The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 11 May.
“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will update the House on Russia’s attacks on civilians and critical national infrastructure in Ukraine.
We are now on day 442 of the conflict. During this period, Moscow has, according to the United Nations, provoked the largest displacement of people in Europe since World War II, including almost 8 million refugees and almost 6 million internally forced from their homes.
We must not lose sight of those staggering statistics. Worse still, Russia’s battlefield setbacks have led to it cynically targeting energy infrastructure, putting millions of people at risk of sickness and death in cold, unsanitary conditions. Take the besieged city of Bakhmut, where there are now fewer than 7,000 residents, 1/10th of the original population. For the last nine months they have been hiding in basements, without clean water, electricity or gas, and with minimal connection to the outside world.
From the scale of the Russians’ attacks, it is clear that they have not limited themselves to military targets. Their purpose is simply to terrorise the local population into submission. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn when we look at Russia’s ever-expanding charge sheet of international humanitarian law violations. As of
Meanwhile, Russia has plundered crops and agricultural equipment on an industrial scale, destroying grain storage and handling facilities. According to estimates from the Kyiv School of Economics, Russia stole or destroyed 4.04 million tonnes of grain and oilseeds, valued at $1.9 billion, in Ukrainian territories during the 2022 season. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s continued intransigence is contributing to the current backlog of grain exports.
Besides that, Russia has bombed industrial facilities, including the Azot chemical plant, risking toxic industrial chemical release and environmental impact. It has attacked Ukraine’s largest refinery at Kremenchuk on at least three occasions. It has bombed airfields, ports, roads and rail networks, preventing refugees from fleeing the danger. It has taken out communications networks, affecting banks, the internet and cellphones, with residents in some areas now forced to barter for food. Kremlin strikes on substations, powerplants and powerlines have also impacted water treatment facilities, leaving cities such as Mariupol without water and reliant on delivery of bottled supplies.
At the same time, Russia has forcibly occupied and undermined the safe operation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe. As Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said:
‘Every single one of the IAEA’s crucial seven indispensable pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security in an armed conflict has been compromised’.
He recently warned that the situation around the plant was ‘potentially dangerous’.
Sadly, at least 23,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed or wounded so far, although the actual figure is likely to be substantially higher. Thousands of citizens have been sent to sinister ‘filtration’ camps before being forcibly relocated to Russia. Some 6,000 children, ranging in ages from four months to 17 years, are now in ‘re-education camps’ across Russia.
Both United Nations and United States investigators have found that Russia has committed war crimes, with reported evidence of executions, torture and sexual violence in civilian areas. In early April President Zelensky said that more than 70,000 Russian war crimes had been recorded since Putin’s invasion. The names of Bucha and Izyum have become synonymous with mass murder. The world will not forget the bombing of the drama theatre in Mariupol, where 1,200 civilians sought shelter under a giant sign reading ‘Children’. No matter how much Russia tries to hide and bulldoze over the scene, we will not forget.
Even in the territories that Russia has illegally annexed, citizens find themselves subjected to the worst excesses of totalitarianism. A Russian passport is increasingly essential to access vital services—a nightmare for those with newborn babies. Civilian infrastructure, such as healthcare facilities, is being seized and repurposed to treat wounded servicemen. Kill lists of civic leaders have been drawn up, citizens executed in cold blood and concerted attempts made to erase Ukrainian culture, history and identity.
We should be clear: the targeting of civilians and infrastructure essential to the civilian population of Ukraine has not happened by accident in the fog of war. Much of it was planned Russian policy. Russia has form, and we have seen its handiwork in Syria. In March, President Putin himself was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
However, we should also be clear that, as numerous credible reports indicate, while Russia’s morally bankrupt approach might have been made in the Kremlin, it is often carried out willingly, not just by rogue units, but by the ordinary rank and file across the Russian armed forces. An even clearer picture of Russia’s barbaric approach emerges when we look at some of the weapons it is using against innocent civilians. I am not referring here to the extensive strikes against Ukraine’s electric power network from cruise and surface-to-surface missiles, the use of short-range ballistic missiles such as the Iskander, which infamously hit the train station in Kramatorsk, killing 60 and wounding more than 110, or even the two 500 kilogram bombs dropped by Russian fighter aircraft on that Mariupol theatre.
