The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 25 April.
“It is 61 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, and 74 days since my Russian counterpart assured me that the Russian army would not be invading. As the invasion approaches its ninth week, I want to update the House on the current situation and the steps that we are taking to further our support for the Ukrainian people.
It is our assessment that approximately 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed during their offensive. Alongside the death toll are the equipment losses. A number of sources suggest that, to date, over 2,000 armoured vehicles have been destroyed or captured. That includes at least 530 tanks, 530 armoured personnel carriers, and 560 infantry fighting vehicles. Russia has also lost more than 60 helicopters and fighter jets. The offensive that was supposed to take a maximum of a week has now taken weeks. Last week Russia admitted that the Slava-class cruiser “Moskva” had sunk. That is the second key naval asset that the Russians have lost since invading, and its loss has significantly weakened their ability to bring their maritime assets to bear from the Black Sea.
As I said in my last Statement, Russia has so far failed in nearly every one of its objectives. In recognition of that failure, the Russian high command has regrouped, reinforced and changed its focus to securing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. A failure of the Russia Ministry of Defence command and control at all levels has meant that it has now appointed one overall commander, General Dvornikov. At the start of this conflict, Russia had committed more than 120 battalion tactical groups, approximately 65% of its entire ground combat strength. According to our current assessment, about 25% of those have been rendered not combat-effective.
Ukraine is an inspiration to us all. Its brave people have never stopped fighting for their lands. They have endured indiscriminate bombardment, war crimes and overwhelming military aggression, but they have stood firm, galvanised the international community, and beaten back the army of Russia in the north and the north-east.
We anticipate that this next phase of the invasion will be an attempt by Russia to occupy further the Donbass and connect with Crimea via Mariupol. It is therefore urgent that we in the international community ensure that Ukraine gets the aid and weapons that it needs so much.
As Defence Secretary, I have ensured that at each step of the way the UK’s support is tailored to the anticipated actions of Russia. To date we have provided more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles, five air defence systems with more than 100 missiles, 1,360 anti-structure munitions, and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosive. On
Over the recess, my ministerial team hosted a Ukrainian Government delegation at Salisbury plain training area to explore further equipment options. That was quickly followed by the Prime Minister’s announcement of a further £100 million-worth of high-grade military equipment, 120 armoured vehicles, sourcing anti-ship missile systems, and high-tech loitering munitions for precision strikes.
However, as we can see from Ukrainian requests, more still needs to be done. For that reason, I can now announce to the House that we shall be gifting a small number of armoured vehicles fitted with launchers for those anti-air missiles. Those Stormer vehicles will give Ukrainian forces enhanced short-range anti-air capabilities, day and night. Since my last Statement, more countries have answered the call and more have stepped up to support. The Czech Republic has supplied T-72 tanks and BMP fighting vehicles, and Poland has also pledged T-72 tanks.
The quickest route to help Ukraine is with equipment and ammunition similar to what they already use. The UK Government obviously do not hold Russian equipment, but in order to help where we do not have such stock, we have enabled others to donate. Alongside Canada and Poland, the Royal Air Force has been busy moving equipment from donor countries to Ukraine. At the same time, if no donor can be found, we are purchasing equipment from the open market. On
The next three weeks are key. Ukraine needs more long-range artillery and ammunition, and both Russian and NATO calibre types to accompany them. It also seeks anti-ship missiles to counter Russian ships that are able to bombard Ukrainian cities. It is therefore important to say that, if possible, the UK will seek to enable or supply such weapons. I shall keep the House and Members on each Front Bench up to date as we proceed.
The MoD is working day and night, alongside the US, Canada and the EU, to support continued logistical supplies, but not all the aid is lethal. We have also sent significant quantities of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine. To date, we have sent more than 90,000 ration packs, more than 10 pallets of medical equipment, more than 3,000 pieces of body armour, nearly 77,000 helmets, 3,000 pairs of boots and much more, including communications equipment and ear defence.
