With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the latest situation regarding Russia’s actions towards Ukraine. As I have already said, I apologise that the Opposition had such late sight of the statement.
As of 09.00 hours today, there are now more than 110 battalion tactical groups massed around Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus. In addition, in the Black Sea Fleet, there are two amphibious groups, nine cruise missile-equipped Russian ships and a further four cruise missile-capable vessels in the Caspian sea.
In the last 48 hours, contrary to Kremlin assurances, we have seen a continued increase in troop numbers and a change in force disposition, moving from holding areas to potential launch locations. All the indicators point to increasing numbers and readiness of Russian forces, and, not surprisingly to many of us, the pledge to withdraw Russian troops from Belarus at the end of their joint military drills on
Complementing this troop build-up has been the proliferation of false flag operations, propaganda stunts, and Russian news outlets carrying fictitious allegations. These are not the actions of a Russian Government fulfilling their repeated declarations that they have no intention of invading Ukraine. In fact, over the last few weeks, we have seen the Russian “playbook” being implemented in a way that gives us strong cause for concern that President Putin is still committed to an invasion. I believe that he is in danger of setting himself on a tragic course of events, leading to a humanitarian crisis, instability, and widespread suffering—not just of Ukrainians, but of the Russian people.
Like many of us, the Russians know the consequences of military interventions. The Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the first war in Chechnya are just two examples of where Russia saw too many young men returning home in zinc-lined coffins. The Government therefore urge President Putin—for the sake of his own people and even at this eleventh hour—to rule out the invasion of Ukraine and recommit to a diplomatic process for us to address the perceptions of the Kremlin.
Over recent weeks, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have engaged numerous times with our international counterparts, including my own visit to Moscow to meet Defence Minister Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov. We have made clear our determination to uphold the defensive principles of NATO and to defend the right of sovereign countries to make choices about their own security arrangements. As the Russian Government have signed up to, states have
“an equal right to security. We reaffirm the inherent right of each and every participating state to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance.”
That statement was signed by the Russians in 1975 in the Helsinki Final Act, in 1994 in the Budapest summit declaration, in 1999 at the Istanbul summit, and, most lately, in 2010 at the Astana summit. We urge Russia to stick to its commitments that it has openly made and signed up to over the years. My counterpart, Defence Minister Shoigu, repeated to me in person that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine, but, while we take them at their word, we must judge them by their actions.
At our meeting I also took the opportunity to address the proposals in Russia’s draft treaty, because, while this is not a return to normal UK-Russia relations, it is important that, as one of Europe’s biggest military powers, the UK maintains strong lines of communications with Russia in order to avoid miscalculation and the risk of inadvertent escalations. I also continue to speak regularly to my Ukrainian counterpart, Defence Minister Reznikov, as we continue to support the armed forces of Ukraine.
Since 2015, the UK—alongside the likes of Sweden and Canada—has responded to Russia’s previous illegal occupation of Crimea with defence capacity building, including training and reform. As I announced to the House last month, we took the decision to also provide lethal aid to Ukraine. That now means that, alongside the United States, Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands, the United Kingdom has not just spoken, but acted.
I am pleased with the efforts being made by a range of European leaders, including President Macron, to find a way through. We must remain resolute in our commitment to NATO’s formal response to the Russian draft treaties, which all NATO members signed up to. Intimidation and aggression, however, must not be rewarded.
We should be under no illusion: the Russian forces have now massed on Ukraine’s borders 65% of all their land combat power. The formations present and the action of the Russian state to date not only threaten the integrity of a sovereign state, but undermine international law and the democratic values in which all of us in Europe so strongly believe.
The Foreign Office has now relocated the embassy further west in the country, and two weeks ago advised that all UK nationals should leave Ukraine via all means possible. The Ministry of Defence will continue to monitor Russian actions, support Ukrainian defensive efforts and contribute to NATO’s response measures. We continue to hope that President Putin will relent and pull back from an invasion, but we must prepare ourselves for the consequences if he does not. I will update the House, as I have done over the past few weeks, both in the Chamber and to colleagues online.
The Defence Secretary has been busy in recent weeks, so I welcome his statement today and thank him for keeping the Opposition parties updated on Ukraine during these grave escalations of Russian military threats on the Ukrainian border.
This is the most serious security crisis Europe has faced since the cold war. The Ukrainian people, citizens of a proud, independent and democratic country, face an unprecedented threat from, as the Secretary of State has said, two thirds of Russia’s entire forces now built up on its borders. There is unified UK political support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity in the face of that continuing Russian aggression.
The Government also have Labour’s full support in helping Ukraine to defend itself and in pursuing diplomacy, even at this eleventh hour and even though President Putin has proved more interested in disinformation than diplomacy. We also fully support moves to reinforce the security of NATO allies, as the Labour leader and I told the Secretary General at NATO headquarters earlier this month.
President Putin wants to divide and weaken the west, to turn back the clock and re-establish Russian control over neighbouring countries. The real threat to President Putin and his Russian elites is Ukraine as a successful democracy, choosing for itself its trading and security links with the west. An attack on Ukraine is an attack on democracy.
We welcome the message from Munich at the weekend that any invasion will be met with massive sanctions in a swift, unified western response. The European Union, of course, will lead on sanctions legislation for most European allies, especially to clamp down on finances or critical technologies for Russia. How is the UK co-ordinating with the European Commission and European Council? What meetings have UK Ministers had to discuss that co-ordination?
