[Relevant documents: e-petition 609530, “Waive visa requirement for Ukrainian refugees”; e-petition 607314, “Pledge any necessary military support to defend Ukraine”; e-petition 609382, “Offer fast track asylum to any Ukrainians displaced due to the invasion”; Written evidence to the International Development Committee, Correspondence between the Chair of the International Development Committee and the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs relating to food insecurity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reported to the House on
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Ukraine.
It has been exactly one month since the Secretary of State for Defence last came to this House to provide an update on Putin’s brutal, unprovoked and illegal invasion. In that time, Russian troops have failed to take Kyiv and their initial strategic plans have been thrown into complete disarray. They have suffered heavy losses on a par with those in their nine-year conflict in Afghanistan, including more than 15,000 personnel and hundreds of tanks, vehicles and helicopters. They have also strengthened the resolve of the international community in a way that has not been seen for decades.
Rather than back down, however, Putin has refocused efforts on the eastern Donbas in a bid to entrench control of a land bridge with Crimea to the south. The people paying the tragic cost of his unrelenting war are still the Ukrainian men, women and children who have been bombed in hospitals, blown up in schools and bombarded in railway stations. The number of Ukrainian civilians killed has risen to more than 3,500—including, I regret to say, 250 children—and up to 100 Ukrainian troops are reported to be dying in the battle for the Donbas every day.
The latest intelligence shows that Putin’s troops are currently bombarding and encircling cities including Severodonetsk, Lysychansk and Rubizhne, while in Mariupol, the last Ukrainian fighters have now been evacuated from the steelworks after more than 10 weeks of brave resistance. It is extremely concerning to hear appalling comments about those gallant defenders from certain Russian MPs. Russia must treat these soldiers in full accordance with the Geneva convention.
In the Black sea, Russia is continuing to block shipping lanes and reinforce its troops on Snake Island, but it is clear that their momentum has slowed, and in places Ukrainian forces are beginning to push them back to their borders. In Kharkiv, for instance, the fact that three quarters of the 1.4 million inhabitants are Russian speakers has not had one iota of impact on their resolve. Instead, Putin’s forces have been unceremoniously driven out of Ukraine’s second city—not just a major strategic blow for the Kremlin, but a symbolic one, as it peddled the lie that Russian invaders would be welcomed with open arms.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the blockade of the Black sea is one of the contributory factors to rapidly escalating food prices in global markets. In fact, 26 countries now have export bans on various foodstuffs to protect prices for their own domestic markets. This is now blockading some 15% of the world’s calorie intake, according to The Economist. Are the Government treating the reopening of the food supply from Ukraine as an urgent matter? I appreciate that it is very complex and sensitive, but will the Government confirm that they are attaching extreme urgency to it? Otherwise, we will have more starvation and more famines in some of the poorest countries in the world.
My hon. Friend makes an acute observation. He is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the matter, which is of profound concern. We were in a bad situation with food supplies even before war in Ukraine; we are in a worse situation now. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and North America informs me that, unsurprisingly, the matter was discussed at the meeting of G7 Ministers; it has also twice been the subject of conversations between the Prime Minister and President Zelensky. It is very much a focus for the Government, and we are in discussions with our NATO allies in the Black sea and others. It is a complex situation, as my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin reminds us, but I assure him that we are very focused on it.
Given the phenomenal impact on world food supplies, the cost of living crisis here, and the forecasts, which are now increasing, that the global economy will shrink by something like £750 billion thanks to this war, why is more not being done to invest in armoury and defence weaponry to basically kick Russia out of Ukraine? I understand that something like £7 billion of military aid has been provided. Is that enough? Should the world not be doing more, in its own self-interest?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that I said at the start of my remarks that the world has never been more united over the past few decades. We have committed more than £1.3 billion of military equipment. The people who are doing the heavy work are the gallant defenders of Ukraine, the members of the Ukrainian armed forces; they are being supplied by this country and by many allies around the world. We have organised two donor conferences; I was at a donor conference earlier this week. Military supplies and defensive equipment are coming in from all over the world, in addition to a vast package of economic sanctions against Russia.
The blockade of Odesa is a matter of extreme seriousness. Unless the silos are emptied in the next few weeks, there will be nowhere for the harvest to go. Tens of thousands of people in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world will starve, with all the geopolitical consequences that that will bring. Does that not mean that we need to lift the blockade in Odesa as a matter of urgency? What are we doing to provide Harpoon missiles, for example, to ensure that the ships currently blockading Odesa are dealt with? Unless we can clean up the Black sea so that mines do not pose a threat, we cannot expect insurance companies to insure merchant shipping. That will mean that ships will not leave port.
My right hon. and gallant Friend is right that the situation adds a significant risk to starvation globally, with many of the poorest areas of the world most affected; that has been caused directly as a result of the illegal and brutal invasion by Putin. He is also right that we need to work consistently and hard to get a solution that gets grain out of Ukraine and into world markets; I assure him that we are working on that. I can further assure him that coastal defensive missiles are absolutely a part of the package of equipment that we and others are supporting in Ukraine.
The Minister is being extraordinarily generous. As the flip side of what he says about our supplying the Ukrainians with equipment, it would be interesting to know what things are like on the Russian side. The Russians’ shells and missiles will be finite. Have we any knowledge of whether there is a chance that they might start to run short of the kit that they need?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. There is considerable evidence of significant depletion of Russian equipment and stocks. Clearly, ammunition stocks are less visible, but there has been open source reporting about T-62s—tanks that were designed 60 years ago, although some were upgraded in ’83—being brought out of garages. There is significant evidence that Russia is suffering serious depletion, as the fact of 15,000 personnel being killed in the conflict would suggest.
As I am in a generous mood, I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole if he is still keen to intervene, but then I must make progress.
The Minister has highlighted the outrages committed by the Russians. Those outrages include reports of attacks on ambulances and first responders, so I thank him for his work helping us to secure export licences for the battlefield ambulances produced by the brilliant team at the O&H Venari Group ambulance factory in Goole. He knows the project very well: former British military vehicles are converted into battlefield ambulances, 58 of which have been produced so far. They are now in service in Ukraine, so I thank the Minister and his team for their work on securing the export licences. Will he pay tribute to the workers at O&H?
I pay tribute to the company’s workers and to my hon. Friend, who was very assiduous, at all hours of the day, in making certain that Ministers were aware of the project and the need to get those export licences through. I am glad that officials in the two Departments have moved very swiftly to achieve those export licences. The brutality shown by Russian forces in this conflict is shocking. I am glad that we are doing our utmost to support the humanitarian effort in Ukraine, having provided civilian ambulances, battlefield ambulances and simple things such as generators.
We were discussing the fact that Kharkiv was a real and symbolic blow to Russian plans, which we have to believe are coming unstuck. The firing of seven Russian commanders in recent weeks—including the lieutenant general who headed up the invasion of Kharkiv—reeks of a culture of scapegoating and cover-ups, and there is a record of aggression, brutality and incompetence. No wonder the veteran Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev said, as he bravely resigned his post this week, that he had “never been so ashamed” of his country.
At this critical juncture, our aim remains clear: Russia cannot win. We will continue to support our Ukrainian friends, focusing on three key aspects. First, there is the military response, which is about providing a wide range of support to Ukraine so that it can defend itself and its sovereignty. We were the first European country to supply lethal aid, and we have committed to spending at least £1.3 billion on military support. So far, we have delivered in excess of 6,500 anti-tank missiles, many of which have been used successfully to repel columns of tanks, as well as eight air defence systems, including Brimstone and Starstreak missiles—the fastest in the world, travelling at some 2,000 mph. We have also delivered 15 Wolfhound armoured vehicles, which provide increased protection for essential supplies, as well as a small number of armoured Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak launchers to further enhance Ukraine’s short-range anti-air capabilities.
I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he and the Ministry of Defence have done in supporting the Ukrainian forces in their hour of need. We face a dilemma, in that as we empty our quartermasters’ stores, they need to be replenished. If he needs help persuading the Treasury to give the Ministry of Defence money to make sure that those Starstreaks, next-generation light anti-tank weapons and Brimstones are replenished, please will he get in touch?
I know that the door of my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Defence Committee, is always open for such discussions. The Treasury has been very clear that we need to replenish our stocks, and that it will support us in ensuring that they are replenished. I can also assure him that we are making certain that we remain well within our tolerances. There are tasks here for which we always need to be ready, and I can assure him that we remain ready for them.
The equipment that we provide must be as effective as possible, so we are training specialist Ukrainian units in its use. Last month, for example, Ukrainian troops learned how to use our armoured fighting vehicles on Salisbury plain, and those vehicles have now started to arrive in Ukraine; the number will build to 120 in total. Our support does not end there. The House will be pleased to hear that the challenge laid down by Putin’s brutal war has been seized by UK industry. I have been delighted by the agility that the UK’s defence sector has shown, working closely with Defence Equipment and Support, in bringing through innovative ideas; in some cases, those ideas literally go from desktop to theatre in a matter of weeks. I am determined to maintain this innovative drive, so that we capture every idea, support the best of them, and then swiftly put the results in the hands of our Ukrainian friends.
Can the Minister set out how support for Ukrainian forces will be updated or augmented to deal with increased and intense artillery bombardment from better supplied Russian forces? They have retreated much closer to their own borders, and their supply lines have greatly opened up. Given that, how can we further support Ukraine in defending itself?
The hon. Gentleman knows that we are doing our utmost to support our Ukrainian friends. There are intense discussions between our Ukrainian friends and the Ministry of Defence at a number of levels, including between myself, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and our opposite numbers in Ukraine. We are ensuring that the equipment that we source to support Ukraine is tailored to its needs and its battle plan in the weeks and months ahead. The hon. Gentleman is right that opportunities may well open up, but I do not for one second underestimate the fierceness of the fight and how intense it is at present in Donbas.
My hon. Friend will be aware that a small number of us in this House have constituents who have been fighting with the Ukrainian armed forces and who are now held in captivity, either by the Russian authorities or their associates. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is providing a degree of consular support to us and to their families, but could I encourage him and other Ministers to give this priority? I urge them to speak with the British and International Red Cross—I suspect that they will prove to be the best interlocutors—to help secure a satisfactory outcome and good treatment for these individuals, who are British citizens, and to help to secure their speedy release and return either to Ukraine or the United Kingdom.
That is something that we take extremely seriously. These are, of course, British citizens who have been caught up in the conflict, and they will be provided with all possible consular assistance. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and North America has confirmed that, which should come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick. Although we really do discourage anyone from going to Ukraine in these circumstances, the Ukrainian Government have made it clear that where other nationals have been combatants, they are prisoners of war and should be treated as such, in full compliance with the Geneva convention. That is exactly what we expect of every nation.
In addition to providing lethal and non-lethal equipment, we have been facilitating the delivery of equipment from other countries by convening two international donor conferences and providing logistic support. We have been speaking to partners across eastern Europe to encourage them to donate their former Soviet kit, with which Ukrainians are more familiar. For example, Poland is now donating T-72 tanks to Ukraine in return for a temporary deployment of Challenger 2 tanks from the UK.
At a time of heightened tension, it is vital that we continue to provide reassurance to our NATO allies in eastern Europe. As part of this effort, we have sent Typhoons to Cyprus to patrol south-east European skies, have deployed frigates and destroyers to the eastern Mediterranean and the Baltic sea, and have temporarily doubled our military presence in Estonia to 1,700 personnel. In other words, where Putin wanted less NATO, he is now getting much, much more.
There is clearly considerable agreement across the House on these issues. One of the important areas in which we have played our part, and should play our part more, is the provision of refuge for those who are seeking a home away from the conflict. People in Sheffield responded very generously to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but are expressing enormous frustration at the inability of the Home Office to deliver visas within the timeframe that we would expect. At the beginning of April, when Lord Harrington—for whom I have a high regard—took responsibility for the scheme, he set a public target of 48 hours from when people “download the application form” to when they are given permission to travel. I have constituency cases in which families who applied on
People have told me that they are now applying a second time, particularly when children are involved, because they face such long delays and they have no faith that their original application is still being worked on. Obviously that will only cause further complications and congestion in the system. What assurance can the Minister give me that he will take this up with the Home Office, and that we will do something to meet the obligations we took on, and the ambition that we set, when we launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme?
The hon. Gentleman asked his question very sincerely, and I know that his experience is shared by many Members. As a constituency MP, I have encountered such cases myself.
We are all keen to see these visas processed as soon as possible. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a significant number have been provided—I think it is more than 107,000 now—but I appreciate that that makes no difference to those who are sitting outside Ukraine with diminishing amounts of money, wanting to come to this country and to a home that is desperate to have them and embrace them. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, who is sitting beside me—recognises that there are issues relating to children in particular; the Home Office is working assiduously to try to get on top of all these issues. In my personal experience, the system seems to be getting faster and better, but we are not there yet, and that work continues to be done by my friends in the Home Office.
Before the Minister moves on to the subject of NATO commitments, may I raise the subject of direct support for Ukraine? As he knows, it has historical debt problems, and the invasion will obviously have a huge economic impact; the statistics are clear to us all. Can the Minister say something about the co-ordination of direct international financial support for Ukraine, and how we can keep the country solvent during a time when that is a very pressing matter for it?