On top of our military aid to Ukraine, we contribute to strengthening NATO’s collective security, both for the immediate challenge and for the long term. We have temporarily doubled the number of defensive personnel in Estonia. We have sent military personnel to support Lithuanian intelligence, resilience and reconnaissance efforts. We have deployed hundreds of Royal Marines to Poland, and sent offshore vessels and Navy destroyers to the eastern Mediterranean. We have also increased our presence in the skies over south-eastern Europe with four additional Typhoons based in Romania. That means that we now have a full squadron of RAF fighter jets in southern Europe, ready to support NATO tasking. As the Prime Minister announced on Friday, we are also offering a deployment of British Challenger 2 tanks to Poland, to bridge the gap between Poland donating tanks to Ukraine and their replacements arriving from a third country.
Looking further ahead, NATO is reassessing its posture and the UK is leading conversations at NATO about how best the alliance can deter and defend against threats. My NATO colleagues and I tasked the alliance to report to leaders at the summit in June with proposals for concrete, long-term and sustainable changes. Some of us in this House knew that, behind the mask, the Kremlin was not the international statesman it pretended to be. With this invasion of Ukraine, all of Europe can now see the true face of President Putin and his inner circle. His intention is only to destroy, crush and rub out the free peoples of Ukraine. He does not want to preserve. He must not be allowed to prevail. Ukrainians are fighting for their very lives and for our freedoms. The President of Ukraine himself said as much: if Russia stops fighting, there will be peace; if Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no more Ukraine.”
My Lords, in this House and across Parliament and beyond, as the Minister knows, we are united in our support for Ukraine and the actions the Government have taken. The courage shown by the Ukrainian people, both military and civilian, has been remarkable, and this bravery has echoed across the globe since the Russian invasion began, inspiring us all.
We have all condemned the invasion of a sovereign country and the barbaric acts that have been carried out in its name. We remain determined to end this unjustifiable war and ensure that all those responsible are brought to justice for their war crimes. These efforts have seen Russia forced into a new phase of changed tactics this week. The goal of outright conquest has been abandoned and the focus is now on the east.
Can the Minister share what further military assistance the Ukrainian Government have requested from the UK to deal with this new offensive? As Finland and Sweden are reportedly seeking to join NATO in response to the invasion, what steps are the Government taking to reassure our democratic partners that we will stand with them against any Russian aggression and consider quickly such applications?
Is it not the case that, rather than weakening NATO, Russia’s actions have strengthened it: the complete opposite of what it intended and indeed expected? Overnight we have heard reports of false flag attacks in the breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova, as well as a renewed attack on the Azovstal steel plant, which houses resilient survivors of the brutal siege of Mariupol. It was also reported this morning that hangers in the Zaporizhzhia region, containing European and US weapons and ammunition, were destroyed by Russian missiles.
Can the Minister share what intelligence she can on this, particularly whether any UK-supplied provisions were lost? Talking of intelligence, does the Minister have any update on our assessment of Russian threats to attack Western targets? It is vital that we stand together to show that we will not be intimidated by any such threats. We welcome the announcement made by the Secretary of State on Monday to further supply Ukraine. Armoured vehicles fitted with anti-air missiles will enhance the short-range anti-air capabilities of the Ukrainian military. We also welcome efforts to move equipment from other allies to Ukraine.
Could the Minister say what logistical support the UK is providing to our allies to ensure that military aid reaches the front lines? The Secretary of State has said that the UK will seek to enable, or supply more long-range artillery and ammunition, as well as anti-ship missiles which Ukraine needs. Alongside that, what aerial reconnaissance is being provided? It has been only two days since the announcement, but I wonder if the Minister can update the Chamber on what is being done to deliver these weapons?
What is required next is a shift from old Soviet-era weapons, which enabled a short-term response to the initial offensive, to a medium term strategy in response to the latest phase. This will require newer NATO weapons and training for the Ukrainians to use them. Can the Minister outline what steps the Government are taking to facilitate that?
I also understand that approximately 1,000 UK troops are on standby for humanitarian support in the countries immediately adjoining Ukraine. Is there anything the Minister can tell us about their deployment and work?
I now turn to the front page of the Daily Telegraph this morning and the article which reports the Foreign Secretary making a speech, this evening I think, calling for plane parts to be sent to Ukraine and for increased defence spending. Will the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Ministry of Defence be involved in signing off these plans, and what plans do the Government have to review defence spending? Can the Minister update us on the Foreign Secretary saying that the free world will need to “reboot, recast and remodel” its approach to tackling aggressors, and that Ukraine has to be a catalyst for wider change. What does that mean for our current defence posture, and is that being reviewed?
