The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 16 January.
“Mr Speaker, may I start by apologising for the way the information contained in the Statement has come out in the media? It does not do me any favours and nor does it make my job any easier. I apologise to Mr Speaker and to the House. It is certainly not my doing and it does not help us in furthering the policy.
It has been a month since I last updated the House on the situation in Ukraine. Over the last four weeks, extremely heavy and attritional fighting has continued, especially around the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut and in the less reported-on sector of Kreminna in Luhansk. Over Christmas, Russia continued its assault on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, but no matter how cruel this is, or how much loss of life accompanies it, Russia has singularly failed to break the will of the Ukrainian people or to change the policy of its leaders.
We continue to closely monitor how Russia’s long-range strike campaign will evolve as it eats deeper into the strategic reserves of its own modern missiles. It is notable that Russia is now using the forced labour of convicts to manufacture weaponry. Ukraine, however, continues to use its internationally provided long-range artillery to successful effect.
Throughout the war, Russia has managed to lose significant numbers of generals and commanding officers, but last week’s announcement that its commander in Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin, had been unceremoniously bypassed, with the chief of the general staff, General Valery Gerasimov, personally taking over field command, is certainly significant. It is the visible tip of an iceberg of factionalism within the Russian command. Putin apparently remains bullish, and with Gerasimov’s deference to the President never in doubt, we would now expect a trend back towards a Russian offensive, no matter how much loss of life accompanies it.
In 2023, there is no loss of momentum from the international community—quite the opposite. President Putin believed that the West would get tired, get bored and fragment. Ukraine is continuing to fight, and far from fragmenting, the West is accelerating its efforts. The United States has invested approximately $24.2 billion in support for Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on
Important as those contributions are in and of themselves, what matters more is that they represent part of an international effort that collectively conveys a force multiplier effect. None of this is happening unilaterally; no one is doing this on their own. I shall soon be announcing the first round of bids to the jointly Danish and UK-chaired international fund for Ukraine. I am grateful to Sweden for adding, over the festive period, to the pot of money donated. Countries which have donated to the fund now include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Iceland and others.
Meanwhile, Russia, isolated and without such support, has now lost more than 1,600 main battle tanks in Ukraine since the start of the invasion. However, if we are to continue helping Ukraine to seize the upper hand in the next phase of the conflict, we must accelerate our collective efforts diplomatically, economically and militarily to keep the pressure on Putin.
In December, I told the House that I was
‘developing options to respond in a calibrated and determined manner’.—[
Today I can announce the most significant package of combat power to date, to accelerate Ukrainian success. It includes a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks, with armoured recovery and repair vehicles. We will donate AS-90 guns to Ukraine; this donation, which comprises a battery of eight guns at high readiness and two further batteries at varying states of readiness, will not impact on our existing AS-90 commitment in Estonia. Hundreds more armoured and protected vehicles will also be sent, including Bulldog. There will be a manoeuvre support package, including minefield breaching and bridging capabilities worth £28 million; dozens more uncrewed aerial systems worth £20 million to support Ukrainian artillery; another 100,000 artillery rounds, on top of the 100,000 rounds already delivered; hundreds more sophisticated missiles, including guided multiple-launch rocket system rockets, Starstreak air defence and medium-range air defence missiles; and an equipment support package of spares to refurbish up to 100 Ukrainian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. While the tanks and the AS-90s will come from our stocks, along with their associated ammunition, a significant number of the other donations are being purchased on the open market or from supportive third-party countries.
Today’s package is an important increase to Ukraine’s capabilities. It means that it can go from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. President Putin cannot win, but he is equally certain that he can continue inflicting this wanton violence and human suffering until his forces are ejected from their defensive positions and expelled from the country. That requires a new level of support: the combat power achieved only by combinations of main battle tank squadrons, operating alongside divisional artillery groups, and further deep precision fires enabling the targeting of Russian logistics and command nodes at greater distance. We will be the first country to donate western main battle tanks, and we will be bringing a further squadron of our own Challenger tanks to higher readiness in place of the squadron sent. Even as we gift Challenger 2 tanks, I shall at the same time be reviewing the number of Challenger 3 conversions, to consider whether the lessons of Ukraine suggest that we need a larger tank fleet.
