Ukraine - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 21 December 2022.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 December.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on Ukraine. I am grateful for the leeway that Mr Speaker has given me for a slightly longer Statement than normal; I thought it important to give as much information as possible to the House at the close of this year.

Today marks the 300th day of what was supposed to be a three-day operation by Russia. As this calendar year draws to a close, I want to update the House on the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the brave defence of the Ukrainian people. Since it began its offensive on 24 February, Russia has failed to achieve its strategic objectives. Not one single senior operational commander in place on 24 February is in charge now. Russia has lost significant numbers of generals and commanding officers. Rumours of General Gerasimov’s dismissal persist, as Putin deflects responsibility for continued military failure in Ukraine, high fatality rates and increasing public dissatisfaction with mobilisation.

More than 100,000 Russians are dead, injured or have deserted. Russian capability has been severely hampered by the destruction of more than 4,500 armoured and protected vehicles, as well as more than 140 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, and hundreds of other artillery pieces.

The Russian battalion tactical group concept—for a decade the pride of its military doctrine—has not stood up to Ukrainian resistance. Russia’s deployed land forces’ combat effectiveness has dropped by more than 50%. The Russian air force is conducting tens of missions a day, as opposed to 300 a day back in March. Russia’s much-vaunted Black Sea fleet is little more than a coastal defence flotilla. Kremlin-paid mercenaries are faring no better. Hundreds were recently killed by a strike on a headquarters used by the paramilitary Wagner Group in the Luhansk region.

Behind the scenes, international sanctions, including independently applied UK sanctions, have handicapped the Kremlin’s defence industry. Russia is running out of stockpiles and has expended a large proportion of its SS-26 Iskander short-range ballistic missiles. It is now resorting to stripping jetliners for spare parts. Its inability to operate independently is underscored by its reliance on Iran’s Shahed drones.

President Putin’s failure to marshal recruits and machinery is translating to battlefield defeats. At the maximum point of its advance, in March, Russia occupied around 27% of Ukrainian territory. Ukraine has since liberated around 54% of the territory taken since February. Russia now controls only around 18% of internationally recognised areas of Ukraine. Last Monday, the Kremlin cancelled its annual press conference for the first time in a decade.

Almost a year on, the conflict now resembles the attritional battles of World War I. The Russian army is largely fixed in place, not just by Ukrainian firepower but by its own creaking logistics system and barely trained troops. Soldiers occupy networks of waterlogged trenches and a vast front line stretches for 1,200 kilometres —the distance from London to Vienna. Despite intense fighting in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, Russia can barely generate a fighting force capable of retaking lost areas, let alone make significant operational advances.

Russian public opinion is starting to turn. Data reportedly collected by Russia’s Federal Protective Service indicated that 55% of Russians now favour peace talks with Ukraine, with only 25% claiming to support the war’s continuation. In April, the latter figure was around 80%.

Alongside Russia’s litany of failure is an expanding rap sheet of reported war crimes. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, since 24 February some 6,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and nearly 10,000 injured. Every day more allegations emerge of rape, arbitrary detentions, torture, ill treatment, deaths in custody and summary executions. Unrecorded group burial sites have been discovered in former occupied areas such as Mariupol, Bucha and Izyum. Industrial facilities such as the Azovstal steelworks and the Azot chemical plant have been targeted, risking the release of toxic industrial chemicals, and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant—the largest in Europe—has been indiscriminately shelled. At the start of the invasion, Russia planned “kill lists” of civic leaders, show trials and sham referendums. Unfortunately for it, the international community has not been fooled by such tricks.

Russian soldiers recently exhumed the bones of Prince Potemkin, the legendary confidant of Catherine the Great. They have also looted priceless artefacts from museums and, according to UNESCO, either partially or completely destroyed more than 200 Ukrainian cultural sites. More sinister still is the splitting up of families through forced relocation or “filtration” into temporarily occupied territories or Russia itself. Numerous open-source reports show that this morally bankrupt activity is not the work of rogue units or corrupt individuals; it is systemic.

Today, Russia is weaponising winter, with ongoing and widespread missile strikes targeted at Ukraine’s energy and water infrastructure. More than 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been struck. However, Ukraine’s resilience has meant that a significant proportion is back up and running. Such behaviour is a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict. We are doing everything we can to support the Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court as they investigate.

At the beginning of this year, my aim was to help Ukraine resist and to give its citizens hope that the Europe they aspire to be part of would support them in their hour of need. The international community has not disappointed. As Russia has changed its tactics throughout the conflict, so we in the United Kingdom have changed the type and level of our support. For example, Britain’s expertise and advice is helping Ukraine better co-ordinate and synchronise its air defence. Our advice helps Ukraine target incoming Russian or Iranian kamikaze drones. We always make sure that our support is calibrated to avoid escalation. The House should be under no illusion that it is Russia that is escalating its attacks on Ukraine, and I have made that point clear to my counterpart Minister Shoigu in Moscow.

