The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 9 March.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the situation in Ukraine and Her Majesty’s Government’s support to the Government in Kyiv.
The situation on the ground is grave. As we can recall, on
Russian high command committed 65% of its entire land forces, which are indisputably in possession of overwhelming firepower and armour. It is estimated that at the start of the invasion they had between 110 and 120 battalion tactical groups dedicated to the task, compared with approximately 65 in Ukraine. Their missile stocks gave them even greater strength to reach Ukraine at distance. However, what they did not and still do not possess is the moral component so often needed for victory.
After 14 days of the war, according to the Ukrainian general staff, at
I can announce to the House our assessment that, of the initial Russian objectives, only one has been successfully achieved. While Russian forces are in control of Kherson, Melitopol and Berdyansk in southern Ukraine, they currently encircle the cities of Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol but are not in control of them. In addition, their first day objective of targeting Ukrainian air defence has failed, preventing total air dominance. The Ukrainian armed forces have put up a strong defence while mobilising the whole population. President Putin’s arrogant assumption that he would be welcomed as a liberator has deservedly crumbled as fast as his troops’ morale.
For our part, the United Kingdom continues to play a leading role in supporting Ukraine. On
In response to further acts of aggression by Russia, we have now increased that supply. I can update the House that, as of today, we have delivered 3,615 NLAWs and continue to deliver more. We will shortly be starting the delivery of a small consignment of anti-tank javelin missiles as well. I want to assure the House that everything we do is bound by the decision to supply defensive systems and is calibrated not to escalate to a strategic level.
Britain was the first European country to supply lethal aid. I was pleased that not long after a military aid donor conference I held on
Donations are not enough; the delivery of aid to the front line is just as important. Here, again, Britain is leading, because alongside Canada, the United States and Sweden, we have invested in building Ukrainian military capacity since 2015, and we find ourselves able to co-ordinate the delivery alongside our partners.
As the conflict intensifies, the Russians are changing their tactics, so the Ukrainians need to, too. We can all see the horrific devastation inflicted on civilian areas by Russian artillery and airstrikes, which have been indiscriminate and murderous. It is therefore vital that Ukraine maintains its ability to fly and to suppress Russian air attack. To date, the international community has donated more than 900 man-portable air defence missiles and thousands of anti-tank guided weapons of varying types, as well as various small arms. However, the capability needs strengthening, so in response to Ukrainian requests the Government have taken the decision to explore the donation of Starstreak high-velocity, man-portable anti-aircraft missiles. We believe that this system will remain within the definition of defensive weapons, but will allow the Ukrainian forces to better defend their skies. We shall also be increasing supplies of rations, medical equipment, and other non-lethal military aid.
As with any war, the civilian population is suffering horrendous hardships. According to the Ukrainian Minister of Education, 211 schools have been damaged or destroyed, and media footage shows Russian strikes hitting kindergartens. The Chernihiv regional administration reported that the Russian air force was employing FAB-500 unguided bombs against targets in the city, and according to Human Rights Watch, civilians in Mariupol have now been without water and power for almost a week. President Zelensky talked of children dying of thirst. Today the estimated number of Ukrainian civilians killed or injured stands at more than 1,000, but the true figure is expected to be much higher, and I am afraid that worse is likely to come. It is for that reason that the UK will increase its funding for Ukraine to £220 million, which includes £120 million of humanitarian aid. That will make the United Kingdom the single biggest bilateral humanitarian donor to Ukraine. We are also supporting humanitarian work with the Polish and Romanian Governments on the borders.
As I said in my last Statement, we still believe that it is worth trying to build diplomatic pressure on Russia. This week, my good friend the Prime Minister met the Prime Ministers of Canada, the Netherlands and Poland. He also spoke to the leaders of France, Germany and the United States, and the Prime Ministers of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The Foreign Secretary is in Washington at the G7, and also attended the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting earlier this month. I myself met the Ukrainian Ambassador just this morning. President Putin should be and can be in no doubt that the international community is united against his actions. It remains strong, and will not back down.