We have supplied significant funds directly to Ukraine to help it through this incredibly difficult period. I cannot lay my hands on the exact amount, but the House may be blessed with the figure later in my remarks. We are also working with the G7 and others. Clearly, Ukraine is suffering from extraordinary problems at present, and the international community recognises that. It also recognises that Ukraine is standing up for a cause that means so much to us all, so the hon. Gentleman’s point is well made.
If I may, I will move on to our economic response. We are escalating our sanctions regime still further to stymie the Russian war machine and isolate Putin. The UK has now sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and 100 entities, including oligarchs with a net worth of more than £100 billion. In recent days we have focused on his inner circle and the shady financial network surrounding him. This is alongside the asset freezes, trade bans and tariffs that we and other G7 nations have imposed in recent months. Over time, this economic contraction and the restriction of access to complex components will have an ever-deepening impact on the Russian war machine. As time goes on, despite their daily dose of propaganda, it will be harder and harder for the Russian people to ignore the evidence that their leaders are betraying them and their interests.
The Minister is probably aware that Putin signed a deal at the Olympics in Beijing for Russia to provide 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year from 2025, compared with 1.25 billion a year now, and that it is supplying more to Indonesia and India as well. Would he accept that, by working with China, Russia will be able to avoid the impact of sanctions over time, and that the imperative is to provide military assistance to get Russia out of Ukraine?
There is an overall strategy to achieve the objective to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It is part defensive military aid, part economic and part diplomatic, and all those parts have a role in achieving our overall objective. Analysts are suggesting that, as a result of the economic package of measures delivered by the global community against the Russian economy, there has been a contraction of 10% to 15% in Russian GDP. That is extraordinary contraction. It takes the Russian people back to where they were before the Putin regime commenced, which has to have a direct impact—not only on them and the way that they think about the regime that is betraying their interests, but on the Russian war machine.
I will, but then, if hon. Members will excuse me, I should probably make progress. I am conscious that I have perhaps been speaking for too long to allow others a chance to speak.
I am extremely grateful. My intervention is similar to that of my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield. I have constituents from Ukraine. They are a family of five, but their children have been unsuccessful in obtaining visas. I recognise that there is a priority for visas for Ukrainian people who are outside the UK. Could the Minister ask his ministerial colleagues at the Home Office to look at this case and perhaps give it a degree of priority, so that this family can get their benefits and so on?
I ask the hon. Lady to write to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, who is sitting beside me on the Front Bench; he has generously said that he will assure her of a response as soon as possible to the question she has asked on behalf of her constituents.
Thirdly and finally, there is the diplomatic response. We are working intensively with our allies and partners to make it clear to the Russian Government that they must withdraw their forces and engage genuinely in peace negotiations. The Prime Minister has visited in Sweden and Finland to agree increased co-operation on security, and to discuss their applications to join NATO, which I am delighted have now been formally received. We have been clear about our view that those countries should be integrated into the alliance as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary was in Germany to attend the G7 and NATO Foreign Ministers’ meetings, where she pressed the need for further support for Ukraine. The Defence Secretary met his US counterpart, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, at the Pentagon two weeks ago, and he is in Madrid today for similar discussions ahead of the NATO summit. I will likewise be heading to Canada in a few days’ time.
We are working closely with our allies to hold Putin and his regime to account for their appalling war crimes. This week we have seen the first Russian soldier jailed for life in Ukraine for murdering 62-year-old civilian Oleksandr Shelipov, but the Ukrainian authorities believe that more than 11,000 other war crimes have been committed, from the indiscriminate targeting of civilians to rape and sexual violence, so we have sent support into the country to help collect evidence, including witness statements and video recordings. We have provided additional funding to the International Criminal Court, as well as technical assistance via UK military and police personnel. We have also appointed Sir Howard Morrison to support the Ukrainian prosecutor general in her investigations.
Even as we work to stop Putin, we must continue to support the Ukrainian people who are bearing the brunt of Russian brutality. The UN estimates that more than 6 million people have been forced to flee the country, while a further 8 million have been internally displaced. That is why we have committed nearly £400 million of humanitarian and economic aid so far, including more than 5 million medical items, 42 ambulances and more than 500 mobile generators.
At home, the British public have demonstrated their great generosity once again, with more than 200,000 individuals and organisations signing up to offer help. The Ukraine family and sponsorship schemes have, together, issued more than 107,000 visas so far.
We are also preparing to help Ukraine rebuild when this war is finally over. The Foreign Secretary spoke to G7 leaders about the need for a new Marshall plan for the country, which could be paid for in part using Russian assets—Jonathan Edwards will be pleased to hear that.
We have already pledged £174 million in aid to help Ukraine’s economy to recover, including a three-year package of support for energy security and reform. In reference to the point raised by my right hon. Friend Dr Murrison, the Secretary of State for Transport recently met his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss ways of getting grain out of the country, which would provide a vital lifeline to the local economy and a much-needed global commodity.
My hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. I was pleased to attend the Lennart Meri security conference in Tallinn last weekend, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and North America, who is in his place, also attended. The support for Britain was overwhelming, reflected not just in those who attended the conference but in the result of the Eurovision song contest, in which we rightly came second to Ukraine.
The Minister is speaking about what other assistance we can provide. Will he clarify whether there is any truth in the reports that we will now be providing hard-power support—troops—to Moldova, in addition to our support for Ukraine?
To answer the question precisely, I am aware of no current plans to do that, but we have a close relationship with Moldova. We work co-operatively with Moldova, and it is a relationship we are keen to foster and build on.
The Ukrainians won the battle of Kyiv and the battle of Kharkiv. They are more than holding their own in bitter fighting, but there remains a long way to go before this war can be won. We must therefore continue to stand by our Ukrainian friends for the long term. They are fighting not just for their survival but for the values of freedom, democracy and justice that are the essence of our society. That is why they must succeed, and this House can rest assured that the United Kingdom will continue to do everything in its power to make sure that outcome is achieved.
I am grateful to the Minister for updating the House on the Government’s actions in Ukraine. There is cross-party support for their action to support our friends in Ukraine, and those watching this debate from the Kremlin will not find disagreement between the Opposition and the Government that Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine must be resisted. We will continue to support our friends in Ukraine until that free, sovereign and democratic country is back in the hands of the Ukrainian people.
Amid today’s other events, we must not forget that Ukraine faces a truly grim milestone today: three months since Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked, heinous and unjustifiable invasion of that sovereign state. Every hour of this conflict has been an hour too long. Every family uprooted and forced from their home is a family too many. And every life lost is a life too many.
On behalf of my party, I pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery and resolve shown by the Ukrainian people, both civilian and military, during these past three months. I also pay tribute to the British public, who have opened their homes and their hearts to those fleeing the conflict. Labour stands with our allies in providing assistance to Ukraine, and we support efforts to provide military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance. It is right that Britain has provided support to Ukraine to defend itself. I believe that our country is a force for good, and we can exhibit that when we put our values at the heart of our foreign policy. Backing not only our friends in Ukraine, but our allies on NATO’s eastern flank is in Britain’s national interest, just as much as it is about protecting those countries and friends we are supporting.
The Government have enjoyed Labour’s support on this and will continue to do so. Our commitment to NATO is unshakeable. In last week’s debate on NATO, I set out our commitment to the alliance and how we want to see that strengthened and expanded in the years to come. However, we now need to shift our strategic thinking from the crisis management that has defined the first three months to a medium-term military support strategy for Ukraine and our allies, to ensure that Putin’s next offensive can be deterred and defeated. There are some crucial questions I want to ask the Minister on that. I do so in a spirit of cross-party co-operation, and I hope he will take them in that spirit.
This morning, the shadow Defence Secretary set out Labour’s thinking on defence for the coming period in his speech at Chatham House, and I will borrow a few questions from it. I am sure the Minister has already heard them, so I hope he will forgive me for repeating them. We need to make sure that, as an alliance, we are continuing to supply artillery, armour, weaponry, loitering munitions and specialist missiles to our friends in Ukraine, in addition to non-military gear, such as medical kits and defensive armour for personnel.
As an alliance, we also need to go further in providing more anti-ship and anti-drone missiles, and in making sure there is a sufficient stockpile for Ukraine to deter any future aggression and offset the Russian aggression we are seeing at the moment. To do that, we need to make sure we have sufficient stocks to provide our friends in Ukraine and ourselves with the NLAWs—Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapons—and other missiles that we need. So will the Minister tell us whether the contracts have been signed to replenish our military stockpiles to date? There is a concern that they have not yet been and that stocks for our allies are being diverted to backfill UK military stocks. What progress has been made on the transition to NATO-style weaponry for our allies in eastern Europe? It is good to redeploy Soviet-era weaponry to our friends in Ukraine, because they are more familiar with it, but we need to make sure that it is backfilled with NATO-standard gear that can be better and more easily provided and equipped for our allies, both in Ukraine and in eastern Europe. What is the training need to make that transition for those weapons systems? Will the Department fund the training as well as the weapons systems themselves?
Labour Members believe that we must continue to supply Ukraine with the appropriate weapons, and do so in a timely manner, but we know that there are problems with the UK’s military procurement system, notwithstanding the efforts that have been made to sort out the fast deployment of NLAWs in particular. I pay tribute to the provision of NLAWs and Starstreak missiles to our friends in Ukraine, who have used them with agility and skill to attack and deter Russian aggression. The Defence Committee Chair’s earlier intervention—I hope hon. Members have not used up all the interventions on the Minister and that I might get some as well—about backfilling stockpiles is a good one. We need reassurance on that, to make sure not only that we have sufficient stockpiles, but that, in the event of this conflict escalating and spreading, other allies can be reassured that there will be a steady flow of weapons and reinforcements.
The hon. Gentleman invited an intervention, which I am happy to furnish him with. He pointed out that there is a risk of escalation, which of course there is, but Ukraine is doing a very good job of containing this, to the surprise of many observers. Does he agree that at some point we are going to have to accept either a frozen conflict, as we are not going to defeat Putin—that seems unlikely and indeed it is not an aspiration that most of us have, as invading Russia is not part of our plan—or some sort of off-ramp, what Sun Tzu would refer to as a “golden bridge”? If the hon. Gentleman accepts that, what form does he think that bridge should take?
The right hon. Gentleman is my co-chair of the all-party group on the National Trust, and although we disagree on many things, we agree on some. I have to say that on this issue I do not share his view. We must continue to support our friends in Ukraine until Russia is driven out of Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainian people have the right to govern themselves in a free and democratic way. As a democracy and a sovereign country, we should support them until the point at which all Ukraine is free. That is the commitment that I believe the Prime Minister has made and that the Leader of the Opposition has made. On that, there is no distinction between us.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting me on the spot. I stand by what I have said. It is for the Ukrainian people to determine their own future. We in this place must not draw lines on a map on behalf of other countries. We have seen how that has gone in the past and it has not always been to the benefit of those countries or to us. I back the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions and define their own freedom in the future. I encourage all Members to take that position; otherwise, in speculating about options, we risk playing into Putin’s hands, because someone will try to clip such remarks so that they can say, “In Britain, they are saying this.” We must not give them an inch of room to do that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the sanctions strategy can be unravelled over time? That is shown by the fact that since 2014, when the Crimea sanctions were introduced, the production of food in Russia has increased by 15%, with the production of cereals going up by 26%. Russia is now in the midst of doing oil deals with China, Indonesia, India and so on, in exchange for China supplying all the consumer markets, thereby displacing the European suppliers. Is not the imperative, therefore, to win in the sense of getting Russia out of Ukraine? What timeframe does my hon. Friend favour and what sort of objectives does he think we should have? Should we kick them out by the end of the year?
I think the Government themselves have admitted that some of the sanctions that were put in place after the invasion of Georgia, and certainly after the invasion of Crimea in 2014, have not been as effective as we would have liked them to be. We must be aware of Russia’s ability to displace its economic trade with those countries in the west that have put sanctions in place to those countries that have not yet put them in place or, indeed, those that actively support or at least do not oppose Russian aggression. One of the defining challenges of the coming years will be to make sure not only that more countries around the world share the values of those in the west and the NATO alliance, but that other countries are discouraged from, for instance, taking steps to take Russian gas, and that we make the case for those countries to introduce economic measures and sanctions to support the effort to remove Russia from Ukraine in its totality. Russia must not get around the sanctions.
When we consider our medium-term strategy in Ukraine, we need to look at wider questions, some of which relate to the Government’s integrated review. It is worth saying that there is much in the integrated review with which the Opposition agree. The assumptions and framing are good, and much of the research that fed into it is still credible and accurate, notwithstanding the invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is now prudent and wise to revisit some elements.
In our debates to date, there have been cross-party suggestions to Ministers that elements of the integrated review should be updated to ensure that it can be a relevant and accurate strategic framing document for the United Kingdom’s armed forces and our overall diplomatic approach. That means the integrated review should be updated; that we should look at the paucity of references to Europe in it; and that we should look again at the strategy of tilting towards the Indo-Pacific, perhaps at the expense of securing our own backyard in the Euro-Atlantic area.
We also need to revisit the Army cuts. Given the invasion of Ukraine, it is not justifiable for the Government to continue to cut 10,000 roles from the Army. Between October and January this year alone, Army numbers have plunged by 1,000, and they are set to be cut further. It is not wise for the Government to continue with their £1.7 billion real-terms cut in day-to-day MOD spending. The Government have put in more money, but much of it has filled black holes in procurement programmes, and Ministers’ agreement to cut day-to-day spending still stands.