Could the Minister update us on the total amount that the Government has now spent on military aid to Ukraine, including non-lethal equipment and how does this compare to our key allies? Are we now confident that all NATO partners, including Germany, are united in the provision of military equipment?
To conclude, it is the case that the Ukrainians’ fight is our fight, and it is vital that we stand together against this unprovoked aggression, and prepare if necessary for the long haul. This country has a proud history of standing up for freedom and democracy and we must continue to do so today. We know the consequences of not doing so.
My Lords, on these Benches we also stand in support of the Ukrainian President and the people of Ukraine, who have so robustly stood up to the Russian invasion, I think for 63 days now. Normally, perhaps, your Lordships’ House is relieved that Ministers are not required to rehearse the Statement, yet in this Statement there was a lot of detail which might have merited some rehearsal today. The Secretary of State went through in some considerable detail the losses Russia has faced and how Russia had assumed that it was going to be a short incursion into Ukraine and a rapid victory, which has clearly not been the case. From these Benches we support the efforts of Ukraine and our NATO allies on its borders.
Many of the questions that I wish to ask are similar to those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. We have had a lot of detail about the anti-ship and anti-tank missiles the United Kingdom has been supplying. There is a question of how far and for how long we are able to keep supplying them. I think it was some time before Recess that the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, who is not in his place, asked to what extent the Government are replenishing their own missiles. Is the Minister able to say how long the Government are able to offer the sort of support they have been giving? What is the medium-term thinking?
The Secretary of State said:
“Looking further ahead, NATO is reassessing its posture and the UK is leading conversations at NATO about how best the alliance can deter and defend against threats.”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/4/22; col. 463.]
Is the Minister able to go into any more detail about what sort of “posture” we are thinking about and what role the United Kingdom expects to play? In light of the French elections three days ago, we would assume that the response from France will be a supportive one. What conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with France and other NATO partners about the way forward?
In particular, what assessment are the Government making, not just about Russia in the Donbass, but also of the further actions being taken in Moldova, Transnistria and other areas? Has any assessment been made of Russian thinking about Kaliningrad? At the moment we have all been focused on Ukraine, but there is a whole set of other flashpoints which need to be thought about. It would be a Pyrrhic victory if we found that the situation in Ukraine was, if not resolved, at least held at bay, then we started looking at other entities that Russia might have its eyes on. What are the Government thinking in that regard?
Finally, I echo the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. The Foreign Secretary appears to have a very clear view about sending aircraft. Is that the government position or simply the view of the Foreign Secretary? What thought are the Government giving to support for partner countries—Finland and Sweden—if they decide they want to be NATO allies? How does that affect the UK’s thinking? If one of the excuses for the Russian actions in UK was that Ukraine had an interest in joining NATO or the European Union, does that affect Russian thinking about Finland and Sweden? What action does the United Kingdom think we may need to take in that regard to support countries which may become NATO members?
My Lords, first, I say again to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, how much I appreciate the tone of their contributions. As I have observed before, it is extremely important that the tremendous contribution coming from the United Kingdom to support Ukraine is seen externally as an absolutely united endeavour. I express my appreciation to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.
The noble Lord asked what further assistance is coming from the UK. The Statement that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave to the Commons on Monday detailed a lot of the information that your Lordships wanted. I observe that, as your Lordships are aware, there has been very close engagement between the United Kingdom and Ukraine. I understand that there are conversations in some form or another almost on a daily basis, as we listen to what Ukraine wants, what it needs and how we as a country can, either bilaterally or in concert with our allies and partners, try to provide that.
It was interesting that, yesterday, at the meeting in Germany, the Secretary of State met US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Ukraine Defence Minister Reznikov, and representatives from nearly 40 other countries to collectively discuss Ukraine’s military needs. Our allies thanked the UK for its leadership in securing key military assistance to date. All countries agreed to continue discussions on an enduring basis. This goes some way towards explaining how we approach this. We can do a lot bilaterally but I think the real impact is from what we do in concert. I wish to reassure your Lordships that that is at the forefront for NATO member states.
