Defence – in the House of Commons on 18th July 2022.
What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression.
There have been multiple reports of Ukrainian resistance and partisan activity in areas under Russian control, particularly in the south of the country. This has likely forced Russia to dedicate additional security personnel to areas it has occupied. Russia has deported 2.5 million people from Ukraine to Russia through filtration camps, and it has also likely detained and interrogated thousands of Ukrainians to try to quell the resistance. Such action will not deter Ukraine, and it will not deter the United Kingdom from continuing to support Ukraine in her fight.
Following the Prime Minister’s generous offer to train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers here in the UK, I was delighted to see the first cohort arrive earlier this month. How does the Defence Secretary assess the success of this programme so far, and how does he see it evolving over the summer?
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has visited the sites, but I am delighted to have visited one of the sites twice. The first course completes this week, and it has been a learning experience for both sides. We will continue to invest in improving the course, and I am delighted that the international community has now joined us. The Dutch have declared that they will send people to support the training, and the New Zealanders were already here to help the Ukrainians on 105-mm artillery. We are talking with a number of other international partners about delivery.
It is amazing to see men aged from 18 to 50—some women will soon be part of the deployment—who sometimes got on the plane in tracksuits, being trained in basic battlefield skills, the law of armed conflict and so on. It is quite sobering that they will go from here to a war zone, where many of them will tragically make the ultimate sacrifice.
Putin obviously thought the west would fracture at the beginning, and it is good that the west has not fractured so far. It is also good that lots of different countries in the western alliance are providing military hardware, some of it lethal, to Ukraine, but one problem Ukraine is facing is that each country has procured something slightly different, and Ukrainian personnel have to be trained in how to use each of those different pieces of equipment. If we really are to stay in this for the long haul, will we not have to start developing military equipment that we can all give together so that Ukrainian personnel need only one training session rather than 34?
Yes. One strength of NATO is its adherence to standards across all the nations in it. At the moment, Ukraine is transiting from using Soviet era calibres and so on to using western weapons systems, which is why it is important to help train Ukraine in their application; they are not one in, one out—they need to be used differently. Having helped establish the international donor co-ordination centre near Stuttgart, Britain has added training into that, so we co-ordinate that properly. Most countries use that and engage, so that this is co-ordinated: we do not double book and we get this in the right place. I urge any other international partner who is thinking of offering training to co-ordinate through that system.
The Ukrainians are putting up a valiant and skilful resistance against Russian aggression, but we understand that they are currently losing about 100 men a day, with many more wounded. Given that rate of casualties in modern warfare, and given that the integrated review was published long before the Russian invasion, does the Secretary of State agree with me and many other Conservative colleagues that the supposed 10,000 cuts in the Army, which the new Chief of the General Staff has called “perverse”, should not only be reviewed, but completely reversed?
As we can see from our Conservative colleagues, defence spending is a key priority in the leadership race, and I recommend to all leadership candidates who are wanting votes from Conservative Members that they recognise its importance. The threat has changed and it warrants more spending on defence, because the world is more dangerous and anxious than it was—not only when we had the defence Command Paper but before Putin invaded.
Will the Secretary of State today give an undertaking that the level of defence support to Ukraine in the next six months, both in value and in volume, will be as much as it was in the previous six months?
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I will not categorise it in six-month blocks. As long as I am Defence Secretary, we will continue with the investment and the support to Ukraine, be it in hardware or software. Will it continue through third parties? Yes, it will. Obviously, I cannot speak for the next Prime Minister, but I can say that all the candidates have clearly made a statement to such effect. It is important that we do not give up on this and we carry on, whoever comes in the next Government and after the next election. Putin’s one calculation is that we will all get bored and go back to doing other things. That is how Russia wins, but we are not going to let it win; we must stick at it, for as long as it takes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I, too, say that no matter what might happen in the reshuffle following the summer, the Ministry of Defence has worked co-operatively, particularly on Ukraine, during these past months? Whoever takes over or stays in place, it is to the benefit of all of us that that continues, whoever the new Prime Minister might be. Who knows, that job in Brussels might be what is waiting for the Secretary of State later this year. The situation in south and eastern Ukraine is getting much worse. Indeed, just in the past few days the Russian Defence Minister Shoigu has ordered an intensification of attacks on those parts of the country. With winter just around the corner, that is the point where there is the potential for allies to be picked off, although I do not lay that accusation at the Secretary of State’s door. Will he ensure that the training being given by the UK keeps pace with what is needed for that intensification and helps get the armed forces of Ukraine through the winter?
Let me thank the hon. Gentleman as well. I have never doubted the desire of anyone in this House to keep this country safe, no matter whether they are SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat or anyone else, and I pay tribute to his constructive manner. We are learning as we go on the training. We started with a pledge to 10,000. As I said this morning in a meeting, I would be perfectly understanding if it ended up being 20,000 or if the Ukrainians sought to switch it at some stage to do something else. The casualties figures were given earlier by the former Armed Forces Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, and they have dropped for now, which is a good thing. Russia is facing the consequences of the HIMARS–high mobility artillery rocket system—and I can confirm to the House that our guided multiple launch rocket system is now in country and active, delivering the same munitions. That is having a significant effect on the Russians’ ability to prosecute the war. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the key is to get through the summer and make sure Ukraine is ready for the winter, and then we can continue to start pushing back Russia’s aggressive invasion.