We will also build apace on the Army’s modernisation programme. Specifically on artillery, I am accelerating the Mobile Fires programme so that, instead of delivering in the 2030s, it will do so during the current decade. I have also directed that, subject to commercial negotiation, an interim artillery capability is to be delivered. After discussion with the United States and our European allies, it is hoped that the example set by the French and us will allow the countries holding Leopard tanks to donate as well, and I know that a number of countries want to do the same. As I have said, no one is going it alone.
It is worth reiterating why we are doing this. In 2023, the international community will not let Russia wait us out while inflicting terrible suffering on Ukrainian civilians. The international community recognises that equipping Ukraine to push Russia out of its territory is as important as equipping it to defend what it already has. This week dozens of nations will meet in Ramstein, Germany, to progress further donations and international co-ordination. The Kremlin will be in no doubt that we are resolved to stand by Ukraine in her fight.
Doubling down on the success of our basic training of Ukrainian military personnel in the United Kingdom in 2022, we are increasing the number this year to a further 20,000. Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, New Zealand and the Netherlands have already joined this effort, and I am pleased to say that we are to be joined by a group of Australian military to train in the UK as well—leaving their summer to join our winter, brave souls.
Our decision today is a calibrated response to Russia’s growing aggression and indiscriminate bombing. The Kremlin must recognise that it is Russia’s behaviour that is solidifying the international resolve, and that, despite the propaganda, Ukraine and her partners are focused on the defence of Ukraine. None of the international support is an attack on Russia or NATO-orchestrated aggression, let alone a proxy war. At its heart, it is about helping Ukraine defend itself, upholding international law and restoring its own sovereignty. We believe that in 2023, increased supplies, improved training and strengthening diplomatic resolve will enable Ukraine to be successful against Russia’s poorly led and now badly equipped armed forces.
From the outset, President Putin believed that his forces would be welcomed with open arms, that Ukrainians would not fight, and that western support would crumble. He has been proved wrong on all counts. Today’s package will help accelerate the conclusion of Putin’s occupation and all its brutality, and ensure that in 2023, and beyond if necessary, Ukraine will maintain its momentum, supported by an international community that is more determined than ever that Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion will fail.”
My Lords, given that it has been a month since the last update, I once again reiterate our full support on this for the Government, and the people, Government and armed forces of Ukraine. We all understand that illegal force has to be stood up to, or the consequences can be severe, as we know from history. That is why the war in Ukraine is important not only for them but for us. It is the defence of democracy, and a stand for international law.
We have heard various reports about the war, often conflicting, so I wonder if the Minister could tell us what the latest situation is in Ukraine, as far as she is able to. On that point, is it not remarkable how, in the face of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, however brutal, it has failed to break the will of the Ukrainian people or their Government? Is it not important that they continue to hear the support of us here in the UK, and of the unity of NATO? Is it not the case that sometimes the importance of maintaining the morale of the civilian population can be forgotten? Personal courage, human fortitude and a determination to stand up for what is right need to be saluted wherever they occur, in this instance in Ukraine. Can the Minister update us on the provision of food, energy and other supplies to help the Ukrainian people in their need?
The Secretary-General of NATO said a few days ago that it is important that we provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to win, so we support the first package of military assistance for 2023 that the Government have just announced. Can the Minister tell us when the 14 Challenger tanks and the other equipment will be supplied to Ukraine, as I understand that speed of delivery is essential? Where are these tanks coming from—are they in storage or currently in active service?
The integrated review cut the number of Challenger tanks from 227 to 148. Do the Government now regret this decision, and will the review of this decision that the Defence Secretary has announced mean reversing the cuts or increasing the numbers above the original 227? Can the Minister tell us what the Chief of the General Staff meant when, according to press reports, he said that the donation of these tanks would leave a gap in our own capability?
The Prime Minister has ordered a review of UK military aid to Ukraine. Could the Minister update the Chamber on whether this has started and why the Prime Minister felt it was necessary to do that when the importance of our support is obvious?