We need to revisit the things I have outlined, and if the Government do revisit them, they will have Labour’s support. We need to make sure that our leadership in NATO continues to be at the forefront. We must not risk any of that, which is why I suggest to Ministers today, as I did in the recent NATO debate, that they need to correct the flaws in the integrated review, review defence spending, reform defence procurement, rethink the Army cuts and, importantly, renew our international friendships, because we need to make sure that our values and alliances speak as strongly as the strength of our weapons and armed forces. There is much to be done and I would like to see greater urgency.
One thing that has become increasingly clear is that the war in Ukraine will not be a short conflict; it will go on for some time. It is important therefore that we maintain our solidarity and our practical support. That means continuing the supply of armaments, which prompts the question: have we sufficient resources of our own to maintain that constant flow?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I want to see reform of our procurement system to ensure that it is sufficient and agile, and, dare I say it, more cost-effective than it has been to date. That is why I am arguing for a medium-term strategy. The steps that we have taken so far have been important, but, rather than just considering the immediacy of the situation, we need a longer-term look at what we need to do.
Following on from what Wayne David said, I, too, believe that it will be a long-term conflict. Does the shadow Minister agree that, on top of the containment strategy that we will have to have in place for Russia, we will also need a strategy that offers Russia an alternative path for the post-Putin era, whenever that comes, so that it can resume normal international relations if it respects its neighbours?
It will be a very hard way back for Russia if President Putin remains in power. The off-ramp option that was spoken about in the early days of the war is now very difficult for President Putin to consider, but in discussing future options for how the war can end, we need to make it very clear that the war will end only when Russia leaves Ukraine in its entirety and returns Ukraine to a peaceful situation in which its people can make their own decisions.
I realise that time is passing, so I will briefly raise the Homes for Ukraine issue. There has been enormous support from the British people in opening up their homes to people fleeing Ukraine. My boyfriend and I have signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but without a matching service, it is difficult to ensure that we can fill our spare room. There are tens of thousands of people in a similar situation.
The cases coming to my attention in my constituency involve families waiting for up to two months for visas for the Ukraine family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. That is unacceptable. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Home Office must address that matter, as well as the issue of staff having to wait up to two hours on the phone to get through to the Home Office?
All of us in this place will have seen the queues snaking around Portcullis House. Our parliamentary staff, who have an awful lot on their plates regardless of whom they work for, are sitting in a queue to try to get answers out of the Home Office system. It should not take an intervention by a Member of Parliament to make the system work properly. It should certainly not take hours and hours of our staff’s time to try to get a decent answer. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster is in his place and will have heard what I have said. We wish him luck with fixing this broken system. At the moment, it is not delivering on the promise made by him and the Home Secretary of a swift, efficient system to help people fleeing conflict to get to a place of safety and to get there quickly. There are people now who question how long it will take for families to get here, and that even includes those who have contact with a Ukrainian family. We need to ensure that the system works.
In Plymouth, we have families across the city who want to take up the offer, but they are waiting for that matching service. I pay tribute not only to those families, but to our schools, our health services and our mental health services across the country who are assisting Ukrainian families and individuals who have been fleeing such difficult circumstances.
I was in Lithuania with an all-party group. At the reception centres for refugees, women were coming in with children and were being processed within 12 hours. They were simply given biometric and other checks and then associated with a family, with a kindergarten and with work, and then they were done. They were regarded as friends and as people helping in the workforce rather than as Russian spies. The men were put in another place, because they were expected to fight.
I am grateful for that intervention, which prompts me to say to the Minister that the generosity of the British people needs to be matched by the generosity of our immigration system, especially for our friends fleeing Ukraine. At the moment, they do not match up as they should.
Labour stands unshakeably with our NATO allies on the eastern flank next to Russia; we stand unshakeably with our Ukrainian friends, and we will continue to do so during this brutal invasion. We need to make sure that we are supporting them in any way we can—indeed, the support required must now go much further than just military matters. I am grateful to the Minister for Defence Procurement for setting out the support that has been provided to deal with the hideous number of war crimes and the long-term consequences of the Russian military’s using rape as a weapon of war. There are considerable long-term consequences for women in particular in Ukraine who have been abused by Russian forces, and we must ensure that there is long-term support, not just to prosecute those responsible but to help the communities of victims of torture, murder and rape.
Had time allowed, I would have spoken about the need to provide more humanitarian assistance and about food security. Food security is national security. As a Parliament, we must do much more to improve our own national food security, and also recognise that Ukraine’s grain exports in particular support some of the most vulnerable and fragile countries in the world. We must ensure that Ukraine is able to export its grain. That is not just a Ukrainian priority but a global prior-ity.
The Opposition continue to support the Government in their measures to support Ukraine, but there are improvements that need to be made if we are to have a successful long-term strategy of continuing support for our friends there.
It is a real pleasure to participate in this important debate. I begin by commending the Ministers on the Treasury Bench for the regular drumbeat with which they bring this subject to the House to allow us to understand what is happening, to take stock and to comment on the clearly very difficult situation in Ukraine.
If invading Ukraine was an effort to rekindle Russian superpower status, it has been a complete flop. There was no clear initial strategy, no effective command and control, no logistical support and absolutely no appreciation of the Ukrainian people’s fearless desire to stay and fight. For Russia, this has been a dismal campaign. The body bags returning to Russia have piled up in their thousands, and dozens of wrecked Russian T-72 tanks now litter Ukrainian roadsides after a failed attempt to take the capital. With international sanctions starting to bite and countries such as Britain replenishing the arsenal of the brave Ukrainian forces with NLAWs and the like, surely Putin knows he cannot win. But sadly, this is far from over. With little care for the accepted rules of war or even for the loss of Russian life, Russian forces have now regrouped in the south-west of the country and have begun bombing entire towns and cities from afar, carrying out barbaric war crimes to gain territory, specifically in the Donbas region, and exploiting the west’s timidity about getting directly involved.
As NATO leaders head to the Madrid summit in June, there are lessons for the west to learn. Step back from events in Ukraine and we begin to realise that this is not just about Ukraine; it is another turning point in our history—indeed, in European security. We have had it quite easy over the last 30 years, since the end of the cold war, but the next few decades will be extremely bumpy indeed. State-on-state aggression is clearly back. If we do not help to put this fire out in Ukraine, it will spread to other parts of Europe, yet today it seems we are doing only enough to ensure that Ukraine does not lose, and not enough to guarantee that Ukraine can win. Putin may have misjudged Ukraine’s resolve to hold ground and fight, but he was spot-on in believing that NATO would have no appetite for getting directly involved.
Putin’s invasion did not come out of the blue. His vice-like grip on his own media has, over decades, convinced the majority of Russians that the west—specifically NATO—is a threat and must be confronted. He has publicly expressed a desire to regain control of those countries that were once governed by Stalin. And now, he is sidling ever closer to China, which shares Russia’s disdain for western standards and values.
This is indeed a dangerous turning point in our history, and the threat picture is certainly beginning to change fast. I put it to the House that how we conduct ourselves over the next few months—how we regroup and how we choose to stand up to this growing authoritarianism across the world—could have major implications for how things play out over the next decade. I recall speaking when Parliament was recalled after we decided to withdraw from Afghanistan. I made the statement that our departure could well be the high-tide mark of western liberalism since the second world war. I fear that if we do not get Ukraine right, I might be right in that analysis.
If we are to do things correctly, we face three big tasks, which I put to the Minister today. First, on Ukraine itself, we must agree on what exactly victory looks like. Even in the debate so far this afternoon, there has not been disagreement, but there have been different views on what success actually is. For me, it is the flushing out of all Russian forces from mainland Ukraine—I park Crimea, because it is a more complex issue to be revisited at a later date. Ultimately, I encourage President Zelensky and the Ukrainian armed forces to clarify that that is what they want to do, because that then makes clear how we can fully support them.
There must be clarity of that mission, because there seems to be a little disagreement taking place across our European allies. France and Germany are suggesting that a chunk of the Donbas could remain in Russian hands. We need to agree what that mission is, because that then helps to define operations, tactics and the equipment that is required. Eastern Ukraine, for those not familiar with it, is open, flat, tank terrain. It is perfect for that form of mobility and firepower. That indicates the sort of equipment we need to give.
The second task—slightly bigger, and stepping back from Ukraine—is to rekindle those cold war statecraft skills and the ability to react robustly to events without assuming that we will lose control of the escalatory ladder and trigger a nuclear war when dealing with Russia. NATO, let us not forget, remains the most formidable military alliance in the world. It is no wonder Sweden and Finland both want in. Yet future generations may ask why NATO formally sat on its hands while a democracy on its doorstep was partially destroyed. Let us remember what happened in 1938 when we hesitated. Too often, we have been spooked by Putin’s rhetoric. We should be shaping events, not reacting to them.
In fairness to the west and in particular to Britain, we have come a long way since our initial hesitance to answer President Zelensky’s pleas for help. Thankfully, NATO allies are catching up with the scale of Britain’s military support for Ukraine, which actually began way back in 2014. However, NATO refuses to formally get involved. It is consensus-driven, and it is clear that some countries do not want to lean forward. It is time therefore to form a coalition of like-minded nations, working together to better co-ordinate military support for Ukraine, increasing the quality and quantity of equipment and assisting with supply chains and training, all united by a mission to see Ukraine push Russian forces entirely out of its mainland.
We must be proactive in limiting the economic harm that Russia is causing. We should establish a humanitarian corridor around the key port of Odesa, so that the grain that much of the world depends on can continue to reach international markets. That is in our interests, because it will help directly tackle the cost of living crisis affecting us here, too.
Our final task is to form a strategy to handle an ever-assertive Russia-China axis that is attempting to exploit our fragile world order. Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if President Xi had not given his backing and support. Both countries share a common goal of building an illiberal alternative world order where authoritarian states can flourish, and Ukraine is just the start of that new axis of autocracy flexing its muscles. We must recognise that the last 30 years have been a walk in the park compared with what lies ahead. All NATO countries must increase defence spending to a minimum of 3% and the recent cuts to our troop numbers, fighter jets and ship numbers must be reversed.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great authority and knowledge. Given the emergence of the axis between China and Russia, how concerned is he about reports of a joint military exercise in the last few days over the Sea of Japan?
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. I will focus on what happens in the European theatre of operations, but he raises an important question about the tilt to the Pacific, which was mentioned earlier, and what is happening in Ukraine. If we now recognise that Russia and China are working together, we must also appreciate that what Russia is doing in Ukraine is in China’s interest, because it has kept us, Europe and the United States busy and distracted so we have not kept an eye on what is going on in other parts of the world. We need to recognise that we must lean into what is happening in the South China sea. I would like to see a development of the Quad—Japan, India, United States and Australia—with Britain and France being invited into that strategic partnership to look after and take a greater interest in the security of that part of the world. I hope that the Government will look forward to that in the discussions at NATO.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the west has been very timid because of its fear of a nuclear reaction? On the evidence of Putin’s threat, he said that if we imposed sanctions on him through SWIFT, that would be an act of war by the west, but then he did nothing. The Kremlin’s position is that nuclear weapons should not be used unless there is an existential threat to Russia, and nobody is suggesting invading it, so should we not just get Putin out of Ukraine?
There is no doubt that, when dealing with a country such as Russia that is armed with tactical low-yield nuclear weapons, which we do not have in huge numbers in our arsenal, we need to have a sense of caution. However, there would be a stigma attached to Russia using those weapons systems, and countries such as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India and even China might stop sitting on the fence or supporting Russia and move away from it. Let us not forget that, as we saw in Mariupol, Russia can achieve the same outcome as a tactical low-yield nuclear weapon using conventional systems and without testing its friendship with other nations around the world by crossing such a threshold.
When I visited NATO recently, I asked what NATO’s response would be. It could be that it is tucked away in an envelope in a drawer somewhere to be pulled out, read and acted on if such an event happens. I would like us to respond robustly, because it will take us into a new era of the character of conflict if we say that low-yield nuclear weapons can be used. If one is used in Ukraine, I would like every F-35 in NATO’s arsenal to take out every single Russian asset on the ground, and I would like us to look Russia in the eye—yes, this would be a “Who’s going to blink first?” moment—and say, “We will punish anybody who uses these weapons.” If we do not respond and we do not react, we again allow Russia to gain more confidence, be more assertive and, no doubt, use low-yield nuclear weapons again in the surrounding areas of eastern Europe. How would we respond then? Let us not forget the mistake that we made in Syria. We said that there was a red line on chemical weapons, but what did we do? We blinked. We must not do that again.
The integrated review was an important document. Its threats assessment was correct, but it was incorrect about the speed with which those threats were going to come over the horizon. It was also, as I am afraid we all recognise, tied to a peacetime defence budget. I offer my support in making the case not just that the world is more dangerous now, but that it will get even more dangerous from here. It will be not lull, mop-up, conclusion in Ukraine and then back to normal, but a new era of insecurity. If we want to lead as Britain has, we need to spend more on our hard power. The big NATO strategic concept document on operating together is about to come out, and greater demands will be placed on all members, including the UK. That, I hope, will be a useful opportunity to take stock of our own position—our numbers of armoured fighting vehicles, troops and so forth—to see how we might advance and revisit the integrated review.
European security is once more in peril. Our adversaries are in plain sight, but I fear that we are still a little in denial. We continue to hesitate, and Europe needs leadership. One thing I can say from visiting conferences and from being in America last week is how impressed much of the world is by how Britain has stepped forward, but there is so much to do. I repeat that Russia is now winning in Ukraine, and it is moving to the point where Putin can claim a success and stay in power. If he stays in power, this does not end in Ukraine. That must be very clear.