The fact is that Russia has used cluster munitions with wholesale disregard for human life and civilians. They have been dropped near a hospital in Vuhledar. A 9M79-series Tochka ballistic missile delivering a 9N123 cluster munition warhead killed four civilians and injured another 10, including six healthcare workers. Russia has used Smerch cluster munition rockets in three neighbourhoods in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, resulting in reports of nine civilian deaths and 37 injuries, according to the United Nations.
Russia also relies on massed fires. Indiscriminate artillery bombardments of built-up areas account for the vast majority of civilian casualties—injured or killed. Moscow also makes extensive use of conventional anti-personnel mines and improvised booby-traps to indiscriminately harm civilians. Dead bodies, the homes and vehicles of Ukrainian civilians and even children’s toys have been rigged up as lethal devices. Russia has laid mines remotely and mechanically, covering significant areas of farmland, with scant evidence that it has either marked minefields or warned civilians about their presence. Those minefields will leave a legacy long after the conflict ends.
Russia has used hundreds of Iranian-made Shahed drones to attack targets in Ukraine. Loitering munitions sent on numerous suicide missions have repeatedly taken their toll on civilians. Last week, those weapons struck a university campus in Odessa and civilians were once more in the crosshairs in Kyiv.
From the start I have been clear that our support for Ukraine is responsible, calibrated, co-ordinated and agile. Aligned and united with the international community, we are helping the Ukrainians to defend their homeland. Most importantly, our support is responsive to Russia’s own actions. None of this would have been necessary had Russia not invaded, but now it is about pushing back Russian forces and deterring them from committing yet more crimes, by holding the Russian military establishment to account for its actions.
In December, I wrote to Russian Defence Minister Shoigu, setting out the UK Government’s objection to the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, and stating that further attacks—contrary to international humanitarian law; for example, the principle of distinction codified in Articles 48, 51 and 52 of additional protocol 1 to the Geneva conventions—would force me to consider donating more capable weapons to Ukraine so that the Ukrainians may better defend themselves within their territory.
Unfortunately, Russia has continued down that dark path. This year Russia’s leadership has continued to systematically target civilians and civilian infrastructure with bombs, missiles and drones. More medical facilities were targeted in January than in the previous six months combined. Russia has bombed power facilities in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Zaporizhzhia and Odessa oblasts. Incidents of civilian casualties have increased, especially in areas close to the front line such as Kherson and Bakhmut.
In January a block of flats in Dnipro was wiped out by a 5.5 tonne Russian ‘Kitchen’ missile that probably caused 124 casualties, including 45 fatalities. In March, a five-storey apartment block in Zaporizhzia was attacked with an S-300 missile that completely destroyed the building. Between
Despite the Kremlin’s claims that it is targeting Ukraine’s ‘military-industrial facilities’, one of the buildings struck was a nine-storey apartment building. The salvo left 23 dead and dozens more injured. Last week, Russian shelling struck residential buildings and on Monday Russia bombed a Red Cross warehouse full of humanitarian aid.
Drone footage from Bakhmut appears to show white phosphorus raining down on a city ablaze. The use of such incendiary weapons, which burn at 800 degrees centigrade, within concentrations of civilians is a contravention of protocol 3 of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
As I have said many times, we simply will not stand by while Russia kills civilians. We have seen what Ukrainians can do when they have the right capabilities. In recent days, 30 Shahed drones have been shot down. The Ukrainian air force says that 23 out of 25 cruise missiles fired from sea and land have been downed. We have also had confirmation from Lieutenant General Oleschuk, the Ukrainian air force commander, that even Russia’s much-vaunted ‘Killjoy’ air-launched hypersonic missile has been brought down. That is why the Prime Minister and I have now taken the decision to provide longer-range capabilities.