Over the weekend we were also told that No. 10 has tasked
“the Defence Secretary with bringing together European allies to ensure the surge of global military support is as strategic and coordinated as possible.”
The Defence Secretary is in Estonia and Germany this week, I believe. Can the Minister reassure us that European unity remains as strong as ever and that Ukraine is being provided with all the weapons it needs from us all and, indeed, from all our allies?
There was one particularly interesting sentence in the Defence Secretary’s Statement that I draw the Chamber’s attention to. He said that this military package means that Ukraine
“can go from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil.”
Is that now the Government’s strategic aim?
President Putin believed that his forces would win in Ukraine in a matter of days. He believed that NATO’s resolve would weaken and that western support would fracture and split. In fact, the opposite has happened: NATO is strengthened and we have all shown great resolve, but nowhere near the resolve and bravery of the people of Ukraine and its armed forces. We must continue to do that. Would it not be appropriate for this Chamber and all of us in this Parliament to demonstrate this through not just a Statement but a full debate in this Chamber, so that many noble Lords can contribute to show our solidarity with the people of Ukraine? There is a war in Ukraine, a struggle for democracy on our doorstep. We should debate it in full in this Chamber.
My Lords, as usual on matters of defence and in particular Ukraine, from these Benches I fully support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. These Benches also support what the Government are trying to achieve in Ukraine.
The Secretary of State for Defence has again given a very considered Statement to the other place. We should be grateful for the fact that he has been in post now for a considerable amount of time. He has not been one of the Ministers subject to repeated rotations. That is important, because we need to send the right messages—not just to Ukraine, the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people but to Vladimir Putin and Russia—that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in its battle for its independence and sovereignty.
First, I note the helicopter crash yesterday and the loss of the Interior Minister, the Deputy Interior Minister and others from Ukraine since the Statement was given in the other place. I send sincere condolences to their families, and to the Government of Ukraine, whom I hope will be able to find worthy replacements in the interior ministry, because it is important that the Government of Ukraine can continue to defend themselves and their country as effectively as they have been doing for the past 11 months.
I very much support the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that we should have a full debate on Ukraine. We are coming up to the first anniversary of the invasion, and I wonder whether the usual channels could consider having a full debate, perhaps as soon as we come back after the half-term recess.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised questions about what is happening with supplies of food and energy. I noted in the Statement that the Secretary of State talked about the importance of
“collective efforts diplomatically, economically and militarily.”
As one might imagine, much of the Statement is about the military support that His Majesty’s Government propose to give. I realise that this is not quite the Minister’s remit, but could she tell the House whether there are any further moves for co-operation and co-ordination in economic and diplomatic sanctions and other activities to reinforce our commitment to ensuring that Russia understands the strength of western feeling on these matters?
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the tanks we are proposing to send. In addition to the question of the location of the tanks, one of the other questions we need to think about is what availability of equipment His Majesty’s Government have. The Hansard recorders and the Minister will probably think, “Oh, no, does Baroness Smith of Newnham really have to ask this question again?” But I think I do, because we are 11 months into this war and our support for Ukraine. Can the Minister advise the House, not on specific negotiations that would breach commercial confidentiality, but on what work His Majesty’s Government are doing with suppliers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to ensure that supply chains are in place? It was one thing in February and March 2022 to say, “We will support Ukraine. We will supply artillery” and so on and so forth. But, 11 months on, are His Majesty’s Government really sure that the UK has the supplies that we need and that in the pipeline for 2023, 2024 and 2025 we have the capabilities? We support the acceleration of support for Ukraine, but the Government need to be very clear that they have in place equipment and supply chain availability to ensure that we can keep the commitments that we are making. They are the right commitments, but we need to be able to deliver.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their helpful comments. As I have said before, that unanimity of political support in the UK is really important. It has been commented upon to me, and it sends out a very significant message, so I wish expressly to thank both noble Lords for their contributions.
