I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of Russia’s grand strategy.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate again, because I secured a debate last year about the same topic. Then, I outlined Putin’s global policy and I set out how Russia was threatening Ukraine as part of a campaign of blackmail and hybrid warfare directed at the Americans and NATO. I explained how Russia’s grand strategy was being conducted across the whole spectrum of foreign, defence, security and domestic policy. I discussed Russia’s warlike strategic headquarters at its national defence management centre at the old Russian army staff HQ on the Moskva river. Today, I make the same fundamental point as I made last year: Russia has a grand strategy, but we do not.
The idea of global Britain demands a global strategy, which means grand strategy and must be a whole-of-Government enterprise. It is fair to ask, “If Russia has an effective grand strategy, why has it not done better in Ukraine?”, because when the war started, all the assessments predicted that the Russian army would be much more successful. The answer is simple: Putin’s decision bypassed the usual strategy process and went against the views of his general staff.
This is about the difference between policy and strategy. Policy is the aim—the political objective—and strategy is the interactive process by which that policy objective might be achieved. Putin was driven by his obsession to subjugate Ukraine. He overrode the general staff’s strategy process and disregarded the limitations of the army. It could be considered odd that he did that, but he had used lethal force before with great success. In Georgia and Crimea, surprise and speed brought him a quick victory, although on those occasions the general staff were behind him; in Ukraine, they advised him against going to war.
Of course, Putin is not the first to override his general staff in pursuit of an obsessive policy; the same was Hitler’s undoing. It seemed, until a week ago, that it might also be Putin’s, but he has learned from his mistake and has rediscovered strategy. Last week’s appointment of the chief of the general staff Gerasimov as the overall commander brings the general staff back into the planning and command chain. Other commanders, warlords and private military companies will be brought under his authority. As Gerasimov gets a grip of things, I am afraid that we must expect to see Russian performance in Ukraine improve considerably.
Russia is not giving up, so Ukraine’s survival will now depend on western military and economic help being delivered a lot more rapidly and in far greater quantities than it has been so far. Unfortunately, the approach of the UK’s current foreign and defence integrated review refresh process is underpinned by an explicit but premature assumption that Russia will lose in Ukraine and will then prioritise investment in maritime, particularly sub-surface, as well as space, cyber and special forces. It argues that Russia will not invest meaningfully in land forces, but our eastern European and Nordic colleagues do not share that view.
The integrated review refresh risks over-optimism that would allow us to tilt our posture and capabilities away from the most immediate threat in Europe and, instead, towards long-term gambles on technological superiority and a focus on the Indo-Pacific. AUKUS and the tilt to the Indo-Pacific are certainly policies, but they are not backed up by any strategy process to determine if they can be achieved with the limited ways and means that we have available.
The policies of global Britain and AUKUS are admirable and, conveniently, cheaper, but they are not enough on their own. Painful though it is, we need much stronger land power as well. We must still gear up to defend the UK and to deter a war in Europe against a peer enemy. Of course, Russia will invest in sub-surface, space and cyber, but it shows no sign of dispensing with large-scale ground forces, heavy armour and artillery. If anything, the Ukraine war has convinced the general staff of the need to reinvest in their army.
The Nordics and the Poles know that Russia is a land animal. Strategic missile submarines excepted, Russia sees its navy as flank protection for a land war and its air force as the third dimension of that land war. Despite evident lack of progress and perceived weaknesses, Putin shows no signs of intending to stop, of scaling down his demands, of looking for a way out or of making serious proposals for peace. In fact, Ukraine is expecting a new all-out assault in the spring or even sooner.
In the debate last year, I made the point that I felt that we were already in a cold war, which some disagreed with. Does my hon. Friend think that our European allies have changed their position on that or is there still a resistance to accepting that a new cold war is well and truly under way?
I think that we are in denial of not just a cold war, but a hot war. The hot war that is being conducted in Ukraine is laced with rhetoric and invective about NATO being the threat and about the United States of America provoking that threat, so NATO and the United States must somehow be defeated in this war. If we do not understand that Putin is now conducting a hybrid and political war against Europe and NATO, backed by a hot war in Ukraine, we are not yet living in the real world.
If the process of reinvigorating Russia’s armed forces and preparing for a further assault on Ukraine is not derailed and Putin is successful, by 2024, the west will face a more formidable Russia that believes that it can establish its place in a future world order by force of arms. This is a long-term strategic challenge that requires a long-term strategic response from the UK Government, all European Governments and NATO.
Putin’s strategy depends on time. We all admire Ukraine’s bravery and agility, which have left the Russian army in something of a quagmire, but it would be an epic tragedy if we now allowed Russia the time to mass its forces, so that its brutal war of attrition could become overwhelming. It is crucial for the west to increase the tempo of its supply of weapons systems to Ukraine, so that Ukraine, rather than Russia, can be first to develop the mobile formations necessary to break the current battlefield deadlock. The reality is that Russia’s whole grand strategy is on a knife edge and the next few months could be crucial.
We should not be deterred by Putin’s so-called red lines. In war and crisis, red lines are political and flexible. We proved that when Russia’s build-up to the invasion last year crossed several NATO red lines, and we did nothing. Likewise, Putin’s incorporation of Donbas into the Russian Federation was intended to set up a red line of Russian territory being attacked, but when Ukraine attacked, it turned out there was no red line.
On the point about how we in the west might have set some red lines, I thought at the time that the west was not being firm enough in the red lines it was laying down. What we saw in mid-February was the US President and others talking only about sanctions, and how there would be nothing more than sanctions as a consequence of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I regard the United States as our closest and most important ally and personally I love the United States of America, but on its response to this crisis—it has been voluminous compared with that of the rest of Europe and a lot of money has been devoted to it—its signalling has been very weak. What matters in wartime is not what red lines we set; it is what we actually do.
I am afraid our own Government made a terrible error when we set a red line about the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013, and then what did we do? We backed off when chemical weapons were used. The effect of that has been to weaken the influence of the United States, the United Kingdom and the whole of the west in the countries that really count in this war as potential allies or neutral states—for example, the Gulf states, which despaired of our lack of resolve in that conflict. Red lines are less important than what we do, and what we must now do is send far more matériel into this conflict to support the Ukrainians, so that the Russians are deterred or fail to achieve what they attempt to do.
On my hon. Friend’s point about doing as opposed to just saying, with which I entirely agree, does he agree with me that part of this is that the German Government should now release their legal hold over the export of Leopard tanks from European allies to the Ukrainians to allow them a chance to counter-attack?
I certainly think that is the case, and I think the constant fear of our escalating the conflict has been misplaced because Putin has escalated the conflict anyway. There is nothing we can do to prevent him from escalating. In fact, the signal we have sent by being too timid and too slow in sending support into Ukraine has encouraged him to escalate. There is no deterrence in timidity, which is what too many western Governments have shown.
To drag together that point with something my hon. Friend said earlier, surely such timidity also follows failure to have the capability to be more assertive. In other words, now that their defence budgets have been stripped out, western Governments are worried that any attempt to try to show that they are more belligerent, shall we say, exposes the very fact that most of them are simply incapable of delivering any of that belligerence at all.
I entirely agree with that, but in more direct response to my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, the timidity of the Germans not just to release their own tanks, but to allow the tanks of other nations, such as Poland, to be sent into the conflict to support the Ukrainians sends more than a signal of timidity—it is appeasement. I am sorry to use that word, which I know has a loaded connotation, but it is appeasement. However, we must congratulate Germany on having come a very long way from the days of Gazprom being chaired by a former Chancellor of Germany and Angela Merkel making Germany dependent on Russian gas as a matter of policy. We have come a long way, and we should welcome the fact that Germany has committed to spend €100 billion more on defence, but we are still yet to see what that really means, and it means nothing if Germany is not prepared to help send heavy armour into this conflict.
If I may say so, we have committed to send 12 tanks, but why not 120 tanks? What are our tanks for? Are they there to sit around on Salisbury plain and in Germany to decorate the British Army’s capability, or should we tool them up and get them into this conflict so that the taxpayer can actually get value for money out of this investment? If necessary, we can launch an urgent operational requirement to acquire some more tanks to replace those that we will probably not ever see again in our own country.
I will, but I do want to press on, and I will probably be overrunning my time very shortly.
I will try not to interrupt my hon. Friend for too long. Does he agree with me that the timidity on the part of the UK is exampled by the fact that when I asked Zelensky how many air defence missile systems he had, he said 10%—that is all? When I got back to the UK, there was an email from a well-known Cabinet Minister saying, “Be very quiet about this, because we do not want to stress the fact that we are giving him so few.” Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a prime example of such timidity?
We should not trash what the Government have done, which is considerable, but we should point out that the failure to do much more—much more—is going to cost us in the short term, the medium term and the long term. We must also dispense with the false hopes that some kind of regime change would be likely to reverse the Russian urge to control its near abroad, or to use its army as a tool for suppressing dissent and keeping the country together.
My conclusion is that if the UK is going to help lead the NATO alliance, which protects Europe against Russia, we need meaningful land power to make an effective contribution, supported by mobile air cover and a Navy to deliver the Army to where the action is. For that, we need a new mobilisation system to come out of the integrated review refresh, and a procurement system to back it up that looks much more like a system of urgent operational requirements, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford suggested during the statement earlier this week, than the absurdly slow and costly peacetime procurement process that we somehow insist we have to maintain, despite its delivering—or not delivering at all—equipment, at vast expense, with limited capability.
This demands a drastic—even revolutionary—change of UK grand strategy, which I suppose is why we seem to avoid having one and, I suspect, why the IRR is stuck where it is. In the long term, how do we find a way to stop burgeoning state-backed health and welfare systems crowding out defence and security spending? In the short term, Whitehall in general and the Ministry of Defence in particular must accept that, if we continue to spend defence money as we have done over the last 20 years, we really are lost. We need a complete revolution in defence acquisition and procurement, making it look and feel much more like a continuing series of urgent operational requirements—a system based on wartime emergency procedures that, historically, delivered much cheaper and more timely equipment. We need to regain the ability to adapt our force structure, kit and tactics to outmatch an active enemy, just as the Ukrainians have done and the Poles are doing.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am drawing to a close. There are growing pockets of awareness and belief in the value of strategy in the civil service, the diplomatic service, the security services, the National Security Council, the MOD, the Foreign Office and No. 10, but Whitehall as a whole is still miles away from the kind of capability and capacity for constant strategic analysis and assessment that would provide Ministers with the right questions and might lead them to the right answer. Why do we not have a Minister in the Cabinet Office for national security who is responsible for answering on grand strategy? Without the right apparatus and the right culture in government, we will always be behind the curve of events, as we seem to be now, and mis-appreciating what is really happening. We need to find the right answers to the new and evolving threats the UK and the whole of the free world must confront before it is too late.
I agree with nearly everything Sir Bernard Jenkin has just said, but I am going to make a very different speech, not to disagree with him, but just to put a different tone to this. I have believed for a long time that it is essential to Russia’s grand strategy that it must expand: we knew that in 2008 and again in 2014, and, frankly, we should all have been thoroughly aware of it long before
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to get more materiel to our friends and allies in Ukraine. I do not, however, think that is just a matter for the UK and I worry that sometimes the UK provides, let us say, 12 tanks and Spain provides two and France provides three and none of them work together. The time has come for us all to sit down as allies and ask how we are going to ramp up production of perhaps one or two brands of tank so we are deliberately and solely constructing them to get them to Ukraine as fast as possible. People have been arguing for that for at least a year now, so it is a shame we have not got on with it.
The hon. Gentleman is right because logistically that would make it far easier for the Ukrainians. Leopard is the obvious choice because it is used by so many other allied countries, but German export law currently prevents that unless the Germans waive it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that they should do that to allow the Ukrainians the Leopards they need?
Yes. I do not do this very often but I was saying “Hear, hear” earlier in agreement with a point the right hon. Gentleman made. I am reluctant to be too down on the Germans, however, for the simple reason that they have had to make a very dramatic and sudden about-turn in their whole understanding of their defence policy, but they do have to get over this hurdle. Many other countries in Europe want them to and are eagerly pressing them to, and the time is long past for them to do so. Perhaps we need a European security treaty to deal with some of these issues and get that materiel to where it is most needed and in a way that it can be readily used.
I want to talk about something slightly different: how we can help Ukraine rebuild. So far, along with many other countries in Europe, we have frozen but not seized assets. On
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly was in Washington in the first week of December, and at that time 42% of residential properties in the whole of Ukraine—not just on the frontline—were uninhabitable. That serves to put some flesh on the hon. Gentleman’s point.
