Ukraine - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:40 pm on 21 December 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence 2:40, 21 December 2022

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their introductory remarks. Not for the first time, I express my appreciation in this Chamber for the unanimity of support for how we are responding to this illegal war being waged by President Putin. I have said before, and I repeat, that that political unanimity has a real impact, and I think it has made Russians realise that something very bad is happening in their name. I was interested in looking at my right honourable friend the Secretary of State’s Statement in the other place. He mentioned how public opinion in Russia seems to be changing. That is to be welcomed. Now there is evidence that a majority of the population is actually unhappy about this war and far from convinced that it is either justified or worth while. I think that the role that we play in this country through our political and democratic processes by demonstrating that unanimity—or as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, phrased it in word that does not often escape my lips—solidarity of approach is extremely important. It is part of the powerful response which this country is giving and, of course, that response has been supported and shared by our allies and partners.

On the noble Lord’s specific question about the action plan, it has not been forgotten about; it is a fairly dynamic piece of work, as the noble Lord will appreciate. There is a fluid situation in Ukraine. We regularly have to assess from our discourse with the Ukrainian Government, the intelligence we get from the Ukrainian armed forces and our own intelligence assessment how we should be approaching next year. To put this beyond any shadow of doubt, since the noble Lord raised my right honourable friend the Prime Minister using the word “review”, our resolve to support Ukraine in defending itself is absolutely unwavering. The Prime Minister is completely shoulder to shoulder with that resolve. When there is any endeavour in which the United Kingdom Government are engaged, the Prime Minister naturally wants to know how it is all going. That is a very natural inquiry, but that is not in some way to diminish or begin to weaken our support. We are very clear about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

That leads me on to the next point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which is this troubling intelligence that Russia is supplying technology to Iran. That is a profoundly undesirable development, and the noble Lord is quite correct that that of course has potential consequences for the broader region in the Middle East. As to how we deal with that, we consult allies and use whatever forum we have available, whether that is NATO or the UN, to highlight the concerns, to make them as public as possible and to consider collectively whether there is anything more we can do whether by the application of sanctions or other forms of restriction. The noble Lord will be aware that sanctions are beginning to bite hard and there is now evidence that the Russian military action is being degraded and that some of the weapons manufacturers in Russia have had to cease activity, all of which is evidence that the sanctions tourniquet is beginning to tighten around the Russian economy.

On our general support for Ukraine, as the noble Lord is aware, we have provided a variety of forms of equipment, both lethal and non-lethal. We have provided short and long-range air defence systems and missiles to help Ukraine protect its critical national infrastructure. These include Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak missiles, advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles—AMRAAM—and multiple-launch rocket systems which can strike targets up to 80 kilometres away. We have augmented that with armoured vehicles, anti-tank missiles, Brimstone missiles, anti-structure munitions and 4.5 million tonnes of plastic explosives—I will check that figure, because I think something is missing from the briefing pack—so we have been doing a great deal. I think noble Lords get the picture. We are doing a lot, and propose to continue doing a lot, to support the Ukrainians. We make these judgments by assessing what we hear from them, and then through the international donation co-ordination centre, which is led by the UK, we work out who is giving what and how quickly we can get it to them, and try to avoid any conflicting issues of duplication or replication.

The noble Lord raised the issue of replenishments; I can reassure him that we keep a close eye on this. We remain fully engaged with industry, allies and partners to ensure both the continuation of supply to Ukraine and that all equipment and munitions granted in kind from UK stocks are replaced as expeditiously as possible. We are working with NATO partners to strengthen industrial capacity within the alliance, both for now and for the future. We have been able to place contracts in respect of replenishing Starstreak lightweight multirole missiles and the next-generation light anti-tank weapons, NLAWs. They are currently being built. We anticipate further contracts being placed in the course of next year. The overriding consideration is that we always have to balance what we give with having enough ourselves to address issues of national security.

On the noble Lord’s reference to the Royal Marines, as my right honourable friend made clear in the other place, there has been a small cohort of Royal Marines but they have been there to protect the embassy. They are there not in any pugilistic, offensive capacity but simply to protect our diplomatic presence, which is a natural and understandable thing to want to do.

On humanitarian aid, yes, we have been paying close attention to what we can do to support Ukraine in the bombardment it is being subjected to. We have released £5 million of funding for repairs and replacement equipment in response to the Ukrainian Energy Minister’s list of needs. In October, the UK signed a €97.3 million European Bank for Reconstruction and Development guarantee for the Ukrainian electricity distributor. We will continue to look at what we can do to support Ukraine in energy. As previously indicated, we have also sent portable generators to support access to power for essential services, including hospitals and shelters. In November, the Foreign Secretary signed a memorandum of understanding with the energy community to release £10 million to repair Ukraine’s energy grid. That is on top of the generators already supplied.

The final point that the noble Lord made very eloquently was in relation to the UK response to all this. I absolutely agree with him that that response has been magnificent; it manifests in so many ways. No doubt he, like me, hears uplifting descriptions of how families have been taken in and made to feel welcome and are making a contribution to life in the UK. He is absolutely correct that the attention span is not transient or finite; it is there for as long as we need it to be there to see off this threat.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, is quite right: we ensure that we calibrate support to avoid escalation. I have explained about replenishment and capability; that is being addressed. She raised the impact on our Armed Forces and, yes, we ask a lot of them. Taking regulars and reserves, we have a current cohort somewhere well over the 100,000 mark. Of those, as I described I think yesterday—I am losing track of the days—a relatively small proportion are deployed to MACA tests, but obviously we have presences in the Baltic and Cyprus and a reducing presence in Africa. We are very clear about the need to be vigilant as to what we ask our Armed Forces to do and to ensure we are attentive to their welfare and well-being.

The final point the noble Baroness raised was on Russia’s activity and war crimes. I reassure her that we have been very active on that issue, working with the International Criminal Court and doing our best to provide expertise to the court to assist it in the work it needs to do. This is a very important area and Russia, and the agents and operators acting on its behalf, must understand that the tap on the shoulder will arrive one day. Our role is to ensure that the International Criminal Court, with the help of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, is gathering and preserving the evidence it needs to consider legal charges and, subsequently, successful prosecutions and convictions.