On the latest situation in Ukraine, noble Lords will be aware that the announcement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the other place on Monday reflected a very significant augmentation of everything we have been doing. In fact, as I prepared to address the House on the Statement, I looked at the list of equipment, ammunitions, help and provisions, and I thought it might be useful if we managed to produce some kind of summary of everything that has been produced, because in aggregate it is a fantastic amount. With the help of not just the UK but our partners and allies, we have in aggregate produced something really substantive that has absolutely put energy in the Ukrainian armed forces to defend their country and take forward courageously the difficult and deadly fight in which they are engaged. There is no doubt that, by listening to their needs and requests and assessing their intelligence, our intelligence and United States intelligence, we have been able to respond very positively to those needs.
Very importantly, because a request was made for co-ordination, what exactly is happening? I remind the Chamber of what I alluded to yesterday, which is that there is a NATO CHODs meeting yesterday and today, where we are represented by the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Secretary of State is currently in Estonia, at Tapa, and tomorrow there will be the donors conference being convened by the United States in Ramstein, which will be attended by the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Defence Staff. These fora illustrate the extent to which everybody is speaking to one another. There is a very fluid dialogue going on, and if you marry that into structures that have been put in place, such as the international donor co-ordination centre and the international fund to help Ukraine, I think noble Lords will understand that there is a really solid framework to support Ukraine in its endeavour to defend itself.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked specifically about the situation in Ukraine. As I think we are aware, it has been going through considerable challenge with the relentless and merciless onslaught from Russia. The nature of that onslaught is in itself interesting, because it suggests that Russia continues to be disorganised, in a sense. Its strategic aims are not clear. From the Russian end, I think the recent switch of commanding officer—the commanding officer has now been sacked and the original one brought back in—indicates that there is some disarray in Russia’s activity.
None the less, we can try to help on both the military front and the humanitarian front, and that is what we have been doing. I think Members are now pretty conversant with where we have got to on the military front and everything we have been offering. On the humanitarian front, Members will be aware that we have been a leading humanitarian donor, with a £220 million package of humanitarian aid, a fiscal support grant of around £75 million and a £100 million grant to support Ukraine’s energy security and reforms.
We have also been doing grant-in-aid medical equipment to the armed forces: ambulances, tourniquets, field dressings, individual first aid kits, medic packs and hospital consumables. We have used the conflict, stability and security fund to support payment of salaries to the Ukrainian armed forces. Over and above that, the Prime Minister confirmed in November that we would provide £12 million to the World Food Programme and £4 million to the International Organization for Migration to help meet some urgent humanitarian needs, particularly of course during winter. That funding will help provide generators, shelter, water repairs and mobile health clinics.
The UK has more than 350 staff in the region working on the response to the crisis—so that is no small amount of support. That includes humanitarian experts, and within the UK more than 70 staff are working on our humanitarian response. I think it is important to mention that the UK has matched pound for pound the public’s first £25 million for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine humanitarian appeal. That is the UK’s largest-ever aid-matched contribution.
On more specific things, as Members will be aware, we have been trying to help with work to restore energy supply and with provision of generators. Very interestingly, we have been trying to help with an array of measures, not least the provision of some military equipment, to assist with de-arming equipment that has been left and also with minefield hunting, to try to identify where there are perils. That is all a very necessary precursor to trying to do anything in the rebuild sense.
In an earlier debate on Ukraine, the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart, brought to my attention the Wilton Park report in December, and I was very grateful to her. I commend this report to any of your Lordships who have not yet read it. It is a really interesting analytical and constructive suggestion as to how we may go forward with rebuilding the country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about the tragic helicopter crash yesterday. We were desperately saddened to hear about that, and our thoughts obviously go out to the families of all those affected by that tragedy, including the Minister and the other 14 people. Our thoughts are very much with the Ukrainian Government at this time. I have no further information about the crash, so I am unable to give your Lordships any more detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me about the location of the Challengers. For security reasons, I cannot disclose that, but I can say that training has already begun. Somewhere in this voluminous briefing pack, I saw a reference to training starting as soon as the Ukrainian troops arrive in the UK. That is likely to be by the end of this month, which is quite encouraging. All the equipment that we have announced—the subject of this repeated Statement—will be operated by Ukrainian troops on the battlefield in the coming months. I cannot be more precise than that but I think your Lordships will understand that there is a mutual desire on the parts of both the UK and the Ukrainian Government to accelerate this as best we can.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the Prime Minister’s earlier reference to a review of what we have been providing. I think your Lordships will now understand that that was more a mechanical inquiry in order to be satisfied that what we have been providing has been used to good effect and is actually changing the dynamic of the conflict, which I think it is. The Prime Minister’s subsequent personal commitment to the new tranche of equipment bears testament to his resolve that the UK Government will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government of Ukraine to support them in this conflict; there have been significant aid gestures from the United Kingdom since the Prime Minister talked of his review. The noble Lord raised that question with me earlier and I said to him that I saw nothing sinister or alarming about that; to me, it was just a routine check to make sure that we are providing the right things and making a difference.