That is very helpful and when the Foreign Affairs Committee was in Ukraine last February, just before the second round of the invasion, we were visiting villages which were being reconstructed, and we were wondering whether that was a wise policy, but of course people need homes. So there is a very significant need: Ukraine estimates Russia has caused $1 trillion-worth of damage since the start of the full-scale invasion last February and that is not allowing for the costs in Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Under international law Russia will owe Ukraine reparations at the end of this war—I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that—as was recognised by a United Nations General Assembly resolution passed on
The UK has so far provided £3.8 billion in aid to Ukraine in the first eight months since the second invasion, but the central bank reserves we are holding in the UK are six times that amount. It is time that the UK Government passed legislation to repurpose frozen Russian state assets so they can be used to aid Ukraine during and after the war; if the Government do not do that, perhaps some Back-Bench MP will bring forward a ten-minute rule Bill on
On the whole I do not like Governments seizing other people’s assets; on the whole it is a bad idea, but there are situations in which we choose to do it, such as when the assets are clearly unexplained wealth that has almost certainly come from corruption. In essence, the UK can find money from three places to support Ukraine. It can come from taxpayers, but taxpayers have funded £3.8 billion already so there is not much spare cash in the bank so far as I can see. Secondly, it can come from frozen oligarch funds. There is a difficulty with that as those are the assets of private individuals and seizing them is likely to be a costly and drawn-out process. The legislation necessary to seize such private assets would necessarily involve a court supervision—because we believe in the rule of law—in order to protect the oligarchs’ rights to their property under the European convention on human rights, or for that matter under normal British law. I am sure these cases will also be defended by some of the richest, most legally savvy and deep-pocketed people on the planet, and the resources available to the Government agencies tasked with confiscating those assets would inevitably be very modest. So I think both those routes are pretty much exhausted at present.
On the other hand, seizing state assets of the Russian Federation will be quick. It is a political decision and there will be no lengthy lawsuits. Unlike oligarch assets, these are state assets, specifically the £26 billion of central bank reserves clearly belonging to Russia, a nation deemed an aggressor by the United Nations, that has been ordered by the UN General Assembly and separately by the International Court of Justice to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, and which has failed to do so and continues its aggression against Ukraine. These funds could be made immediately available to Ukraine should we adopt the legislation to do so. Canada already has similar legislation in place.
The hon. Gentleman’s case would be considerably enhanced if international courts were to find the Russian military guilty of war crimes during their conduct of this so-called special military operation. Does he agree that that would provide even further justification for what he is arguing?
It would undoubtedly add a fifth leg to a four-legged stool, but a four-legged stool is strong enough. I do not want to have to wait for that moment to be able to do this, because Ukraine needs the money now to be able to put food on the table and proceed.
There are two further issues that I ought to knock off in case the Minister says, “Oh, well, yes, this is a very good idea but it is terribly difficult to do, you know, and I can’t think that we can possibly get round to doing it”, which is what Ministers nearly always say. That was not meant to be an impersonation of the Minister currently on the Government Front Bench; it was an impersonation of any normal Minister when they get to the Dispatch Box and hear somebody proposing something difficult or courageous.
First, there is sovereign immunity. State assets are almost always protected from seizure by the concept of sovereign immunity. However, there have been exceptions, such as to satisfy damages awarded by international courts and arbitral tribunal. I would argue that Russia’s continuing refusal to comply with international human rights law—and this goes to the point just made—by attacking civilian housing and infrastructure, and its wilful refusal to follow orders of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations General Assembly are ample grounds for creating such an exemption.
There is also a point about retaliation. Some argue that if we seize their assets, they may seize ours. To be honest, I think it is pretty likely that the vast majority of British assets in the Russian Federation have already been lost, written off or expropriated by the Russian Government.
Finally, some say that countries may choose not to keep their reserves in the United Kingdom if they believe that they can be seized. However, if we severely restrict when reserves can be seized, that concern is minimised. Furthermore, if we acted in concert with our allies to seize the reserves, as we did when we froze them, we could create a powerful disincentive for states to engage in unlawful acts of aggression. I think we should do that. The reserves of an aggressor would never be safe, as there would be no country with a stable currency to protect them.
In the end, we want to ensure that a war of aggression, which has never been formally declared to be a war crime in itself, is seen to be a way in which an aggressor loses their assets. I urge the Government to consider that process carefully so that we can ensure that Russian state assets go to Ukraine as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Chris Bryant, who made some powerful points. Here we are again debating Russia’s strategy. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin, who held a similar debate a year ago. It was a year ago that I and, indeed, others in the Chamber predicted that Russia would invade Ukraine. Few believed us. That reflects a poor understanding of Russia as well as of Russia’s strategy and what Russia stands for.
When we play the board game Risk, we quickly appreciate how difficult it is to defence the largest continent. It covers 11 time zones and, over millenniums, its sheer size has made it vulnerable to invasion. That has come from the Vikings, the Mongols, the Teutonic order, the Polish, the Lithuanians, the Napoleonic French and twice in one century from the Germans. Russia eventually appreciated the value of choosing a strong, central, authoritarian leader to hold its disparate principalities together, backed by the Orthodox Church, pursing a policy of expansionism. Simply put, Ivan the Terrible pushed east, Peter the Great pushed north, Catherine the Great pushed south and, of course, Stalin pushed west. That is the Russian mindset: if we are not expanding, we will be attacked.
After world war two, perhaps we thought that things might be different. It took the US diplomat George Kennan’s observations of Joseph Stalin’s re-election speech —there were no other candidates—to make Washington realise that America’s wartime ally was going back to its old ways. His “Long Telegram”, as it became known, formed the cornerstone of America’s post-war grand strategy called “containment”, which eventually won the cold war.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we naively hoped that Russia would perhaps again join the international fold. Sixteen years later, when President Putin addressed the Munich security conference in 2007, we did not require another long telegram to interpret his clear intentions: Russia was resorting to type. The west ignored his blatant warnings and, only a year later, Putin began redrawing the map of eastern Europe, beginning with Georgia.
I agree with the right hon. Member that Russia uses its size to bully and intimidate other countries. He may recall that, last May, Dmitry Kiselyov used his Sunday night show to talk about how Russia has the capability to
“plunge Britain to the depths of the ocean”.
With Russia’s approach of singling out the UK, does he agree that we must stand strong with our NATO allies, given that collectively we have so much more strength as 32 NATO countries?
I am grateful for that intervention, which takes us back to the first speech. It is clear that we continue to be spooked by the rhetoric from Russia. It requires political will to stand up, rekindle that cold war statecraft and look our adversary in the eye, conscious of the escalatory ladder. Today, I ask: when will the penny drop?
Today’s conflict is not just about Ukraine. Our post-world war two global order was built on the pursuance of democracy, accountability, freedom and the rule of international law. That has never looked as fragile as it does today as both Russia and China have openly broken away from those objectives, not just pioneering a more authoritarian approach to governance but encouraging other countries to follow their lead.
We should finally accept that the elites in both Russia and China want to see not just America but the west weakened. So it is welcome news that we finally see some serious NATO hardware heading Ukraine’s way, with greater resolve to stand up to Russia. Once again, I welcome the UK leading in that, ever pushing the envelope of acceptable international support for Ukraine, but as I hope the debate illustrates, we continue to limit ourselves to tactics and military assistance. We do not think enough about strategy.
The conflict is not likely to end any time soon. Russia’s ability to endure hardship is far greater than ours in the west. Putin wants to drag the conflict out, so I offer this strategy to help conclude the conflict in 2023. First, let us agree the mission. The ramifications go well beyond Ukraine. Let us all agree what the mission is and what success actually looks like.
Secondly, as I have said so many times in the Chamber, let us secure UN safe haven status for the port of Odessa so that all, not just one fifth, of those vital grain ships can reach international markets and lower the cost of living everywhere. Thirdly, let us establish a major Ukrainian armaments factory in eastern Poland. Gifting kit is absolutely the right call now, but it is not sustainable in the long term, so we should let Ukraine develop its own equipment, whether it be the Leopard or anything else, in eastern Poland.
Fourthly, let us list the Russian state-sponsored Wagner militia group as a terrorist organisation. Fifthly, let us directly sanction President Putin. He is responsible for the war, so let us freeze his personal assets as well. Sixthly, as Ukraine will not be joining NATO any time soon, let us invite Ukraine to join the joint expeditionary force, which is the critical security umbrella that will help deter Russia from attempting to invade in the future.
Finally, to further leverage our leadership and support for Ukraine, let us appoint a senior UK-Ukraine envoy, answerable directly to the Prime Minister, who would help co-ordinate Whitehall support and align our efforts with those of our international allies. The first duty would be to organise a major Marshall plan conference in the spring and begin post-conflict assistance planning. Those are seven strategic objectives to help put the fire out and stand up to Russia.
I will conclude by shining a rather sad light on our own defence posture. We are heading into another cold war, more dangerous than the last, and it saddens me to say this, but we are ill-prepared militarily for the threats coming over the horizon, particularly when it comes to the British Army. Three critical components that contribute to the quantity and quality of our land warfare capability and more widely to the full spectrum of armed warfare are the tank, the armoured fighting vehicle and the recce vehicle.
Our tank, the Challenger 2, was introduced 25 years ago. Back then, we had over 900; today, we have cut our main battle tank numbers to just 148. Those will now finally gain an upgrade, but that will not be complete until 2030. Our armoured fighting vehicle, the Warrior, was introduced 30 years ago—a competent but now dated workhorse, able to carry infantry and protect them with its 30 mm Rarden cannon. All 700 are being axed and replaced by the Boxer—a wheeled, not tracked, vehicle—and we are choosing the variant that has no turret, so no serious firepower. Those will not be completely introduced until 2032. Finally, there is our recce vehicle, the Scimitar. That was introduced over 50 years ago. It should have been replaced by the Ajax three years ago, but a litany of procurement problems means that it is still unclear when that will happen.
I make it clear that as the European security picture deteriorates, all this is frankly a mess—a dog’s dinner. No wonder the head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, broke ranks last week to say that this is all unacceptable. Our Army is now too small and it is using equipment that is already obsolete. The new integrated review must address the sad state of our land forces and their combat effectiveness. We need a bigger defence budget or we will learn the hard way how our economy is impacted by the failure to invest in and utilise our hard power.
To conclude, my message to the House today is: let us look beyond Ukraine. International storm clouds are gathering once again and on our current trajectory the world is set to splinter into two dangerously competing spheres of ideological interest. What Russia is attempting to do here is just the beginning. There is a worrying absence of international leadership—of strategy—as to how we collectively respond. This is no time for strategic ambiguity and no time for quibbling about our defence posture. Containment, once again, is required. Our actions on the international stage in the past earned us a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Eight decades later, how the world has changed! Let us show that we deserve to keep that seat at the top table and rekindle our political will.
Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine on
Today marks the 330th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Over the course of less than one year, the lives of Ukrainian people have been entirely transformed. What Russia sees as a grand geopolitical strategy has become a tragic daily reality for millions of Ukrainian people.
Before Christmas, I had the privilege, along with Sir Iain Duncan Smith, of joining the British charity Siobhan’s Trust to provide humanitarian aid to the dispossessed people of Ukraine. David Fox-Pitt from Siobhan’s Trust joins us in the Gallery today. He is a shining example of soft power and British diplomacy—dressed in a kilt, with his three pizza ovens and volunteers from all over the world, he feeds over 4,000 people a day. Travelling to the newly liberated villages, which are sometimes without power and water, he provides pizza, hot drinks and cheer. His charity, his work and his volunteers are to be commended.
I went to the recently liberated region of Kharkiv and I saw first hand the brutality of Putin’s regime. But I also saw the Ukrainian people, brave and resilient, showing immense fortitude in the face of extreme adversity. “We will win—it will be hard, but we will win”, they told me. We know that Putin’s regime rightly fears the immense resolve of the Ukrainian people. It is for that very reason that Putin has chosen to hold his sham referendums. He is desperately trying to convince his own people that the invasion is in fact an act of defence. The attempt to drive this form of rhetoric is baseless and reflects the growing, not diminishing, strength of the Ukrainian people.
Putin’s desperation can be felt just as clearly in his attacks on Ukrainian national infrastructure. Over past weeks, energy infrastructure in the Kharkiv region and in Kyiv has been badly hit. As the Russian regime continues its offensive on civilian life, the evidence of mounting war crimes becomes clearer and clearer. When we visited Ukraine in December, I saw the sheer scale of the atrocities and destruction that simply cannot be translated on to TV screens or into print.
In Kharkiv, I saw the numerous blocks of flats gutted by missile attacks—people’s homes, targeted and destroyed. I saw the burnt-out Russian tanks in Tsupivka. The whole village was devastated; its churches and schools were bombed. People’s houses were peppered with the shrapnel from bombs and bullets, in newly liberated Ruska Lozova. In Slatyne, I saw the school destroyed by missile attack. There was a huge crater where part of the school once stood, with live missiles still visible in the frozen ground. The whole area was littered with land mines, left by the Russian army—so many that we were told only to step on the snowy tyre tracks or pre-existing footprints. For innocent Ukrainians, land mines planted by the invading forces will cause untold devastation and heartbreak for decades to come: Russia’s grand strategy laid bare as nothing more than barbarism.