I seek support from the House not only in praising the Government’s having leant in operationally but in recognising what we need to do strategically to see victory in Ukraine, put that fire out, humiliate Putin and let the Russian people decide whether they want to continue with that leader.
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is right that we take stock of events in Ukraine, which deserves our support and our continuing focus. I commending Ministers on the Treasury Bench for their openness in the debates we have had and about the actions we have taken on Ukraine. The SNP is a firm part of the coalition in Ukraine’s defence. We are a party that stands for international law and for self-determination, democracy and human rights, so of course we are part of the coalition in Ukraine’s defence. Where I have supported the UK Government, I hope I have been vocal enough in doing so. The Ukrainians deserve our support, and I salute their bravery in defence of their homeland. Ukraine has a right to its independence, and a right to live without fear of, and without interference from, its neighbour. On that, we are all on the same team, and I am glad to express my support.
Much has already been said on Ukraine, so I will limit my remarks to a few specific points, which I hope I can rattle through fairly quickly. I was concerned that the UK was not making sufficient progress on sanctions, but I think we are there now. However, I have called previously for the assets that have been sanctioned to be seized and to go towards a Marshall fund for the reconstruction of Ukraine. I am glad to hear that that was discussed at the G7, but perhaps we could have some more details of where we are with that. I am conscious of the legal difficulties, and I am also conscious that Ministers are working on it, but I would like to see some progress.
On sanctions avoidance, when the SNP supported the statutory instruments bringing forward the sanctions, I raised concerns, particularly about the overseas territories. There was an assurance that the overseas territories would sign up to these sanctions and that loopholes would not be allowed to be created. I would like that reassurance again now that we are a few months further down the tracks on that, because we are dealing with some particularly slippery individuals, who are advised by the most slippery, and most expensive, professionals in this field. They will be quick to exploit a loophole if one exists, so I offer our support in closing them.
The SNP supports the provision of arms—if anything, we have called for more and faster provision—for Ukraine to defend itself. I would like some words from the Minister on what assessment has been made of the evolving nature of events in Ukraine. As my hon. Friend Dave Doogan said, we see a much better supplied and better dug-in Russian force in Donbas, so there is a danger not of a frozen conflict, but of a conflict that does not go very far. What assessment has been made of the supply needs? In particular, there is the evolving situation in the Sea of Azov and the Black sea, which is so pivotal to exports from Ukraine—of food especially, but also of lots of other things—and to supply for Ukraine itself. How is the evolving nature of that threat being taken forward?
The biggest area of disagreement between the SNP and the Government is on refugees. I have long said that the UK should have done the same as the EU did: to waive visas, not to wave flags. The EU demonstrated what should have been done. It said, “For three years, if you are fleeing harm and fleeing Ukraine, come in. We’ll keep you safe and we’ll sort out the paperwork later.” That was what should have been done. I regret the decisions that the UK Government have made on that.
On the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the British Association of Social Workers has drawn concerns to all our attention in its useful brief, which highlights in particular the risks in the safeguarding of refugees and the proper checks that must be run on potential host families. Safeguarding is not an optional add-on. Failure to safeguard is not simply an ethical issue; it is a false economy, because when hosting arrangements collapse, new hosting arrangements need to be identified. I have made my position on the Homes for Ukraine scheme clear, but let us ensure that it works and that it does what it claims. The association also makes the point:
“An effective Homes for Ukraine Scheme would have a government portal to match Ukrainians with UK hosts and undertake basic screening and would ensure hard pressed local authorities are properly funded to meet this humanitarian responsibility.”
I strongly endorse that and would be grateful for a response from the Minister. That seems like a sensible addition to the scheme.
On the wider implications of Ukraine, I was struck by the remarks of the Chair of the Defence Committee, Mr Ellwood, about a turning point. It is rare for us to see a turning point as we are experiencing it—we usually see them in hindsight—but the world around us is changing right now and a lot of the assumptions on which we all based decisions have been upended. We are seeing a massive evolution of NATO and the EU in the light of events in Ukraine, with the NATO accession applications of Finland and Sweden. I am glad that the Government support them; likewise, the SNP strongly supports them. We think that they will be strong additions to defensive capabilities and we would like to see them integrated as soon as possible now that the Finns and the Swedes have made their democratic intentions clear.
On UK-EU relations, the EU’s defence and foreign affairs capability has evolved at lightspeed in the last few months with the peace instrument, the strategic compass and the permanent structured co-operation growing arms and legs. There are an awful lot of developments in the EU that I would like to see the UK hand in glove with. I regret Brexit deeply and regret that the UK left the EU. I want to see Scotland get back into the EU—that is a discussion for another date—but, in the meantime, surely let us build on the good co-operation happening between the UK and the EU on defensive matters. Now is the time for a deep and comprehensive UK-EU security and intelligence treaty to formalise that co-operation and ensure that the UK is not left behind as the EU develops its own competences in that field.
A number of hon. Members have raised the issue of food prices. I draw attention to the sobering briefing given to us by the Red Cross, which says:
“The UN projects that a further 8-20 million people will now be left hungry from the knock-on effects of soaring prices and broken supply chains for grains, cooking oil, fertiliser and fuel.”
The UK Government, working with local and international partners, must look beyond the borders of Europe and act urgently to prevent a food crisis. That is global Britain’s litmus test. Global Britain is not the SNP’s project, but if we see serious action from the UK Government on world food prices, I will be the first to support them. For the best part of two decades—hon. Members can check my record in the European Parliament—I have been banging on about food security and the food supply chain, and I am deeply concerned that we are weeks away from a catastrophe for many of the most vulnerable in the world. We need to act together to fix it.
Many things have changed in the world. I echo the comments of the Chair of the Defence Committee on the integrated review. The SNP contributed constructive suggestions to the review, but surely we can all agree that it is now badly out of date and needs to be urgently refreshed and reassessed. We will continue in a co-operative spirit on that.
A number of things have changed about Ukraine, but the people of Ukraine deserve and have our support. I am glad to continue the SNP’s constructive approach with the UK Government on this matter.
Over the last three months, we have seen a war of choice in Europe. Putin and his close allies have revealed their callous and barbaric nature, plumbing new depths of human depravity and reaching new peaks of human wickedness. Putin has shown a casual and contemptible disregard for human life and a vile disinterest in the suffering of men, women and children as a result of the choice he made, suffering and death that we hoped we would never see on the European continent again. Putin has shown a casual and contemptible disregard for human life and a vile disinterest in the suffering of men, women and children as a result of the choice he made, suffering and death that we hoped we would never see on the European continent again.
A few weeks ago, I was speaking to young people at a university in Poland. There were Polish, Ukrainian and Russian students in the audience. They were bewildered, afraid and angry about what they had seen. It struck me that those young people had no memory of the Berlin wall, the cold war or the Soviet Union—all the more reason for us to repeat to them the lessons we have learnt from history—but what we have seen comes, or should come, as no real surprise to us. Putin told us who he was and what he believed at the Munich security conference in 2007. He told us primarily that he was in denial about the end of the cold war. He believed it had come to an end, rather than that the Soviet Union had been defeated. He said:
“we should not forget that the fall of the Berlin Wall was possible thanks to a historic choice—one that was also made by our people, the people of Russia—a choice in favour of democracy, freedom, openness and a sincere partnership with all the members of the big European family.”
If that was not utterly out of line with the reality of what was happening, I do not know what is.
Putin also made it very clear in that speech that he viewed NATO as an aggressor from the outset, when he said:
“I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?”
No expansion was intended; it was there as a defensive alliance. If there has been an expansion now, it is because of the threat posed to other European states. Putin has shown that he has been more than willing to carry out that threat in Ukraine.
There is something else in that speech that we should remember, which says something about Putin’s values. He was talking about the unipolar moment. He said:
“I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but impossible in today’s world…What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation.”
We knew from that what Putin was like. How did we get it so wrong? We did it because we in the west substituted wishful thinking for critical analysis. We wanted there to be a peace dividend, understandably, but we wanted it so much that we did not look at the evidence, in rapid succession, in front of our eyes. We had Chechnya, with Grozny razed to the ground in the way we see today in Donbas. The pattern of behaviour is clear. We then saw, in 2008, the invasion of Georgia and we did very little. We saw the annexation of Crimea. When I wrote in February 2015 in an article in The Sunday Telegraph that we should be arming the Ukrainians to stop Putin because they would be next, I was actually described by a senior member of the coalition Government as a warmonger. I am still waiting for the apology, but I guess it will not be coming. Now, in a bizarre and horrible echo of history, we see Putin willing to use the grain supplies that sit in Ukraine as a weapon of war well beyond the European theatre, willing to cut off the supply to the developing world who will starve if they do not get it, in an awful echo of what Stalin did in using famine as a weapon against the Ukrainian people.
Is it not the case that even on the verge of the invasion, when our intelligence sources made it clear an invasion was going to take place, many of our allies in Europe refused to believe it would actually happen?
That is right. I will not dwell on that point, because I do not think it takes us much further forward, but there was again the substitution of wishful thinking for critical analysis. The evidence was there that the troops were being massed on the Ukrainian border. We knew there was an intent to use them and yet in a number of European capitals there was still the triumph of hope over experience. That lack of preparedness among some of the western nations put the Ukrainians at a disadvantage at the beginning of the conflict.
A number of Members have said that the sanctions on Russia cannot be lifted until all Russian troops leave Ukraine. I would go further: the sanctions on Putin and Lavrov and the architects of this war can never be lifted. That is a different question from what happens to the rest of Russia. Of course, there must be a potential new course in a post-Putin era, but our aim must be to increase the tensions within the Russian regime by making it clear that those who stick with Putin and those who are the architects of the war in Ukraine cannot escape from the sanctions—they crossed the Rubicon; they are war criminals. On the other hand, those who choose a different path for the future can have an alternative future. It is very important that our messaging is consistent and utterly clear.
My right hon. Friend is linking the impact of sanctions to the military progress and what we should be doing on the ground; he is therefore in danger of coming close to having a strategy, and Britain, the west and NATO must have a grand strategy to deal with a resurgent, adventurist Putin.
I am always very wary of compliments paid in the House of Commons as there is generally a sting in the tale. All I will say to my right hon. Friend is that I think we were guilty collectively in the west of wilfully misunderstanding what Putin was doing even when the evidence suggested otherwise. There will be no change in Putin: his behaviour will be repeated if we allow it to be repeated. That is why I agree with what my right hon. Friend said earlier in the debate: unless Putin is defeated in Ukraine, others will follow. That is the nature of Putin—it is the nature, literally, of the beast.
I want to touch briefly on the question of famine. The consequences of the conflict in Ukraine will reverberate far beyond Russia, Ukraine or even Europe. There will be people, especially in the developing world, who will starve to death if we do not get grain stores and other materials released from Ukraine. Putin is waging this war not just on the Ukrainians but on some of the most vulnerable people on our planet today. That is why I refer to the height of the wickedness his regime represents. We must do all we can; I will not go back over the points already raised on why we must if possible move grain through the port of Odesa. If we cannot do so, we must move it by rail to the northern Baltic ports to get it out. But, whatever we have to do, we have to do it together with our allies, because the consequences of failure will go well beyond our own strategic objectives to the suffering of people in this world who have already been hit post pandemic and are already facing supply shocks.
Another question raised earlier in the debate— it was a point also made recently by the Foreign Secretary—is that if Chechnya was crushed, then Georgia, then Crimea, and then Ukraine, what will be the next domino to fall? The next one is Moldova. We still have time to avoid the mistakes we made with Ukraine by ensuring that we arm and train our allies in Moldova who could well be the next target should Putin survive this adventure he is having.
NATO has, again, been referred to. We must ensure that we raise spending among not just the biggest nations in NATO but all nations in NATO. We must make it clear that countries that want the insurance policy have to pay the premiums for the policy as well. But we need to give this a lot more thought too, because we do not want unnecessary duplication of what NATO does, for example by a European Union force. We need to ensure, in procurement, that we are not duplicating and have wise policies across NATO. There has always been resistance in NATO to the idea that some countries specialise in some areas while other countries specialise in others. The bottom line, however, is that the United States is the only country big enough and rich enough to have a full spectrum of military capabilities. Others will have to choose wisely where they spend their money.
We in the United Kingdom provide NATO with a nuclear deterrent, carrier strike, our F-35s, our Tornadoes —[Interruption.] Sorry, our Typhoons; that was a slip back to 2010. We have our investment in space and cyber, but we cannot be expected to have everything. The countries who are more vulnerable to land attack must be willing to carry the burden of those defensive capabilities. They certainly cannot continue to take a ride on the American taxpayer in the way that they have done in recent years, because sooner or later—we had a warning with the Trump Administration—there will be an Administration who are not willing to carry that burden on behalf of European defence. We should regard current events as a very clear warning to us of what could happen if Europe is not willing to carry its defensive burden.