As well as giving direct military support to Ukraine, we continue to bolster our contribution towards NATO’s collective security. NATO Defence Ministers will gather next week in Brussels to discuss the next steps. The UK is doing its bit in giving military support and reassurance to its allies. We are currently supplying significant air power to NATO, including increased air patrols, with both Typhoons and F35s for NATO air policing. We have also deployed four additional Typhoons to Cyprus to patrol NATO’s eastern border, and have sent an additional 800 troops to Estonia. Over the last week, Apache and Chinook helicopters were involved in exercises in Estonia. Meanwhile, HMS ‘Diamond’ has sailed to the eastern Mediterranean, HMS ‘Northumberland’ is taking part in a northern deployment, and HMS ‘Grimsby’ is in the Norwegian Sea supporting NATO mine countermeasures.
On Monday HMS ‘Prince of Wales’, RFA ‘Tidesurge’ and HMS ‘Defender’ joined HMS ‘Albion’ and RFA ‘Mounts Bay’ for Exercise Cold Response, a multinational exercise off the coast of Norway, and HMS ‘Richmond’ will be exercising with our Joint Expeditionary Force. We have put over 1,000 more British troops on readiness to support humanitarian responses in the bordering countries. Britain’s contribution to NATO is significant and enduring. It is important at this time that, in order to maximise our reassurance and resilience effect, we co-ordinate through NATO and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Few of us will not have been moved by President Zelensky’s speech yesterday. His people are fighting for their very survival. His country is united against this aggression, and it is indeed his country’s darkest hour. Yesterday I saw footage of a Russian armoured train, bristling with guns, heading towards Mariupol. A single brave Ukrainian woman ran to the train and shouted ‘Slava Ukraini’—unmoved, unintimidated by the guns. That woman’s bravery should inspire us all.
I know that many of our constituents, and our colleagues, are fearful of what will happen next. President Putin and the Kremlin continue to threaten countries that offer help to Ukraine. Their military campaign will, I am afraid, become more brutal and more indiscriminate, but it is my firm belief that our strength to stand up to such bullying comes from our alliances. As long as we stand united, both as a House and as the international community, the Kremlin’s threats cannot hurt us. We should take strength from the peoples right across Europe who are standing shoulder to shoulder to protect our values—our freedom, our tolerance, our democracy and our free press. That is our shield.”
My Lords, first, I state again the full support of Her Majesty’s Opposition for the position the Government have taken on Ukraine. We welcome the military support the Government have given to Ukraine and our NATO allies. It is important to start this debate with a restatement of that fact.
The reports of the barbaric bombing of a children’s hospital and a maternity ward in Mariupol are just the latest horrors to emerge from Ukraine. Goodness knows how many men, women and children have been killed, let alone soldiers. Now we learn that ever-more devastating weapons have been used, such as the thermobaric vacuum bomb, with awful photos and videos emerging of the dead and injured—civilians, not combatants. In light of this update, can the Minister tell the House what the Government’s assessment is of the current situation in Ukraine? Can she also update the House on the progress of the additional military support being provided for Ukraine, including, as we read in our papers today, the Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles? If NATO planes cannot enforce the no-fly zone, we must surely enable the Ukrainians to do so themselves.
Chillingly, we also learned today that western analysts believe that Russia is contemplating the use of chemical weapons. Can the Minister tell us any more about this assessment and what our response would be in the event that they were, shockingly, to be used? What work is going on with the International Criminal Court regarding any future action that may take place as a result?
There is also growing alarm at the prospect of the danger the war poses to nuclear plants at Chernobyl and elsewhere. Can the Minister say anything about what assessment has been made of that threat to us all, and what can be done?
There are also heart-breaking pictures of people desperate to leave, fleeing the country in terror. Can the Minister report any progress on the establishment of humanitarian corridors to enable people to leave, even in the midst of the military conflict?