I met a local volunteer infantry unit—men who, prior to the war on Ukraine, were just ordinary citizens. One volunteer soldier told me that removing the dead bodies was the worst: the people in the houses and buildings killed—murdered—by the Russians. He said that moving the bodies was very hard, and showed me a photograph of a dead little boy laid out on a bench. The boy’s father had clung on to him. The father would not let go and had to be pulled away from his son. “It is hard,” the soldier said. He told me about his men who had found it too hard—who had gone home and shot themselves. He told me that he was worried for his men and that help is needed for them now.
People told me time and again that Ukraine needs more weapons, more modern tanks, more effective missile systems and armoured ambulances. They desperately need more training for paramedics so that the wounded can be treated before they arrive, sometimes dead, in hospital. But what is clear is that the war crimes committed against these innocent people will be the true legacy of Putin.
The determination of the Ukrainian people cannot be overstated, but the humanitarian situation is critical. Temperatures in Ukraine over winter hover at minus 3° and can plummet to minus 20°. With the Putin regime targeting infrastructure necessary for basics such as cooking and the heating of homes, people are facing impossible decisions. Many are left with no other option than to flee their homes. Over 155,000 Ukrainian refugees have entered the UK so far. Putin relies on generating fear among the Ukrainian population. Standing side by side, both in this place and with our European allies, we must continue to provide the necessary support to those fleeing the war.
As Putin attempts to redefine the borders of Ukraine with illegal referenda, the UK must continue to aid Ukraine in its fight to maintain sovereignty over its own territory. Russia’s land grab is not just a matter of politics; it is a fight for freedom and the basic right to live free from tyranny and aggression. Preventing a victory for Putin is necessary not only for the people of Ukraine; it is vital to contain an expansionist, totalitarian Russian state.
International solidarity on this issue remains critical. Putin must understand that he is isolated—he is alone. The UK and my own Bradford South constituency stand proudly with the people of Ukraine. This House and the United Kingdom must continue to play its part. Slava Ukraine.
When I started the process in the Council of Europe that had Russia expelled, I was unsure where it would end up. One of the things I have done since then is to introduce what I hope will turn into a new convention or treaty that will hold Russia to account for its aggression against the environment. Human lives and human aggravation are already accounted for, but there is nothing to be able to hold it to account for aggression against the environment.
Secondly, I have asked for a current affairs debate on two countries: Serbia and Kosovo. Why have I asked for a debate on Serbia and Kosovo? Because it is clear to me that Putin is making a big effort to make Serbia a second front to take our attention away from Ukraine. I think he is also doing it as a result of wanting to expand Russia. It is a pretty good example of that.
In 2015, the Russian state media, Sputnik, began broadcasting anti-EU and anti-NATO disinformation. It began broadcasting it not from Russia, but in the western Balkans from its regional base in Belgrade. Only at the end of last year, on
In fact, it is even worse than that. The state-controlled media in Serbia simply broadcasts Russian propaganda and has recently accused Ukraine of killing its own civilians, when in fact those civilians were being killed by Russian missile attacks.
I am glad my hon. Friend has taken away a large part of what I was going to say, which has made it much easier to concentrate.
Russia and Belarus have provided Serbia with 14 MiG-29 fighter jets. Eight are donations from Belarus and six are from Russia, and Serbia has bought the rest. Russia has also beefed up Serbia with 30 T-72 tanks and 30 other armoured vehicles. The Pantsir-S1 air defence system has reportedly also been sold to Serbia, along with the longer-range Buk air defence system. A shipment of Kornet anti-tank missiles has also arrived from Russia. The co-operation in military activities has gone from 50 in 2016 to over 100 joint military exercises in 2021. It is no wonder that, according to the US Department of Defense, Serbia provides the “most permissive environment” for Russian influence in the Balkans. When Kosovo took reciprocity measures regarding the temporary licence plate issues in 2021, Serbia escalated the military provocation, flying Russia-donated MiG-29 fighter jets and continuing to make available Russian helicopters on the border with Kosovo.
We know the short-term reasons why Russia is doing this: to stop Kosovo having a role to play in the EU and in the Council of Europe. We have defied Russia in the Council of Europe and given Kosovo seats so it is able to participate in debates, even though, for the moment, it cannot vote; that is because of the opposition of Serbia and that will be dealt with.
This is a serious situation because it affects not just Kosovo. We must not forget that Serbia is also influential in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hon. Members may have seen that, only last week, in the Republika Srpska, the Muslim part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader, with great pride said that he was giving Putin the highest medal of honour for his
“patriotic concern and love for Republika Srpska.”
I ask you. Members can judge for themselves what that concerned.
We are dealing with some very unpleasant people. The Republika Srpska has the site of the genocide of Srebrenica. We are not allowed to call it a genocide because the Serbians do not like that term being used for it, yet it was a genocide of almost 8,000 Muslim people killed in that area.
Our inability to call a genocide is not just limited to Serbia. Our biggest problem is that we simply will not and cannot call any action a genocide, even when it demonstrable, until it goes through the United Nations, yet other countries such as America have declared genocides in China; we sit silent.
It does not have to go to the UN; it could go to a reasonable court. In two recent cases in Germany—I have forgotten what the particular issue was—a genocide was declared and that has allowed us to pursue that. That is the position taken by a number of charities that take the lead in this area.
In order to keep an eye on what Russia is doing, we need to have our eyes open, we need to have eyes in the back of our head and we need to be aware of all of the incidents that are occurring around Europe. It is a great shame that the effect of Russia is creeping out of places such as Serbia and is affecting attitudes in the west to places such as Kosovo. I very much regret that and I hope that we can take that issue forward in supporting Kosovo against Serbia.
I congratulate Sir Bernard Jenkin on securing this debate, which has the same title as the debate last January. In preparing for today, I have read what he and other Members said then. I think it is very generous to talk about a Russian “grand strategy” because I regard Russia’s leadership in the Kremlin as an opportunist outfit. Russia loves the idea of a divided west and when it sees us divided it takes full advantage, especially when it can smell western weakness, a lack of will or disinterest.
I am not going to come up with any fine words on this subject—certainly none as fine as those of a predecessor MP for Tiverton, Lord Palmerston. In 1858, he wrote:
“The policy pursued by the Russian Government has always been to push forward its encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go, but always to stop and retire when it was met with decided resistance, and then to wait till the next favourable opportunity”.
I would like to draw on a couple of examples from the past 125 years in which we have continued to see imperial Russia or the Soviet Union taking an expansionist approach, only to be pinned back by western democracies and others. I would also say that we should avoid throwing all caution to the wind, because the root of Russia’s approach, in my view, is injured pride—not just in the Kremlin, but among most Russian people. Finally, the House should think not only about a grand strategy for the UK, but about a strategy for NATO. We need to work collaboratively with our NATO allies to ensure that the alliance is working on a strategy.
We all know that Putin’s historical essays have been entirely discredited by historians, but they are useful to us. They are a useful guide to his intent: I think he models himself on some of his predecessors from the 17th and 18th centuries. At the end of the 18th century, Catherine the Great is supposed to have said of her enormous land empire:
“I have no way to defend my borders but to extend them.”
That certainly fits in with what went on during her reign: after she came to power, the country’s westernmost border moved from east of the River Dnipro to west of Kyiv, so we can see that Putin has some stand-out role models from the time of the Tsar and the years before that.
What we have been seeing in Russia in the past 15 years is a restoration of pride following a period of imperial collapse. Of course there is no direct comparison with the UK, but if we want a sense of how Russians feel, some Conservative Members may remember how they felt in the early 1980s when there was, perhaps, a restoration of British pride after having had to manage the economy in the 1970s with the aid of a loan from the International Monetary Fund. It is that feeling that your country has been put down and is coming back—the rising of a phoenix from the flames.
Yet in the Kremlin, Russia is intimidated by the lack of attractiveness of its centralised political tradition: its post-communist neighbours are attracted by western co-operative structures. Before last year, I thought that those in the Kremlin who are responsible for Russian grand strategy knew the difference between coercion and violence—coercion might involve the threat of violence, but would stop short of using force—but we have seen that that is not true.
This debate is so useful for thinking about grand strategy partly in terms of ends: if we think of grand strategy in terms of ends, ways and means, it is useful for us to think today about the Kremlin’s intent. There have tended to be reasons why Russia has on occasion seemed willing to permit Ukraine to be independent of it. In 1918, the first world war having ended, Lenin said:
“We need both hands free”,
and permitted Ukraine to become independent. In 1991, Yeltsin had his own motive for enabling Ukraine to become free: to sideline Gorbachev as President of the Soviet Union.
But that is history. I was so encouraged to hear the NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, saying in December 2021 that
“that’s the kind of world we don’t want to return to, where big powers had a say, or a kind of right, to put limitations on what sovereign, independent nations can do”.
Surely the key moment was the signing of the Budapest accord. Was there not something of a failing on the part of this country and others? It was an innocent failing, but we signed up to something that was so nebulous that it could never really be enforced, although in theory it looked as if we were guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine, in exchange for which it surrendered its nuclear weapons.
I entirely agree. The Budapest memorandum was not worth the paper it was written on. It had no legal standing; even the word “guarantee” has different meanings in different languages, and the Ukrainians could certainly have interpreted it very differently from the British, Americans and others who drafted it.
During military conflicts in which the UK has been engaged over the last two or three decades, we have heard the claim that we have no quarrel with the people of “X”—insert Serbia or Iran—but only with its Government or, often, its dictator, but I do not think we can repeat that claim in this instance. When we look at opinion polling in Russia, it is pretty staggering to see how much popular support there is for the war in Ukraine. According to what has been said by Ukrainians I have talked to in the last couple of weeks, they regard the fact that we talk in the west about Putin or Putin’s war as successful propaganda on the part of Russia. They would much prefer us to talk about Russia in the round, and attribute responsibility much more broadly than to just one man in the Kremlin. I also think we need to avoid driving our competitors and our adversaries into Russia’s orbit; not least, we need to avoid knocking China into Russia’s open arms.
We need to think of the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in terms of a NATO strategy, rather than the UK’s grand strategy alone. In that context, it is worth recalling a 19th-century musical hall song. You will be relieved to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I shall not attempt to sing it. Members will have heard the lyrics before:
“the rugged Russian Bear
Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawled out of his lair…
We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too!”
Let me end with another quotation, this time from Winston Churchill. We will all have heard his famous characterisation of Russia as
“a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”,
but it is less well known that he went on to say:
“perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest or safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea”.
We need to bear in mind that Germany is cautious because it has good reason to be cautious, given its history. Instead of criticising our allies, we should come up with a strategy, with our allies, that sees Ukraine defend its borders and defeat Russia.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin on once again bringing this important debate to the House. I also congratulate all the Members who are attending it, many of whom were here for the previous debate a year ago.
“Russia’s grand strategy” is an interesting title, which leads to the question of what constitutes the counter-strategy. As was said a year ago and as has been said by several Members today, where the current actions have come from has been laid out along the line by Putin, whose actions are pretty clear. If you are a citizen of Lithuania, probably Belarus, east Poland or the Caucasus, you will notice that you are mentioned in Putin’s essay of
I have a concern that many have touched on which is that a certain amount of hubris is starting to develop among western nations when they say, “We will win in Ukraine.” I very much hope that that is true, and we are doing everything we can to do so, but it does not seem to take into account the way in which Russia is now regrouping, restrategising and re-energising, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex said in his opening speech. We have to take a strong look at how we are going to supply Ukraine and how it is to move forward.
My right hon. Friend Mr Francois has already made the point about Leopard tanks. European defence as a whole needs to take a long, hard look at itself. There can be no excuse for countries to say, “We will supply the tanks that are needed, but we need Germany to approve it” and for Germany to say, “Well, it’s up to the US.” It really is not up to the US. It is really up to nations within Europe. What concerns me, and Putin will be well aware of this when we are looking at the grand strategy, is that he will see that article 42 of the Lisbon treaty—the permanent structured co-operation, or PESCO, commitment—and where that leads to could spell a real problem for NATO.
I reflect on the irony that one of the reasons why some of us wanted to leave the European Union was that it was insisting on having its own defence policy and armed forces, ostensibly in order to be independent of the United States, because of course it is NATO that guarantees peace in Europe and the EU would be incapable of doing so on its own. So it is a bit of an irony that Germany is now saying that it cannot send tanks to Ukraine until the US approves. It rather gives the lie to the idea that the EU is capable of even thinking independently of American defence policy.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I do not seek to raise an EU Brexit issue here. I want to highlight where I think there is a real concern about the future of NATO, what Putin will be looking at and why it is so important that we do not allow Russia to be victorious.