In December, I informed the House that I was developing options to respond to Russia’s continued aggression in a calibrated and determined manner. Today I can confirm that the UK is donating Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine. Storm Shadow is a long-range, conventional-only precision strike capability. It complements the long-range systems that have already been gifted, including the HIMARS and Harpoon missiles, as well as Ukraine’s own Neptune cruise missile and longer-range missiles gifted elsewhere. The donation of those weapon systems gives Ukraine the best chance to defend itself against Russia’s continued brutality, especially the deliberate targeting of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure against international law. Ukraine has a right to be able to defend itself against that.
The use of Storm Shadow will allow Ukraine to push back Russian forces based within Ukrainian sovereign territory. I am sure that the House will understand that I will not go into further detail on the capabilities, but although those weapons will give Ukraine new capability, Members should recognise that those systems are not even in the same league as the Russian AS-24 ‘Killjoy’ hypersonic missile, Iranian Shahed one-way attack drones, or even the Kalibr cruise missile, which has a range of more than 2,000 kilometres—roughly seven times that of a Storm Shadow missile. Russia must recognise that its actions alone have led to such systems being provided to Ukraine. It is my judgment as Defence Secretary that this is a calibrated and proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.
When travelling through Ukraine, as I have done several times since the invasion, one sees the smashed buildings and piles of rubble, where there were once thriving businesses and homes full of life. They reveal the truth of Russia’s invasion: needless destruction and gratuitous violence, and—despite warnings—Russia’s continued violations of international law and deliberate targeting and killing of civilians. They are the visible and tragic symbols of the Kremlin’s desperation.
Try as it might, the Kremlin cannot hide the fact that its invasion is already failing. The Russians can only occupy the rubble left by their destruction. All this week’s Victory Day parade did was showcase that historic failure. It demonstrated Putin’s efforts to twist the Soviet Union’s sacrifice against the Nazis, and was an insult to the Russians’ own immortal regiment. It was the façade of power, a distraction from the faltering invasion, an appeal to unity while even Russia’s own leadership loses confidence—the hypocrisy of claiming victimhood while waging a war of its own choosing.
The reality is that this is a war of President Putin’s own choosing at the expense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and civilian lives. The UK stands for the values of freedom, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of civilians. We will stand side by side with the Ukrainians. We will continue to support them in defence of their sovereign country. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Government for their Statement last week in the other place and for the opportunity to take it here today. As the House knows, His Majesty’s Official Opposition fully support the Government in the action they are taking to support Ukraine in its fight with Russia. We fully recognise that this is all our battle, a battle to maintain the international rules-based order, and that such aggression cannot and will not be tolerated.
Is not one of the greatest misjudgments that Putin made that Europe would not stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, would not support Ukraine against this illegal Russian attack and, even if we did, that support would only be limited and for the short term? So, it was good to see the solidarity that President Zelensky has had, particularly this weekend in Italy and from France. But does the Minister agree that it was particularly good to see Germany promising an additional €2.7 million in military aid, and the German Defence Minister saying that it would provide help for
“as long as it takes”?
On collaboration, will the Minister update us on any recent discussions there have been with the United States and on its view of where we are at the present time?
On last week’s announcement, we support the announcement of the new military equipment, such as Storm Shadow. On Storm Shadow, can the Minister confirm that Ukraine has all the necessary planes to launch these weapons, given that, as we all know, they are air launched? Last week, President Zelensky said:
“Not everything has arrived yet … We are expecting armoured vehicles”.
Can the Minister update the Chamber as to whether all the promised equipment, including armoured vehicles, has now been delivered? I understand the Defence Minister said he was going to write to the shadow Defence Minister: is there any update on that?