I very much agree with the Defence Secretary who, in his Statement to the other place yesterday, spoke of the fear of many people here about what will happen next, as President Putin threatens countries that offer help to Ukraine. What do the Government expect to happen? These fears have been expressed to me and, I am sure, to many other noble Lords. I am sure that we would want to do all we can to reassure the people of our country.
In light of all this, is not the Defence Secretary right to have said the following yesterday in the other place? I very much agree with this and am sure everyone will. In talking about this fear, he said:
“We should take strength from the peoples right across Europe who are standing shoulder to shoulder to protect our values—our freedom, our tolerance, our democracy and our free press. That is our shield.”—[Official Report, Commons, 9/3/22; col. 327.]
I could not have put it better myself. I think the Defence Secretary spoke for all of us when he said that yesterday. Is not our unity of purpose and belief our greatest strength, even in these dark days? That unity exists here in this Chamber, as well as across the country. I assure the Minister of our full support on everything the Government are doing.
Two matters arise, though, on which I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments. The supply of the laser-guided Starstreak missiles is referred to in the Statement, and there is an element of doubt about whether it can reasonably be described as defensive. Might she expand a little on the Government’s thinking on that?
Turning to another element which I heartily support, there is an obligation or undertaking to make a substantial contribution to humanitarian aid, more of which will inevitably be needed. Many countries bordering Ukraine are taking its refugees, which must constitute a substantial economic burden for them. Will any of the sums referred to in the Statement be made available, in turn, to any of these countries?
This Statement is extraordinary because, on the one hand, it describes unmitigated barbarism and, on the other, breathtaking bravery. The targeting of civilians, their homes and refuges is certainly barbaric, but the bravery is shown in the extraordinary fact that this nation, against all odds, has mobilised to face an enemy described in the Statement as one with “overwhelming firepower”. This enemy targets the elderly, the vulnerable and the young. I ask, not in the hope of getting an answer: what sort of people attack a maternity hospital? Whether done by design or carelessness, by a bomb or, as has been suggested, artillery, it is still a war crime. There should be no doubt about that.
Now we have the use of thermobaric vacuum bombs, a particularly lethal form of attack. That has not emerged as some kind of intelligence information; it has been boasted about publicly on a Russian television network. There is too, as has already been mentioned, the threat of the use of chemical weapons. Indeed, that threat referred not only to chemical but possibly biological weapons. This undoubtedly raises significant matters for consideration perhaps in this country, but most certainly in Ukraine itself.
In spite of all this, the spirit of the citizens of Ukraine has not yet been broken. Russians claim that the people of Ukraine are their brothers and sisters. It is a very curious affection which relies on cruise missiles, helicopter gunships and artillery shells.
My concern is this: as Russian and perhaps Kremlin desperation increases, and as Mr Putin’s schedule is more and more incomplete, other considerations may arise in his mind. He has mentioned nuclear weapons on several occasions. Are we ready for that topic to be mentioned again? I draw to the Minister’s attention, although I suspect she does not need me to, the fact that Russian generals include the notion of nuclear war-fighting as part of their doctrine. It is an issue upon which the Government would be well advised to start consideration now.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Campbell, for their helpful, constructive and encouraging remarks. We are all clear—and were particularly so when we had the privilege of listening to President Zelensky—on the absolute unity of purpose to which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred.
I think we all felt that tangible unity of purpose, not just across the political spectrum within the Parliaments but across the United Kingdom and with our allies and partners. I entirely agree that the unity of purpose is cement-like in bonding us all together in our determination to see off this tyrant, this tyranny and this completely unjustifiable and illegal war in Ukraine. Both noble Lords referred to some of the recent footage. By launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine, President Putin has chosen this path of bloodshed and destruction, barbarism and butchery. That is what must be resisted. We cannot allow that evil to remain unchallenged and unaddressed. I am very grateful to noble Lords for articulating these sentiments.