Richard Foord made a good speech, and I congratulate him on researching the speeches that we all made last year in this debate. It is important to know the context. He said that the Budapest memorandum was not worth the paper it was written on. That is an important statement to make because with Putin, nothing is worth the paper it is written on. When people talk about moving towards a negotiated settlement, what does that actually mean? If we get commitments on paper from Putin, it is frankly a waste of everybody’s time. The only way this conflict will be resolved is by winning it militarily.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that reaching a negotiating settlement with Putin risks his doing exactly what he did last time? He negotiated a settlement and that just gave him time to regroup and come back stronger with yet more violence.
I totally agree. I think a negotiated settlement is a form of appeasement because I just do not believe that it will work in the long run. I genuinely believe that if we say, “OK, however it may be; we will look over that section of it”, it will just give him time to regroup and rearm and decide what he is going to do next.
The war that is now taking place represents a huge threat to the European nations because, some would say, of the ambitions and ideology of article 42—PESCO— “What is wrong with that?” It says that you would procure as a whole; that there would not be replication of procurement, with countries buying the same equipment rather than focusing on where it will go.
When I talk to our American allies at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, they certainly think developing the European defence fund is a good thing that will up spending to 2%. As we are seeing now, one of the biggest risks to NATO in its history as a military alliance is that a country such as Germany—the only country that has the equipment, or that can manufacture the equipment, needed for an operation—is able to say, “Sorry, no,” or, “We are not going to do it.”
Article 42 exists and PESCO has been established, so NATO needs to work out its protocols before these issues become prevalent in a procurement generation or two—in 20 or 30 years’ time. It has to be addressed now because, fundamentally, it is Russia and Putin’s strategy to probe the strength of western military capability.
I am very worried about Germany’s attitude of waiting to see what the US does, because it is not President Biden’s core instinct to make such decisions. When he was Vice-President, he and Obama had a big falling out over the surge in Iraq. And when he was a Senator, he wanted less American intervention. Intervention is not his natural instinct. I praise the Americans for the amount of money President Biden is signing off, but a situation is developing in which other European countries are hiding behind a delaying tactic, and that delay is a problem because Putin needs time to rebuild and restrengthen.
As Sir Chris Bryant rightly said, the rebuilding cost is getting bigger and bigger, probably exponentially. I have cited some of the statistics, and the cost directly reflects on our citizens. He said taxpayers have already paid about £3.2 billion, but the cost is much greater in the price inflation we have seen for energy, fertilisers, food and crops. We all know the reasons, and it will not be resolved while this continues.
Upping military capability and spending in this country, and in Europe, is vital because it will improve our taxpayers’ long-term cost of living. Drawing on my experience as a procurement Minister, industry needs a far longer commitment to armament manufacturing than the sporadic increases and decreases we have seen. Industry cannot make the commitment needed to manufacture armour, weaponry and other capital equipment on a continuing basis if it is not sure how long the contract will last. That is straightforward business sense, and it is why we have to make a long-term funding commitment, and we need to encourage Europe to do so, too.
I agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Unfortunately I missed last year’s debate, but this is an honest, simple question. Back in 2017-18, when I was new to this place, were we having debates about the request from Ukraine to help it arm itself? I do not know that we were. If we were not, why not?
We were having those debates, not least in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. There was a Rose-Roth seminar of the Parliamentary Assembly in Kyiv in June 2016. The Ukrainians could not have been clearer to the allies who were there about what the invasion of Crimea meant, and it was brushed aside because there were too many vested interests in the way energy policy was going at the time and, quite frankly, because there was disbelief that anything like this would happen.
We can find examples from across Government over that period of time. When the invasion happened just under a year ago, many conversations took place, and still take place to this day, along the lines of, “Well, Putin is terminally ill.” “Look at Putin’s face, he has a terminal disease.” “This is the act of a dying man.” People were trying to make excuses for him to understand why he did it. They should just accept that the man is a fascist dictator who is trying to expand the Russian empire. There is the answer; it is as simple as that. But still our natural instinct says that this is so far beyond what anybody would expect that there must be another reason behind it.
The hon. Member for Rhondda is correct that people, whoever they were—in this case, it was the then Foreign Secretary—simply did not believe that this would happen. That was true among many of our European allies, but given what we now know, we must be aware that it will go beyond Ukraine. There is no point in saying that Putin would not dare to move into NATO territory. If he wins in Ukraine, then, yes, he will. It is not just Putin, but the Russian set-up—the Russian leadership. There are people beneath Putin who will carry on this war if he were to go. This involves not just one person, but a regime.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for setting the scene. Sir Chris Bryant clearly warned this House on many occasions about the situation in Crimea, but hesitation led the day on that occasion. With this debate on Russia’s grand strategy perhaps what we are really looking at is where we are today and the strength that we have through NATO and the US all standing together. That is the positive attitude that we want to send out from this debate, so that Russia understands that, today, we will not take any more and that this is the line in the sand. Clearly, Ukraine’s battles are our battles as well.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but the point that I make is this: Putin will observe this situation today with Germany and the tanks and he will also observe the European direction in defence policy. He will then start to think, “Well, how much will they push back?” The allies will sit there and say, “He won’t dare to invade NATO territory.” But it was only a year ago when I thought that he would not invade Ukraine. I can stand here and say that; I just did not think that he would. I thought that he was probing to see how the west would react. I thought that he was seeing what our reaction would be, but that his attention was on another part. I think at the time I was saying Azerbaijan, Armenia—mineral-rich areas. I think he thought that if we did not react to Ukraine, we certainly would not react in the Caspian sea. I just did not believe that he would do this in Ukraine. Why did I not believe it? It was because, rather than looking at what was staring me right in the face, I decided not to believe it.
We must accept right now that we need to enter into solid, long-term contracts. We need to do that with support from all parts of the House. Her Majesty’s Opposition must be in lockstep with the Government in our support for Ukraine and in recognising European defence policy. The Opposition have moved on from where they were a few years ago. There is no question about NATO support now, which should be welcomed across the House. It is very important that this country, this Government and this House have the same views. Therefore, there should be no reason not to invest.
I shall be drawing my remarks to a close soon, but let me just say this before I do. We know that it is important that we do everything that we can, but let me explain why. When I was Minister for defence procurement, I went to North Yorkshire and met the troops and the Ukrainians being trained by our armed forces. I was lucky to be there on day one when a batch of people came in. They all came from different aspects—one was 65 and one 18—but what did every single one of them have in common? They all said, “I am not losing my country.” That strength of feeling for a country is worth a huge amount, but it still needs to be backed up with equipment.
Russia’s strategy is clear: it will carry on expanding beyond Ukraine. It will take no notice of any treaty that is put in place. Only military capability will stop it. Europe must know that this is not the end, and it must ensure it is moving in lockstep on manufacturing and recognising—as I said a year ago, and I was pooh-poohed—that the cold war has started. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex said, we are also in a hot war, but there is a cold war along an entire border, and that costs.
As I said last year, we must get back to spending the sums we spent at the end of the cold war, when we were spending 5% of GDP on defence. How we do that is a matter for different budgets and different questions, but the reality is that we will have to, and we will have to bring other countries along. If we are to defeat the Russian grand strategy, we need a Europe-wide strategy, and that starts with ensuring that we have the commitments in place for funding, for the military and for the equipment that others need, as well as for our own defence.
Order. There are five right hon. and hon. Members wishing to participate in the debate and I need to call the Front-Bench speakers not later than 4.30 pm. My guess is that everything that needs to be said individually can be said in 10 minutes.
It is a real privilege to speak in this debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin on obtaining it. I always feel slightly worried when the word “grand” is used of anything, because if we are not careful it covers a whole lot of more tactical aspects that we forget about. However, he is right that this is a debate about the grand strategy of what was once the Soviet Union, has since been broken up, and is now Russia.
To begin with, I want to dwell on a remarkable charity named Siobhan’s Trust that my hon. Friend—I call her my hon. Friend—Judith Cummins and I visited and worked with. Interestingly, although we are not supposed to say this, the man who set up and runs the charity, David Fox-Pitt, is sitting in the Gallery right now. He is the epitome of what is very best about this United Kingdom. When all the refugees were pouring across the border and lost in the middle of Ukraine, having been struck, the team upped sticks from where they were in Scotland, with their trucks, and headed straight for the border to try to provide food and sustenance to those people.
Siobhan’s Trust got there weeks ahead of Oxfam and all the rest, and crossed the border because the team realised there were more refugees in Ukraine than were coming out. They raised the money themselves, got support from companies such as Dr. Oetker from Germany and Italian pizza companies, and got trucks with pizza ovens on. They now go to places as close as maybe a mile or so from the Russian border—in fact, quite recently they went into Kherson, just after it was liberated, and fed people there. That was where they came under shellfire, and I suspect that was because the Russians knew they were there and what they were doing.
As my hon. Friend said, the charity feeds 4,000 people who are dispossessed, living in freezing conditions, often with no heating or hot water, sometimes with no water at all and certainly with no electricity. The one high spot of their day will be the arrival of the trucks from Siobhan’s Trust, led by wonderfully eccentric British people dressed in Ukrainian kilts. The Ukrainians did not know they had a kilt until Siobhan’s Trust arrived in Ukraine, but now they have a national kilt, and I hope it will become something that is worn on the fashion catwalks of Europe to celebrate—[Interruption.] I know I am not a fashion icon, but nevertheless I would be prepared to wear it.
The beauty of this is all the work the charity does. We sometimes forget about this when we get into the grand strategy, but when we were over there, as my hon. Friend said, we realised what it really means when we talk about grand strategy. It means seeing the destroyed buildings, blocks of flats that had people living in them when the rockets hit; it means being with the soldiers when they have to clear up the dead bodies in villages that have been shelled and rocketed; it means never being able to come off a single-track path because the Russians have strewn anti-personnel mines all over the fields and houses in the hope that people will enter them. That is what it really means. It means that this barbaric, dictatorial, fascist crook called Putin has wrought devastation and damage on ordinary people whose lives were pretty poor in the first instance.
One of the Ukrainian guides said to us, “The thing you don’t understand is that we don’t have and have never had the kind of support and money that you have. When you look at our villages that are devastated, you see pretty low-standard villages, but what has happened is that the Russians have moved all the troops they have from the east of Russia, where the living standards are even lower by a long way. For them, this is Manhattan. They rob every single house and everything that’s in it, and that which they can’t rob, they rape. They use rape as a tool of war and a tool of suppression. That is why we evacuated so many of our women and children from these villages—because we knew what was going to happen to them if and when the Russians came.”
As the hon. Member for Bradford South said, we went on to visit the military hospital in Kharkiv, which was very sobering. The hospital gets rocketed at least two or three times a week. When it gets hit, the people who work there carry on, despite the explosions around them, with what they are doing. Interestingly, they said to me, “Please can you go back and tell your Government that we need armoured ambulances desperately, because we cannot get the wounded to the hospitals quickly enough? We need that more than almost anything else.” Secondly, they said, “We desperately need help in terms of paramedics, to stabilise people before they get into the ambulances. You cannot understand the difference it makes to whether or not we save their lives. We just don’t have enough. If only Britain could lead the west in providing people who can educate and train paramedics for us urgently, that would save more lives.”
Thirdly, they said, “The problem now is that so many of our soldiers are committing suicide because they cannot cope with the total devastation and the mental breakdown that comes from combat stress. The UK and America are the two countries that probably know the most about this, because of Afghanistan and Iraq. We desperately need some help from the UK to educate and train our mental health specialists in how to deal with this. It’s a huge problem.” It is a huge problem in America and here in the UK, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex has helped us get in touch with Combat Stress.
Given the right hon. Gentleman’s experience in politics, I am interested to know what he thinks the UK and other countries could provide beyond what he just described in terms of humanitarian and infrastructure support to the people of Ukraine.
There is a huge amount that can be provided from what are essentially wealthy nations. We are wealthy nations, and when we compare ourselves with where Ukraine is, we are very wealthy. It is just the determination of what we want to do. In Ukraine, they desperately need arms; they need supplies of ammunition and weapons. There is no question about that, but they also need—and this is about humanity—help to survive in all these areas. The brave men and women who are fighting on the front deserve all the support they can get, but the bit that is missing when we debate this issue is the people behind who have been devastated and shelled and have no homes. We need to find a way to help them as well. I beg the Government to talk to their counterparts in Ukraine and find a way to get the rest of western Europe to supply the things that Ukraine requires that do not have a gun on them but will save many, many lives if they are provided.
I completely agree that Russia’s grand strategy is to expand. It has never got over losing the land that it held in the Soviet Union, and it wants it back; it has been absolutely clear about that. Strangely enough, countries in the west—Germany is a good example—have failed to recognise the real threat of becoming addicted to something that is supplied by a country as volatile and ill led as this. I come back to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. How in heaven’s name did the rest of Europe allow that to happen? How in heaven’s name did they allow Germany to bully them into believing it was none of their business? All of us—every country—takes a share of that. It should never have been allowed to be built, and I do not exclude my own country in that regard. It showed a sign to Russia that as addicted as we were, we would never do anything against Russia. That was as important as supplying them with weapons, because Russia then saw us and said, “You know what? They put money first and energy second, and that energy is from us. They will never come and stop us.”
