The UK has committed £1.3 billion for military operations and aid to Ukraine. As part of the delivery of lethal and non-lethal aid in support of Ukraine’s military, we are liaising with Ukraine’s armed forces to meet their operational requirements. Most recently, we have announced that we will be providing highly capable multiple launch rocket systems, which will provide Ukraine with a significant boost in capability.
I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Iryna, a young member of the European Solidarity party in Ukraine, and some of the stories she told me of the frontline in Ukraine were shocking. Young members of Iryna’s party, like many brave people, have been on the frontline in this fight—some kidnapped, and some killed. Could my right hon. Friend spell out what steps his Department is taking to support all young people in the Ukrainian army during this terrible conflict?
My hon. Friend is right: it is not just about weapons; it is often about non-lethal aid, such as medicines and body armour. The UK has sent over 200,000 pieces of non-lethal aid, including body armour, range finders and medical equipment, and we will continue to do so. This is also about making sure that we look at the training being given to those young people, because if they are to have the best chance of survival on the frontline, we need to make sure that they are not only properly equipped, but properly trained.
I had the honour to meet a number of Ukrainian officials recently, and the Secretary of State is right that they are very pleased about our commitment of military hardware. He is aware, of course, that they continue to ask for more. Could I ask him what consideration he has given to or discussions he has had with allies about providing air capability?
My hon. Friend is right that that is often the request we receive from the Ukrainians and the international community, and he will remember the discussion about MiG-29s from Poland a few months ago. Air is a requirement of the Ukrainians, and we have had a number of discussions at the donor conferences, which I first convened a few months ago. One or two nations have looked at providing helicopters to Ukraine, and I think they may do so at some stage. Of course, the difference between that type of weapons system and another is the amount of training. That restricts countries such as the United Kingdom, because our planes are obviously very different. Therefore, wherever we can support the provision of air from countries holding Soviet stock, we will do our best to do so.
On behalf of Huddersfield and Colne Valley’s Ukrainian community, can I thank the Secretary of State for Defence for the magnificent support the UK has been giving to the Ukrainian military forces fighting such a valiant fight against the oppressive Russian forces? He mentioned support with the multiple launch rocket systems and the importance of training, but how is he balancing the timescales of that with supplying the existing Soviet-era weaponry with the ammunition it needs for the fight today and this week?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of the next step and, indeed, the requirement for more artillery. The key here is to make sure that the new artillery, which is obviously designed for NATO use using NATO ammunition, is applied and used in a NATO way, rather than just repeating the way Soviets would have used artillery because that way we would run out of ammunition pretty quickly. That is why we will be sending MLRS, and we are also sending self-propelled 155s from a donor—not UK AS 90s, but others—to Ukraine to assist in giving it such deep fires capability. In tandem, we are helping alongside other countries, especially in the Baltic, in training those people to put that type of deep fires into effect.
With reports that medical services in Mariupol are likely already near collapse and the potential for a major cholera outbreak, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with colleagues across Government to explore urgent medical relief that could be deployed by the MOD?
The hon. Member makes the very important point that the consequences of Russian brutality, destruction of infrastructure and so on are the second-order effects such as cholera infections, starvation and, indeed, other problems. That is why, when we have our donor conferences, we make sure we talk about non-lethal aid, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and others talk to their ministerial counterparts about how we can help in those areas. The MOD itself cannot directly intervene in Mariupol, but where we have knowledge and can co-ordinate the treatment of people outside Ukraine—through lift, moving them to hospitals in other countries using our aircraft—we will do that, and I have already spoken to a number of our Black sea colleagues to see what we can do in places such as Mariupol.
At business questions, I raised the issue of the destruction of a depot in Dnipro that was storing non-lethal supplies, including donations of medicine collected by Clare-Anna Mitchell and other constituents from Gower in Swansea. The network organising these supplies is Never Surrender; it is an efficient and effective deliverer but wants to work with the Government to make sure it can continue to do this good work. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Never Surrender to discuss how we can arrange this?
Yes, and will the hon. Lady pass on our thanks to Never Surrender and her constituents? I visited Ukraine last week and saw that this is not as easy as people think: it is not only about donating, but also about the hours and hours of queues at the border to then get through into the country to then deliver that aid, for which we are very grateful.
As the hon. Lady points out, there is the indiscriminate —sometimes deliberate—striking by Russia of targets like medical support or, as I saw, shopping centres, so that it can put people out of jobs and put pressure on the economy; that is the type of adversary we are dealing with. I will be happy to meet with the hon. Lady, but if she wants an earlier meeting I suggest one of my Ministers, as this week and next week there will obviously be NATO meetings.
We fully support all the Government’s efforts to properly arm the Ukrainians with the equipment and weapons they need, but the Secretary of State has alluded a couple of times to the fact that there is also the corresponding challenge of training. Will he say a little more about his discussions with colleagues and allies about maximising opportunities for Ukrainian personnel to be able to use the equipment and armoury that most suits their needs?
First and foremost, it is incredibly important that we get the right training to those serving in the Ukrainian armed forces. One of the tragic characteristics of the Russian armed forces is that they simply shove into one end of a meat grinder their own forces, who then—mainly men—come out and are killed en masse. It is hard to have sympathy for that, but nevertheless we are not going to be like that; we must make sure the Ukrainians are trained in using the equipment we give them and we do not just hand it over and let them face the consequences. We will continue to work on that; I will brief the hon. Gentleman’s Front-Bench spokesman soon on these topics and any further steps. The United Kingdom and a number of our European colleagues are keen to do more on training; when I have more news, I will announce that to the House.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood.
If all NATO countries had provided the same scale of support to Ukraine as Britain has there is every possibility that Russian forces would now have been pushed out of mainland Ukraine. Instead, Russia is consolidating in the Donbas and there is every chance it may now be turning its sights to Odesa. If that port falls, Ukraine will be landlocked, further impacting on the cost of living crisis here and across Europe because critical grain exports cannot get out.
Is it time for the UK to lead a coalition of willing NATO allies to secure a United Nations General Assembly-approved humanitarian zone around the port and territorial waters, with neighbouring international waters policed by an international maritime force? That would ensure that the breadbasket of Europe and beyond is able to function and remain part of Ukraine.
My right hon. Friend makes the valid and important suggestion that we must do what we can to get the grain out of Ukraine. It is not just an energy crisis that people face; it will be a food crisis if the Russians are continually to both steal and blockade that grain.
However, I am afraid, with due respect to my right hon. Friend, that securing the Black sea and the UN mandate to do that are definitely easier said than done. I continue to speak to a number of Black sea partners and other members to see what else we can do to explore getting that grain out both overland and at sea. While Russia has talked the talk, it has done the complete opposite when it comes to providing assurances on any humanitarian corridor, especially on the land, as we saw at Mariupol, and now obviously at sea.
We come now to Question 6; I am intrigued as to why Question 13 is not grouped with it.