In commending our Ministers for the clarity and generosity of the briefings that they have given us during this conflict and the very clear leadership exhibited by the Defence Secretary and his team, we have to accept, painfully, that what we have seen in Ukraine is—at least to a large extent—a failure of deterrence, because given our lack of reaction to previous incursions by Putin, he believed that we would not act. We can console ourselves with the fact that we have acted and that NATO has been strengthened not just in its military co-operation, but in an understanding of its political nature. Our belief in democracy, the rule of law and human rights has been strengthened by the shared experience that we have just gone through. We have shown that we can, and are willing to, supply Ukraine with the necessary armaments to defend themselves, and we have shown our willingness to sanction Russia and its leaders in a way that we have never done before with a major economy, particularly through central bank sanctions. We must follow those positive developments through with increases in our defence expenditure and a much clearer idea across NATO of which roles are appropriate for which nations and where they need to invest in their procurement budgets. The final lesson for us is that weakness in any of these areas is no friend of peace—only strength is.
Order. I briefly interrupt the debate to announce the result of the ballot held today for the election of a new Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. There were 474 votes cast with no invalid ballot papers—it is a relief that Members of Parliament know how to cast a vote. The counting went to four rounds. In the fourth round, 420 valid votes were cast, excluding those ballot papers whose preferences had been exhausted. The quota to be reached was therefore 211 votes, and the candidate who has been elected Chair, with 243 votes, is Sir Robert Goodwill, who will take up his post immediately. I congratulate him on his election. The results of the count under the alternative vote system will be made available as soon as possible in the Vote Office and published on the internet.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the officers of the House and the Clerks who carried out this election so efficiently and all those involved. I also thank my fellow candidates for the very good-natured way in which it was carried out. I thank all the people who voted for me, and I hope that I can carry forward the Committee and follow on from the excellent work done by my predecessor, Neil Parish.
I do not need to answer that point of order, but it was a perfectly reasonable one. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to thank the House. I also offer the commiserations of the whole House to all the other excellent candidates who took part in the fiercely contested election.
May I offer my warmest congratulations to Sir Robert Goodwill, the newly elected Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee? I have had the joy of being the Committee’s interim Chair. [Interruption.] He is obviously slightly deaf and preoccupied. Anyway, over to the main issue.
We all condemn the unprovoked, barbaric and illegal attack on Ukraine. It is an attack on a peaceful people. It is a land grab targeting the natural resources of the biggest country in Europe other than Russia, including the uranium that this country may rely on for its nuclear ambitions and the grain that is feeding the world. It is an appalling attack on our fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It also means a diminution of all our economic futures because of the cost of living crisis; the world economy is set to reduce by something like £750 billion this year.
I support sanctions, but let us be realistic: they are likely to shrink the Russian economy by 8.5% in the next year, according to the International Monetary Fund, but they will not stop a rolling Russian tank. Putin expected Ukraine to roll over, but thanks to the great bravery and solidarity of the Ukrainian people, the great leadership of Zelensky and the military support that has been provided from outside and inside, he has been resisted. Now is the time to look again at the balance of military and economic support that we provide, so that our ambition can be to drive Russia out of Ukraine and, possibly, resume relationships in future.
As we speak, Russia and China are reconfiguring their economic relationships in order to move forward, even in a world of sanctions. At the Beijing Olympics, they signed up to a deal under which Russia would provide some 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year from 2025, compared with the 1.25 billion cubic metres that it provides at the moment. More gas and oil is being sold to India and Indonesia. In Russia, the price of oil has been reduced so that food supplies can be transported more economically from the south to the north, for example, and logistics costs have been reduced to boost the manufacturing that has been denied through sanctions. Meanwhile, in Britain and elsewhere, energy prices are going up and economic activity is being hit. That suggests that we should continue to impose sanctions, particularly those targeted at Putin and his allies, but time is not necessarily on our side in supporting the military imperative to get the democracy and economy of Ukraine back into a healthy state.
When we step back and look at the track record of President Putin—invading Georgia, invading Crimea, taking control of Belarus—we can see that invading Ukraine is part of a wider plan. Finland is clearly in his sights; we welcome its application to be a member of NATO. Moldova has already been mentioned as vulnerable.
I offer my wholehearted support for Finland and Sweden’s inclusion in NATO, and for the important work that NATO does on collective security. Does my hon. Friend agree that, on a parallel track, there should be much better support for refugees? The Government need to step up their support, particularly with respect to family reunification. I have recently dealt with some very difficult cases in which families have been separated. May I ask my hon. Friend to focus on that point?
I am grateful for that intervention. We are not just talking about economic costs and sanctions; the main cost of this war is the loss of human life, and the 5 million refugees who have left Ukraine. There is a lot of talk in this place about the need to stop people getting into boats and crossing the channel, but we are simply are not doing enough for those 5 million Ukrainians.
When I visited Lithuania, I went to centres at which hundreds and hundreds of people were arriving each day. People—usually women with young children—were processed within hours. Biometric and basic checks would be done, and then the individuals would be associated with a family, a kindergarten, work and so on. I talked to the head of the civil service about immigration and refugees, and she said that they regarded those people not as refugees, but as friends or part of their family, and as a support to their labour market. In Britain, the view tends to be, “Hold on, what about the cost to the health service, education and so on?” That is despite the fact that we have labour shortages, as 1.4 million Europeans who were registered to work here have stayed in Europe. Obviously, we should open our hearts and homes to the people of Ukraine, who share our values. We share their suffering, and we should support them in every way we can. Not enough is being done, and we need to do much more, much more quickly and effectively.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the discrepancy between refugees taking part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, for whom funding is available, and those involved with the family visa scheme, for whom it is not? There is an assumption that people who arrive on family visas will be funded through their families, but not all families are the same. Some people are brought over by grandparents, and they now have to carry the costs themselves. I think the Government have already been asked to change that inconsistency, and it would be wonderful to reiterate the question of why refugees are treated differently depending on the route by which they arrive.
The right hon. Lady makes an excellent point, which I fully concur with. Frankly, the reason for this discrepancy has been the mean-minded culture in Britain—the idea that we somehow have a refugee problem. Across Europe, we are 17th for the number of asylum seekers we take per head of population, and fifth overall. It is not as if we have a huge burden. In Poland and elsewhere—I have mentioned Lithuania—there is a massive burden of people coming over. A lot of them are in a state of psychological flight, and they think, “Actually, we want to go to Britain.” Getting to Britain is being made out to have been made easy, but it has not. People are taking months, not days, to get here, and that should be resolved straight away.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is deep concern about reports that Ukrainian refugees are becoming homeless after falling out with hosts in this country? There is a problem not only with the matching of Ukrainian refugees and their hosts, but with maintenance. We are not checking that those refugees—they are incredibly vulnerable, and many of them are women—are safe when they get to this country.
The hon. Lady makes a critical point about the need to follow through on the association with families to ensure that sufficient support is provided, and that those who are received are safe and secure. The Government may need to put their hand deeper into their pocket to ensure that people are given a safe haven, and that these matches are made properly. More resource might be needed in the Home Office to facilitate that. It comes against a backdrop of other members of the Government saying, “We need to slash arbitrarily 90,000 people from the civil service.” This war, alongside other changes, means that more public management will be required for our own security and the safety of the people who come over, and I welcome the point that she makes.
I was saying that we need to co-operate more across Europe. We have the facility, and we have taken leadership in terms of unilateral action and military support. We need to be closer to our European allies who share our fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, in order to get them to raise their game. Germany has now said that it will provide support, but there is a lot of talk in both France and Germany along the lines of “We had better give Russia a bit of this,” and “Maybe we should just settle and give them a bit, as we did with Crimea.” As has already been pointed out, we do not want allow the creeping, partial success of Putin. It is something that we want to work against, alongside our allies. I am a member of the Council of Europe, which shares those fundamental values. Russia, of course, was a member, but we ensured that it was ejected for a clear breach of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I should like to see a route map showing that, at some time in the future, Russia will readopt those values and come back into the fold, rather than permanently being driven, along with China, into a partnership that pushes us towards a more totalitarian way of thinking globally.
This is a time of reckoning. There have been debates about how we can integrate economically with people who do not have our interests at heart when it comes to, for instance, supply chains or the Uyghurs, and this is a time to stand back and think about our global strategy. Obviously, we would all like to be able to secure respect for human rights, get the Russians out of Ukraine and have an economic co-existence that made sense, but sadly, we have recently seen the use of gas and grain as instruments of war; and we have seen sanctions used in China as well. We need to think in an integrated way about how to move forward. However, in the very short term, our focus and resolve must be concentrated on supporting Ukraine in delivering the democracy, the sovereignty and the working economy that it naturally craves.
In the relatively short time that I have, I will make a few general points. It is a pleasure to follow Geraint Davies, and I agreed with much of what was said by my right hon. Friend Dr Fox. This cold war started in 2007 with Putin’s Munich speech. It was a great shame that the political classes both in this country and elsewhere in the European Union did not take that to heart; we have been paying an increasingly high price ever since.
I want to talk about the potential speed of the Russian collapse and what that may mean, and about the nuclear threat, but first I will mention some issues involving kit. A few weeks ago I was in Odesa, talking to the regional governor and members of the county council. They had been trying to buy medical kit from this country—they were not looking for freebies—but they found the export licences very difficult to obtain, although this was medical kit. They were also trying to purchase body armour. I wrote a letter to the Secretaries of State for Defence and for International Trade, and perhaps I could ask one of the two Ministers who are sitting on the Front Bench to follow up on that letter. I would like an answer, simply because I was asked very directly about kit.
Let me raise the more general issue of the southern front, which I think will be a very significant inflection point, and a decision point for both the Ukrainians and the Russians. Everyone is saying that this will be a long war. I am not quite sure that I buy that, because I have always distrusted conventional wisdom. I lived in the Soviet Union back in 1991, and the conventional wisdom was that the Soviet Union would not collapse. That went well. The conventional wisdom was that the nationalities issue was not a problem in the Soviet Union, when it was actually one of the critical factors. Now the conventional wisdom is that this will be a long war. I am not saying that that is necessarily wrong, but the Russians got this war wrong. Even our Ukrainian friends got it wrong. They were saying to us, “Look at doctrine. Russia does not have the kit or the personnel. It is not going to do anything until August this year.” Well, our Ukrainian friends were wrong, and the Germans and the French were wrong in saying that the Russians were not going to invade. We got it right, but then we did not expect the Ukrainians to survive. The battle of Kyiv was won, when we expected it to be lost. The battle of Kharkiv is now probably coming to an end as the Russians pull back and can shell increasingly from a distance. I was talking to a Ukrainian MP from Odesa just two days ago, and the Russians are digging in around Kherson to defend their territory.
The Russians are now making some gains on the eastern front, but I question how long that will go on. There is a considerable chance, given the amount of kit that is coming into Kyiv and being spread throughout the country, that an eastern front will stabilise. The question then is: how likely does a Ukrainian counter-attack become? Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian intelligence, said that Ukraine was going to be ready for a counter-offensive in August. The critical question for me at this point is whether that counter-attack will simply be in the east of the country or whether it will be on the southern front. When I was talking to the commander of the southern front near Mykolaiv about two weeks ago, he told me that they did not even have armoured personnel carriers in which to put their commanders for units to attack on the southern front. It is clear that if the Ukrainians can open up a second front to the south, challenge the Russian positions around Kherson and push through to break that land corridor, there would be a real danger to Russia of a wider collapse, and a growing ineffectiveness of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.
The Russians are continuing to push forward and threatening Severodonetsk, but I think there is potential, come September, for a significant Russian fall-back and significant Russian damage. When we talk about Russian conscripts coming into the war, we have to remember that it takes at least six months for conscripts to be made ready and trained on kit. We have already seen how badly treated and undermotivated they are. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are training increasing numbers of their own people to go forward, and they now have the kit as well. It is absolutely true, as some of us in this country think, that the Ukrainians have not yet quite mastered combined arms, when it comes to the broader kit that the Government are supplying.
The Government are doing a great job, and the Secretary of State for Defence is doing a wonderful job of effectively being the external quartermaster for the Ukrainian army. I congratulate him wholeheartedly on his role in trying to find NASAMS—national advanced surface-to-air missile systems—air defence kit, planes and tanks. What the Ukrainians say they desperately need now are MLRS—multiple launch rocket systems. These are guided artillery systems that can strike at 30 or 40 kilometres. The significant problem up to now is that the Ukrainians have had only Soviet-era artillery, in the form of the 152, which has a range of approximately 25 kilometres. Now they have the 155, they are able to mildly overmatch the traditional artillery of the Russians, because the 155 has, all things considered, about 5 kilometres of further range. So the Russians are either pushing back or having to go deeper, in which case they expose themselves further. If we can supply MLRS, that will make our position considerably stronger.
Having said that, there is clearly a danger. I take seriously what the Russians say about a nuclear threat. Some of it is undoubtedly bluff. In 2016, the Russians threatened Denmark with a nuclear response if it took part in the American nuclear missile shield. That was bluff. The threats to Finland and Sweden are almost certainly bluff. But, to my mind, there will be six decision points within the next six months where Putin will go over and have to consider whether to use nuclear weapons. There is absolutely no guarantee that he would, but if Crimea were threatened, I think we would start to live in extremely dangerous circumstances.
Those six points are: the collapse and withdrawal of Russian positions around Kharkiv; the collapse of the Russian advance in Donbas, which has not yet happened but may do within the next two or three months; the eventual collapse of new Russian positions this summer; the collapse of Russian positions in Kherson, where they are currently digging in; the entry of Ukrainian forces into the separatist Donbas republics if the Russians start to lose the territory they seized in 2014; and the potential entry of Ukrainian forces into Crimea.