The other message from Munich at the weekend was that allies stand ready for further talks. The Defence Secretary has said this afternoon:
“I am pleased with the efforts being made by a range of European leaders, including President Macron”.
What diplomatic initiatives is our UK Prime Minister taking, befitting Britain as a leading member of the NATO alliance and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council? With the most serious tensions and developments in the Donbas, why did the UK Government remove UK staff from the OSCE monitoring mission there, when those from all other European countries have stayed to do a job that is more vital now than ever?
The Defence Secretary said, rightly, that we continue to “support Ukrainian defensive efforts”, including with lethal aid. What more will he now do, with NATO, to help Ukraine defend itself? Can he speed up action via the Ukraine naval agreement? How feasible is a no-fly zone? What consideration will he give to support for Ukrainian resistance?
We cannot stand up to Russian aggression abroad while accepting Russian corruption at home. For too long, Britain has been the destination for the dirty money that keeps Putin in power. Where is the economic crime Bill, which was promised by the Government and then pulled? Where is the comprehensive reform of Companies House? Where is the law to register foreign agents? Where is the registration of overseas entities Bill? Where is the replacement for the outdated Computer Misuse Act 1990? Where are the new rules on political donations? Why does the Government’s Elections Bill make these problems worse by enabling political donations from donors based overseas?
Whether or not President Putin invades Ukraine, Russia’s long-running pattern of aggression demands a NATO response. Will the Secretary of State report from his meeting last week with NATO Defence Ministers on how the alliance’s overall posture is set to change? Will he explain what action could be taken to better co-ordinate NATO with the joint expeditionary force—for instance, creating a regional readiness force?
Finally, does not Ukraine expose the flaws in the Government’s integrated review of last year, with its first focus on the Indo-Pacific and its plan to cut the British Army by another 10,000 soldiers? Will the Secretary of State now halt any further Army cuts, and restore the highest defence priority to Europe, the north Atlantic and the Arctic?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support. He will know that throughout this process the Government have been grateful for efforts to be united across this House. That has been one of the strongest messages we can send to Russia, as is our being united across NATO and the EU, to make sure that this behaviour is seen as unacceptable.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about sanctions. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been in conversation more than weekly with the EU on co-ordinating sanctions to make sure that the EU Commission, which is the EU’s lead on sanctions, the United States and the United Kingdom are as closely as possible in lockstep. The EU has taken the position that it will prepare and deliver the sanctions, should an invasion happen, at that moment. The United States and the United Kingdom have laid out—we have put this before this House—the sanctions that they would put in place. That is a difference of approach. However, we know from our own experience that the EU can move very quickly at a Commission level when it wishes to do so. There is no lack of appetite in the EU to deal with President Putin through sanctions should he make the tragic error of invading Ukraine. No one should play into the differences of timing to suggest that; it is simply a different mechanism of approach. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is also working through a group called the Quint plus plus—that is, the US, the UK, Italy, France and Germany, plus NATO and the EU. They are all working together on these types of responses and are regularly having discussions.
I will write to the right hon. Gentleman on the OSCE, but I know that one individual has been in touch. He is a UK citizen. When the Foreign Office advice was issued, there were certain pieces of advice to citizens of our country. If someone find themselves in any organisation, we give our advice to them. Other members of the OSCE have left—not all of them—but I will get him the full detail on that as well.
As regards the bigger questions on issues such as aid, Ukrainian resistance and further support, the right hon. Gentleman will know that this has been best pursued on a bilateral basis between countries or groupings of countries such as through lethal aid. Much has been made of the fact that countries such as Germany and France have not provided lethal aid to Ukraine. I simply reflect, as I did at NATO last week, that the strength of an alliance of 30 is that we can all play to our strengths. It is important that we recognise that not every country, in its political system or political leadership, is going to have the same view, but in an alliance of 30 we can play to our strengths and deliver to Ukraine what it needs. We have seen, for example, an increase in aid to Ukraine from the likes of Germany, as well as medical supplies, while in other countries such as the United Kingdom and the Baltic states, lethal aid plays a part. That is really important. In order to keep going together at the same speed, we recognise that if we are going to tackle Russia, we have to be able to play to those strengths. The EU has a strong role to play in helping the resilience of neighbouring countries such as through migrant flows in Belarus. If 1 million refugees appear in Hungary, Romania or Poland, I would urge the EU to step up and think about what it is going to do about millions of refugees on its soil rather than think about it afterwards. That is where the EU Commission can play a strong role in resilience-building.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the integrated review, but I think the situation is actually the opposite of what he said: if we read the full integrated review and the defence Command Paper, they show that we have to be ready. They show that Russia and adversaries like Russia do not go in with a big bang and just arrive in a big invasion; they soften up their targets using sub-threshold methods, cyber, corruption, organised crime and so on, and they turn up incrementally. Many of the forces we now see massed on Ukraine’s border were in fact pre-positioned in April following an exercise and then went home to barracks. That allowed them to be ready and to deploy in days, while NATO’s traditional model has been that it has taken us weeks and months to deploy.
That is why, in our defence Command Paper, we put a premium on speed and readiness. That premium may sometimes mean less mass, but that is why we have an alliance to pick up on that; we have an alliance of 30 countries, and we way outspend Russia collectively as a group of nations, and indeed on capabilities. It is also why I am now able to offer our NATO leaders true forces—forces that will actually turn up on the day, rather than what we had even in my day, when I was serving in West Germany or north Germany, which was fictional numbers, which meant that that when we pressed the button, instead of a division, we got a brigade. That is far more important in showing strength to the Russians and showing that we mean what we say and that we can deliver on it.