We read in the media today that further weapons have been promised as a result of the welcome meeting today between the Prime Minister and President Zelensky at Chequers. Can the Minister confirm what these new promised weapons are, and what other agreements were discussed and made at Chequers today? How many long-range attack drones, for example, are to be sent, and are there air defence missiles in sufficient numbers to defend against Russia’s unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks?
Is it not important for us all to emphasise that these are defensive weapons, weapons developed to help Ukraine recover lost sovereign territory, not an attack on Russia itself? Of course, we support the announcements I just mentioned on drones and air defence weapons made today by the Prime Minister, but I just seek further clarity from the Minister this evening.
On fighter jets, can the Minister tell us when the announced training of Ukrainian pilots on western fighter jets will commence, and how many pilots we expect to train? We read today in the media, and indeed from the various press releases from No. 10, that the Prime Minister
“has promised to spearhead an international effort to secure fighter jets for Ukraine”.
Can the Minister explain which countries this means, and how he intends to do this? In other words, the Prime Minister has announced a so-called “jets coalition”. Can the Minister give us some more detail, particularly on any timescale and the types of jets we are talking about?
The Minister will also know of the role that the Wagner Group is playing in the war in Ukraine. What plans do the Government have to proscribe it, particularly as the Defence Secretary said that the Wagner Group
“does pose a threat to the United Kingdom and her allies, either directly or indirectly”?—[
Finally, the will of the Ukrainian people has been immense and, frankly, inspirational. The Defence Secretary reminded us that it is day 442 of the conflict, with almost 8 million refugees and 6 million people internally forced from their homes. Some 23,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed or wounded, with 6,000 children appallingly sent to so-called re-education camps. We need of course to provide the military aid that is needed and to do so, as we are doing, proportionately and sensibly, but, alongside that, does the Minister agree that we must continue to support the Ukrainian men, women and children who are also on the front line with all the help that they need?
President Putin chose to invade Ukraine and its sovereign territory. He must continue to know that we in the West, with the UK at the forefront, will continue to stand for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We should stand by the people of Ukraine and continue to support them as they defend their country. As I say, their fight is our fight.
My Lords, from these Benches, as so often when we discuss Ukraine or other defence matters, I endorse wholeheartedly everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Therefore, rather than re-iterating the questions he has raised, I will ask a few more about what is going on on the ground in Ukraine.
Like the noble Lord, I obviously welcome this Statement, and we endorse what His Majesty’s Government have been doing in terms of support for Ukraine. It was very clear when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister how far the United Kingdom supported Ukraine and stood shoulder to shoulder. It was not immediately clear that that was followed through, and I think that today it has become very clear that Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister really does understand the importance of supporting Ukraine to the largest extent possible.
The Secretary of State for Defence has said on numerous occasions that the Statements he makes are deemed to be “proportionate”. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain to the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has asked, what precisely is being offered today and what more His Majesty’s Government expect to do. I initially had this Statement as a “check against delivery” document which had a nice little bit in red which said, in square brackets, “blank for announcement”. The announcement is covered in Hansard, but even Hansard from last Thursday has been overtaken by the discussions today, so I think the House would welcome an understanding of what is happening in terms of drones and long-range missiles.
