Ukraine: Military and Non-military Support - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 25th January 2022.

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Photo of Lord Walney Lord Walney Non-affiliated 3:08 pm, 25th January 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further (1) military, and (2) non-military, support they will offer to the government of Ukraine to deter the threat of an invasion by Russian forces.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, we unequivocally support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that is why the United Kingdom has provided considerable military support to the Government of Ukraine through Operation Orbital and the assistance announced by the Defence Secretary on 17 January, as well as a range of economic assistance measures and diplomatic engagement.

Photo of Lord Walney Lord Walney Non-affiliated

I thank the Minister for that Answer. The Prime Minister has rightly signalled today that UK forces will be part of NATO’s defence of its borders, but surely the focus must continue to be on increasing support for Ukraine itself to deter this heinous act of aggression. In addition to punishing economic sanctions, will the Government make clear that lethal military support for our partner will be increased and ongoing in the event of further incursion?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The noble Lord will be aware that under Operation Orbital we have offered a range of military support since 2015. That is continuing. The recently announced ongoing package is a part of that. Another part of it is a maritime training initiative. We have a range of support measures and will continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine to defend itself if that becomes necessary.

Photo of Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Conservative

My Lords, having been involved in many a deal with foreign nations over the donation of military equipment, all too often we supply that which we have in surplus as opposed to what the nation needs. Can my noble friend assure me that that will not be a limiting factor in this case and that any donations of further military kit will be done in co-ordination with our NATO allies?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Yes, I reassure my noble friend that any donations are made within the limitations of ensuring that we have residual supplies for our normal operational needs. These donations—he is quite correct to emphasise that that is what they are— are specific: to aid self-defence if that need should arise.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, the UN charter authorises the Security Council and General Assembly to take action against any nation that jeopardises world peace. What discussions have we had with our men at the UN to see if any action is going to take place? While understanding that the Security Council would be vetoed by Russia, there are other actions that might help and would show the opprobrium in which the world holds Putin’s actions.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The noble Lord will understand that there has been a range of diplomatic and military engagement by the United Kingdom Government, not least by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary. As to whether that extends to speaking to the men—or, may I say, women—in the United Nations, I do not have specific information, but I can assure him that the widest possible diplomatic activity has been embarked upon.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

The noble Lord, Lord Walney, suggested that we should be thinking about direct support for Ukraine, but what support are we also giving to our allies in NATO, particularly in the Baltic states? We obviously have a presence in Estonia—are we increasing our support there? What conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with Bulgaria and Romania, whose position in NATO has been challenged by Russia?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Obviously, the noble Baroness will realise that the focus of attention at the moment is on the aggressive and unacceptable behaviour of President Putin in relation to a particular state: Ukraine. We continue as members of NATO to make our full contribution to the forward presence in the Baltic. That has been a very well received initiative which we continue to support.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

In gathering together a robust alliance against Russian threats and bullying, will my noble friend assure us that we will include the rising and great powers of Asia and the Middle East, because they are the ones whose voices Russia will listen to most closely?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

There has been a wide programme of engagement, not least by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, with colleagues across the globe, but also by the Foreign Secretary. There has been a desire to ensure that we canvass as wide a position of views as possible. Everyone understands that the proposals and activity of President Putin are completely unacceptable. There is a concerted voice asking him please to de-escalate.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, it is important for Russia to know that Her Majesty’s Opposition stand fully with the UK Government in the actions they are taking with respect to Ukraine and the defence of its sovereignty, including the continuing military assistance, such as the defensive anti-tank weapons sent last week. These are worrying times for security in Europe, so can the Minister say more about the international diplomatic efforts to de-escalate? Can she also say something about the forthcoming visit by the Defence Secretary to Moscow and what he will be saying? Russia needs to know that we support a diplomatic solution, but we will be resolute in our defence of Ukraine and the security of our NATO allies.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I thank the noble Lord not just for his remarks but for their tenor, which is extremely helpful. The Secretary of State is going to meet with his Russian counterpart; that invitation has been accepted. Discussions are ongoing about timing and location. I am unable to say more about that at the moment, but concerted endeavour continues, as the noble Lord will be aware from the Prime Minister’s Statement in the other place earlier today. A very full range of activity was outlined, including engagement with major state leaders across the globe.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, Russia should be completely aware of the serious consequences of military intervention. Too much “Just you dare” talk can elicit the opposite reaction. Nations, like children, do not take kindly to being pushed into that position; they do not like to lose face, so we have to be very careful in the way we talk.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I would actually agree with the noble Lord, and observe that every effort has been made to invite Russia and President Putin to continue to engage. Whether that is through the NATO-Russia Council or direct communication from other global states, that initiative is there. But the problem arises because President Putin has amassed over 100,000 military on the borders of Ukraine. He has taken that decision, and that is what is causing the anxiety.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, if the Government decide to send further defensive weapons to Ukraine, will they seek access for RAF aircraft to German airspace? If not, why not?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The noble Lord will be aware that we do not comment on operational matters in detail, and he will understand that that has been a respected tradition for successive Governments, so I cannot comment on that specific detail. However, I can answer a question he asked me last week, to which I omitted to respond, on the allegation that Germany denied access to its airspace. Germany did not deny access, because the UK did not submit a request. There has been no dispute between the UK and Germany on the issue; in fact, the Defence Secretary has plans to visit Germany shortly to meet the Defence Minister.

Photo of Baroness Meyer Baroness Meyer Conservative

I declare my interest as trade envoy to Ukraine. Has not the United Kingdom given more support to Ukraine than any other European country, and should not some of our neighbours pull their socks up and do a little bit more to support Ukraine against Russia’s aggression?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister outlined earlier today in the other place, in fact, significant support has been forthcoming from other nations. As a prominent member of NATO—it being the umbrella under which the UK has been channelling a lot of its activity, along with the United States—there has been a recognition by member states that they need to flex their muscles and make their contribution. The evidence is that they are doing that, and we are very grateful to them.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, will the noble Baroness return to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, about the position of Germany in regard to Estonia, which has been trying to send munitions to Ukraine for its self-defence? When one NATO country stops another NATO country upholding freedom, liberty and democracy, what does that say about our position as an alliance? Also, what does it say when Germany offers instead to provide a field hospital to Ukraine?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I do not have any information on that precise point, but I undertake to investigate and respond to the noble Lord if I can.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, innocent civilians will pay the cost of political failure if the current tensions over Ukraine continue to escalate. The most important non-military support we can give Ukraine is to continue intense, robust dialogue. The Secretary of State for Defence explained this in the Statement he made last week, and I commend him for his willingness to meet with General Shoygu in Moscow. Does the noble Baroness not agree that if we are going to find a sustainable solution to this problem without further unnecessary deaths, we need to concentrate on diplomacy?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The noble Lord speaks with authority and makes a very important point. He will be aware that the NATO approach over recent years has in fact been deterrence, dialogue and defence, and that is a sustainable way forward. It is certainly an approach this Government endorse, and it is the approach we are endeavouring to prosecute at the moment. We just hope that President Putin is hearing the entreaties being uttered and understands that there are very, very grave consequences to follow if he decides to pursue his proposals to invade Ukraine.