The noble Lord also referred to the language used by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when he talked about the war changing from resisting to expelling Russian forces. I have checked Hansard to see what he said. He was talking of Ukraine. He meant that Ukraine can go from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. We have always been clear that our defence policy is to support Ukraine in defending itself against this illegal aggression and to take whatever steps it needs, within international law, to repel that aggressor.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about replenishment. I can provide some information that may be more specific than she thought I might be able to give her. We are fully engaged with industry. That is happening not just within the United Kingdom; it is happening across the piece with our NATO allies. As I said yesterday, none of this can be done in a silo. The United Kingdom cannot have a solitary conversation with a producer; we have to be doing it in tandem with our allies and partners to work out clarity on what is needed, who is going to provide it and when. So we are 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.
Exact stockpile details are classified for obvious operational reasons so I cannot give further comment on that, but I can say to the noble Baroness that a number of substantial contracts have already been placed to replenish UK stockpiles directly. These include the replenishment of the Starstreak high-velocity, lightweight, multirole missile. I can confirm that the replacement next-generation light anti-tank weapons, NLAWs, are currently being built, and several hundred missiles will be delivered to UK stockpiles from 2023 onwards. A contract for further NLAWs was signed on
I have tried to deal with the points that have been raised. I will check Hansard and, if I have omitted anything, I apologise and I shall write.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Through her, I thank all those at the Ministry of Defence who are assisting Ukraine at this difficult time. The Ukrainians are defending themselves but, in defending their country and themselves, they are defending us as well. Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he is at war with the West and with us; we must take that extremely seriously.
The decision to send the Challenger tanks is a good one. I hope that it will put additional pressure on the German Government to release the Leopard tanks that other countries wish to give at present, so it is symbolically important too. I associate myself with what my noble friend Lord Coaker said: it is time that we had a full-scale debate in this House on this issue. We are at war. Vladimir Putin is at war with us and, in a wartime situation, we really need an opportunity for Parliament to say its word.
Finally, can I offer a suggestion to the Minister that she might take away? When the Prime Minister goes to Kiev, as he will and as he must, he should issue an invitation to the Leader of the Opposition to join him. It is extremely important that the Ukrainians and the Russians see that it is the British people who are fighting at present, not simply the British Government. I hope that she will pass that message on.
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. The matter of a debate in this House was raised with me by someone from my own Benches yesterday. As I indicated, it is a matter for the Government Whips’ Office and the usual channels but I am sure that, if they pick up that there is an appetite for it, they will pay close attention. The noble Lord’s other suggestion is interesting. It is certainly something that I will take back and relay to the department. I do not know when the PM is next scheduled to visit Ukraine but I understand the point that the noble Lord makes.
My Lords, I endorse all that has been said thus far in strong support of the Government on this. First, the Minister gave us some details of how some of the armaments being given to Ukraine are being replenished. Have the Government made any assessment of what the head of the UK Armed Forces said recently about the impact on UK defence of the donation of tanks? Secondly, it is clear that Olaf Scholz is putting the onus of responsibility on to the United States—that is, if it will send tanks, the Germans will agree to Leopard tanks being sent. Are the Government putting pressure on the United States to do that?