In relation to what further equipment we are giving, the Secretary of State, when he made his Statement, was asked about the Brimstone missile. He mentioned that we had, in 2020-21, agreed in principle to develop and sell a maritime variant of the Brimstone missile. Ukraine recently asked for a longer-range ground attack missile, and the Government have been exploring if existing stocks of Brimstone could be released for such purposes. At the time of my right honourable friend’s Statement, we thought that some time might be required to realise that aim—the request from Ukraine—and that that would then give the Defence Secretary an opportunity to return to update the House on sending Ukraine this new capability. I am pleased to say that our technical staff—here I wish to pay tribute to the tremendous calibre of expertise within the MoD, which has absolutely been on display in stellar form in our response to the situation in Ukraine—have had quicker successes adapting and providing the system. Instead of a further Oral Statement before Prorogation, I can inform the House that the UK will now provide Ukraine with Brimstone missiles. We will update the House on future developments and, in the meantime, we will continue to provide briefings. Obviously, Prorogation intervenes, but as Defence Minister in this House I will endeavour to keep Members up to date with developments.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also raised the issue of Sweden and Finland. Although not members of NATO currently, these are very important partner states of NATO and valued friends of the United Kingdom. We take their interests very seriously and would wish to support them as friends and allies. In relation to their NATO application, it is obviously their decision how they process that and deal with it. We work closely with them already in the JEF partnership, which, as your Lordships will know, is a very effective alliance of like-minded states operating in the Baltic. There is total interest in these two countries by the United Kingdom and a desire to support them in every way we can.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made the interesting observation that, in a paradoxical way, Russia has managed to strengthen NATO. That is an astute, perceptive and absolutely accurate analysis. President Putin’s appalling, unjustified and illegal invasion of another sovereign country has seen the reasons he adduced for this, and the very threat he said he was frightened of, fortify and intensify before his very eyes. Of course, it was never a threat, because NATO is a defensive alliance, but he has seen the potency of what happens when leaders of countries, and countries themselves, appalled at what someone else does, band together. They want to offer support and do the right thing, and that is what we have seen very much in evidence in the response to the situation Ukraine.
An important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about whether there is a threat that Russia may seek out targets in the West. We have been clear from the beginning that we would be consistent in supporting Ukraine. It is not a NATO member but it is a friend of the United Kingdom. We had already been involved, for several years, in helping, training and providing advice to Ukraine. Quite simply, the UK and our allies and partners are providing the tools for it to defend itself against a brutal and unjustified Russian invasion. Once weapons have been donated, their use is a matter for Ukraine, which has a right to defend itself by targeting legitimate military objectives. That is the business of Ukraine in defending itself against a completely illegal invasion and is a necessary response. That is why countries such as the United Kingdom, together with our international partners—not least our NATO partners—have been as one in responding to this. I think that has given President Putin cause for thought.
I was also asked about the logistical support that the United Kingdom is able to provide. It was a very welcome outcome of the second international donor conference—which took place on
A question was also raised about the discussions taking place in NATO. As I said earlier, the whole raison d’être of the meeting in Germany yesterday was to ensure that the critical discussions being prosecuted by the Defence Ministers of the member states were focused on both what we need to do at the moment in responding to the challenge in Ukraine and what the posture should be for the future. These are under very active consideration and are important questions to ask.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised the matter of the Foreign Secretary’s statement and her view about warplanes going to Ukraine. I can say that we are working with our allies to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself. I cannot comment on specifics, but we and many other western partners are now providing longer-range weapons systems to help counter the indiscriminate artillery fire that the Russian armed forces have been raining down on besieged Ukrainian cities. As I said earlier, the UK is taking a leading role in co-ordinating the delivery of military aid. It is important that we continue to listen to Ukraine and assess what stage the conflict has got to and what is needed to facilitate the response, and work with our allies to both analyse and reflect on what is needed and then deliver that.