Will Putin use tactical nuclear weapons because of the collapse on the Kharkiv front? No, because it has not happened. Would he be tempted to use nuclear weapons if he were losing Crimea? I am not sure I would want to take that risk, and I cannot answer that question, but I think there is a significant likelihood. The bigger question is: what happens when the Russian land corridor collapses come September and October?
There is a fine line between a Russian victory, which clearly nobody wants, and a Russian collapse, which may become a decision point for a series of catastrophic moves by Putin, the beginning of a significant weakening of the Russian position and its loss of dominance in the Sea of Azov. Looking at the map, the Sea of Azov is on the right-hand side of what was called Novorossiya, the Russian-speaking territories that are fighting just as hard as the rest of Ukraine. That is the point where, for an optimal outcome of this war, they start to negotiate because Putin will try to keep some of the land he has gained. As everyone has said, that is a decision for the Ukrainians and we in this country should not be armchair generals.
When I spoke to some American diplomats a few days ago, I was relieved to hear that they are thinking through and wargaming these very dangerous scenarios. I very much hope the MOD and the Foreign Office are, too. NATO, as far as I can see, does not wargame this because it does not have nuclear weapons, but we and the Americans do, and I hope we are wargaming these scenarios.
I am worried not only because of the big decision-making points but because, first, the use of nuclear weapons is justified in Russian military doctrine where there is an existential threat to the state. Nobody in their right mind thinks Russia is existentially threatened. However, the Russian narrative and the Russian media portray this war as an existential threat to Russia and a defensive war because Russia is trying to seize its territory from NATO. Whether we like it or not, it is being presented as an existential threat.
Secondly, there is a debate about whether the Russians will escalate to de-escalate. They might use a nuclear weapon to try to de-escalate. That is not Russian doctrine—I certainly have not seen it in the Russian doctrine I have read—although there is writing to say that this is some of the thinking.
Thirdly, it is absolutely true to say that the Russians take a very different approach from the rest of the world to nuclear weapons and nuclear war. The Soviets always saw nuclear war as fightable and winnable, which is why they built bomb shelters in so many cities. They do not necessarily have our mindset, which worries me because I think we look at them through our own mindset. We do not understand them on their own terms.
Finally, it is sometimes overlooked but highly dangerous that human beings and nations get trapped by their own narratives. Those of us who have listened to and watched Russian TV over the last five or 10 years know there is a normalisation of the idea of war, including nuclear war, with the west. That is why Russian polling since 2018 shows that something like 50% of Russians polled believe that war with the west is inevitable, and a large number of them believe that nuclear war with the west is inevitable. We are dealing with a different mindset and with people who have been propagandised for 20 years. That is also a danger with China, but it is certainly a danger with Russia.
Do we think that, by our logic, nuclear war is likely? No, because nobody thinks there is an existential threat to Russia—the war is an existential threat to Ukraine but not to Russia. However, in the narrative of the paranoid, conspiracy-driven mindset of the Russian media, which is reflected in the Russian leadership, there is a sense of an external, existential threat, if only to the incredibly amoral, incredibly foolish, Sovietised, sort-of bastardised Slavophiles who are currently running Russia and who see paranoid conspiracy theories in every pothole in Moscow. I say that as a word of warning, because we are dealing with people who think very differently from ourselves.
I respect my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and North America and my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement. They have been absolutely superb. We need to see a Russian defeat. At the same time, we need to remember that this is not Berlin in 1945. Limited wars end in negotiation and, whether we like it or not, there will be some kind of negotiation at the end of this war, otherwise it simply will not end. We should remember that.
I agree with what has been said about the integrated review, on which we need a rethink. The integrated review was a good document, but it did not look enough at deep strategy. It brought together all the policies around a theme, but it could have been better. We now need to look at it again. I agree with what many people, including my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood and Luke Pollard, have said about not cutting back on defence spending. Cutting back on defence spending would not make any sense and would not be logical, because we will need that defence spending to confront the Chinese threat or the Russian threat.
I wish to make an additional and important point that has not yet been raised, which relates to the national security strategy. Our national security structures are not fit for purpose, and I personally do not think the National Security Adviser is up to the job. I listened to him in Bahrain a couple of months before the war started and he basically said, “Look, climate change is the biggest threat to humanity.” This was in a city that had Iranian weapons pointed at it, in the week when the Chinese were wargaming over Taiwan and in the month when the Russians were building up over in Ukraine. My somewhat flippant response is, “Try doing climate change in the nuclear winter.” The avoidance of state-on-state warfare is still the short-term and medium-term primary aim for this state. Yes, global poverty is incredibly important, as is getting the grain out, however we manage to do so, and I am not dismissing climate change for one second, as it is incredibly important, but it is difficult to tackle climate change and to reach out to states such as Russia and China if we are at war, close to war or in confrontation with them.
I wish to make a final point about ceasefires, because it is important. There is a slight shattering in the western response currently, and we see a slight foot-dragging from not only the Germans and French—this may be surprising —but, potentially, from the US Administration. I well recall, as I was there at the time, that in Georgia the Russians used ceasefires very effectively to solidify their control of the territory they had taken. Again, this summer we are probably going to see a concerted attempt—this is already happening because the Russians are hinting at it—to get the French and the Germans and others to press the Ukrainians for a ceasefire now. Everyone will say, “Stop the war”, because, obviously, there is an overpowering moral and humanitarian argument there, but the reason the Russians would do this is to solidify their control over the ground they have taken. If the Ukrainians are wobbling on this, we need to say to them, “Clearly, you must do what is right, but we must remind you that the Russians have a very aggressive negotiating strategy, that they negotiate ceasefires, as they did in Georgia, often in bad faith and that one of their war aims will be to grasp, solidify and Russify—handing out passports, as we see happening today—those areas that they have taken.” Indeed, the Estonian Prime Minister has said that it is important that we do not get a bad peace. A ceasefire this summer, as attractive as it sounds, would, without further Ukrainian gains, result in a bad peace, further warfare and further bloodshed in the future.
I want to highlight a case my office is currently handling, in the hope that the voice of the young girl I am about to tell you about will finally be heard. I am grateful that the immigration Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster is in his place to hear this. Nataliia is 15 years old. When war broke out her parents made an impossible decision in order to keep her safe—this was a decision no parent ever wants to have to make: so that their daughter could reach safety in the UK and start a life away from the conflict, they handed over legal guardianship of Nataliia to her mother’s cousin, Millena. The pair then fled, hoping to reach the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Millena’s visa was approved in mid-April, but Nataliia is still waiting for hers. Unbelievably, I understand that Nataliia’s guinea pigs have been given the green light to enter the UK by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but their 15-year-old owner has not. I will not go into the ins and outs of every failing in this case, as I would be here literally all day, in the same way my team has been, when on hold to the MP hotline or when writing to the latest contact the Home Office has directed them to. What I will say is that it is clear that the Home Office has not provided the UK Visas and Immigration team with the resources they need to handle these cases in the right way.
Millena and Nataliia are running out of time and money. They are currently in Budapest, having travelled from Moldova. They cannot wait there indefinitely, and sooner or later Millena is going to have to make a similar impossible choice to the one Nataliia’s parents faced. She can come to the UK, but Nataliia cannot join her. That means that this 15-year-old girl faces two options: sheltering at a refugee camp or returning to the warzone. This is a disgrace. She is a child, vulnerable and needing protection. She cannot be left to fend for herself. I ask colleagues across the House to bring to mind any teenage girls they know, perhaps a daughter, a niece or a family friend. I ask them to think about what it would mean if she were left alone in an unfamiliar country, with no family, unable to speak the language, and with no means to support herself.
I have written to the Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, about the case, and I hope with every fibre of my being that Nataliia’s pleas are heard. I hope Ministers will do everything in their power to ensure that, moving forward, no child finds themselves in such a situation. I do not place blame on the civil servants who are working hard day and night doing everything they can for Ukrainians who are trying to reach the UK, but nor do I accept that Ministers have done what they can to resolve the situation.
I hear what the hon. Lady says, and I will not go into the specific differences in respect of children travelling without their parents or closest relatives, but I am certainly happy to pick up and look at that case.
Let me leave the House with the letter that Nataliia wrote to plead her case—not that a child should ever feel that they have to do that. I want Ministers and Members to hear, in her own words, what the situation feels like to Nataliia. It is important that she has a voice and can tell Members herself. She says:
“Hi there! My name is Nataliia, I’m 15 and I’m from Kyiv.
I spent the first two months of the war near Kyiv with my grandmother. It was really scary to be there. I saw destroyed houses hit by a rocket, I saw dead people, I saw tanks and machine guns. I felt what it’s like when your house is shaking from the bombing, when you’re sitting in a shelter and just hoping it wouldn’t get hit, when you sleep fully dressed and with the lights on, to get your stuff quickly and go to a safer place.
It was really traumatizing to read the news of dead children and understand that you are no different from them and you are just lucky. Or to hold your mother’s hand while trying to sleep, because you’re just scared to fall asleep. But almost two months ago, I applied for the homes for Ukraine scheme and I hoped that after a little while I would be able to get to a safe place. I got this chance from my cousin Millena. We spend a lot of time together every summer and, in general, I am very close to this part of the family…so I’m happy to go with her. I’m very comfortable.
A month ago I left Ukraine. Our travel was long and exhausting and since then I have been in Budapest. Now I check my mail every morning, and every time it’s empty. I never wanted anything so much. Every day my faith that I will be able to come decreases. Time is running out and I can’t wait for the visa any longer. I will have to return to Ukraine, return to danger, return and live again with the war outside my window. And I just started to get used to safety. I stopped being afraid of loud sounds and the noise of planes. I stopped listening to the sirens outside the window and thinking about the closest shelter I’ll be able to run to.
I really hope to get a chance for a peaceful life in a country I admired so much as a child and till this day. From the age of 8 I read everything I could find about Scotland and its traditions. I dreamt to go to this country as far as I remember. I’m feeling really connected and related to Scotland. Because of this, I believe that I will feel most comfortable in your country, while I can’t live in mine.
I can’t go home now. I can’t go back to war now. Please give me my visa. This is very important to me.
Thank you, Nataliia.”
I compliment Margaret Ferrier on her moving contribution. After church last Sunday, while having tea and coffee, I met three young Ukrainian refugees. They were three females, probably in their middle teens. One could speak a tiny bit of English and the other two could not, but even talking with them in a limited way did not half bring home to me why we support Ukraine in the way we do. These young people were frightened, but they were brave and had come to Scotland. I am sure they share some of the sentiments that the hon. Lady just read out to the House.
Bob Seely has clearly researched this subject very fully and I was most interested in his contribution, which provoked in me a memory of when I went with other Members to visit the 3rd Yorks in Estonia before the covid pandemic. I remember asking the commanding officer—I do not think I am betraying any armed forces secrets here—“You have a huge Russian army group bang opposite you. What happens if the balloon goes up?” What he said to me was very interesting: “Well, there are several factors. The morale is not good among the soldiers opposite us. They see themselves as poorly paid. They are conscripts. And there is a slight problem with alcohol.” He also said that they were not the top-quality troops that we might expect. Have events in Ukraine not proved just how prophetic his words were?
I associate myself with other speakers and say that my party stands four-square with the Government in our efforts to support the people of Ukraine and to recognise their extraordinary courage and valour in taking on an army, which, harking back to what I was told in Estonia, some of us thought was invincible. That is not the case and that is why the thoughts of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight are useful.
Twice before in this place, I have raised the issue of the murderous legacy of the mines left behind in the north of Ukraine—and now, possibly, in the north and east of Ukraine—as Russian forces have retreated. My plea was then, as it is today, that we offer the maximum help we can in knowhow, kit and expertise to get rid of that murderous legacy. Alas and alack, a number of Ukrainians have been killed in their own brave efforts to get rid of this menace. I seek an assurance from the Minister—if not today then at some suitable point—that we are putting our shoulders to the wheel on this, because it is one way in which we can really help.
The horrifying images of Russian tanks exploding that we have seen online and on television show what is called “the jack-in-the box effect”. It happens, so we read, because of the method and manner in which ammunition is stored in the tank, which is why they explode in the fearful way that they do. My first thought is that we should check our own armour and how we hold our ammunition to make sure that there is no danger that we could fall into the same trap.
Arising from that is a reflection on the manner in which the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black sea, was sunk. We have all read varying accounts of American reconnaissance aircraft possibly being involved and what exact missiles were fired or not fired. If we think about two of our most precious military assets, namely our two aircraft carriers, we should look very carefully indeed at what happened to the Moskva. How exactly was it sunk, and are we sure that our defences for these priceless pieces of military hardware are absolutely up to scratch?
Let me give an example. Five years ago, in the summer of 2017, HMS Queen Elizabeth called in on Invergordon in my constituency, and some person light-heartedly, but irresponsibly, flew a drone and landed it on its deck. I asked the then Defence Secretary whether we could be sure that we were completely equipped to deal with that sort of thing. Had that drone, run by some person having a bit of fun, been flown deliberately into the radar assembly, they could have disabled HMS Queen Elizabeth.
We have seen, harking back to Ukraine, the use of drones, not least in taking out Russian armour. Again, I say to Her Majesty’s Government that we need to look very closely at all the aspects of warfare and at what has happened to the Russians.
I am listening intently to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the how the Moskva was struck. Is he questioning whether the Neptune missiles destroyed it? Completely by coincidence, I was on the southern front in the air raid shelter the night the Moskva was sunk, and while I was waiting to go back on to the street in Odesa, a general showed me the pictures of the Moskva being sunk and explained it quite carefully.