I was Security Minister when I introduced the Criminal Finances Act 2017. There was no greater champion of taking down dirty money in the City than me. I brought in the unexplained wealth orders. I brought in the mobile stores of wealth when people got round the provisions. I helped to set up the economic crime unit in the National Crime Agency. I ensured that we changed the law on tax evasion so that we got more people. I also pushed incredibly hard and successfully through the G7 for the transparent register of beneficial ownership.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to do more. I absolutely supported at the time, and still do, a register of foreign agents. He is also totally right on areas such as Companies House. The whole Government are now looking at these issues and are committed to doing something about them, and I expect an announcement soon on a range of them. He is right that the consequences of Russia’s actions, going way back to Salisbury and before, are that we must stop the oligarchs resident in this country, with their dirty money, behaving as if this was a place of refuge, when they should not be welcome. If it comes to an invasion of Ukraine, Russia should know what it costs to be isolated.
May I commend my right hon. Friend and the Government for the robust stance they have taken alongside our American and European allies in the face of Russia’s threats against Ukraine? President Putin wants to weaken NATO and the western alliance, but does my right hon. Friend agree that any further action by the Russians to invade Ukrainian territory can only strengthen the determination of the UK, NATO and the western alliance to defend the rights of sovereign states and to defend democracy?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I was her Security Minister, it was her support that allowed us sometimes to overrule the Treasury and to get some of that legislation through to deal with criminal finances. She is absolutely right. In 2014, after the invasion of Crimea, President Putin got exactly the opposite of what he wanted: more forces in the east of Europe and more defence spending across NATO. If he continues down this line, I suspect he will continue to get more forces on his border and greater defence spending across NATO—the very opposite of what he intends. I hope he learns the lesson of 2014. At the moment, it is not looking good.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement and for the updates he has given Opposition parties over the previous weeks. I underline the fact that we on the SNP Benches are friends of Ukraine and supporters of international law, and we support absolutely Ukraine’s right and ability to organise its security affairs as it sees fit. However, as can be seen from the Russian security council meeting that has been happening as we have sat in the Chamber this afternoon, we have reached a dangerous moment.
The Secretary of State mentioned the new sanctions package announced by the Government just before the recess, which stated that it would give the Government the ability to sanction entities and individuals of economic and strategic interest to Russia, but only if there is a further escalation. Well, that escalation has started, as could be seen by anyone following events in the Donbas region yesterday, on Saturday and on Friday. Is it not now time to start sanctioning individuals and entities of strategic interest, including those in this country? Furthermore, given the importance of disinformation and the entire architecture that the Russian Government have to spread disinformation about the conflict they are perpetrating against Ukraine, should that not start with some of the disinformation rackets here—the likes of RT, Sputnik and others?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and the leader of the Alba party may like to reflect on his celebrity status on some of those channels.
The Government already have some considerable powers, and Magnitsky sanctions have been used against a number of Russian individuals after Salisbury. In fact, some of the people I met in the Russian Ministry of Defence were sanctioned under such measures. We continue to deliver on that.
More widely, the whole of Government will produce a response for this House in due course. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about using sanctions now rather than waiting for something to happen. The key point here is that we must be in a position to threaten to deliver sanctions against Russia if it does something. Were we to unilaterally deliver them now, but America and the European Union did not, there is a danger that would play into President Putin’s attempted divide and rule narrative.
There are plenty of measures that we could take, and we are planning a serious set of sanctions. The question to President Putin is: “Do you actually care what is going to happen to your people, because it will be they who suffer the most as a result of the sanctions?” It will be interesting, as a responsible leader, whether he will listen to that.
I call the Chair of the Defence Committee.
I welcome this statement. The penny was dropping at the Munich security conference that this is about not just Ukraine, but a wider realignment of global power with the formation of a new Russia-China alliance that is fuelling Putin’s adventurism and, indeed, perhaps taking us towards another cold war. The money laundering issues aside, which absolutely must be addressed, I ask the Secretary of State to consider the sanctions. There is a concern that we are actually helping Putin with his intention of turning Russia away from the west and towards a new alliance with China in the long term.
If Russia wants to be dependent on China, I think it will recognise that that will be the wrong decision. China and Russia are in direct competition over the high north and the route through the Arctic, and Russia will surely not want to depend entirely on China, in the same way that many European states are regretting being entirely dependent on Russian gas. It is important, however, that we impose a range of sanctions that are directed not only at the Russian Government, but at some of Russia’s bankers and those who help the regime carry on as normal.
I fully support what the Defence Secretary said and the shadow Secretary of State’s response. However, as the architect of unexplained wealth orders, the Defence Secretary must share the widespread frustration that not a single one has been issued under the current Prime Minister—not a single Russian given a golden visa has been named. Why does the Defence Secretary think that we have been so slow at tackling dirty Russian money in London?
Unexplained wealth orders are not a matter for politicians; they are for economic crime investigators and the National Crime Agency. I can no more direct an unexplained wealth order than the right hon. Gentleman can. However, when I was Security Minister I was the victim of a Russian fraud that tried to suggest that I had a conversation with and tried to direct the Russian Prosecutor General.