My understanding is that the United States has sent tanks. It has also sent Bradley vehicles. I think I am correct in saying that, in addition to the UK, France and Poland have sent tanks. As to what pressure we can bring to bear, the meetings to which I referred in my responses to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, reflect exactly the comprehensive and high-level discussions that are taking place. Everybody is clear that we all have to pull together in support of Ukraine. There is no doubt that, if the Leopard tank could be part of the facility provided to Ukraine, that would be an important addition.
The right reverend Prelate also asked about existing capability in the UK. I will say just two things about that. We have a mixture of equipment that we have provided and, if we take the recent example of the Challenger 2 tanks, I can assure him that there will be no long-term capability gap. We currently have 227 Challenger 2 tanks; we are giving 14. We will operate 148 upgraded Challenger 3 tanks in future so this donation will not reduce the total number of tanks that the Army holds. As to the other equipment, munitions and related material that we have provided, we are very careful to ensure that it does not in any way imperil the capability that we need to protect the security of this country.
My Lords, those of us who have been sceptical about the Government’s pretention to leadership post Brexit must surely applaud their leadership in respect of Ukraine, particularly in the provision of tanks. Are we confident that the Ukrainians will have sufficient training to deal with these tanks in time for the anticipated Russian onslaught in the spring? What precisely is the position of Germany in respect of those countries that need its permission to supply the German tanks? I have one final thought: what do we now understand as the war aims of Putin? Are they limited to the four areas that he purportedly annexed in the past?
Perhaps it is easier if I tell the noble Lord what I cannot reply to. I do not know what is in the mind of President Putin—does anyone? As to the attitude of Germany, I have said before that this is a subject of fluid discussion at these important fora, and that discussion is taking place as we speak. I very much hope that the force of that discussion will be to make clear the desire for the Leopard tank to be included in the facility being provided to Ukraine.
On training, I said in response to an earlier question that the UK will train Ukrainian detachments to operate all the platforms we donate. That will start as soon as Ukrainian troops arrive in the UK, which is likely to be by the end of this month. There is a mutual interest in making sure that training is conducted as effectively and swiftly as possible. The estimate is that the equipment we are announcing will be operated by Ukrainian troops on the battlefield in the coming months. I obviously cannot be more specific than that.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for the Statement and update. It is right that much talk is concentrating on holding the coalition together in Europe, and we must guard against inevitable fatigue beginning to creep in. Can the Minister also confirm that our wider diplomatic network, right around the world but particularly at the UN in New York, is working tirelessly to stiffen the resolve of countries which have been slow to come forward and share our view about the situation?
I think I can give that reassurance to my noble friend. Obviously, his question is more within the remit of my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, but as he will be aware, we have been very active on the diplomatic front. The United Nations General Assembly vote on
That global pressure is continuing. I had the privilege of meeting a group of United States Congressmen and Congresswomen earlier this week. I was very struck by the unanimity of acceptance that what is happening is wrong and has to be resisted. This may be happening in Europe, but it is understood in the United States that if you do not address that wrong, there are consequences which could be global in their impact. I reassure my noble friend that diplomacy is a critical part of what we are doing to support Ukraine in its endeavour.
My Lords, can the Minister say a word or two about how combating the Russian policy of disinformation and misinformation is going? The evidence is that, unfortunately, a large part of the Russian population remains prepared to tell someone who asks their opinion, at least, that they support President Putin, so there is obviously a long way to go. However, a lot of the lies they tell are easily refutable. What are we doing to boost the work of the BBC World Service, the language services and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office worldwide to deal with this disinformation?
I agree with the noble Lord that the wilful disinformation and misinformation engaged in by Russia is absolutely appalling and very unwelcome. It is worth emphasising that it remains the case that the UK respects the people, culture and history of Russia. The conflict in Ukraine has confirmed the UK assessment as set out in the integrated review: that the current Russian Government remain, and will continue to pose, the most acute threat to the UK and the alliance for the foreseeable future. Our criticism and objections are directed to the behaviour of the Russian Government.