In reality, this is our war—we cannot forget that. It is as much as if we were standing on the frontline with the Ukrainians. We have to be there with them in spirit, and we have to give them the weapons, because they must win this war. The thing that haunts me now more than anything else from that visit is the one phrase they use, which is, “Please don’t forget us.” They say, “We are fighting for our freedom and our lives, and we are worried that you are getting bored of what is going on over here. Please do not forget us.” All I simply say in the House today is that we must not forget them. We must be with them. This is our war; we must win it. Slava Ukraini, heroyam slava.
First, I congratulate my Essex neighbour, my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin on securing this debate.
Following on from what my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith has just said, it is too easy to forget. Every day since last February, first thing in the morning, when I get dressed for work, I put on my blue and I put on my yellow, and that is because I do not want to forget. Each morning as I get dressed, and every evening as I go to bed, I think about the people of Ukraine. In particular, I think about the women. I think about the mothers of the 1,000 children who it is estimated have been killed, the mothers of the 13,000 children who have been abducted, the mothers of the sons who have died on the military lines, the wives of those who have died in the military, the brave women who themselves are fighting in the military, the Interior Minister who died in the helicopter crash yesterday, and, of course, the women, young girls and grandmothers who have been raped. We must not forget the people of Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine, however, is not just about a fight over Donbas, Crimea, Kherson, Kharkiv or Kyiv—these names that have now become so familiar to us. It is also the battleground where the war between those of us who believe in freedom and democracy, and those who thrive off autocracy and oppression is being fought out. We know that if Russia wins in Ukraine, it will not be the end. As many other right hon. and hon. Friends have said, Serbia, neighbouring countries and Baltic countries know that they risk being targeted next. What I see as Putin’s eye of Sauron will have them in his sights.
Russia is not alone in this—other authoritarian states such as Iran and China are watching how we and others react, and they are ready to make and accelerate their own actions. While it is welcome that, in recent votes in the UN and other places, very few countries have been ready to put their hand up and say, “I am behind Russia, I back Russia”, it is noticeable that a number of countries still sit on the fence. They are watching how this plays out, to see which way they should act—do they side with freedom-loving democracies or with those more autocratic states? Many of these countries are in the global south.
We also know that Russia’s war does not limit itself to military weapons. The military weapons it has used with impunity have caused such devastation. The word “barbaric” was used earlier, and that is the right word. There are other weapons that Russia uses. It uses misinformation as a weapon of war, and we and our allies need to do more to counter that, especially that Russian narrative that Russia is only reacting to NATO aggression and US aggression. Even this morning, the Russian embassy in London was retweeting that message. Russia uses misinformation to try to win favour in the middle east and many other countries in the global south. We must counter it.
Russia has also disrupted global supplies of food, fuel and fertiliser. It is using hunger and cold as a weapon of war. At a time when the world is trying to recover from the economic aftermath of covid and to address the devastating impact of climate change, Russian action has forced many more millions of people—the world’s most vulnerable people—across the world into the hands of starvation. It does that deliberately, because Russia knows that food insecurity will cause even greater instability, conflict and migration.
Russia has used forced migration as a weapon of war to destabilise western Europe. Let us take ourselves back to the winter of 2015 and early 2016, and Russia’s support for the war in Syria. The then head of NATO accused Russia and the Assad regime of deliberately weaponising migration in Syria. A million refugees arrived in western Europe, which created a panic that European countries were not ready to deal with and were ill-prepared to manage.
I remember sitting in the European Parliament at the time, listening to debates and seeing at first hand how Russia was pitting one European neighbour against another. It was driving wedges between countries and fuelling racism and the rise of the far right and the far left. It was fuelling extremism. It was undermining those in the middle ground, the centre right and the centre left. I have no doubt that that played a major role in our Brexit referendum. I remember sitting at the time, watching that play out and seeing it as a deliberate act by Russia to use that migration to destabilise our alliances in western Europe.
In Africa there are often academic debates about whether Russia has a strategy, as it is often difficult to join the dots to see what influence Russia is having. But time and again we see how Russian influence targets a country where there is instability, and then Russian action will go in there and niggle at the wounds, to destabilise that country further. Recent events in Ukraine have clearly shown how the Wagner Group is not an organisation at arm’s length from the Russian leadership, but a proxy for Russian aggression. Public information shows that the Wagner Group is active in so many countries across the Sahel, from east to west. As the Secretary of State for Defence said at the Dispatch Box this week, it is an organisation that we know is guilty of many war crimes.
There are many press stories about the horrors the Wagner Group has committed in Africa and its criminal actions: massacres in Mali, illicit diamond mines in the Central African Republic, and exploitation of gold in Sudan. It has been suggested that Wagner was behind the Russian flags that we saw waving during the coup in Burkina Faso, and much of the anti-French propaganda put about in traditional francophone Africa. There are recent stories about whether Wagner mercenaries are also active in the dangerous conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This matters to us in the UK and our stability in western Europe.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the Wagner Group is recruiting convicts released from Russian jails for that purpose? It is arming some of the most dangerous people in Russia to spread terror around the world. That could affect all of us.
I absolutely agree. Not only is the Wagner Group using Russian criminals; it is also recruiting in Africa and other unstable parts of the world such as Afghanistan, and using those people to fight these wars.
This matters to our security, because instability in many of those African countries will lead to migration, and that, of course, will lead to people making that dangerous journey on small boats to our country, which puts pressure on us and our own economy. It also puts pressure on our international development budget. Russia knows that. It knows that migration will force us to spend that money at home and not to help out in the very countries that it seeks to destabilise and that we want to stabilise. I say again, for the third time, that the Wagner Group needs to be proscribed as a terrorist group. Some people say that, if it was, it would make it more difficult for it to recruit. I was delighted to hear the Chair of the Defence Committee, Mr Ellwood, joining me in that request. I do not see any downside to it.
We need a holistic strategy. As part of that, I urge the Minister to look collectively at all the evidence that we have about the Wagner Group from all corners of the world, to build a comprehensive picture of its actions, and to seriously consider proscribing it as a terrorist organisation. He should make sure that our comprehensive strategy will counter and neutralise the threat that it poses.
I congratulate my fellow Essex MP, my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin, on securing this vital debate and on ably introducing it. As he rightly reminded us, we debated Russia’s grand strategy just over a year ago, on
The Chair of the Committee, who spoke well again this afternoon, particularly—I am sad to have to say—about weaknesses in British Army equipment, presciently reminded the House about Russia’s actions:
“All this, of course, is unacceptable to the west and to NATO members, which makes the prospect of an invasion ever more likely. That is the immediate threat to Ukraine.”—[Official Report,
In the same debate, I said:
“I fear that the European skies are now darkening, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the winter weather…Russians traditionally admire strength and despise weakness, and what they now perceive is a weakened NATO lacking in resolve to assert its democratic right to collective self-defence. The next few weeks are likely to be very telling in that respect.”—[Official Report,
At the time, some commentators laughed at us or derided us at hawks, but in the phrase immortalised by Nigel Farage, “they’re not laughing now.” Barely a fortnight later, Russia invaded Ukraine.
Interestingly, especially given that Ukraine abandoned its arsenal of ex-Soviet nuclear weapons after the break-up of the USSR, we hear little these days from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or many of the others who naively argued for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom and our allies. Even unilateralist SNP Members, who are no longer in the Chamber—perhaps they are preoccupied by their private civil war about independence and identity politics—have recently become somewhat subdued on that point. The sorts of people Lenin once described as “wise fools”—so-called intellectuals who help to make Russia’s arguments for it—are now predominantly keeping their heads firmly below the parapet, at least while Russia continues to commit the most appalling atrocities against unarmed civilians, including women and children, on an almost daily basis.
Nevertheless, the invasion of Ukraine has proved a disaster for Russia and its people, if not yet for its President. Russia has become a pariah state; even China and India are softening their supportive rhetoric and would clearly like to see an end to the war. Even if President Putin were to be removed from office tomorrow, however, for whatever reason, we could not realistically expect the sudden release of Alexei Navalny and the flowering of liberal democracy in a country that simply has no such enduring political tradition throughout its entire history. For most Russians, even now, the brief easing-up under President Yeltsin was a rather chaotic aberration that lasted only a few years and was completely at variance with the historical paradigm of highly authoritarian rulers, stretching back centuries to Peter the Great or beyond. Part of Russia’s grand strategy for hundreds of years has been that of highly autocratic rule over a relatively servile population. So we would be naive in the extreme to believe, even if Putin were to be deposed, that we could drop our guard against a highly aggressive and militarised state—one with no compunction whatever about killing civilians or committing barbaric war crimes, and which retains thousands of nuclear weapons to this day.
That prompts the question: what should our own grand strategy be in response? Obviously, unlike Ukraine, which gave up its—something it must now bitterly regret—we should maintain our own nuclear deterrent as the ultimate guarantee of our security. We should strengthen the cohesion of the NATO alliance, including welcoming in Finland and Sweden as rapidly as possible. We should also encourage our NATO allies to significantly increase their supplies of equipment, also now including heavy armour, to the Ukrainians, who are ultimately fighting for our freedom, too. So the Germans simply must stop passing the buck, if for no other reason than that, if they carry on like this, no one will ever buy military equipment from them ever again.
Put bluntly, if we do not stop the Russians in Ukraine, we will have to stop them in the Baltic states or in Poland, and that means an all-out conflict between Russia and NATO, which is far better avoided, not least by Germany itself. The respected NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, has recently warned that the conflict in Ukraine could lead to NATO being dragged in. As he put it in an interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK on
“It is a terrible war in Ukraine. It is also a war that can become a full-fledged war that spreads into a major war between NATO and Russia. If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong.”
He is right.
The United Kingdom Government’s—our Government’s —own integrated review, published in the spring of 2021, correctly identified Russia as our major adversary, but it has since clearly been overtaken by events. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a total game changer in security terms, so the whole planning paradigm through which the ongoing refresh of the integrated review is being conducted has to alter accordingly. The integrated review took too much risk up front in order to strengthen our defences in a decade’s time—time that we may no longer have. We made a similar conceptual mistake with the 10-year rule of the 1920s and early 1930s and we cannot afford to repeat that error.
As time is short today—in more ways than one—suffice it to say that we now need to rethink our whole approach to a shooting war with Russia, potentially even some time this year and not in 10 years’ time. That means new thinking conceptually, strategically, militarily and industrially, coupled with a genuine sense of urgency—we need to get on with it—to examine how prepared we really are to fight a possibly protracted conflict with Russia. All this is just in case Trotsky was right when he famously warned:
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
In summary, if we are to deter a wider war, rather than have to fight it, which I am sure is what the whole House and indeed the country would prefer, that means having armed forces that are highly trained, brilliantly equipped and backed up with clear political intent to use them, if required. That means increasing not just our defence spending, though we must, but our preparedness to fight with minimum further strategic or even operational warning. It also means ruthlessly examining our broken procurement system and asking how many long-delayed key programmes can now be rapidly accelerated as urgent operational requirements. Frankly, we will not deter a man like Vladimir Putin with £4 billion tank programmes that do not work, submarines that are years late, frigates that are even later, destroyers and aircraft carriers that keep breaking down, or airborne early warning systems that are years overdue and do not even work properly when they turn up.
The Romans, who knew a thing or two about armed conflict, had a saying: si vis pacem, parra bellum—he who desires peace should prepare for war. That could almost be NATO’s unofficial motto today. If we genuinely desire peace in Europe, which we all do, we had better start realistically, not just theoretically, and urgently preparing to fight for it—just in case.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin on securing this debate for a second time. Looking at what was said a year ago, I think there was some foresight then and, if greater attention had been paid at that time, we might not be in such a bad state today. I do, however, want to differ slightly from Richard Foord, who said it was not just Putin—it was the whole of the Russian people. We should not demonise the Russian people. As my right hon. Friend Mr Francois said in his very good speech, the Russian people have suffered terribly under the Tsars, the Bolsheviks, the Nazi invasion, communism and now under Putin. They have never known democracy and freedom. That is the tragedy that they face.
Putin is a final successor in that long line and the warning signs were there early on. Putin was originally thought to be a manager who would restore stability after the rather chaotic Yeltsin times and would not interfere too much with the oligarchs. That did not last long. We know he called the oligarchs in and made it clear to them who was now in charge.
We first saw the signs in 2006 with the murder on British soil of Alexander Litvinenko. If anybody wants reminding of that, there is a very good ITV dramatisation with David Tennant available now. We saw it again with the war in Georgia in 2008, when the west stood by and did very little. An exceptionally good documentary by Norma Percy, a superb documentary maker, is about to be screened on the BBC. It is called “Putin, Russia and the West.” I was able to see a preview of the first episode and strongly recommend it. She looks at the 2013 eastern partnership summit when Yanukovych went to Vilnius to sign the agreement that would have led to Ukraine’s membership of the European Union. Just before he signed, he got a call from the Kremlin, was told he was not allowed to sign and he did not. That sparked what became known as the Revolution of Dignity at the Maidan and led to 100 people being shot down by snipers from hotel roofs. Shortly after that, Putin took advantage and Crimea was invaded. Again, we did not do nearly enough. Indeed, Barack Obama, US President at the time, when asked about the invasion of Crimea, condemned it but said:
“Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbours…Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security to the United States.”