I will try to deal with some of the specific points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked for an assessment of where things are in Ukraine. It was clear from the Statement what a very significant catalogue of help has been given, so I will not rehearse that. I have some up-to-date information on where things may be. There is an estimate from the US that between 5,000 and 6,000 Russian troops have died in Ukraine. That is a matter of huge sorrow for the families of these soldiers, which we regret—they are deaths we consider to have been pointless and unnecessary. This folly, this evil excursion, should never have been embarked on.
Russian forces have once again made only minimal progress over the last 24 hours. The logistical issues that have hampered the Russian advance persist, as does the strong Ukrainian resistance. Ukrainian forces around Kyiv and Mykolaiv continue to frustrate Russian attempts to encircle the cities, but we must be realistic. Russian is likely seeking to reset and reposition its forces for renewed offensive activity in the coming days, including operations against the capital, Kyiv. It remains highly unlikely that Russia has successfully achieved its planned objectives according to its assessed pre-invasion plans, but we all know the carnage that has been wrought as it has pursued this completely unjustified and illegal incursion.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also asked about chemical weapons. Yesterday, the White House warned that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine or manufacture a false-flag attack, which we would find utterly reprehensible and condemn. We must be alert and constantly assessing our intelligence and reports of information coming out of Ukraine about what is happening.
That leads me on to the other issue, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Campbell, the matter of war crimes. The International Criminal Court of course has a locus in this. We agree that it is vital that perpetrators of war crimes are held to account. I know that all noble Lords will hold that view. It is worth reflecting on the fact that 38 countries, co-ordinated by the United Kingdom, led the largest ever referral to the International Criminal Court, to ensure that Putin will be held to account for his war crimes. We are constantly reviewing that situation closely.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised the attack on Chernobyl, the former nuclear power-generation site. This is a matter of grave concern, as is the attention paid to the other nuclear site. We were extremely concerned about the reports about Chernobyl, but we understand that no radiation has been released and that this is not likely given the presence of emergency back-up power. What is regrettable is that it has been difficult for the Ukrainian authorities to access the plans and our call is that Russian must allow that access, to undertake essential maintenance work to ensure that power can be restored as best it can.
The noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Campbell, raised Putin’s rhetoric. We are now familiar with that rhetoric, most of it intended to frighten, to intimidate, to destabilise and to cause anxiety. The view of the United Kingdom is that we, along with our partners and allies, are dealing with an extremely serious situation. We are focused on that. Your Lordships will agree, as I have inferred from the helpful comments from both noble Lords, that the UK is seen to be absolutely taking its share of heavy lifting in responding to this. That is our primary obligation. That is what we are doing to the best of our ability, effectively, with our partners and allies.
Humanitarian aid and safe corridors would, as a concept, be admirable and commendable, but delivery in practice, given what we have seen on the ground, is much more problematic. The best that we can do is to work with Ukraine and the neighbouring countries to ensure that with our humanitarian support, we give the best assistance that we can to those who are seeking to leave can do so safely.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, asked about Starstreak, the new initiative announced by the Secretary of State yesterday. I am no technical expert, and some of your Lordships will know this much better than me, but Starstreak is a high-velocity, man portable anti-air missile. We believe that this system will remain within the definition of weapons and will allow the armed forces of Ukraine to better defend their skies. I commend my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who has shown a penetrating insight on these matters and a very welcome practical reaction to what is happening. This is an important help to the Ukrainian forces.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State’s words “standing shoulder to shoulder”. I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks, which reflect the very welcome unanimity that we are seeing across the political spectrum. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, rightly praised the bravery of Ukraine. We are all full of admiration for the quite extraordinary resilience that the people of Ukraine are showing. It is absolutely incredible, magnificent and inspires us all to do our best to support them.
I think I have answered the points raised, but if I have omitted anything, I will refer it to the noble Lords.