I am disappointed that there have not been as many unexplained wealth orders as I had hoped, but the legislation was taken through and they represent a powerful model. They have been used against some pretty unsavoury people—I am delighted with that—but the right hon. Gentleman is right that not enough have been used. We are quite unique in having them—not many other countries do—and we should use them more, but we should understand why the NCA has not delivered as many as we would have hoped.
There are other tools to be considered. I welcome the long-term commitment on beneficial ownership, and I think we will soon see the Companies House legislation. I remember being horrified to discover that a sanctioned individual could start a company because, in those days, I do not think that there was even an identity check. That has to stop. There has been some tightening up, but it will take legislation, and I hope the whole House will support it.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s calm and straightforward posture during the course of this, and I think he has done incredibly well. However, I say to him that, in all of our debates and even on TV, we behave as though Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine. Russia has already invaded Ukraine: it took Crimea, and right now it is furnishing the Donbas region with munitions to create even further trouble. When we look at it like this, what worries me slightly is that, with lots of foreign leaders going over to see Mr Putin, which is what he wants, we may just get a position where there is a little scintilla of a question of saying, “Well, maybe—maybe—we won’t let Ukraine into NATO, if it wanted to come in, and maybe we will make it clear that is not something it could get.” Can I get an absolute assurance from my right hon. Friend that the UK Government believe that if the democratically elected Government of Ukraine wish to do anything and ask to do it, they will be entertained no worse than any other country would be?
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and we should be true to our values. The Prime Minister was very clear at Munich that the point my right hon. Friend raises is absolutely the case. It is also the case that the NATO response to Russia—all 30 members—was very clear on that. We shall hold each other to that commitment, and I think it is absolutely right that now is the time to stand up and say, “These are our values and they are not up for compromise. We are not going to give a single inch and, fundamentally, we are not going to reward a bully.”
The Secretary of State said a moment ago, about sanctions on Russia, “if it does something”. May I just press him on this point? We do not yet know for sure whether a full invasion will take place, but can he tell the House what the Government’s response would be if the action taken by Russia took the form of, say, a no-fly zone over Ukraine, blockading its ports, or repeated and significant cyber-attacks on Ukrainian institutions and Governments? In such circumstances, would the Government respond with the full sanctions that they have obviously been discussing?
I am grateful to the right hon. Member. First, let me make it clear that, as he knows, lots of sanctions are already in place, so these are additional sanctions on top of the raft of sanctions that the Government brought in after the illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea and, indeed, of Donbas. I think he is absolutely right that many of these aggressive moves, such as a no-fly zone—in other words, threatening the integrity of that sovereign state—or a blockade to free trade would absolutely warrant a response ranging from sanctions to other actions. I think we would look at that at the time, but I absolutely agree that Russia should be under no illusion that threatening the integrity of a sovereign nation in the air or at sea is exactly the same as threatening it on land.
Following the first invasion of 2014, and in order to get around sanctions, Russia has had extensive import substitution and investment in European companies in critical infrastructure and energy—a policy of tolerance, if not appeasement, by European Governments. Can I say to my right hon. Friend, who I think has been an exemplary Defence Secretary through this crisis, that sanctions alone will not protect Ukraine from a subsequent Russian invasion? We need either substantial improvements in its defence capabilities or a security guarantee, or both. President Putin believes that Ukrainians and Russians are one people—there is no lack of clarity there—and, ultimately, he can be deterred only by the threatened use of force.
The Government have taken the position, as has NATO, that this is about deterrence and diplomacy, and deterrence does involve upholding the shoring up of NATO members with resilience and containment measures to make sure that Russia is contained should it make the foolish mistake of an invasion of Ukraine. That is done by our forces, and it is why we have made even more available, including 1,000 members of the Army currently on stand-by in the UK to send elsewhere. My right hon. Friend is right that the heart of this is about defending Ukraine’s right to choose—not what it does with that right, but, fundamentally, that if a democratic nation has chosen something, we should respect that. We are on the cusp of an invasion of a democratic country in Europe, and that should worry us all.
I thank the Secretary of State for supplying an advance copy of the statement. We should be clear: if Russia invades Ukraine, massive sanctions will rightly be placed on Russia, and if that happens, we can expect a salvo of cyber-attacks on the United Kingdom. I seek two reassurances from the Secretary of State: that we have the best possible defences against cyber-attacks; and that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and that if necessary we could use cyber-warfare to give as good as we get back to Russia.
The Defence Command Paper published last year set out plans to establish, and grow to a significant size, the National Cyber Force, the UK’s offensive cyber-capability that will complement our defensive capability. That is a joint GCHQ and Defence agency that will be based in north-west England. It has already been established and is starting to grow. I cannot comment on the operations that it will undertake, but I am a soldier and I was always taught that the best part of defence is offence.
What will the Government do to try to impress on President Putin that even if he invades the rest of Ukraine without military comeback on behalf of Ukraine, it would be a fatal error for him to think that he could then invade an outlying NATO state—one of the Baltic states, for example—without an attack on one rightly being considered to be an attack on all NATO members?
President Putin’s publicly stated view is that by potentially dealing with Ukraine, or preventing Ukraine from joining NATO, he is in fact saving us all from a future war; he wrongly asserts that if Ukraine joined NATO, Ukraine would then attack Crimea and Donbas, and that would trigger a NATO response. My right hon. Friend is an expert on NATO and knows that is a fantasy scenario, but it could potentially be used as a justification. It is therefore important that we demonstrate that although Ukraine is not in NATO, we can do our best to protect its right to choose; and it is also important that we make it crystal clear to the President of Russia that if he tries this with NATO partners, no matter how big or small, article 5 is a reality.