If ever there was an invitation to Putin to carry on, that was it. Actually, we know—this comes out in the documentary —that the description of Russia as a “regional power” infuriated Putin because he wanted to restore what the Soviet Union had been: the second major player in global power. That has always been part of his strategy.
Sir Chris Bryant asked if these matters had been debated. I had a debate in 2014, just after the Crimean invasion, drawing attention to the threat. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, participated and made some very helpful remarks in the debate. That led to the British Government’s Operation Orbital, in which we supplied training and munitions to the Ukrainian forces. It is fair to say that, had we not done that, the Ukrainians would not have been able to resist the Russian invasion as effectively as they have. They recognise that and are open in paying tribute to this country for the support we gave them, and continue to give them, in Operation Orbital.
That led to the election in 2019 of President Zelensky. I was an election observer in both rounds of that election, and it was the enthusiasm of the Ukrainian people for the democratic process and their ability to change their leader—they did—and bring in somebody committed to wiping out corruption that really frightened Putin, too. He saw that if that could happen in Ukraine, it could happen in Russia as well. So the narrative was created that, somehow, Ukraine was a bogus, illegitimate regime run by Nazis, that the Ukrainian people were all oppressed and that they would all cheer when the Russians came to liberate them. Never has a more ludicrous justification been given.
We have seen the seeds of resistance not just from the Ukrainian armed forces but from the whole Ukrainian people to the Russian invasion. Kherson was one of the four provinces where we were told people had voted overwhelmingly in a referendum that they wanted to join the Russian Federation. We then saw the scenes of jubilation on the streets of Kherson as they were liberated by the Ukrainian forces not that long ago.
The truth is that Russia is an authoritarian regime. I do not just want to talk about Ukraine; we also need to help to free the Russian people. This week, I had the privilege of meeting again Yevgenia Kara-Murza, who is married to Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is being held as a political prisoner in Russia. We are told that there are something like 500 political prisoners in Russia. Mr Kara-Murza is slightly different in that he is a British passport holder. I was disappointed to hear from his wife that she felt that the British Government could be doing more to campaign and help him to obtain his release.
Mr Deputy Speaker, as you and others know, the other area that I have long followed is media freedom. Russia has fallen even further in Reporters Without Borders’ index of media freedom to 155th out of 180 countries. It has concluded:
“Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, almost all independent media have been banned, blocked and/or declared ‘foreign agents.’ All others are subject to military censorship.
All privately owned independent TV channels are banned from broadcasting… The Russian version of Euronews was suspended”.
“Among the big print media outlets…those that had preserved their independence and were under constant threat of closure, like…Novaya Gazeta, have had to suspend their publications.”
Media freedom does not exist in Russia. In particular, there is the recent case of the Russian journalist Ivan Safronov, who reported information that was already available for anybody to see online and has just received a sentence of 22 years’ imprisonment for revealing so-called state secrets.
One day, I hope that Russia, too, will be free. To conclude, I will refer to some remarks made by John Howell was successful in having Russia removed from the Council of Europe, but unfortunately Russia remains a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. However, we have been looking at the possibility of prosecution for war crimes. It would be unprecedented in that previous war crimes cases have always been brought against perpetrators who were part of regimes that had been defeated and removed. While I would love to think that Mr Putin will be defeated and removed, that seems unlikely in the immediate future, so it may be that we will have to prosecute in absentia, but that is not a reason not to do so. A special tribunal may even need to be created for that.
There are four potential crimes here, and Russia is probably guilty of all of them. They include crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. On genocide, as was said, we should have recognised Russia’s earlier attempt at genocide in Ukraine—the Holodomor—which shows that there has been a long-standing wish to suppress Ukrainian identity. That could conceivably be called genocide. The fourth charge will be the war of aggression, and it may be possible to require reparations to be paid.
I finish by very much supporting the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Rhondda. There are vast Russian assets in this country and elsewhere in the west. It must be right that, like Canada and Estonia, we look at potentially using those assets to rebuild Ukraine, the bill for which may well already be approaching $1 trillion. Russia has to be not just held to account for its crimes, but made to pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine.
It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Sir John Whittingdale, who is a great expert on Ukraine in this place. In fact, the only time I have visited Ukraine was when we went to Kyiv together—over a decade ago, I regret to say.
This is the first time I have spoken in a debate on Russian grand strategy, so I do not have the pedigree of most of the other speakers today, certainly those on the Government Benches. There is a reason for that. Before I get on to my main remarks, I want to point briefly to where I think this House has had some responsibility for allowing Russia under Putin to develop its strategy. It goes back to a point made by my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin, whom I should have congratulated on securing this debate—nobody knows more about strategy and its absence in this country than he does. He is doing a lot of work to try to put that right.
My hon. Friend referred to the vote in this House in 2013, in which I participated. To the great shame of this House and this country, we decided not to take action when Assad used chemical weapons on his own people in Syria. I believe that that vote led to Obama’s decision that it was not appropriate for the Americans to go it alone in taking action, even though the red line that had been talked about had been crossed. I think that that was one of the most important of the many triggers that allowed Putin to take the action that he did in 2014 by invading Crimea and the Donbas, from which the subsequent invasion has flowed.
Following the invasion, the EU decided in 2015 to put sanctions on 89 Russian officials. In response, Putin imposed sanctions on 89 officials in the European Union, of whom I was one; I think I am the only remaining Member who was sanctioned by Russia in 2015. I have chosen not to speak in debates on Russia for that reason—I did not want to highlight the fact, feeling that that would not be the right thing to do. Since this latest action, of course, almost every Member has been sanctioned and it is no longer quite the badge of honour that it once was. I feel in good company now, and I am very grateful to Mr Putin for making me feel slightly less lonely.
I want to focus most of my remarks on what we can do as a nation at this stage, but before that it is worth building on what was said by other speakers about the totally bogus narrative. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon said, Putin has created a narrative for not just domestic—although that is probably the primary objective—but international consumption. He has used the narrative of wanting to restore Russia to its rightful historical place as one of the great powers by undoing the damage from the collapse of the Soviet Union to win diplomatic support internationally. He has done that in a subtle way over a long period.
I point to Russia’s joining OPEC to form OPEC Plus in 2016 as a pivotal moment. Russia has used its oil and gas position and wealth to not only fund its war effort but work within international forums to frustrate attempts—particularly by the United States, but also by the United Kingdom—to encourage other OPEC members to increase production in response to the energy crisis caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia persuaded them to do the reverse, to decrease production, thereby keeping up the oil price and helping to fund his war effort. That was an effective mechanism he deployed using the status of victim and NATO being the aggressor, and the bogus narrative that others have spoken of. That was a critical step. It is really important that we, in leading international efforts to help Ukraine, work across international forums with our friends in the Gulf to point out to them that Russia is not their friend. They may have been somewhat disturbed by the west’s approach to the protection of Gulf states, in particular the American oscillation over its relationships as it pivots to Asia, but the Gulf states are fearful most of all of the threat of Iran. Iran has demonstrated very, very graphically, through its support for Russia and the provision of military capability to Russia, which has been deployed effectively in Ukraine, that it is no friend of the Gulf. Iran is friends with Russia, and other nations need to come together with traditional western allies who are their real friends.
I want to focus my few remaining remarks on what we can do as a nation right now. I draw the attention of the House and the Minister to the refresh of the integrated review, which others—notably my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, the Chair of the Defence Committee, in a powerful contribution—have already raised. It is an opportunity to try to reflect on the new strategic reality. I was involved in the strategic defence and security review in 2015, and we had the integrated review in 2021. In neither case was war in Europe an active reality when those reviews were conducted. We need to recognise that the peace dividend that we as a nation and other western nations banked in the 1990s is no longer available. It has left our defence forces with funding for a peacetime environment. We are no longer in a peacetime environment. We are in a war environment and we need to recognise that through this refresh. It is therefore very timely that this opportunity has arisen, partly in response to what is happening on the other side of Europe.
A year ago, the Defence Secretary secured a record increase in the defence budget. The Minister was a Minister in the Ministry of Defence at the time and I am sure he made a powerful contribution. The £24 billion, as we have heard, is a very welcome addition to the budget. However, it is fast being eroded by inflation and it is not, as so often in defence budgets, leading to increases in capability in the here and now. Over a spending review period, as my right hon. Friend Mr Francois and I know all too well, these things tend to be backloaded. We cannot afford to backload and restore capability in five or 10 years’ time. We need it now. Our armed forces need the confidence to be able to go out and rebuild hollowed out capability.
My right hon. Friend is making a very good speech. As he will recall, we served together as Ministers in the MOD. I completely commend his call for a sense of urgency in these matters. He was a procurement Minister, so he knows how long it takes to build this stuff. We are running out of time, so I absolutely endorse the powerful point he has just made.
I am very grateful. I am well aware that my right hon. Friend, who, when we were in post was responsible for personnel primarily and then became armed forces Minister, has taken a particular interest in procurement of late. I have not always agreed with everything he has said, but I think we are absolutely as one on this issue.
What should we be looking at, in the refresh of the integrated review, to deliver the strategic shift that is needed in UK military capability? First, there must be an immediate restoration of the manpower that has been cut from the British Army. It is very clear that what is happening in Ukraine is a land conflict. Our Army’s land capability has suffered cuts for years, perhaps because it has been given lower priority in the allocation of funds for new capability. That is largely because it is easier to cut a small programme, either by deferring it for a bit or by cutting a bit out, than to cut a major programme, which takes years longer to achieve, as is typically the case in the air and maritime domains.
We also need to prioritise land capability from an equipment perspective, so the second thing that the refresh needs is to look at the capability and capital equipment that the British Army requires. The Chairman of the Select Committee listed a number of items that he would like to see restored or improved.
We need to learn clear lessons about what the current conflict is delivering from the state-on-state aggressor in the Ukraine. I do not have a military background and have not studied the doctrine as the Minister has, but it is very clear that taking territory on a modern battlefield requires the ability to manoeuvre at scale under armoured protection. It is vital that our infantry mobility and our power projection on land, at scale, be restored. As we have heard, much of our equipment is now decades old. Although some of it remains more effective and capable than what an adversary might have, we just do not have enough, and what we do have is getting pretty tired.
We also need to be able to clear territory in advance, so we need artillery capability and agile unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering force across a battlefield. Air protection is critical to that, so we need air defence and a variety of UAVs. Much of our UAV capability has been built around delivering precision fire remotely, which has been very effective in theatres in which we have been operating, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, but would be much harder to deliver at scale across a wider battlefront.
New capability and equipment cannot be effective unless we have manpower trained to use it, so the integrated review also needs to provide adequate funding to allow force-on-force armoured training at scale, access to training areas and the ability to experiment with novel groupings and battlegroups at scale. We are in danger of giving up the capability that we had; I am thinking in particular of the training ground in Canada.
To achieve this, we need agile procurement, as I called for in a paper in 2018. That approach has been provided through the urgent operational requirements system and by individual commands through the rapid capability offices that have been established, which are doing well at bringing in new capability, often procured off the shelf but typically at a small scale. What we are talking about today is on a different scale, so we need to consider acquiring some capability off the shelf. We do not have the luxury of a 10-year procurement programme that may slip, as has often been discussed in this Chamber. We have to contemplate that approach, even if it means not necessarily buying British all the time.
We can continue to provide Ukraine with equipment. We have taken a lead in Europe in providing equipment— I command the Government for their stance—and in training the brave Ukrainian soldiers in its use. However, the conflict is going on for longer than the aggressor intended and longer than any of us would like. We must assume that it will continue, and that supplies will be needed, for some time. In the integrated review, we must be prepared to backfill our own supplies of munitions and increase our own stockpiles and capability. That takes time, and it takes treasure. We need to establish strategic reserves as a consequence of the integrated review, which will allow us to sustain our own forces and those in Ukraine for a long time. We have to demonstrate to the Russians that the UK has the resolve to stand fast behind Ukraine, and the resolve to ensure that NATO is in a position to act as a deterrent to any extension of this conflict beyond where it currently is.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I thank Sir Bernard Jenkin for securing the debate. I rather feared, having I nipped out of the Chamber, that I had missed a well-aimed salvo from Mr Francois, but I am sure he will waste no opportunity to chuck another one when he gets the chance.
Putin’s world view needs to be understood in order to be effectively combated. It is not enough just to mock it or rubbish it in isolation, as is so often done in the west. Instead, we must systematically deconstruct it in an intelligent and strategic manner that reflects the scale of the risks that we face in misinterpreting it. Despite its consequences, this is of course nothing more than the classic “enemy abroad” tactic: when you cannot deliver for your people at home, you turn their gaze to a manufactured enemy abroad. That has been done many times.