My Lords, we have 20 minutes for Back-Bench questions. If noble Lords can ask a short question and do not make speeches, it will allow everyone to get a chance to ask a question.
My Lords, have the Government given any attention to the close parallels between the situation in Ukraine and the one in Georgia? Both states have adjoining boundaries with Russia and in both cases Russia has already attained illegal footholds, in Georgia through South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We have been supplying very helpful defensive weapons to Ukraine. Are the Government giving any attention to supplying defensive weapons also to Georgia, if that is what it requires?
As my noble friend will be aware, and as I said earlier, the United Kingdom, both bilaterally with Ukraine and in concert with our NATO allies, has been concentrating on responding to the situation in Ukraine. That response has called for a specific commitment from the United Kingdom in relation to defence resource and defence equipment, and that is the focus of our thoughts at the moment.
My Lords, I have given notice of my question to the noble Baroness. On the question of Chernobyl, what is the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency at present? I take it that the whole world system has not somehow broken down, but Moscow and Kyiv are covered by the arrangements for Chernobyl and similar RBMK reactors and so on. I helped organise it 30 years ago. Can we say that there is some role for the International Atomic Energy Agency rather than having a squabble, with Russian people appearing in a highly radioactive room and saying that they are now running it?
I probably have limited information to give the noble Lord, but as I said earlier, we have what we think is a reasonably reliable report on the current state of the site. The Government are in contact with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we continue to support its impartial efforts—that is important; the agency is impartial—to ensure the safety and security of Ukrainian nuclear facilities. Of course, Chernobyl is one of them, but there are others. There is no more specific information I can give to the noble Lord at the moment, but I reassure your Lordships that we continue to monitor the situation closely.
My Lords, I hear that Lavrov is now accusing the Pentagon of developing biological weapons in Ukraine, which is clearly to justify what the Russians plan to do themselves. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that the Government should support the BBC as much as they can—BBC News Russian and the BBC World Service—to deny that fake news?
My noble friend makes a very important point. The extent of disinformation and misinformation pedalled by President Putin and his Government is a matter of huge frustration and one that causes anger. It is frustrating, but I reassure my noble friend that we are responding to that. We found that one of the best ways to respond is to release intelligence which we feel we can safely release. Therefore, to some extent, that effectively pre-empts what Russia may be minded to accuse people of doing.
Let me say in passing that I think we are all full of admiration for all the journalists who have been out in Ukraine and so bravely reporting back, not least for the BBC. I think all of us are watching our journalists and BBC correspondents broadcasting from Kyiv, and they seem to me to reflect the very best elements of journalistic courage and professionalism. I want to publicly commend that, but reassure my noble friend that we are doing everything we can to counter disinformation.
My Lords, Ukraine grows a fifth of the world’s wheat, and the prime planting time is the first 10 days of March—that is, exactly now—but this is not happening. We already have bad harvests from the USA and Canada, and not only will Ukraine suffer massive food insecurity itself: it supplies 90% of Lebanon’s wheat, about 50% of Egypt’s, and all along the north African coast. Prices are expected to double from what they were in 2008, when they were one of the lead reasons for the Arab spring. I know we cannot do something about this from here, but what discussions are the Government having with the WHO and the FAO? This is a crisis we can see coming towards us really fast.
The noble Baroness makes a really important point and one that has registered with many people, not least Governments. It is somewhat wide of my area of departmental responsibility, but I hear what she says and will reflect that back to the department.
My Lords, many serious analysts expected Kyiv to be taken via Belarus within two days or so. Clearly President Putin did not factor in the remarkable resistance of the people of Ukraine and their morale, in spite of the imbalance of forces. Quite rightly, we have decided to give sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine, but that surely needs very good training. Where will this training be done—outside the borders of Ukraine?
I can confirm the first part of the noble Lord’s question: yes, there will be a degree of training required. He will understand that, for reasons of operational discretion, I am not going to be more explicit about that.