On the matter of budget, as your Lordships will be aware, and as I have frequently observed from this Dispatch Box, the UK has a very good record of contributing to NATO. We have consistently met our 2% of GDP, and sometimes we have been above that. We are the most important contributor to NATO in Europe. That is a significant position, which we seek to maintain. In so far as our indigenous defence budget is concerned, we have had what I think has been universally regarded as a very good settlement from the spending review; it certainly enables us to fund the immediate needs and our planned priorities. But of course, as we look to the medium and longer term, we shall constantly do that through the optics of what we think we need and the resource package that may be required.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the matter of humanitarian aid. I have indicated what we have been doing on the military front, and I have a summary here of our role in lethal and non-lethal military support. We have gifted approximately £200 million in aid to Ukraine, which we propose will grow to £500 million. On humanitarian aid, we have supported about £400 million, including £220 million which will be used to save lives and protect people inside the country and the wider region, and £174 million in economic support to bolster the Ukrainian economy and reduce Ukraine’s reliance on Russian gas imports. We have also contributed £25 million from the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund to support the payment of salaries for the Ukrainian armed forces.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the matter of the situation Russia finds itself in. It is important to reflect on the reality of what has unfolded on the ground and what President Putin’s projected plan was—quite simply, the two have not matched up. What he thought would be a simple and short-lived incursion into Ukraine has been anything but. Such information as we have been able to secure—which is difficult to do—is very interesting. There is a now deleted post on Russian social media site VK from pro-Kremlin media outlet Readovka which claimed on
All that is a reflection of two things: the extent to which this is proving to be a very bitter conflict for Russia, and—almost more importantly—it is a most appalling waste of lives, many of them young lives, and an appalling legacy of President Putin to leave families in Russia grieving lost family members and friends, who have faced such an appalling prospect in being committed to this barbaric incursion into Ukraine. That indicates that the situation for Russia is much grimmer than President Putin would ever wish to concede.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked, how long we will keep this going. We will provide support for as long as it takes. There will be and are conversations with the EU. We look at Moldova very carefully, and it is something we consider with our allies and partners.
My Lords, today I was on a call with the Ukrainian Culture Minister, who was describing how the Russians had been systematically trying to destroy cultural assets and had been taking and burning books in the places they took over. They are actively destroying that whole Ukrainian heritage. In her response, the Minister has pointed out the danger to civilians there, many of them women and children. Hundreds, it seems, are still waiting for their visas and permission to travel under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. In many of these families, one family member has not had permission to travel but others have. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer that point specifically today because it is outside her remit, but I ask her to make representations to our Home Secretary and to the Minister for Refugees that the situation is intolerable and must be rectified urgently. The number of people queuing today at the hub in Portcullis House wanting to raise individual cases that they have been contacted about was testament to the fact that we are not managing our promise to provide shelter to these refugees with the intention originally laid out in the Statement.
I thank the noble Baroness, who raises an important issue which resonates across the House. The information I have is that as of
My Lords, may I ask the Minister about the very sad situation with Ukrainian casualties, both military and civil? Our medical teams during the Afghan situation developed very specialised skills in this area post-conflict. The Statement refers to our sending 10 pallets of medical equipment. Has Britain offered any more help on the medical side? Has there been any offer of our willingness to bring Ukrainian military casualties to this country or to send more medical teams to Ukraine to help with the pretty ghastly situation on the ground there?
Part of the humanitarian assistance to date has included granting in kind to the Ukraine Armed Forces medical equipment from the MoD’s supplies. This includes items for combat medical needs, field dressings, bandages, tourniquets, splints and chest seals. I understand that the possibility of our offering more assistance from the UK end is being looked at. I do not have any further information on that, but I undertake to make inquiries and report to the noble Lord.
My Lords, I offer my support for everything the Ministry of Defence, the Secretary of State and other government departments are doing. Is the Minister aware of one difficulty: the paucity of briefing that we are receiving? This means that we will know what the media want us to know, but not what Ministers and officials need to tell us and can tell us. This is important, because without these briefings we cannot speak with authority outside the House and be more effective in supporting the policy, while not ignoring our constitutional duties.
Does the Minister also agree that it is premature to consider our defence expenditure at this point without knowing what the outcome of the conflict will be? On the point about resupply made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I hope the Minister will be able to state that she will not hesitate to increase the production of defence materiel as required and without any artificial constraints.