Let me ally myself with what was said by Sir John Whittingdale in defence of the Russian people as opposed to the Russian elite. Of course there are inputs into this malign war and offensive by the general population, but if we write off the people of Russia along with the elite, I do not know what we are hoping to achieve. The manifestation of Putin’s attempt to reshape his sphere of influence and indeed possibly reinstate an element of a greater Russian empire, or at least an extension of the bounds of the federation, must be rendered by us in the west as a last throw of the dice for Putin. Given that he launched this aggression on his terms, we must ensure that it is concluded on the terms of the international rules-based system.
Let me now highlight a couple of elements on the ground that justify the actions taken by the United Kingdom Government, together with allies in the west. Ukraine has achieved hard-fought but limited gains in different sectors, including a great deal of kinetic engagement with the Wagner Group. We have heard a fair amount today about what a deplorable organisation the Wagner Group is. The fact that many of its combatants have been released from prison demonstrates keenly the depth of the moral malaise in Russia when it comes to continued support for this campaign. The Kremlin has once again replaced its top commander in Ukraine. It believed that its “special operation” would be a victory in a matter of days, but here we are in month 11, with Gerasimov now in the hotseat—but for how long?
On Saturday, in the United Kingdom, it was leaked that the UK was going to supply a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks, and the Secretary of State confirmed it on Monday. That will facilitate a step change in capability for retaking territory with the combined use of tanks, heavy armour and infantry, but only in a very limited way, with one squadron of tanks. It must be accepted that the UK is seeking to open a door through which the other 14 European allies will step through with, say, a squadron each of Leopard 2s to add to the mix, providing 15 squadrons for the Ukrainians. We should be in no doubt that they would put them to outstanding use, as they have with everything else that has been donated to them.
Of course, the Russian operation deliberately violates international law. That is the point Putin is making: these are our rules, to which he has no intention of adhering. Russia’s action contravenes the United Nations Charter, the OSCE Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter and the Budapest accord, all by design. The illegal, unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine has shattered the post-war European order—also by design. The war in Ukraine should give us all pause for thought, in a range of ways.
I could not resist the hon. Gentleman’s tempting offer earlier. We are great friends on the Defence Committee, as the whole House knows. He mentioned the Budapest accord. Why on earth, having seen what happened to the Ukrainians when they gave up their nuclear weapons, does the Scottish National party want us to give up ours?
Is that it? I thought it was going to be a hard one. As he and I agree, nuclear weapons are an appalling weapons system that we hope will never be used. They are a deeply troublesome weapons system, but they do exist. In so far as they do, I am not certain that the 150-odd warheads—sorry, weapons packages—that the United Kingdom will invest in will make much difference to the polar threat of nuclear armageddon that is presented by the 3,000 warheads that Russia has and the 5,000 warheads that the United States has. These are the polar dimensions. The United Kingdom spending billions and billions of pounds in the middle is not going to change anything.
No, I will not let the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman intervene. They have had their answer, they can deal with that wisdom whether they want it or not.
There is no symbolic great power Russia unless Ukraine is brought—as Putin would see it—home, within the bounds of Russia. There is a risk that the war will continue at varying levels of intensity for long periods of time, so the continued support of the United Kingdom and other western allies is all the more important. Vicky Ford talked about the Ukrainians’ fear that we might forget them or become fatigued with this activity. You could forgive society in the west, due to the price of fuel, the price of gas, the price of food and the price of doing business, for becoming a little weary, but we as legislators must all ensure that we do not allow that to creep in because the cost of not allying ourselves with the people fighting to liberate Ukraine is far higher than the cost that we bear now by supporting them.
If the hon. Gentleman agrees that we must not forget Ukraine, and that we must recognise that we are in an incredibly challenging geopolitical situation—possibly the most challenging of the past 50 years, and my life—why on earth is the SNP spending all its time worrying about independence and not worrying about big issues on which we need to stand together?
There’s your thanks for making a conciliatory point in a debate on a matter on which we agree almost entirely. I will not answer that remark other than to say that, far from an obsession, worrying about independence is literally a noble pursuit.
No. I am going to make progress.
The hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex touched on why we are sending only 12 tanks. The reason is that we have scarcely three times that amount that are serviceable to send. He wants to send 124. That would be great, and I hope that, by sending the 12, the Leopard 2s will come forth from other NATO allies within Europe.
I do not know how accurate Sir Chris Bryant knows he was when he said that the United Kingdom was missing a real trick by trying to replace Challenger 2 with Challenger 3. We should be replacing them with Leopards and getting them built on these islands, which would be a perfectly realistic opportunity and far preferable industrial strategy.
We need to have a long look at the intelligence—and more specifically, the analysis of that intelligence—gathered by the UK and the west before the conflict became a hot war. Our ally Germany steadfastly refused to see what was plainly under its nose until it became a kinetic affair, and the UK and the west made significant miscalculations about the strength of Russia’s conventional forces, instead favouring an obsession with their high-end capability without realising that they are very thin in mass and scale—they have not contributed a great deal to the outcomes of the conflict so far.
In his summing up, I hope the Minister might address the Russian military studies centre at Shrivenham, which, putting it diplomatically, has not benefited from the most robust investment over the years and should probably benefit from more.
Although we have proved Putin wrong in his analysis of the western allies’ ability to cohere and to resolve to put up with the privations of this situation, our support for Ukraine, while being the right thing to do, has to endure with all available pace to bring this conflict and its consequences, both in Ukraine and throughout the world, to an end as soon as possible.
I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their thoughtful and considered contributions to today’s debate. I particularly thank Sir Bernard Jenkin for securing the debate, and I agree with the vast majority of what he said.
It is very clear from today’s debate that, despite some differences, Members on both sides of the House are absolutely committed not only to affirming and deepening our support for Ukraine but to confronting Russia and President Putin’s imperialist ambitions, which threaten the peace and security of Europe and risk a very dangerous and bleak future for the entire world. We need to be absolutely clear that this is not only a barbarous war against the people of Ukraine but a war against the very principles of humanity, liberty and democracy. If we fail to understand what is at stake, if we fail to ensure that we have clear and sustainable strategies of defence, deterrence and denial, and if we fail to have clarity and unity on the ends we seek and on the ways and means of achieving them, we risk a bleak and brutal future.
The war in Ukraine may have been the watershed moment when much of the world sat up and finally recognised the extent of Putin’s ambitions, his warped world view and the cruelty of his regime but, sadly, that alarm has been sounding for well over a decade, and some would say longer. We have seen Putin’s record in Chechnya and his systematic crushing, over many years, of democratic opposition and dissent in Russia. Many of us have been sounding those risks in this Chamber for a long time, yet we were ignored as Russian money and influence flooded into Londongrad and as disinformation flooded our politics and society both here in the UK and across the west. Frankly, an atmosphere of gross naivety and expedient complicity prevailed.
Whether we look from Chechnya to Syria, from the Caucasus to the western Balkans, or from Georgia to the annexation of Crimea, let alone his effective absorption of Belarus, we see that international acquiescence has given Putin the pretext for his next violations each time he has breached the boundaries of international law or fractured the global rules-based order. There has now been an unmistakable shift that we cannot allow to be reversed, because his illegal war against the people of Ukraine has garnered unity, solidarity and material opposition across the west to the Kremlin’s actions, which is the exact opposite of what he expected.
Russia’s strategy has met its most formidable defence in the courage and defiance of the people of Ukraine. As we approach the one-year anniversary, it is worth reflecting on the more than 7,000 Ukrainian civilians who have been reported killed since last February—the actual figure is projected to be much higher. Their blood is on Putin’s hands.
We have seen great tragedy this week. I have just come back from a Ukraine forum at Davos with an Ukrainian MP and other friends—I draw attention to my upcoming declaration of that visit. We stood in mutual sorrow, mourning the tragic losses in the terrible helicopter crash. Time and time again, we heard first-hand testimonies of the impact of Russia’s barbarous strategy on civilians, not least the terrible scenes we saw in Dnipro this week.
Many of us have visited Ukraine, and just a few months ago I saw with my own eyes the situation in Bucha, Irpin and Kyiv. I pay tribute to Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend Judith Cummins and Sir Iain Duncan Smith, for talking about what they saw. It is right that we recognise the remarkable tenacity of the Ukrainian people in the face of such brutality. Despite that fantastic counter-offensive in the autumn, winter has brought a bloody stalemate to much of the frontline, and spring—or, indeed, even earlier—is likely to see renewed offences. That is why it is exactly right that the UK and our NATO allies provide additional military assistance to Ukraine now. We on the Labour Benches fully welcome the Government’s decision to send those Challenger 2 tanks.
Across this House, we stand unshakeably with our NATO and international allies in providing comprehensive, military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance. This is not just in relation to Ukraine, but in terms of reinforcement and realignment across NATO, particularly with our Baltic and eastern European allies. Throughout the conflict, we have stood united in this House, and that is evident again today. That said, we believe that the Government should set aside individual piecemeal announcements and instead set out a clear strategy, in concert with our allies and Ukraine, of long-term military, economic and diplomatic support, so that we can make sure that Putin’s invasion really does end in failure.
There was an early focus on Russia using energy as a key part of its strategy, but we have heard again and again today that at the heart of Russia’s strategy is also terror. It is vital that the Ukrainian prosecutor general and the International Criminal Court have the resources they need to document and prosecute the growing body of evidence of Russian war crimes. We have been calling since March—indeed, it was called for by the Leader of the Opposition—for the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression. I have heard that again and again over the past few days. This is something that is gaining real momentum, and I would like to hear from the Minister the Government’s official position.
We also support the call from my hon. Friend Sir Chris Bryant and many others to re-purpose frozen Russian assets to help rebuild critical Ukrainian infrastructure and provide much-needed humanitarian aid to the country. We need to get on with that. Other countries, including Canada, are moving forward. What is the Government’s position? Why are we dragging our heels? I appreciate that it is complex, but we have been calling for this for months and months and months. I did have some warm words from Ministers in Committees a few months ago, and yet I have heard nothing since.
Let me turn now to Russia’s wider strategy. Dominating Europe is an integral component of Putin’s strategy and his view of its ultimate success or failure. The Russian world strategy that was unveiled in September made it very clear that Russia wanted to increase its position in the Slavic nations, the Baltic states, central Asia, the Caucasus and elsewhere. Putin dubbed the collapse of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” and considered it a “tragedy” that millions no longer lived behind those former Soviet borders since the dissolution. There should be no doubt about his world view and his ambitions for our continent.
The situation in the western Balkans has been rightly raised a number of times. I take a keen interest in the area and I have travelled out to Kosovo and North Macedonia. My colleague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, has been in Kosovo in recent weeks. The region is in its most precarious state since the 1990s, with tensions rife, and figures such as Milorad Dodik and others aligning themselves very clearly with the Kremlin. We know how this works: Putin and his cronies heighten tensions, exploit and enable secessionist movements and political outriders, sow discord, spread misinformation and capitalise on the ensuing turmoil. We cannot allow Russia’s interference in the region to destabilise the carefully calibrated peace brought about by Dayton and the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
We have heard about Russia’s ambitions beyond Europe. Putin was sure to formalise his ties with President Xi as a pretext to his invasion of Ukraine, culminating in the declaration of alignment between China and Russia. That relationship and its ramifications will be immensely consequential in the coming years.
We have also heard about the relationship with Iran. Characteristically, Putin is waging his war in Ukraine with its drones, but it is also a geopolitical relationship that could continue to define the entire middle east.
We have heard again and again today of the activities of the infamous Wagner Group, which is engaged in a number of conflicts in Africa, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, across the Sahel, in Burkina Faso and in the Central African Republic, which has effectively come to depend on that paramilitary outfit. There is also central and South America, which did not get much attention today. Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela remain aligned with Russia. Each of their relationships with the Kremlin is characterised by military co-operation, the weaponisation of information, the repression of the press and democratic freedoms, and the undermining confidence in democratic institutions across the region. What we are seeing is an attempt to extend Russia’s geopolitical reach and to strengthen authoritarianism and dissent worldwide.
Despite the strong vote in the United Nations, we know many countries have refused to condemn Russia’s actions. I would like to hear much more clearly from the Minister our strategy in relation to the global south and for dealing with those countries—some of which we would consider very close allies—that have failed to stand with us and with Ukraine.
I was extremely concerned when it was drawn to my attention recently that some trade union leaders in the UK have not exactly condemned Putin’s actions in Ukraine and may have been slightly on the other side. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is very concerning if that is the case, and that in condemning Russia’s actions we want unity not just among politicians but among the leaders of organisations across the country?