My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will agree that that symbolic afternoon on Tuesday was one of the most remarkable in the history of Parliament. Symbolism does have its places. Could I suggest that Parliament—both Houses—should nominate President Zelensky for the Nobel Peace Prize? Could I also suggest that it would be another symbolic gesture to underline our unity if the leader of the Opposition were invited to Cabinet meetings when Ukraine is on the agenda?
My noble friend makes a number of interesting observations. I am sure that we are all conscious of the extraordinary attributes of President Zelensky, and everyone will be reflecting on how we best acknowledge that. As to matters of Cabinet protocol, my understanding is that the leader of the Opposition is, in fact, briefed on Privy Council terms. I think my noble friend Lord Coaker would confirm that the Government have been as explicit as they can with intelligence and information, and I am not aware of any dissatisfaction with that.
Notwithstanding that last answer, have the Government made any assessment that could be made public about the possibility of red lines, particularly in relation to biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and how that might be communicated to the western public if such weapons were used?
It is a matter of international law that chemical weapons are proscribed. That is one of the areas of concern; there was speculation on the part of the White House in the United States that Russia might be thinking of this. It is very difficult to talk of things like red lines. Nuclear deterrents exist, and they exist within international law. While some may disagree with that, they do exist; indeed, we are a country with one of these important deterrents. Our focus at the moment in this complicated and distressing situation, daily unfolding before us in Ukraine, is how we collectively do our best to respond to that by supporting the Ukrainians in defending themselves and in showing our solidarity—this unity of purpose to which reference has been made—with the President of Ukraine and his people.
My Lords, with thousands dead, millions displaced and little talk of settlement, why not push the case I have repeatedly suggested since
If I may commence my response to the noble Lord by picking up on that last point, our role is to support a sovereign country which has been the victim of a completely illegal attack in which war is being waged within its boundaries. It is for that sovereign country to come to its own decisions about how it wants to see the future. It knows that it has the unstinting support of the great majority of global powers, and that has been manifest in not just statements of support but activity, for example at the United Nations. I suggest that these matters have to rest with the Ukrainian Government; it is a sovereign state.
My Lords, the Minister is completely right: it is not for Britain or anyone else to negotiate away parts of Ukraine. I applaud the military assistance provided by the Government to the people of Ukraine and ask what more we can do to meet the central request in that remarkable address by President Zelensky the other day, which is to keep Ukrainian skies safe. As I say, I very much welcome the assistance that has been provided and the new equipment that was discussed yesterday, but if the Americans are not prepared to facilitate the transfer of those Polish jets to the Ukrainians, what might we be able to do, with other countries, to assist the Poles in making those planes available to the Ukrainians?
The discussions to which the noble Lord refers have indeed been taking place between Poland and the US. We have been quite clear that it is for Poland to make its decision and that we will support whatever that decision is. So far as the United Kingdom response is concerned—as manifest in the recent announcement of the Starstreak anti-aircraft missile—we readily, frequently and robustly assess what is needed and what we are able to provide. That is the basis on which we will continue.
The noble Lord will be aware that when people talk about creating no-fly zones, we get into very difficult territory where a fine balance has to be observed between helping Ukraine and not escalating this conflict into a European or third world war. We are very mindful of that, as are all our NATO partners, and those members have had the fullest and most extensive discussions about that aspect.
To reassure the noble Lord, I said earlier that Russian planes and helicopters have been shot down, and that has been achieved with the existing anti-aircraft missiles available. This new missile is a very powerful piece of equipment, which again will allow the Ukrainians to preserve operational activity in their airspace but deal with enemy aircraft overhead.
My Lords, I warmly welcome today’s announcement that Roman Abramovich, another Putin crony, is going to be sanctioned. However, I ask the Minister and HMG to look at a possible but counterintuitive idea: if some of these oligarchs are willing to attack Putin and the invasion, disavow the regime completely and help the Russian opposition from this country, then the sanctions on them could be lifted.