I particularly wanted to ask what discussions His Majesty’s Government may be having, not just with NATO partners but within the UN, about some of the war crimes being perpetrated. The Secretary of State’s Statement talked about the casualties, but also various war crimes. In particular, one of the issues that we have seen in Syria, and which we are seeing again now in Ukraine, is the bombardment of healthcare facilities. What assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the actions of Russia in this regard, and to what extent is it possible to already begin to make a case? Those victims—innocent children and others who are in hospital facilities—really need to be looked at as a matter of urgency. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker said, we also support the men on the front line and the women and children who may be at home, but that wanton attack on healthcare facilities is unspeakable. Equally, there have been attacks on energy facilities and nuclear power facilities, and I wonder what activity His Majesty’s Government are undertaking to support Ukraine in making sure its infrastructure is secure. Beyond the military hardware and the training, are His Majesty’s Government are able to provide additional support on the ground in that regard—we obviously know about the humanitarian aid.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I conclude by supporting the work that has been done by His Majesty’s Government and our service personnel in helping train the Ukrainians.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for the tenor of their remarks. I welcome their support. I think one of the most important demonstrations of this political unanimity is evidenced by the response of the noble Baroness, the noble Lord and their counterparts in the other place. I think that sends a powerful message from the UK that Putin has to understand—the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made the point—that we are not just absolutely joined together in the UK but are playing our role with our allies and partners; it is that aggregate effect which is having such a detrimental impact on Putin’s illegal war.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, praised Germany. I absolutely agree with that; it is a very welcome augmentation of all the help that has been given. I think the noble Lord asked me specifically about recent discussions between the UK and the United States. I cannot comment on specific detail, but I can say that we are regularly in communication and, of course, at the various international fora because we have the G7 imminently approaching. Of course, there will be further discussions with the US there.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about Storm Shadow, which is an air launch capability, and whether Ukraine has sufficient planes to mount that. My understanding is that it has. I cannot comment specifically on operational activity, but I would seek to reassure the Chamber that that capability is up, ready and capable of action with immediate effect.
The noble Lord asked a specific question which I think his colleague in the other place, the right honourable John Healey, asked, about whether all armoured vehicles have been delivered. I know that a lot of them have been delivered, but I do not have the precise details, so I will undertake to write to noble Lords once I am aware of the content of the response being delivered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
There were some specific questions about the nature of what was announced today. Today was indeed a very exciting day for the United Kingdom and, I hope, for President Zelensky. Once again, we commend President Zelensky for his unflagging dedication to his country and his unflagging energy and tireless efforts to continue to beat the drum, to go around potential donors and try to make them aware, as acutely as he can, of what the need is and how immediately that has to be responded to. I think today was a case in point.
Of the further provisions that were announced today, these are air defence missiles and unmanned aerial systems; that includes hundreds of new long-range attack drones. I have a little more specific information about that. The unmanned aerial systems will improve the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s ability to find targets, to improve accuracy of artillery fire, to resupply AFU personnel operating across the front lines and to disrupt Russian logistics and command nodes.
I understand that the longer-range attack drones will deliver a kinetic effect comparable to an artillery shell, but they will extend the range at which Ukraine can target and disrupt Russian activity. In a sense, that complements what is a pretty mighty weapon in the form of Storm Shadow. Your Lordships will be aware that that has a very pronounced lethality effect. That is precisely why we think that is what Ukraine needs now to deal with this relentless onslaught by the Russian forces as they seek to prosecute their illegal occupation.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, sought clarification that all of these armaments and different types of weaponry being made available by the United Kingdom to Ukraine are clearly donated for defensive purposes. They are. Indeed, there is nothing provocative about this. The United Kingdom is absolutely clear: our responsibility is to help Ukraine to defend itself. That has been our consistent approach to all this. Of course, this illegal war could end tomorrow if Russia agreed to stop it and to withdraw from its illegal occupation.
The noble Lord had a question about the training on the fighter jets. I have some information on that. I am given to understand that, this summer, we will commence an elementary flying phase for cohorts of Ukrainian pilots to learn basic training. As your Lordships will understand, the plane we are now talking about is the F16. That is not part of the UK’s capability, but apparently we are able to adapt the programme used by UK pilots to provide Ukrainians with piloting skills that they can apply to a different kind of aircraft. That training goes hand in hand with UK efforts, which are continuing, to work with other countries on providing F16 jets, which are now declared to be Ukraine’s fighter jet of choice. As to more specific information about the training programme, I can only undertake to investigate further; if I learn more I will undertake to inform your Lordships.