I do not know which union leaders the right hon. Lady is referring to, but I can tell her that the leader of my own union—I include my membership of the GMB in my declaration of interests—gave one of the most powerful speeches at the Labour party conference. He made it very clear what he thought, and I think that is also the view across the trade union movement in the UK: condemning Russia’s actions and standing with the people of Ukraine. I am not sure what the right hon. Lady is referring to.
I come now to some clear conclusions. We need to remain crystal clear in our commitment to NATO, but we must also end the bluster and brinkmanship that have characterised our relationship with the EU in recent years. The fact is that we all face common threats and we need to use new forums, such as the European Political Community, that bring together EU and non-EU, NATO and non-NATO countries. We all experience threats and we need to co-operate and work together. It is good that the UK was part of that, and we should seek to continue.
We must end the decade of decline for Britain’s defence, with millions of pounds of waste and mismanagement, the number of tanks cut by one third and the Army cut to its smallest size in 300 years. There has been much criticism of that across the House in this debate and I hope the Government listen carefully to that. We are in a new and dangerous world.
It is shameful that it took the invasion of Ukraine for the Government to finally get to grips with the UK’s role in illicit finance, particularly London’s role in facilitating the lifestyles and interests of Putin’s enablers and allies. That cannot go on; we must continue to close the loopholes, and I know there is cross-party support from many in this Chamber for doing that.
We must fully utilise and cherish all our alliances and partnerships worldwide in this fight—again, I hope the Minister can say what our strategy is with the global south. We must tighten our sanctions regime to ensure it is properly resourced and airtight, including in crucial areas, such as cryptocurrencies and others, where there are gaps, something I have repeatedly raised with Ministers.
We must ensure that we are investing in clean, secure and independent energy and ending our vulnerability and exposure to fossil fuels. We must do much more to take on the Kremlin in cyber-space and, of course, its systemic pollution and corruption of the information environment. We must also watch and defend the flanks; I have spoken about what our strategy needs to be with NATO, but we must also watch those areas that Russia is trying to destabilise, such as the western Balkans.
In conclusion, this illegal war of aggression has brought about a sense of unity and common purpose not seen since the onset of Putin’s rule. The incredible progress we have seen, with Ukraine at the fore, is an indication that his grand strategy might be unravelling. With our steadfast and enduring support, I know that the values we share with Ukraine will prevail, but they require a comprehensive strategy, with the resources and political will to see it to the end and Putin’s defeat.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, the shadow Minister’s declaration of his interest with the GMB union prompts me that I should have declared my interests when speaking, and I apologise to you, Sir, for not having done so. Until the end of last month, I was deputy chairman of the Defence Growth Partnership and I remain a non-executive director of an engineering company with defence interests, as declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that that is not a matter for the Chair, but he has placed his interests on the record. I now call the Minister of State; if he would be good enough, as a courtesy, to allow Sir Bernard a couple of minutes at the end to wind up the debate, that would be helpful.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin for securing this important debate. I am also grateful for the other knowledgeable contributions from hon. and right hon. Members, and I will try to cover as many of their points as I can.
I would like to start, however, by offering my deepest condolences to the families of Ukraine’s Interior Minister, Denys Monastyrsky, and his team of civilians who were killed in the tragic helicopter crash in Ukraine yesterday. He was a true friend of the United Kingdom and a true patriot of Ukraine, and we are ready to support Ukraine in whatever way we can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex put forward a strident case in outlining Putin’s grand strategy and, in his view, the lack of one on the UK’s side. He posed some interesting questions with regard to the integrated review refresh. He questioned the Indo-Pacific tilt and the validity of the AUKUS agreement, and he called for strong land forces, which is something I certainly agree with. He pointed out that we need to increase the tempo of our support to Ukraine; of course, we support that. He also pointed out that Putin’s calculation is one of time—his belief is that his ability to suffer will outlast the patience of western allies. I agree; that is, indeed, Putin’s calculation. My hon. Friend suggested that we were being too timid and too slow in our support. I refute that, because I think our actions over the last year, especially on the provision of lethal aid, have shown that we have led the way, and others have followed.
In terms of my hon. Friend’s central point, I acknowledge the fact that, while Putin has had a grand strategy, the last year has shown that it is, in simple terms, failing. Our response has shown that, when we put our mind to it, we can succeed. Our strategy over the last year is one of success. If we measure the success of strategy as whether or not we can deliver our policy, Putin’s failure to deliver his own policy in Ukraine has shown the failure of his strategy, and our success in supporting our Ukrainian friends has shown the success of our collective strategy.
Our response is built on four pillars. The first is a recognition that it is about hard power, and that is why we led the way in delivering the NLAW, which was a tactical weapon that took on strategic consequence. Just over a year later, that has led to us providing the Challenger 2 tanks, which hopefully will open the door for others. We recognise that it is about the provision of hard power.
We also recognise that alliance is hugely important in this. Russia has a very long border but is very short of friends. If we look at the collection of nations that are supporting our heroic Ukrainian friends, we see a determined, resolute and hugely capable group of countries that are providing an awesome amount of support. Collectively, in terms of their military power, GDP and so on, they represent a very important and powerful alliance.
The third pillar is resolve. I have mentioned that Putin will be testing our patience this year and thereafter, and we must be confident that our capacity to remain committed to our Ukrainian friends can outlast Putin’s judgment about his ability to force his people to suffer.
Fourthly, our strategy takes us into other domains. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex did not mention energy, but our collective response in the west and globally in fighting back against Putin’s weaponisation of energy supply has been immensely effective. No one would have thought several years ago that the Germans would have weaned themselves off Russian supply within a short space of months, at huge cost and inconvenience. It has been remarkable. The pan-European and global response to the weaponisation by Putin of his energy supply has been heartening and terrific. Of course, we must keep that effort up, but we should be very proud of our response, and that is because of the leadership of western nations. I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s remarks.
I turn to the comments of other Members. Sir Chris Bryant posed some good questions about our reconstruction effort. He will know that we are hosting a conference in June this year to focus nations on that and hopefully bring a flow of capital to Ukraine, to help its reconstruction. He asked some good questions about reparations. Of course, we are exploring all options. There is an army of lawyers looking at all this. We are seeking to be creative. He posed some interesting technical questions. All of this is under consideration, and we will update the House as and when we can.
We will keep the hon. Gentleman up to date.
The Chairman of the Defence Committee, my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, put this matter in a cogent, historical context, for which I was most grateful, but we should be confident that our resolve will outlast Putin’s determination to make his own people suffer. He pointed out that there is a global contest between authoritarian regimes, and those who value democracy and open economies, and that is particularly important in terms of the role of China. He made a powerful call for resolve. I think we are showing that but of course we must be ever vigilant. We can take nothing for granted.
Judith Cummins made a powerful reflection on her visit to Kharkiv at the end of last year. She mentioned Putin’s desperation as illustrated by his barbaric assault on the critical national infrastructure of that country, and I was grateful for her remarks.
My hon. Friend John Howell referred to his important work in the Council of Europe. We continue to be grateful for his work in that forum. He said we must keep our eyes open, and we certainly agree, because the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We will keep our eyes open and I commend his remarks.
Richard Foord made an interesting reference to Palmerston’s approach in the 1850s. They knew a lot about UK-Russian relations in the 1850s. He also referred to Churchill’s famous reference to Russia, but there is no actual riddle these days: we know exactly what Putin is. He is a bloodstained tyrant bent on imperial conquest, so there is no mystery.
My right hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke, the chair of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation, urged us to guard against hubris, which I thought was an eloquent way of calling for ongoing resolve. He pointed out the importance of NATO’s cohesion and continued determination, for which I was grateful. He reflected interestingly on his meeting, while a Minister, with the Ukrainian forces. That ongoing training had its genesis in Operation Orbital. It has been running since 2015 and is something of which we are immensely proud. I am grateful to him for bringing that to the House’s attention.
My right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith referred to his visit to Ukraine and the admirable work of Siobhan’s Trust and the magnificent David Fox-Pitt clad in his Ukrainian kilt. I hope to see my right hon. Friend modelling that at some stage. He used that example to give us a powerful insight into the horrendous civilian cost of Putin’s barbaric war. That is why we are proud to have given some £220 million-plus purely in humanitarian support and we will continue to do all that we can in the humanitarian sector. He said that the plea from those he met was, “Please don’t forget us.” I can assure him that the UK Government absolutely will not forget them. We will continue to do all we can, not just in the humanitarian sector but in long-term reconstruction. That is the point of June’s conference.
My right hon. Friend Vicky Ford pointed out Putin’s fading support globally, and the fact that some of the nations that have been aligned with him now question the validity or utility of being partnered with a failing nation and someone who is losing. I thought that was useful. She talked about his outrageous weaponisation of global food supply, which we are seeking to counter through the Black sea grain initiative. She also made an important reference to the malign role of the Wagner Group, which concerns us all. I am grateful for her comments.
My right hon. Friend Mr Francois pointed out that he made some of these insights more than a year ago. He pointed out that Russia is a pariah state. Frankly, the fact that Russia is now a pariah state shows that this war is a failure of Putin’s strategy.
I just want to reiterate the point that has just been made. This entire debate is because of the absence of a strategy in handling Russia, of which listing the Wagner Group would be one aspect. The Minister dismisses that idea by saying that we do not speculate. Perhaps he could humour those here who are calling for it by saying that he will at least take it away and put it to No. 10 as part of a wider package of measures that have been put forward today to say, “Yes, we need to lean into this. We need to construct a strategy that will allow us to stand up to Russia in advance of the completion of defeating Russia in Ukraine.”
I did acknowledge the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. I did not dismiss them. I acknowledged them and said clearly that we do not speculate or comment on possible future proscriptions from the Dispatch Box, which is the settled position of this Government.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford made some good comments about the need to reflect the new security reality in the IR refresh and the procurement obligations that that will bring about. That was a valuable comment. My right hon. Friend Sir John Whittingdale, who has longstanding expertise and interest in this area, pointed out rightly that the UK Government and the British people have no argument with the Russian people, but they have with Putin because of his outrageous use of warfare.
My right hon. Friend also alluded to the importance of Operation Orbital. That has had an important legacy of success that is allowing us to train thousands of Ukrainian soldiers, who will go and do their duty heroically. He referred to Vladimir Kara-Murza. I was pleased to meet Evgenia Kara-Murza this week in London. We will continue to do all we can through our ambassador in Moscow and our consular officials to support him and his family. He referred to the lack of media freedom. He also asked about frozen assets. As I said, we look at all options for using Russian frozen assets to support the reconstruction of Ukraine.
My right hon. Friend Philip Dunne pointed out the importance of Putin’s weaponisation of energy and sought reassurance about the IR refresh. I reassure him that we will seek to use that as an opportunity to reflect the new security reality. The Scottish National party spokesperson, Dave Doogan, talked of Putin’s enemy abroad tactic, which was interesting. He talked about UK tanks; we are very proud of those and hope that other nations will follow our example. I do not think that his justification for the SNP’s approach to nuclear was compelling, but we do not want to get stuck on that. I can reassure him that institutionally, we are doing everything we can to embed deep expertise on Russia in the Foreign Office and beyond.
I come now to the questions from Stephen Doughty. I thank him for his continued support in this policy area. We look at all options with regards to frozen Russian assets and their possible use to support Ukrainian reconstruction. He made a series of good points about Russia’s malign influence in the western Balkans. We will continue to call that out when we see it. He put the issue in the global context with reference to China. This war is consequential in terms of China’s role globally. We are very aware of that. That is part of our integrated review.
The hon. Gentleman talked about what we are doing with the global south. The bottom line is that we will always partner with nations that value democracy, open economy and freedom, because in the long term that is much more enduring, powerful and stronger than tyranny and autocracy. That is why, ultimately, we should all be collectively very optimistic and upbeat about the capacity of the alliance supporting Ukraine to expel Russian troops from its border and liberate its country. We look forward to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes.
I thank everyone who has taken part ably in this debate, and my hon. Friend the Minister for his response. I would point out to the Scottish nationalists that I do not think that President Putin would have attacked Ukraine if Ukraine still had nuclear weapons. But the main point that I wish to make—for all the positive things that my hon. Friend said—is that it is complacent to say that Putin’s strategy is failing and our strategy is succeeding. Setbacks, yes, but two words keep coming up in military literature in Russia at the moment: Stalingrad and Finland. Stalingrad because its doctrine is victory at any cost and Finland because that is where it expects the west to compromise to cede territory in order to gain peace, which is what Finland did in 1938.
Russia is tooling up its entire economy for war. It is reported in Vedomosti, the business daily in Russia, that Putin when visiting a factory called the work of the Russian military-industrial complex one of the factors of victory in the Ukraine war. We have yet to hear that the UK Government are doing enough to support Ukraine—I regret that—although we are leading many other European nations from the front. Russian grand strategy has been clear for at least a decade, yet the west has been continually blindsided because we do not have a strategy of our own. We do not have the capacity for analysis and assessment that would keep us alert to these threats. This is a topic to which I will return, I can assure this House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the matter of Russia’s grand strategy.