To be honest, I think it is premature even to be discussing that. The sanctions are part of a universal and, I think, very effective ligature around the Russian economy and Russian financial activity, and anyone would be very wary of dismantling any part of that composite edifice. At the end of the day, as we speak, this illegal invader, with his military, is in Ukraine wreaking carnage, and our duty is to do our level best to stop him and help the Ukrainians defend themselves.
My Lords, Mariupol has been without water for five days now and children are dying of thirst. Can more be done to provide food and water to those who are trapped by this terrible war?
I understand the noble Baroness’s concern, which I think is shared right across the Chamber. What we, as the United Kingdom Government, are doing, as she will be aware, is offering an extensive package of humanitarian aid. The total offer is £395 million, and that has been used in various ways. The important thing, as she identifies, is how to get aid into Ukraine. The funding that we are providing will help agencies to respond and, I hope, create a lifeline for Ukrainians, with access to basic necessities, particularly medical supplies such as medicines, syringes, dressings and wound care packs. Indeed, one important request from the Government of Ukraine has been in the area of medical supplies. We have provided £3.5 million to fund medical supplies to Ukraine, and medical items have been flown to the region. They came from the DHSC and from the NHS in Scotland.
As the noble Lord will be aware, the United Kingdom Government have been approaching this crisis at the global level with other NATO member states. We have been doing that to try to provide a concerted and properly thought-through response to this crisis. Member states, including the United Kingdom, have behaved responsibly and effectively, and have shown shrewdness in assessing what is possible and what is not. I commend their collective judgment on the matter.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but I believe that issues relating to Ukraine being involved with NATO membership are actually contained in its constitution. That would need to be changed, and it cannot be changed until there is peace.
Grave situations require disconcerting questions. Red lines have been mentioned. Do HMG have red lines in the event of Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine? What is HMG’s assessment, analysis and response to reports that Russian mercenary groups are being deployed in Ukraine, including but not limited to Wagner Group and related organisational offshoots, including foreign fighters from Syria? When are we going to call enough as being enough? Finally, what can be done to cut through the fog of disinformation for the people of Russia so that they know what is being conducted by Russia in their name?
To pick up the point about disinformation, as I briefly alluded to in reply to my noble friend Lady Meyer, we are taking steps. We try to find channels of communication into Russia, whether through social media or whatever, to relay the facts of what is happening in Ukraine. We hope that some of that information is now getting into Russia and being disseminated.
As to what we do if the conflict escalates, we constantly —again, in conjunction with our NATO allies—appraise and assess what is happening and then, after discussion, conceive the appropriate response to it. That is what we have been doing and shall continue to do.
Does my noble friend accept that it is rather unhelpful to describe lethal weapons being sent to the Ukraine as either offensive or defensive? Weapons can be used in either role; it just depends on how they are deployed.
From the outset, we gave Ukraine anti-tank missiles—and we were one of the first countries to do so—but we have been clear that these are bits of equipment that they use to defend themselves against attack; if there is no attack then there is no need to use them. We cannot leave Ukraine in a position where it is unable to defend itself while the rest of us sit back and shed tears. We are trying to put our money where our mouth is and give the Ukrainians what they need. I think we are managing to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, raised the issue of Starstreak and asked whether it fell within the broad definition of what we understood to be legitimate and reasonable in the circumstances. We construe it to be so.
I do not wish to go into operational details but could my noble friend the Minister tell us what steps the Government might be taking or discussions they might be having with British business to ensure that our businesses are ready in the event of a possible Russian cyberattack?
As my noble friend will be aware, the United Kingdom has its National Cyber Security Centre, which is well placed to deal with and anticipate such attacks. It enjoys a close relationship not just across government departments but with those departments’ client users. Obviously, we can never guarantee that cyberattacks will not happen, but we will certainly do our level best to anticipate them and, were that to happen, to swiftly manage and restore communication.