First, I say to my noble friend that I certainly would wish to co-operate in every way I can with providing information and briefing to your Lordships. With the intervention of the Recess and imminent Prorogation, that has logistically proved a little difficult, but I undertake to resume these briefings and hope that provides reassurance to my noble friend.
On the budget, as I said earlier, we constantly review the immediate need and the potentially committed expenditure that we have embarked on. We also look at the medium to longer-term interest. That is what we will be doing, because critical to that—my noble friend is quite right—is what we think the implications are for this sustained and continuing contribution from the UK. Regarding what has been supplied already and what will be supplied, I reassure him that we do not compromise our core reserves—our stores—that we need for our national security and the other global contributions we make. We keep a careful eye on that.
My Lords, I have three brief questions for the Minister. First, the Statement says:
“The next three weeks are key.”
Will the Minister outline in what way that is meant, given that this war has continued for much longer than we had originally thought it would? Secondly, what is the Government’s current assessment of Russian capability and intention to occupy the whole of the south coast of Ukraine, thus creating the possibility of a landlocked Ukraine state? Thirdly, in respect of the impressive range of equipment that is outlined in this Statement, do the Government have any concerns about the West’s ability to get it through to the Ukrainians who are going to use it? As I understand it, Russia has begun to target things like railway lines, which might well be the means by which this equipment is transferred from the West to the Ukrainians, who are fighting so bravely.
I think that when the Secretary of State referred to the next three weeks, he had in mind what has been a clearly discernible change of approach by the Russian leadership and military. That has involved two things. It has involved a new command structure, which indicates that the previous structure was not working. It also indicates that Russia realises that it is going to have to consolidate its resources and it therefore wants to focus on the eastern part of the country. That is a critical part of the conflict, because it is very clear that Russia is determined—we see it from the activity already taking place in towns and cities within that area—to try to strike this land bridge down through the south-eastern part of the country. That is what the Ukrainians are determined to resist, and it is what the UK—with all our allies and partners—is determined to support Ukraine in repelling.
On the issue of the next three weeks, we all know that President Putin has set his May Day parade day as an iconic, tokenistic opportunity to—no doubt—declare how successful he considers this illegal war has been. That would always raise an expectation that he might be prepared to escalate activity, and therefore there is a critical need to anticipate and respond if that is the case. This is a critical part of the conflict, but I think it is clear from the response in the support for Ukraine that the Ukrainians know that they have a lot of friends, and they now have a lot of really substantial equipment and weaponry to help them in the defence of their country.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement and the support which the Government are giving to Ukraine. I was very grateful to hear the assurance from the Minister that the kinetic capabilities of our own forces are being protected. I hope that industry is rising to the challenge, which it obviously must be facing. One thing which was not mentioned was the impact of economic sanctions on the fighting capability of the Russians. Has any assessment been made of those sanctions as they affect the military capabilities of the Russians, both immediately and in the longer term?
The noble and gallant Lord has asked an interesting question. There is no question that the broad mechanism of sanctions applied both by individual countries and in concert by united nations is having an impact on Russia. I do not think that there is any question about that. The extent to which that will impact on the Russians’ military endeavour and their capacity to, quite simply, pay salaries or fund equipment or buy new equipment is probably much more difficult to anticipate, but it is a very interesting question. As time passes, we might begin to get a clearer picture of what this means for the Russian military endeavour.
We all understand at the moment that what we are seeing are, quite simply, signs of the failure of that Russian endeavour, because there have been clear indications of failure. Part of that might be down to incompetence and ineptitude on the field, but some of it might be increasingly down to inability to keep supplies coming, logistics flowing and the normal support necessary to sustain armed forces in conflict. It is an interesting point, and I will take it back to the department. If I come across any further information, I shall share it with the noble and gallant Lord.
My Lords, it is clear that getting the necessary equipment through to the Ukrainians and dealing with humanitarian help is of the first order. However, I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister a question which is of the second order but is likely to become increasingly important. She will recall that one of the reasons that the totalitarian regimes started to collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s was because their blood-soaked dictators were unable to keep the truth from their populations. Things have changed in the last few years. There may be censorship in Russia but, with the growth of the digital economy, there simply are not enough secret policemen to monitor the web. Part of the decline of Russia as an economy is that the amount of material out there in Russian has diminished. While the views of what is happening can come through from western sources in English and other European languages, they are not coming through in Russian. Will my noble friend see that the United States and our European allies look at trying to get as much information out there in basic Russian? It is certainly my view that the Russian people are a noble and a great people, and they have a right to know what is the new barbarity being done in their name.