I wish I could tell the House that, after 300 days of almost daily defeats, Russia has recognised its folly. Sadly, it has not. There is no let-up for the Ukrainians and, as can be seen by the weaponisation of energy, there is no let-up from Putin’s war for us here in the United Kingdom or across Europe. Therefore, Ukraine will require our continued support in 2023, building on our lethal aid, training, humanitarian support and international co-ordination.

That is why, as the temperature drops further in Ukraine, the UK is doing what it can to help Ukrainians endure the harsh winter. The UK has donated 900 generators to Ukraine, and it has sent approximately 15,000 extreme cold weather kits to the Ukrainian armed forces, including cold weather clothing, heavy duty sleeping bags and insulated tents. We anticipate that a further 10,000 cold weather kits will be delivered by Christmas. Across the international community, around 1.23 million winter kit items have been deployed to Ukraine.

Alongside our global partners, we have implemented the most severe package of sanctions ever imposed on a major economy. Simultaneously, we have galvanised efforts to raise funds to support Ukraine. I chaired my first Ukraine donor conference on 25 February and have attended three since then. The UK has been instrumental, too, in bringing our northern European neighbours together in solidarity under the auspices of the Joint Expeditionary Force, whose unity was apparent at its meeting yesterday in Riga. Together, this has ensured a steady supply of lethal and non-lethal aid to sustain Ukrainian resistance.

As the threats to European security rise, the UK has also been leading efforts to shore up regional security, deploying a number of units across the continent. President Putin wanted to see a weaker NATO. NATO will now be even stronger with Finland and Sweden’s decision to accede to the alliance. As Secretary of State, I do all I can to make sure that the final hurdles are removed to allow their swift entry into the alliance.

Although our populations continue to struggle with the cost of living crisis, the global community must hold its course on Ukraine. The price of Putin’s success is one none of us can afford. We must ensure that Russia maintains its commitment to the Black Sea initiative, which has so far transported 14.3 million tonnes of grain in more than 500 outgoing voyages; we must stop its reckless shelling of nuclear facilities; and we must hold its enablers to account. Iran has become one of Russia’s top military backers. In return for Iran’s supply of more than 300 kamikaze drones, Russia intends to provide it with advanced military components, undermining both Middle East and international security. We must expose that deal—in fact, I have just done so.

Make no mistake: the UK’s assistance to Ukraine will remain unwavering. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his continuing support. We have already committed to match or exceed the £2.3 billion in military aid we have spent in the last year. We have secured a major deal to keep up the ongoing supply of artillery rounds and will continue refreshing Ukraine’s stocks of air defence and other missiles, as well as our own. Where we have equipment to gift, we will replace from our own stocks; where we have no more to gift, we shall purchase alongside our allies. The UK has been joined in its huge level of support by the US, as well as by EU members—Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic states in particular.

We are determined to maintain and sustain the Ukraine equipment pipeline for the longer term. Our international fund, which we co-chair with Denmark, has to date received pledges worth half a billion pounds, and it has just concluded its first round of bids for capabilities that we plan to rapidly procure for Ukraine in the new year.

Our Armed Forces are doing everything possible to develop the battle skills of Ukrainian men and women, having put almost 10,000 through their paces in the UK in 2022. My ambition is for our Armed Forces, alongside our allies, to train at least double that number in 2023. I want to place on record my thanks to Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Australia for their contributions of troops to join that endeavour, training Ukrainian troops here in the United Kingdom. Finally, we must help Ukraine rebuild. The reconstruction conference that we will host next year will accelerate that process.

Throughout this year, I have kept open communication channels with my opposite number, Defence Minister Shoigu, in order to avoid miscalculations and reduce the risk of escalation. Through written correspondence and a phone call on 23 October, I have repeatedly stressed that Russia must stop targeting civilians, end its invasion, and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

This year, the Ukrainians have been fighting not only for their freedoms but for ours. We must be clear that three days, or even 300 days, is not the maximum attention span of the international community. The UK and the international community’s dedication to help Ukraine is solid and enduring, and will not let up through 2023 and beyond. We cannot stand by while Russia sends waves of drones to escalate its attack on innocent civilians.

Just as the UK’s support has evolved as the conflict has unfolded, we are doing so again now in this latest phase of Russian brutality by developing options to respond in a calibrated and determined manner should the escalation continue. If the Kremlin persists in its disregard for human rights and the Geneva conventions, we must insist on Ukraine’s right to self-defence and the protection of civilians. The next year will be critical for all of us who believe in standing up for freedom, international law and human rights. I commend this Statement to the House.”