I am particularly fearful of the possibility of an outbreak of war in Europe. I was born not far from here during the worst blitz of the war with Nazi Germany, and every time I think about war, I remember my family—my father was away at the war—and the bombs raining down, killing our neighbours, so no one can give me lectures on this. We must firmly show these despots and dictators that we mean business in every sense. Will the Secretary of State join me in sending that message to Putin?
I have been very consistent on this. Like the hon. Gentleman, a number of colleagues on the Government Front Bench, and indeed some on the hon. Gentleman’s side of the House, were born in a second world war environment, or have seen either people at the wrong end of a terrorist attack or death and destruction. No one comes here glowing with warmongering in their heart; they come here to do their very best to avoid it. However, freedom comes at a cost—freedom is not free, as the South Koreans know and put on their war memorials. We have to stand up to this. We did not stand up in 2014 as an international community; we did not stand up as an international community enough. We did send a very successful and strong message after the Salisbury poisoning—153 intelligence officers were expelled—but if Putin is successful in this, the ripples will not end; they will go through us all, and we will all regret it in the long run. Sometimes we must take a stand, and now is the time.
I understand that the Duma has passed a resolution saying that Donbas and the Crimea should be incorporated into Russia. That in some way would give Putin’s plans some sort of legality, if he were to think of invading. If Putin was to replace the so-called little green men in Donbas with regular Russian soldiers, could we expect NATO and the west to respond with just as much severity, in terms of sanctions, as if he had invaded the remainder of Ukraine?
We have already put a raft of sanctions in place. Russian regulars have come and gone in Donbas, and they are already based in Crimea, which they take as their own, in significant numbers.
The Duma’s latest resolution about Donbas is worrying. The resolution is about a sovereign state over which the Duma has no legal authority, and we should not recognise it. The Prime Minister has been clear that an incursion one inch over the border—whether that is one boot, one tank or one vehicle—will lead to the sanctions. We would not accept that as being anything other than an invasion; it would not be an interversion or an incursion. We will stick to that line.
At this incredibly dangerous time, I notice that the Defence Secretary did not say much about the Minsk agreement. Does he think that is a way by which we can get back to talks? If the Russians pulled back, would he be prepared to countenance any reduction in the NATO presence on the border, to bring about longer-term, secure peace in the region?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a point about Minsk. I was clear in my press conference in Moscow and elsewhere that both Russia and Ukraine signed Minsk. As he will know, and as we have found with the Good Friday agreement, treaties are one thing, but the big challenge is in rolling up our sleeves and delivering the sequences in the right way. We all remember that from decommissioning in Northern Ireland, which was easy to write into the Good Friday agreement but hard to deliver, and it is the same for the Minsk agreement. However, we all recognise that the Minsk agreement is one of the ways out, and we should do our best to support its implementation.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about pulling back NATO, we did not put 165,000 combat troops on the edge of a sovereign country and hold a gun to the head of a democratically elected Government; Russia did. We have nothing to de-escalate from; Russia does. I hope that he will condemn the Stop the War Coalition, which always seems to paint us as the aggressor. Perhaps he would like to ask the people of Ukraine who they think the aggressor is.
Has increased military action been detected in other Russian-controlled areas, such as Transnistria, as well as in Crimea and Kaliningrad? What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the possible threat—if not now, then in the future—against other former Soviet states that are outside of NATO, such as Moldova?
Russia’s malign activity—we have packaged it up and called it that—has been a long-running challenge that we have seen in the likes of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In all of this, we should not forget that Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a fragile position, because it is in an impoverished state, the minorities are already starting to agitate, and Russia’s influence on some of the separatists could send us all back to the early ’90s. Russia’s malign activity does no good. It challenges not only our European values, but the wealth of those states, seemingly for no reason other than to weaken people who think differently.
I fear that things have moved on yet further today. Mr Medvedev has said two disturbing things: that it would be perfectly possible to recognise the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk; and that there might be sanctions, but Russia could wear them, because, after the 2014 invasion of Crimea and the military action in Georgia, it wore whatever the west threw at it. Will the Secretary of State confirm that only a third of those areas are presently held by separatists, and that recognising, or trying to enforce, some independence in those areas would therefore mean a significant invasion of Ukrainian territory, including areas not held by separatists at all? Will he also confirm that Ukrainians are, if anything, more determined than ever to face towards the west, precisely because of what President Putin has done over these years, and that if there is an invasion of any kind—any troops, as he said—the reaction will have to be a damn sight harder than it was in 2014?
The hon. Gentleman is right on his last point; the reaction absolutely has to be harder, and unified; and we need to stick to it. Often, the calculation in Russia is that we will all get bored, and that six months later, everything will go back to normal. Minister Shoigu said to my face that sanctions cannot harm the Russians; they will just go elsewhere, and are resilient. Unfortunately, that is the view of some of the leadership in the Russian Government. I doubt it is the view of the Russian people, who have to suffer the consequences.
We should also recognise the consequence for the wider world of this invasion. Yemen gets about 20% of its food from Ukrainian grain; for Libya, the figure is 44%. What would happen to those countries if there were rising food prices? A shortage of food is a horrible consequence that we must do everything to avoid. This is a global problem. Ukraine matters. Our strength of resolve matters, because, as the hon. Gentleman and I know, there are other, bigger countries looking at how much resolve we have to stand by our values.