The intelligence came from Turkish Bayraktar drones and it was two ground-based Neptune missiles that were used. The drones acted as a decoy. The Russians had been very sloppy in their drills—they were just sailing round in the same old pattern and not changing it. They were over-focused on the drones monitoring them, and that allowed the two Neptune missiles in. The Ukrainians themselves are absolutely adamant, and that evening they showed me the pictures of the strike on the ship. I hope that provides some useful clarity, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he is saying: big items can be destroyed very quickly, as we have seen with both tanks and aircraft.
There we have it again—an example of the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of and great interest in this subject, and I thank him for his intervention. It underlines and reinforces the point that we must look at all potential threats to our precious surface fleet, including the two aircraft carriers which will transform the United Kingdom’s defence capability.
I could stray into arguments about whether we should concentrate on the north Atlantic and the home waters nearby, and ask what we are doing in the far east, but that is not for today. However, no debate of this nature, when we are looking at ourselves, would be complete without my echoing the points about the cuts in the size of the British Army. At the start of the war in Ukraine, we saw extraordinary images of a Russian convoy of armoured vehicles and other vehicles essentially using a road or motorway. Having once upon a time served as a private soldier in the Territorial Army, I fell to wondering where on Earth was the infantry integration with armour? Why did the Russians not have, or appear to have, flanking troops in the woods on either side of the column? When we come to study what happened, we have to examine the Russian tactics and ask what has happened to the army that defeated Hitler, which now seems to be verging on incompetent? Maybe I am wrong—who knows?
Like other speakers, I thank the Defence Ministers. It was a generous move by the Secretary of State for Defence to invite a number of us to a gathering at Belvoir Castle to meet the Foreign or Defence Ministers of the Joint Expeditionary Force countries. I attended with the shadow Secretary of State and the Scottish National party defence spokesperson. Ever since then, that same spirit has prevailed; it is a co-operative spirit, and I give credit where it is due. It sends a good message to our own armed forces that we are prepared to work together on these matters.
I remember well the talk at Belvoir Castle about Finland and Sweden possibly joining NATO. Sweden was represented at the gathering; I cannot remember whether Finland was. One could see what was developing to get us where we are today, with the application to join NATO. I strongly hope that they do join NATO. Having been to Norway—again through the armed forces parliamentary scheme—and seen part of the dreaded Bardufoss training that the Royal Marines do, I have seen with my own eyes just how committed the Norwegian armed forces are. They were very welcoming and work extremely well with us, so I think we have a great deal to gain if Sweden and Finland join NATO.
I am sorry that the immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, is no longer in his place, because my principal motivation for coming along to this debate was to highlight some of the deeply frustrating, upsetting and challenging circumstances being experienced by constituents of mine in Angus who are trying to sponsor people on the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Of course, my situation in Angus is no different from that of MPs across the House who are trying to expedite that humanitarian assistance at a very human level.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme sits in stark contrast departmentally with the role of very hard-working Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, who have discharged their responsibilities with enthusiasm and efficacy and to great effect. I hope it is acknowledged that they will not often hear a comment like that from an SNP MP in this place, and I do not make that observation lightly. It is in sharp contrast to Ministers in the Home Office. That is not just a rhetorical observation or a political point—I genuinely wish it was not so, but it is.
The evidence is there for all to see in comparative analysis between what the United Kingdom has managed to achieve under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and what others in Europe have achieved where a Government’s ambition has matched the ambition manifest in the communities of those countries. We see that in Ireland, which has given refuge to considerably more refugees per head of population than the United Kingdom. The same is true of Denmark, which has received one Ukrainian per 194 members of the population. In the UK, that is depressingly one Ukrainian per 1,249 members of the population. The United Kingdom has not even managed double what Ireland has achieved, and Ireland is 15 times smaller than the United Kingdom.
As if that were not bad enough, in answer to my written parliamentary question about unaccompanied minors trying to access the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the Home Office has confirmed that unaccompanied minors are only eligible if they are travelling to reunite with a parent or legal guardian in the UK. My constituents in Angus are suffering from the same predicament that was so eloquently outlined by my hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier in regard to young people. In my case, it is two young 17-year-old boys. As she said, we all know 17-year-old kids. Can the House imagine what it is like being stuck in Budapest, alone and barred from refuge in the United Kingdom? It is to the United Kingdom’s shame that that situation has been allowed to come to pass.
Unlike Jamie Stone, I will not shy away from looking at the integrated review, because if we have learned anything over the past couple of months, it is that events have a terrible habit of catching up with us if we find ourselves in any way unprepared. If the United Kingdom prosecutes its integrated review in the way it has set out, it will have an Indo-Pacific tilt. It was never a great policy to begin with, in my view—it reeked slightly of a post-Brexit rebound effect, trying to get as far away from the European continent as possible, and before tensions required it, a bit like someone turning up at a party in the afternoon with their carry-out before anybody else is on the same page. That particular strategy did not merit being advanced before the events in Ukraine, and it certainly does not merit continued investment down that path since then.
The hon. Member gives me the opportunity to enlarge on something I touched on. He is completely correct to say that we have to look carefully at where we should have our fleet and where we should be amassing our forces. I personally believe it is the high north and the north Atlantic—the bit opposite the top of my constituency.
A rare moment of accord between the hon. Member and I. He is absolutely right. If we look at the dysfunctionality of Russia’s land forces in Ukraine, we can contrast that with Russia’s sub-sea naval forces and secure precisely no comfort from thinking that that reads across. They are among the very best in the world, crewing some of the very best submarines in the world and deploying some of the very best tactics in the world. If we think that we can combat that threat in the South China sea, we are very much mistaken. That alone is an opportunity to quickly have a root-and-branch review of the integrated review.
The Minister for Europe and North America is in his place to reply for the Government. We have touched on the grain situation in Ukraine. It is not NATO’s, the west’s or Ukraine’s responsibility, but humanity’s responsibility to get that grain out of Odessa and into global markets where it can provide a lifeline—literally, sadly—to the poorest in the global community. If it is sufficiently, or even remotely, close to his area of responsibility, he might consider whether there is some mechanism that clever people in the Department for International Trade, or his Cabinet colleagues, could look at to forward buy the value of the grain in Ukraine so that it is already sold before it leaves. That would deny Russia the opportunity, however tenuous it might be, of saying that it is aiding the Ukrainian war effort with finance.
If the finance is already in place, that argument no longer stands and it will be evidence that, if Russia still blockades outward transit of grain from Odessa, that is purely a malign act of belligerence that will cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives. Getting the grain out would also vacate the silos and storage facilities in Ukraine so that they can receive this year’s harvest and not store up the same problem for years to come. It is vital that we co-ordinate the best ideas around that priority, so I look forward to hearing how we might do that.
It has been three months—91 days—since President Putin began his illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine. I am sure that I speak for Members on both sides of the House when I say that I continue to be deeply moved by the bravery, resilience and spirit of the Ukrainian people. It has been excellent to hear contributions from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. The House is at its best when Members speak with one voice and send a clear message to tyrants and autocrats across the world of our commitment to shared values and our resolute determination to support Ukraine.
We heard a number of contributions. We heard frustrations with the Homes for Ukraine scheme from my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield and other powerful voices, such as the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and for Angus (Dave Doogan). I am sorry to say that I had a similar experience this morning when I was sitting in the Home Office area in Portcullis House dealing with people who have not been dealt with since March. I know the Minister for Immigration was listening and I urge Ministers to get their act together on that scheme. The British people have shown great will to support the people of Ukraine and our system needs to match that by living up to their expectations.
Mr Ellwood rightly spoke about the long-term implications of how we respond to this long crisis and the implications of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, which of course was heavily criticised this week. Dr Fox rightly said that we should have listened to what Putin said in 2007, but instead we all engaged in wishful thinking. He also rightly highlighted that Putin is now using food as a weapon of war. I hope that that is recognised by some of those around the world who have, to date, sat on the sidelines in some of the diplomatic votes and others. That is President Putin’s agenda—he does not care about their populations and he is happy to let their people starve by stopping that grain being exported. That is the level of his wickedness. My hon. Friend Geraint Davies also spoke about those humanitarian consequences.
We have heard other powerful speeches. Jamie Stone spoke of his engagement with the 3rd Yorks in Estonia. I am pleased to say that the Royal Welsh are there as well doing a fantastic job to hold up the eastern flank of NATO alongside our excellent Estonian partners. As ever, Bob Seely gave us the benefit of his expert knowledge and made an excellent and interesting contribution.
This war is a heinous and flagrant violation of international law, and it has been rightly condemned in the strongest possible terms across the world. President Putin’s military failures in the initial stages of the invasion have morphed into wanton barbarity and destruction as this conflict enters a bloody new phase in violation of all standards of humanity. We should, of course, not be surprised at that barbarity, as has rightly been said on a number of occasions; we only have to look at his history in Grozny, Aleppo and elsewhere.
President Zelensky has told us that, last Tuesday, 87 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on the village of Desna in Chernihiv. We have heard of bodies piled up and crushed under collapsed buildings, and we have seen the civilians slaughtered in the streets with their hands tied behind their backs. In Kramatorsk, Bilohorivka, Kharkivska and countless other urban centres in Donbas, we are confronted with a litany of atrocities that refute any of the Russians’ attempts to skew the truth through their concerted information war. We know what is happening: we have seen those crimes being committed.
The humanitarian situation is equally perilous. While it was a relief to see some women, children and elderly people evacuated from conflict areas, the plight of the Ukrainian people is more critical today than at any time in the conflict. The statistics speak for themselves: more than 14 million have been forcibly displaced; as I have said, almost 4,000 civilians have lost their lives; and 4.6 million now do not have access to safe and clean drinking water, while another 1.4 million have no access to water at all.
The sad reality, as in many conflicts, is that children in Ukraine are paying the highest price for this horrific war. The deputy director of UNICEF has told the UN Security Council that children are paying an “unconscionably high price”, with 239 confirmed killed and 355 wounded, although he believes the actual figure is far beyond that. Schools in Ukraine have been turned into mass graves—a true reflection of the evil driving this war. Older women make up two thirds of those aged over 65 and 71% of those aged over 75, and they are particularly vulnerable in this conflict, facing loneliness, hunger, sexual violence and killings. We heard earlier the estimate of 11,000 war crimes being committed—sickening scenes—and those responsible must be brought to justice.
I would therefore like to ask what recent conversations the Minister has had with the United Nations, human rights bodies and leaders of aid organisations relating to the situations facing particularly the women, children, elderly and vulnerable groups still in Ukraine. I have met many of those organisations in recent weeks, and indeed today I met UN representatives as well. I would also urge him to rethink some of the feared cuts that we see coming. I know there has been generous support for Ukraine, but this is really not the time for some of the cuts to multilateral agencies that have been suggested by the Government. The cuts also risk a diversion from other crises in which we see women, children and the elderly at risk, whether that is in Afghanistan, Yemen, Tigray or elsewhere in Africa, and I have spoken many times about the situation in Ethiopia. This suffering is not just in Ukraine, but is on a global scale, and, as we have heard, it will be exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, particularly with the food and energy price shocks.
The situation in the Black sea has rightly been raised, and I hope the Minister can say something about what efforts we are making with others to open those routes for grain exports, and what assessment he has made of the alleged theft of grain by the Russian forces and their attempts to sell it on the open market. What steps are we taking to ensure that that does not happen and that money does not flood into Putin’s coffers? What discussions has he had, particularly with Turkey, about potential assistance to ensure the safety of any commercial exports of that grain from Ukrainian ports?
Britain has a long and proud history of standing up to dictators and tyrants, and our defence of the values we cherish is needed now more than ever. Regrettably, it has taken us until now fully to appreciate the threat posed by Putin to our partners in Europe and beyond. To that end, I would like to reiterate the unshakable commitment to NATO of my hon. Friends in the Labour Opposition, and our support in providing all necessary assistance to the people of Ukraine as they heroically defend themselves. We also offer our support to others in the region, including Moldova, which has rightly been raised many times in this debate. We still have time to ensure that Moldova does not face a fate similar to that in the east and south of Ukraine.
I would like to put on record our clear support for Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO. Indeed, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have travelled to Finland and Sweden, as they have to Estonia, Germany and many other allies in recent months. We welcome their willingness to stand with us in defence of democracy and the rule of law. Can the Minister say a little bit about what conversations he has had with Turkey in recent days on the worrying threats that seem to be emanating from there about attempting to block their accession? I certainly hope that that does not come to pass. We need to stand together as NATO in welcoming in Finland and Sweden, and those who wish to join.
The Government can continue to rely on Labour’s unequivocal support for the steps that they are taking to reinforce the alliance and build on partnerships. However, it is clear that the war in Ukraine will fundamentally alter the European security order, so we need to work with our European allies across the board—whether EU or non-EU, NATO or non-NATO—to ensure the broadest possible coalition, and not, I am sorry to say, engage in unnecessary public fights in other areas. This is not the time to have those fights, as I made clear in responding to the Foreign Secretary the other day.
On sanctions, while I welcome the many steps that the Government have taken, and the willingness of the Minister and his officials to discuss them with me, at times we have been playing catch-up. I am glad to see that much progress has been made, but a series of things still needs to happen. A further statutory instrument is, I think, coming forward after the recess. There are still some loopholes in the sanctions; some trusts are not fully covered, some ownership thresholds are too high, and some oligarchs have not yet been designated. Of course, we also need the fundamental reform of Companies House. I hope that the Government will therefore bring forward further measures urgently. Labour will support them, as we have to date. We have called for such measures for many years, both to deal with illicit finance and to implement the findings of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report.
