expose the flaws in the Government’s integrated review of last year with its focus on the Indo-Pacific and its plan to cut the British Army by another 10,000 soldiers? In the light of the threats, will the Secretary of State halt any further Army cuts and restore the highest defence priority to Europe, the north Atlantic and the Arctic?
Contrary to the right hon. Member’s observation on the integrated review, I think that it has been proved correct. First, alliances—whether NATO, bilateral or trilateral, and whether in the Pacific or Europe—are the most important way in which we can defend ourselves. We are reinvesting in NATO and are now its second biggest spender. Yes, troop numbers are scheduled to reduce, but spending on defence is going up to a record amount, and an extra £24 billion over the comprehensive spending review period is not money to be sniffed at. The integrated review is also a demonstration that, with further defence engagement and investment in sub-threshold capabilities such as cyber through the National Cyber Force among other areas, we can improve the resilience of countries that get vulnerable to Russian sub-threshold actions.
I call the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr Julian Lewis.
What lessons have our Government drawn from the consequences for Ukraine of its decision in 1994 unilaterally to give up all the nuclear weapons that it had inherited from the Soviet Union in return for assurances on a piece of paper?
That shows that we must ensure that the Budapest memorandum—the signature between Russia and Ukraine in 1994—is stuck to. Russia should honour all the treaties that it has signed as well as its statements to ensure that mutual recognition of each other’s security is upheld. If it does not do that, as my right hon. Friend rightly says, that opens up all sorts of questions about how much of Russia’s word we can trust. If we cannot trust its word, I am afraid that it is a dangerous place to be in Europe.
I call the SNP spokesperson, Stuart Malcolm McDonald.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I welcome Speaker Pelosi and the American delegation to the Chamber. I also congratulate Team GB and yes, in particular, that fantastic curling team that so many of us have been enjoying in recent days.
As the Defence Secretary knows, we have supported the Government’s actions in helping Ukraine to defend itself against its neighbouring aggressor. Indeed, the Government’s actions in giving military support are an act against war. However, during my visit to the Ukrainian capital a couple of weeks ago, I heard concerns at Government and parliamentary level about them still missing some support that I understand they had discussed with his Department. Will he assure us that those discussions are ongoing or give us an update?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. On his comments about the winter Olympics, I have one of only two English curling rinks at Barton Grange in my constituency. I look forward to a Scots abroad event.
We are open to all sorts of suggestions. I speak regularly to my defence counterpart in Ukraine, and it is incredibly important that, should we get through this with a diplomatic solution, we continue to help support Ukraine’s resilience both in capacity building and training and in nation building to ensure that it is a strong and secure state.
I am grateful for that answer. I may be jumping the gun slightly—I suspect the Secretary of State might come to this in his statement after questions—but one thing we were asked about a lot there was the new grouping between Ukraine, Poland and the United Kingdom. The detail on that is not quite out there just yet. Will he update the House on exactly what the new grouping hopes to achieve? Can he give an assurance that it will complement the work of other allies, rather than overlapping it?
We are working through those details right now and, as soon as I can, I will update the hon. Gentleman and the House. It is incredibly important we recognise that Ukraine borders a number of major NATO countries that will feel the direct consequence of an invasion. It is also important that President Putin’s view of many of those countries, which he himself has written down in previous essays, could continue should he be successful in Ukraine. It is therefore really important that the UK plays a strong role in reassurance not only of NATO countries, but of other friends such as Sweden and Finland.