However, the noble Lord makes an important point. The UK, and particularly the MoD, made a courageous decision fairly early on to release more intelligence to the public. That was quite a culture change for the MoD; we are usually pretty protective of our intelligence information. We decided to do that to counter Russian disinformation by providing an accurate and truthful picture of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. To date, those intelligence updates, issued via social media, have proved very popular; they are reaching a large audience across the UK and internationally. There was some reference recently to a poll carried out in Russia—I was trying to find the specific information, but I do not seem to have it in my brief. My recollection is that the poll indicated that, in Russia, there has been a sharp decline in support for the war over a period of months. It seems that many people are becoming very unhappy and very questioning about what the Russian Government are doing in their name. We will continue to do what we can with the careful release of intelligence—the noble Lord is absolutely right—to neutralise lies and to provide a counternarrative which is correct.
As I said earlier, the issue is not just what we as an individual country can do. We are providing Challenger, and the weaponry and ammunition accompanying it, to work with the American Bradley vehicles. That is a tandem capability. I indicated earlier that other countries are providing tanks as well. The question is where the need arises and the best way of addressing it. The Challenger 2 is obviously a very formidable piece of equipment, and it has a remarkable reputation for withstanding damage—in the current battlefield in Ukraine, that is a very important component. It is not a question of any one particular vehicle being what is needed universally; it is a question of thinking intelligently about how we ally with other bits of equipment and capabilities that allies and partners are producing to ensure that, in aggregate, we have something really effective.
My Lords, I fully support what the Government are doing in a range of carefully made decisions, but I have two anxieties. The first is about the amount of technical cloning that is needed to support complex NATO main battle tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles that might partially answer the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. My second anxiety is about the capacity of the Russian people to absorb and tolerate pain in order to avoid defeat—which follows on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
On training, I do not think that there is much more I can add. What we know from our experience of Operation Orbital, which was the UK’s close training relationship with Ukraine prior to the conflict, and the subsequent Operation Interflex, which is the ongoing, very successful training programme we have been engaged in in the UK—we are now attracting international support for our efforts—is that the Ukrainian armed forces have shown themselves agile, receptive, quick to understand and responsive to training provision. I seek to reassure my noble friend that every aspect of training has been looked at, and it is anticipated that that will not be an impediment to the effective use of the equipment which has been donated.
On the situation within Russia, the sanctions regime both imposed by this country and in concert with other allies is certainly having an effect on Russia. At the end of the day, any change of attitude by the Russian Government has to emanate from the Russian people. As sanctions continue to bite in Russia and impact on what it is able to do—not least a predicted drop in its GDP—Russian people may begin to question, as that recent poll suggests they are already doing, what is happening and what the Government are doing in their name. Frankly, if that is a question that the Russian people start to ask, I think it is healthy. As I said earlier, we have to be very clear that our opposition is to the activity of the Russian Government; it is not in any way a hostile reaction to the Russian people.
The information I have is that we have sanctioned more than 1,200 individuals and 120 entities; and, with our allies, we have frozen over 60% of Putin’s war chest foreign reserves, which is worth about £270 billion. Open-source evidence indicates that several of Russia’s weapons manufacturers have suspended their activities completely or partially due to sanctions and the lack of spare parts and components. Sanctions against companies such as Kronstadt, the main producer of drones used in Ukraine, is certainly making it far harder for Russia to resupply its front line.
My Lords, given that there are approximately 500 political prisoners in Russia, can my noble friend the Minister tell us what the Government can do to try to push for their release in exchange for all the spies hanging around in the United Kingdom? I also reiterate that the young population is very much against the war; the older population is basically ignorant, getting their information from the television and therefore still sort of supporting the war, but a lot of mothers are getting quite upset about the number of deaths.
I thank my noble friend for referring to that interesting issue of public opinion in Russia. I have stumbled upon a bit of my briefing that I was trying to find: a Statement that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made in the other place on
“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%.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/12/22; col. 155.]
That is a very interesting indicator of where opinion is going.
I am afraid that I do not have information on the plight of prisoners within Russia. That is very much the responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I can speak to my noble friend Lord Ahmad to see if we can provide any more information.
My Lords, I made a mistake in not noting the helicopter incident at the beginning of my remarks, even though it was in my notes. So I associate myself with the remarks made by the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, on that subject. I apologise for keeping the House, but it is important, from the point of view of His Majesty’s Opposition, to put that on the record.