I thank the Government and civil society organisations for all they are doing to expose false flag and disinformation efforts from the Kremlin. Putin has just finished his extraordinary meeting of Russia’s national security council, at which, again, overwhelming support has been given for recognising the independence of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics. Before Putin announces his plans tonight, will my right hon. Friend please call that out for what it is: a dangerous precursor to the illegal annexation of those lands? Will he also confirm that, despite our focus on preventing further invasion, we do not tacitly accept that those territories that are currently illegally held are Russian?
We all accept that the 2014 invasion of Donbas and Crimea was an invasion of sovereign territory. Nothing changes that. All our NATO allies agree on that entirely, and have recognised not one inch of those lands. China, by the way, has still not recognised Donbas; that is an important message to President Putin. For all our issues with China, I do not think that it wants an economic schism at the heart of Europe at this moment. Hopefully, that is something President Putin will rely on. All these plans—the annexation of part of Ukraine, the false flags of people having to be evacuated, Ukrainian “attacks”—are false. They are all designed to be excuses, or to cause friction. The worrying thing is that we can all see it. One does not have to be an expert in Europe to spot what is going on. The worry for us is that President Putin thinks that it does not matter, or thinks that he can get away with it.
First, I commend the Defence Secretary for his actions over the last few months. He mentioned the Russian playbook. Part of it is about portraying a false narrative around the sovereignty of Ukraine. Is he confident enough that we in the west have the ability to push back against the false narratives, particularly on social media, that seem to infect the debate?
We certainly have the capability, and we do everything we can, both internationally and unilaterally, to ensure that messages get across not only to our audiences but, importantly, to the Ukrainian and indeed Russian audience. We could start closer to home: we could ask the leader of Alba, on his next Russia Today programme, to do an in-depth analysis of some of those false claims and broadcast it. I am sure he is open to the highest bidder, and so will be very happy to do that. It is important to recognise that in this era, information is as powerful as any tank. We have to ensure that the ordinary people of Russia and Ukraine are not denied a free and fair press, and can get across the message of what is going on in their country in their name.
The Budapest memorandum, as my hon. Friend will know, was an agreement that Ukraine would disarm its nuclear weapons in exchange for Russia’s recognition of its sovereignty. I am not an international lawyer, but I would guess that if Russia breached that—one could argue that it already has, with its invasion—the memorandum would become pretty much null and void. We are one of the guarantors of that memorandum, which is why we are doing so much now to hold Russia to account. As I said in questions and in the statement, let us not forget that in 2010 at the Astana summit, Russia, including Prime Minister or President Medvedev—whichever role he was filling—signed up, alongside the international community, to recognising that every participating state is free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties and alliances. That is what Russia signed up to then. Never mind the conspiracy theory that somebody somewhere said that NATO would never expand. We have never seen any proof of that; we have never seen any such document. What we have seen is at least four statements and treaties signed by Russia over many years that say it respects the sovereignty of countries to choose. We hold it to that.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the leading role that he has played in rallying the opposition to Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. We know that many European nations find the situation difficult, because they have allowed themselves to be subject to energy blackmail through their zero carbon policy. However, Russian aggression against Ukraine threatens the strategic supply of food around the world, because Ukraine is the third biggest exporter of grain, at 100 million tonnes a year, so what assessment has he made of the areas of the world that are most likely to be affected if aggression should lead to that food not being available? Does he not agree that that underlines the strategic importance of Ukraine and the importance of giving it every bit of support to allow it to defend its independence, democracy and vital economic role?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: this is not just about gas. We have focused on gas because, predominantly, that is what preoccupies us in our comfy part of Europe, but in many countries across the world, it is about food and other costs of living crises, some of which are far more pressing than whether we can afford the potential increase of gas. It is very important that we do not forget that there will be implications right across the world—certainly the western world—if we do not deal with this situation and deter Russia. In Munich, the Prime Minister was absolutely clear with everyone, including the President of Ukraine, that we would stand by Ukraine and that we must be resolved together, both as Europe and as NATO. We must not salami-slice ourselves away on different thoughts. I know that when the Prime Minister speaks to his European counterparts he is very much focused on this sense of unanimous and strong alliance, challenging the assertions, because if we do not deter today, we will all pay for it tomorrow.
Again, it is for Georgia and its relationship with NATO and for NATO collectively to recognise its decision on whether it accedes. Fundamentally—the Prime Minister has been clear about this, as my hon. Friend knows—that this is about maintaining the open-door policy of sovereign states. I said to the Russians very clearly that NATO does not go around choosing people. People choose NATO. They choose our values and that is how it is done. There is no secret plot to go around undermining or dividing Russia, and the question for President Putin should be: why is it that all those countries wanted to join NATO in the first place? It was not to collect a badge, but because they felt under threat by a nation that did not want to respect their sovereignty, their democracy and their freedom.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The situation is clearly very grave, but he obviously has a pretty clear view of the situation on the ground. The wife of my constituent is stuck in Ukraine near the Russian border. She cannot complete a medical assessment or enrol her biometrics to complete a spousal visa, and because he is not in Ukraine, they cannot use the family migration route. What pressure can the Secretary of State bring to bear on the Home Office to ensure that if the situation escalates, as seems inevitable, our military are not left to evacuate citizens and families?