I entirely agree with my noble friend. One of the great frustrations of this whole tragedy has been the stranglehold that President Putin has placed on the dissemination of information in Russia. It is a stranglehold. Outlets have been closed down and criminal law has been invoked to threaten people who share information or appear to be disloyal to the state. My noble friend is correct that trying to reinform the Russian people with the correct version of what is happening is clearly an important and desirable objective. He makes a good point about language. One of the challenges has been not so much the language but just finding a conduit to get the information through. There are some signs that sadly because of these appalling tragedies that have been befalling Russian military personnel, their families now are aware of that. Their families are hurt, sad and in many cases maybe angry and frustrated and not understanding why this has happened and why they have had their own family members sacrificed. There is the possibility that more information will begin to spread through Russia. My noble friend makes an important point and I will certainly bear it in mind.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Smith asked a question at the start that the Minister did not answer. Are the comments of Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, on providing fighter jets to Ukraine the official policy of Her Majesty’s Government? If not, why is she making such statements which, in such a sensitive situation, could have very dangerous consequences?
I apologise; I endeavoured to respond to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. The Foreign Secretary has expressed a view and of course is perfectly entitled to have it. My role as a Defence Minister is to explain how we in the MoD are working with our NATO partners and our allies and how we are trying to co-ordinate delivery. At the end of it all, as I said earlier, in conjunction with Ukraine we are trying to work out and supply not just what it needs but to do so when it needs it. Part of that is reflected in the response that I was able to give in explaining to the House that we can now confirm that Brimstone will be provided. That is something that the Ukrainians specifically wanted because of its capacity.
One of the things that the Ukrainians really do need is the capability to clear up the incredible amount of unexploded ordinance, some of which has been seeded deliberately by the Russians as they remove themselves from around Kyiv. We should be proud of the Halo Trust, which has gone back to Ukraine and has over 40 locally employed people who have been doing that work, even during some of the dreadful violence that has been going on. I know the Government are supporting them. Apart from anything else, the trust needs funding to pay the people who work for it and who do this dangerous, difficult but much-needed work.
The second thing the trust needs is an appreciation by the Ukrainian Government of the importance of certain senior people avoiding national conscription to other jobs. It might be helpful if our Government, in conjunction with the Halo Trust, argued that the Ukrainian Government should allow these key people to this work. They are experts who have been doing it for eight years in that country, in the most dangerous of conditions, supported by this organisation. Can the noble Baroness, perhaps on their behalf, make some of these arguments?
I am indebted to the noble Lord for a perceptive contribution. He is quite right that that has emerged as an issue in the area; indeed, it was referred to in the other place. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Ben Wallace, said that we were looking at it to see what we could do to help. I will take those comments back to my department and will see whether we can produce something more positive.
My Lords, we have seen the shortcomings of diplomatic efforts focused on the person of President Putin. We can hope that after his re-election, President Macron will recalibrate. However, contacts with the Russian authorities are important through conflict, so could the Minister please tell your Lordships’ House what the main channel is now for contact between Her Majesty’s Government and Moscow?
In respect of diplomatic channels, that question is probably better responded to by my noble friend Lord Ahmad. However, it is very difficult to sustain normal diplomatic relations with a country where such appalling things have been happening, at the instigation of that country. There has to be a proper acknowledgement by the UK and other countries that may feel similarly minded that we are appalled by what President Putin is doing, and it is therefore very difficult to maintain a diplomatic relationship. What I would say is that the Russian embassy remains open in London and the UK embassy remains open in Moscow. On a defence level, we endeavour to maintain some kind of dialogue with the Ministry of Defence in Russia because that is for the purposes of risk and escalation management and trying to support broader HMG efforts to ensure an internationally accepted negotiated settlement of the Ukraine conflict. We will continue to make efforts to maintain these communication channels but that is a two-way process, and I have to make it clear that the parameters of that discourse are obviously pretty narrow; they are defence related.
House adjourned at 9.29 pm.