The noble Lord specifically raised the Wagner Group, which we all agree is a brutal and repugnant organisation. If the Government are considering proscribing any organisation, they do not comment on whether that is under consideration. However, I can say to your Lordships that significant measures have already been taken against the Wagner Group; that includes sanctioning Yevgeny Prigozhin and his family, and Dmitry Utkin, who are leading personnel within the Wagner Group. We are very clear about our desire to do everything we can to disable the Wagner Group. As I said, it is an entirely repugnant organisation, and your Lordships will be aware of the at times appalling conduct in which it has engaged.
The noble Lord asked specifically about the help we have been able to give on the humanitarian front, and specifically about how we are helping Ukraine to look to the future. It is very important, and signifies a note of optimism, that people are thinking about the future. The UK has been a leading bilateral humanitarian donor, with a £220 million package of humanitarian aid. We have also given a significant amount—about £75 million—of fiscal support grant and a £100 million grant to support Ukraine’s energy security reforms. Importantly, with our Ukrainian friends we will co-host the 2023 Ukraine recovery conference in June. We plan to mobilise public and private finance to ensure that Ukraine gets the vital reconstruction investment that it needs.
I might just mention that current UK recovery activity is focused on immediate needs, such as demining and the restoration of essential infrastructure and services. That includes support for the Halo Trust, which has demined more than 55,000 square metres of land, and a £10 million aid package to help Ukrainian Railways to repair damaged rail infrastructure.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about war crimes and quite rightly raised the absolutely disgraceful and atrocious bombardment by Russian forces of innocent civilian facilities, whether that is dwelling houses of individuals or healthcare facilities, all of which is appalling and completely unacceptable. As she will be aware, we have been doing everything we can to support the International Criminal Court in the pursuit of its important work. I think we are all very clear that war crimes have been committed. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for arrest and we are supporting it. Interestingly, alongside the United States and the European Union, we have established the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group in support of Ukraine’s domestic war crimes prosecutions.
The final point that was raised related to an important observation by the noble Baroness about the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Ben Wallace, making proportionate Statements. I am absolutely clear and he has been at pains to articulate, as he did when he was dealing with the Statement in the other place, that all of this is about giving a proportionate response to enable Ukraine to defend itself in answer to brutal, absolutely objectionable and appalling behaviour by the illegal invading Russian forces.
I hope I have managed to deal with the principal points raised, but if there is anything I have omitted I shall undertake to write.
My Lords, the Minister is correct to say that today is an important day. The whole House supports President Zelensky in his trip around some of the key European partners over the last few days. I myself saw for the first time ever helicopters landing live on the lawn at Chequers. I do not know whether other Members noticed it; I do not think I have ever seen that before. However, I want to ask just one question about Storm Shadow, to which the Minister referred. As I understand it, this missile has a longer range than others previously provided by us to Ukraine. Without getting into operational matters, I want the Minister to reassure the House that some understanding or arrangement has been made with Ukraine that absolutely minimises any risk that one of these missiles supplied by us should land on sovereign Russian territory.
I assure the noble Viscount that we have agreed mechanisms in place to ensure that these weapons will be used within Ukrainian territory to disrupt Russia’s ability to strike Ukrainian civilians and critical national infrastructure, and to relieve pressure on Ukraine’s front lines. It might be helpful for him to know that this capability is subject to the missile technology control regime. On that basis, we have in place a Government-to-Government assurance with Ukraine to facilitate the transfer.
My Lords, clearly, the whole House is behind the support that the Government are showing for the Government of Ukraine against the illegal attack from Russia. But clearly, the more that we are at the forefront of that, the more likely it is that we may be subject to some form of retaliation, whether explicitly or by grey zone means, to which it would be difficult to attribute the reasons concerned. For example, as we know from the past year or so, there has been interest from Russian submarines in the undersea cables that come into this country, and there have been issues around the pipelines. All of these things go on all of the time. Could the Minister give us some reassurance, without going into too much detail, as to the measures we are taking to deal with possible activities, potentially on a deniable basis, against us as a result of the support we are showing for Ukraine?