I commend the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Armed Forces for the fantastic job that they are doing in very difficult circumstances. If Russia does invade, NATO countries, particularly the smaller ones and particularly the Baltic countries, will need our reassurance. Does the Secretary of State foresee further deployments of British troops to those countries? If so, would it not be hugely reassuring to him if he had 10,000 more troops in his back pocket?
We are hosting the 10 nations of the joint expeditionary force, which includes the Nordic states plus Iceland and Holland, tonight and tomorrow at a summit. I have invited colleagues across the House, including Members on the Labour Front Bench and in the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats, because it is important that we recognise those countries’ importance to us as our allies. They are the ones on that frontline. My hon. Friend is right that they will be the ones most worried; some of them are territories that President Putin and his like have often felt are not territories. As I have said before, we should look at President Putin’s essay from July last year. That is one of the consequences, I fear, of President Putin being successful in Ukraine. Where will the ripples land next? We will need forces for that. We have been managing to double that up into a brigade. The enhanced forward presence is currently four multinational battlegroups; I suspect that it will grow. We will be open to more suggestions.
We should be moving against Russian dirty money in the City of London, regardless of what happens in Ukraine. I do not doubt the determination to deal with it that the Secretary of State has expressed today, but the lack of activity suggests that others in the Government do not share that determination. Can he assure us that should there be an invasion, even tonight, we are ready to take action against that dirty money?
It will not have been missed by anyone in this House that we are all vulnerable not only to dirty money, but to illicit lobbying or influence by foreign agents—all of us in this House. We have to wake up to the threat of sub-threshold challenges, whether those are money, corruption or political interference—all of us. I am not going to throw stones in glass houses, but all Conservative Members and all Opposition Members know what that looks like. We have to have more transparency, as the beginning of that process, and we have to enact some of the laws that we already have. I would be very happy, on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf, to engage with the National Crime Agency to see what more we can do.
Order. If we have shorter questions and the Secretary of State can therefore give shorter answers, we will be able to get everyone in; if not, I am afraid that some people will be disappointed. As we can see, people are coming in for the next item of business, but this statement is important and I would like to give everybody the chance to speak. Shorter, please.
The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that sovereignty must be respected and that that includes Ukraine. Does my right hon. Friend believe that that will encourage President Putin to hold back? Should President Putin still invade, what impact will that have on Sino-Russian relationships and how concerned should we be for Taiwan? [Interruption.]
It is a very important message from China to Russia, and President Putin should listen to it, but of course the most important message is that we demonstrate our resolve to protect our values, because whatever we do or do not do in this part of the world, China is watching.
The Secretary of State is being slightly more gracious about the work of European leaders in trying to find a diplomatic solution, but just a week or so ago he was saying that those efforts had “a whiff of Munich” about them. Does he want to apologise for that remark, which was not only crass, but undermined efforts to deliver Minsk II as the starting point for our best chance of avoiding war? Does he accept that if the Government are serious about playing a constructive role, they should start by getting their own house in order—first of all by repaying the almost £2 million that his party has received in Russian donations since the Prime Minister took office? Will he finally end London’s role in hiding the proceeds of Kremlin-connected corruption?
I am sure that the hon. Lady understands what I meant when I said that if President Putin invaded Ukraine, there would be “a whiff of Munich”. Of course, there were two parts to Munich: there was the appeasement, but there was also the fact that, all the way through, Hitler lied and had a plan to aggressively invade large parts of Europe. My point, as I set out in my article, was that if President Putin invaded, we would be chasing a straw man when all along he had a predetermined plan.
I suggest that, before making allegations of that sort, the hon. Lady should go back to the history books in order to understand what Munich was about. Then she will understand what I was saying. We know that, time and again, President Putin has ignored international law, ignored human rights, invaded countries, and murdered British people on these streets through orders to the GRU—and all that the hon. Lady can do is come here, stand up and tell us that we are in the wrong. Perhaps she should go to Moscow and tell it to them.
I know my right hon. Friend will agree that jaw-jaw is preferable to war-war, but does he accept that given Russian ambitions regarding Ukraine and events elsewhere, including in the South China sea, the time has finally come for the United Kingdom to recognise that we need to substantially increase our defence spending on a sustainable, long-term basis? Jaw-jaw is far more effective if a country has strong armed forces.
The Prime Minister supported and delivered the biggest increase in defence spending since the cold war. The purpose of that extra £24 billion was to modernise our armed forces, and also to ensure that we are able to enter new domains where we are threatened by both Russia and other adversaries. That is the right track.
We have been consistent, as has the Prime Minister, on the fundamental point that if the threat changes, we should always been open to review. We should also recognise that we achieve our strength in the west through our alliances: our alliances on our values, and our alliances on our defence spending. NATO is the best alliance in that regard. It is the keystone of European security. Our spending outstrips Russia’s, and our forces do so as well. The one thing that we must make sure that we continue is resolve, because resolve is what this crisis is about. We are resolved, the Prime Minister is resolved and the United Kingdom is resolved: we are going to stand up for our values again, and stand up to Putin’s aggression.
From a logistical perspective, may I ask what efforts are being made to ramp up the provision of equipment and parts which the Ukrainian military has specifically requested from the Ministry of Defence? How is that sourcing being co-ordinated with international partners to secure all the required resources and kit that are needed for the Ukrainians to defend themselves, and how are they being trained in the use of that kit?