I press the Minister again on the seizure of assets. The European Commission has identified that it is considering repurposing such assets. On the legal thresholds for seizure and the potential use of assets, there was a decision today relating to the disposal of Chelsea. I understand that the proceeds will be used to help charities and organisations in Ukraine. Could we not go further with some of the other assets that we have seized and ensure that the money is used to support those who are suffering from the outcomes of Putin’s barbaric invasion?
What are we doing to support others around Europe, such as those who are part of our coalition and bearing a significant brunt from implementing the sanctions? I have just been travelling in Cyprus, which has rightly joined the efforts against Putin’s regime, but it has significant Russian influence in its tourist economy and financial sector. We must ensure that we work to support all those who are taking a hit as a result of being part of the coalition, as well as those in the western Balkans and elsewhere who are being targeted by Putin, and who may be destabilised.
We have heard in this debate, and in many others, about energy dependency and cutting off the decisive economic lever driving Putin’s war machine. Many of us will agree that over-reliance on Russian energy has been a Europe-wide failure that has prevented the continent from acting decisively in opposing Putin’s aggression. Radical and bold measures are needed to ensure energy security, bring down energy bills for working people across Europe, and release Putin’s grip. We need unity, too. Will the Minister say a bit about reports that Hungary may be blocking Europe-wide measures? What discussions have we had to enable us—EU and non-EU countries across Europe—to move as one? What support is being given to those countries whose energy systems will take the biggest hit, for entirely understandable historical and other reasons? Fundamentally, it is only by transitioning with haste to clean and renewable energy, and supporting our allies and partners, that we will end our reliance on Putin’s regime and, indeed, other autocratic and despotic regimes around the world.
The war in Ukraine has shown us the very worst of humanity, but also the very best—we have seen the response of the Ukrainian people and armed forces, and Britons offering up their homes. Putin seeks to recast Europe in a mould that fits his warped sense of nationhood, so that Russia and other despots can act with impunity and flagrant disregard for international law and human life. What happens will matter for decades to come—I am thinking not just of Russia’s activities, but the activities of other regimes around the world—so Putin cannot be allowed to succeed.
President Zelensky has iterated many times that Ukrainians are courageously fighting not just for their homeland and freedom, but on behalf of all Europeans—and, indeed, all those who love liberty, freedom and democracy. The war will shape our continent for decades. Our role, as it has been on so many occasions, is to stand for democracy, freedom and the rule of law. However, we must also complete the job of tackling malign influence in the UK, including that of kleptocrats and oligarchs. We must root out those who would use our City of London, and indeed our country, as a bolthole. We must also protect political and economic institutions, not just in this country but across the democratic world, from Putin’s insidious interference.
The Government can continue to rely on the Opposition’s support in going further and quicker, and being bolder, on sanctions and on the provision of military support and humanitarian relief. As has been pointed out in the debate, as this blood war continues and Putin becomes more frustrated, the UK and our allies will undoubtedly face more challenges. It is our duty to stand with unshakable conviction alongside our NATO allies and others in support of the heroic citizens of Ukraine, and in defence of all the values we hold dear.
I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions to the debate. In response to Stephen Doughty and to other Opposition Members, let me put on record that the Government recognise and value the unanimity of voice with which we speak on these issues. There is, of course, always the opportunity here to engage in partisan and party political attacks. That is a part of the job that we do, and there is nothing wrong with it, but there are also times when we come together and stand shoulder to shoulder in defence of values that we all share. We have seen in this afternoon’s debate a strong demonstration of this House speaking largely with one voice. Members are highlighting concerns, issues and problems when they arise, but are fundamentally standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, as is right.
The stoicism, courage and determination shown by President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people in the face of this onslaught is an inspiration to us all. If we are to realise a world where peaceful, sovereign nations are free to choose their path, and to prosper without fear of invasion, then Ukraine must win. We are working intensively with our allies and international partners to support our friends in Ukraine. The Prime Minister is in regular contact with President Zelensky. They spoke last Thursday and again on Sunday. The Prime Minister has spoken recently to the G7, European leaders, NATO and the UN Secretary-General. Last week, he was in Sweden and Finland to agree increased co-operation on security, and to discuss their application to join NATO. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary was in Germany to attend the G7—as was I, attending the G7 Development Ministers’ meeting. The Foreign Secretary was also at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meetings, where she galvanised work with allies to help win the battle for Ukraine. As mentioned earlier by the Minister for Defence Procurement, the Defence Secretary met his US counterpart at the Pentagon two weeks ago. They spoke about the joint UK-US efforts to support Ukraine, including through the supply of military aid and the co-ordination of donations from other partners. The Defence Secretary is in Madrid for similar discussions with the Spanish Defence Minister.
Luke Pollard asked about replenishing the equipment we have donated and, by extension, NATO countries flushing Soviet-era equipment through the system, and replacing it with NATO-standard equipment. As he was speaking, I discussed that quietly on the Government Front Bench with the Minister for Defence Procurement, who assures me that we are in active dialogue with the defence manufacturing industry on those issues. I am not able to go into more detail at the Dispatch Box at the moment, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that his concerns are being thought about by the Government. We are discussing those issues to ensure that we can defend ourselves and our partners, not just in the here and now, but in the future.
My right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood raised a number of incredibly important points about how we progress towards, hopefully, the end state of this conflict. I reassure him that we will be guided by the Ukrainian people on any negotiated settlement that comes about. We would not countenance their being forced into a conclusion to the conflict that they are not comfortable with. That would be counterproductive to the long-term peace and security of the continent, and for Ukraine. The UK is consistently pushing at the front of the pack in its support for Ukraine.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East mentioned relevance to the integrated review, and mentioned China’s posture on the conflict. He highlighted conversations between the Russian and Chinese leaders; because of those conversations, the integrated review rightly places great focus on the Indo-Pacific region. The integrated review highlighted Russia as a major state threat actor to the UK—to our interests and the security of our friends and allies. I understand the points made by my right hon. Friend and a number of other Members about ensuring the IR is fit for purpose, and we will of course always keep our defence and security thinking up to date in light of what is happening in Ukraine, but the IR remains a strong foundation on which to build our defence, security, diplomatic and development policy for the period set out in it.
A number of Members spoke about sanctions. They are an important part of our response, but they are not the complete picture. Geraint Davies highlighted the importance of sanctions; we will continue to push them forward in order to hamper Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund his aggression, and to isolate him and the cabal around him. I again put on record the Government’s recognition of the work done by Opposition Members in meetings on sanctions-related statutory instruments. I have always found their views to be thoughtful; they are sometimes critical, but always ultimately have a desire to ensure that our sanctions packages are robust and effective, and that any attempt to circumvent them is curtailed.
That being said, does the Minister accept that each day that the war goes on comes at an enormous economic and humanitarian cost to the world that dwarfs the investment put in to help Ukraine defend itself and push back the Russians? Is there not therefore a compelling military, humanitarian and economic case for investing more sooner, so that we get this war ended and won sooner?
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point about the need to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion, with Ukraine winning. I was struck by the point my hon. Friend Bob Seely made about rushing to a ceasefire that might counterproductive for the Ukrainian people and an asset to the Russians. We will of course do everything we can to help Ukraine defend itself and expel Russia from its territory, but I urge caution to those in the Chamber and those listening to the debate: this conflict needs to be won, and won properly, if we are to ensure that we do not revisit these conversations for months and perhaps years to come.
The hon. Member for Swansea West raised the issue of circumvention and the overseas territories. I assure him that the UK sanctions regime applies in all UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories, either through legislation in those jurisdictions, or through Orders in Council. We of course work with our international partners to ensure that we prevent, as far as we can, circumvention and evasion of the international sanctions.
Alyn Smith was absolutely right to raise a point about international co-operation. I have no doubt that the collective response to Russia’s invasion has been a huge disappointment to Vladimir Putin. Where he sought division and conflict, he sees instead solidarity, unity and resolve.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the Black sea, and that plays into a number of points that right hon. and hon. Members made about food security. I was in Romania at the beginning of this week. Several issues that were triggered by the conflict on the Black sea coast because of Russia’s attack towards Odesa were very much topics that I discussed directly with the Romanians and in other meetings, including the G7 Development Ministers meeting last week, when we talked about grain exports, food security and the ability to move the grain in ships through the Black sea. Sadly, I cannot give him the reassurance that he and others desire, but I assure him that that remains very much at the top of the agenda.
I think the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport made the point, as others have, that food insecurity is being used as a wider weapon of war. The message—this was reflected in his speech—that I would pass to countries around the world that are suffering from food price inflation, food shortage and food insecurity is that that is a direct result of Putin’s invasion, and is not, as Putin would have them believe, any kind of response to sanctions. There are no sanctions on food or food movements. The shortages are a direct result of his aggression and nothing else. That said, we will continue to work with our international friends to do what we can to find export routes for that grain from Ukraine, whether that is by sea or land.
My right hon. Friend Dr Fox spoke with huge clarity and great accuracy, sadly, about the warnings that were missed and the lessons that were not learned. I remember that, long before it was fashionable, he spoke and wrote about global insecurity, our need to defend ourselves against aggression and the importance of the UK thinking about these global trends. He still speaks with great authority on these issues. He made some important points on sanctions and said that we must learn the lessons of what is happening now to ensure that we do not see aggression such as this again.
A number of Members raised the issue of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war, including the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth. The evidence that we have seen is truly horrific and barbaric. Last month, the Foreign Secretary announced a £10 million fund that will help expert civil society organisations to work with victims of conflict-related violence. Earlier this month, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General visited Ukraine for talks with its prosecutor general as part of our support for Ukraine’s investigations into Russian atrocities. I assure the House that, in response to the barbaric tactics of Putin’s forces—from levelling residential buildings in cities such as Mariupol to the slaughter, rape and torture of innocent civilians in towns such as Bucha—we will work with international partners so that those who have perpetrated or ordered such atrocities will be held to account by the international community.
We have led efforts to refer Russia’s actions in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. Those efforts have now secured support from 42 other countries. We have committed to providing the Court with the resources necessary to secure evidence and conduct prosecutions, starting with a contribution of £1 million.
Several hon. Members highlighted one of the by-products of Russia’s aggression: Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO. I make no apology for repeating my point about the unanimity of voice on the Opposition Benches with respect to the UK’s support for NATO and our welcome for Finland and Sweden’s applications to join. We need to bolster NATO’s eastern flank. The Government welcome and support Finland and Sweden’s applications; I do not want to do too much crystal ball gazing about this House’s appetites, but I think it a relatively safe bet that whatever process it needs to take to facilitate their membership will happen quickly and with little disagreement.
Can the Minister say whether he has spoken to his Turkish counterparts about the objections that they have raised?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that whatever conversations are necessary to ensure that Finland and Sweden successfully join NATO will happen. We enjoy a very strong bilateral relationship with our NATO ally Turkey; we will listen to whatever concerns it has and do whatever we can to address them, but I have no doubt that the UK Government will take whatever actions are necessary to facilitate Finland and Sweden’s membership.
Hon. Members across the House have rightly raised the subject of Moldova, which is very much in our thinking. The partnership between the UK and Moldova is flourishing, thanks to the strong links between our peoples and Governments. Our bilateral agreement on strategic partnership, trade and co-operation provides a solid basis for developing that relationship. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that we will work to help Moldova to protect itself; indeed, at bilateral meetings in Romania this week I discussed our desire to support its self-defence.
Wider humanitarian need is a subject that concerns us all. Almost a third of Ukrainians have fled Putin’s invading forces, and nearly 16 million are in need of humanitarian support. The UK will continue to provide humanitarian support to people in and outside Ukraine, and to countries that are supporting Ukrainian refugees. Hon. Members raised the situation with regard to the sale of Chelsea football club; we will ensure that any receipts from that sale are used to provide humanitarian support for those who need it, in Ukraine and more broadly.
I can assure the House that my hon. Friends in the Home Office have taken particular note of the individual cases that were raised. Hon. Members will understand if I do not speculate too much on those cases, but I assure them that notes were taken. If they feel the need to provide details that they were not able to furnish in the House—I understand that it is not always right to go into too much detail in what is a public forum—the Home Office will be more than willing to listen to their concerns.
The invasion of Ukraine helps to illustrate the power of free nations and the weakness of autocrats. Russia’s assault on Ukraine was unprovoked, premeditated and barbaric, and as long as Russia continues to pursue its military objectives, it cannot be seen as willing to negotiate in good faith. While this is the case, the UK and our partners will continue to provide military, economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine, apply sanctions and increase international pressure on Russia. The UK and the international community stand against this naked aggression, and for freedom, democracy and the sovereignty of nations around the world. The UK and our allies will support Ukraine’s effort to secure a settlement that delivers sustainable peace and security.
Putin has used his iron grip on Russian television to present to his people an alternative reality and fundamental lies about the motivations for his invasion, but the truth and the facts are clear. Putin thought that the Ukrainian people would roll over. They did not. Putin thought that we and the international community would lack the resolve to face him down. We did not. Putin has united Europe and NATO, and he has reinforced our shared resolve that Ukraine and the Ukrainians must win. With our continued support, I have certainty that they will.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered Ukraine.