I am in constant contact with my counterpart in Ukraine—we talk regularly—and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been incredibly supportive. We are currently at the stage where, as I said earlier, we have supplied the anti-tank weapons and other non-lethal equipment. Britain has been side by side with Ukraine since 2014-15, so there has been a significant amount of training and capacity-building, and we will continue to look into what other options are available. We have those discussions, and where we can, we meet Ukraine’s demand; where we cannot, we try to help others to meet it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the leadership that he has shown in recent months. The paradox is that the more Putin tries to draw countries towards Moscow, the more he repels them and the more he revitalises the very alliance that he says he is most afraid of: NATO.
May I ask my right hon. Friend specifically about sanctions? Will the UK, when it presents its package, ensure that its sanctions are synchronised with those of the United States, that they include action to prevent UK banks from handling foreign currency transfers from Russian state-owned banks, and that they also include what I know our colleagues in the United States Senate would like to include—specific sanctions against Nord Stream 2?
The President of the United States made it very clear that he will stop Nord Stream 2. I listened to that press conference, like everyone else. As for the raft of sanctions that the Government have brought forward, they are intelligently targeted, and build on existing sanctions following Crimea. However, we will of course continue to keep those measures under review.
Today Mr Putin is holding an unscheduled meeting with the Russian security council, which he says will decide on the recognition of the two breakaway republics. What would be the implication of such an eventuality for the Minsk protocols?
As I said to Jeremy Corbyn, we urge both parties to have regard to the Minsk agreement. Only a few weeks ago, the Russians were saying that that should be under the agreement, but I think that some of those measures go exactly against it. Perhaps that is a clue to the real intention.
When I was in Donetsk oblast last month with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, there was some sniper fire across the line of contact from Russian supporting forces. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of false flag operations in recent days and indeed recent hours?
We must not forget that Ukraine has had 10,000 people killed since the invasion of Donbas. Often weekly or monthly on that line of control, this affects young men and women who are simply guarding their border. The false flag operations have been growing, and the worrying trend that we have seen recently fits the bill and the playbook of what we can expect, as the Russian Government potentially seek to destabilise and confuse the picture. We are not confused; we know what 160,000 troops mean, and so does the international community.
Maintaining a diplomatic focus is crucial at this time, but will the Government say what diplomatic focus they are bringing to Russian allies across the world? I have not heard the Defence Secretary talk about that.
The marked difference with Russia is that it does not have any allies. Belarus is its only ally. By your friends you shall be judged, and Belarus is it. This is one of the problems for Russia: it fails to recognise that international alliances are the sign of a civilised society and human rights. If you want to be on your own and stuff everyone else, you end up like North Korea. We will try to use Russia’s allies, and we are certainly trying people who have more influence than others, but fundamentally it is going to be in the mind of President Putin what he does next.
To what extent does my right hon. Friend believe that the undignified withdrawal from Afghanistan by ourselves and our allies has emboldened President Putin and contributed to setting in train the events that are now unfolding on the Ukraine border?
President Putin wrote his article last July, before the Afghanistan withdrawal, and I think that that is the biggest symbol of what his ambitions were. But it is absolutely the case that people who do not agree with our values will sniff a lack of resolve and take action. That is why we have to be resolved.
What assessment have the Government made of the threat against vulnerable minorities in Ukraine such as religious or ethnic minorities or members of the LGBTQ+ community? What discussions have the Government had with international allies about preventing widespread human rights abuses in the event of an invasion?
Lots of countries are at risk from an emboldened President Putin. One of the reasons we are where we are today is that, post-2014 and 2015, the west was maybe not tough enough on that initial invasion. Moldova and many other countries, including smaller countries in NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are a cause for concern, and we must recognise that now is not the time to take our eye off the ball in relation to places that are far away and of which we sometimes know nothing.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answers to the questions. With the latest news regarding Russian Security Council meetings that invasion is imminent, will be Secretary of State underline what human aid support is available for the ordinary decent people of Ukraine? What has been done to provide medical supplies for civilian casualties, whose numbers will inevitably be high when civilian militias are giving young and old people with no weapons training arms to try to save their country?
First, we should have real admiration for the bravery of many of those people. Those who saw the President of Ukraine’s speech in Ukraine will know that it was almost a desperate attempt to rally people to be more supportive. A number of countries, including Germany, have supported with field hospitals and medical assistance. That is as important as lethal aid. We will do what we can, and I know that many other nations are doing so.
I thank the Secretary of State for the stance and leadership that he has taken on preserving the international rules-based system. Will he comment on a specific loophole relating to where Russia gets its money from? Under the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights, $650 billion was allocated to states around the world last year, and Russia got $17.5 billion. I and my US counterpart, Congressman Hill from Little Rock, wrote to our respective Governments asking them to put conditions on IMF SDR allocations. Will the Secretary of State now relook at that so that we can consider all the loopholes along with firm sanctions?
Russia is clearly mounting a massive disinformation campaign, especially through social media. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we and our allies communicate very clearly to Russians, Ukrainians and our domestic audiences that our actions and NATO’s actions are simply about Ukraine’s right to self-determination and sovereignty and are essential to maintaining peace in Europe?
It is incredibly important that NATO seeks to use the extra troops to provide resilience, reassurance and containment. One reason why we have up to 400 Royal Marines in Poland is to assist Poland should a catastrophe happen and huge numbers of refugees pour across the border. I urge the European Commission to make deep plans about what it will do about potentially massive migrant flows, the like and scale of which we have not seen since the second world war.
Before we come to the statement on covid, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.