The noble Lord poses an important question. Regarding recent activity, he is correct that Russian ships were operating in the North Sea. The Ministry of Defence constantly monitors activity within UK waters and the economic exclusion zone to counter and deter detected threats, and British warships frequently patrol and shadow foreign vessels throughout the UK marine area. Royal Navy vessels are routed through the North Sea where possible on increased surveillance of offshore oil and gas installations. In addition to our effective armed surface fleet, we also have multirole ocean surveillance vessels. HMS “Scott” is currently in service and operating, and very recently we made an off-the-shelf purchase to acquire at speed a new multirole ocean surveillance vessel, recently named RFA “Proteus”. It is currently being readied for operational activity, so I hope I can reassure your Lordships that we are vigilant about that threat.
Like others, I congratulate the Government on all the support they are giving to Ukraine. My noble friend touched on war crimes. There has been much sexual violence perpetrated by Russian troops. The UK has been at the forefront of the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative. Are we helping Ukraine with documenting war crimes so that eventually, people can be held to account for them? Also, we are not hearing much from the women of Ukraine at the moment. Like many wars, this war is looking solely masculine, but we all know that women and children are disproportionately affected. Will we be helping to ensure that women participate in any peace talks that take place and that they are included in any plans for reconstructing and rebuilding Ukraine, which I imagine will be discussed at the upcoming Ukraine recovery conference here in London next month?
The UK is very conscious of the atrocities which have been perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine. We respond to that as best we can with a mixture of humanitarian aid, some of which I have already described. For example, we have given very significant donations of medical support to Ukraine. My noble friend makes an important point about the role of women in Ukraine. Ms Zelenska has been an admirable advocate for the position of women in Ukraine. I do not think any of us will forget her eloquent address to parliamentarians when she came to visit us, and I think we were all moved by what she had to say. She described graphically the situation to which my noble friend refers. Undoubtedly, as we try to construct a programme of recovery activity, women in Ukraine will have an extremely important role to play, and I hope that many of them will feel they can be involved and included. Perhaps what my noble friend perceives as a low profile by Ukrainian women is simply attributable to their fundamental desire to keep themselves and their children safe, to keep as far as possible out of danger and to ensure that they simply can survive from one day to the next. Our sympathy goes out to all the women in that plight, who are, against all odds, showing such courageous and stoic leadership in looking after their families.
I agree with everything that has been said. Many countries are supporting the Russian economy even through this war, and that includes purchasing Russian oil. Some of those countries we know very well. They are good friends of Britain as well, including India. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to persuade India not to purchase Russian oil while the war in Ukraine is going on?
The United Kingdom was instrumental in getting an oil price cap placed on Russian oil, so oil prices have fallen significantly for Russia, apparently lowering its energy revenues by more than 25%. We as a country always advocate that people should not be supporting the illegal invasion of Ukraine and that they should be looking at every activity in which they engage to work out whether it supports Russia or not. We are aware that the effect of sanctions on Russia and the Russian economy has been significant, such that Russia is in recession. Russia’s GDP declined by 2% to 3% in 2022, and forecasts suggest that it will fall a further 1.5% in 2023, which is apparently the longest recession for more than 25 years. There is evidence that Russia is being starved of the key western goods and technology it requires, and we are seeing that in its inability to produce modern equipment and up-to-date technology. It seems that its larder is bare in that respect.
My Lords, I can help the Minister regarding her response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson. During my visit to Kyiv last November, I heard some interesting reports from the EU mission that female police officers were stepping into those roles when male police officers had gone off to fight. The EU had been supplying them with appropriately fitted bullet-proof vests and other safety materials. Does the Minister know whether we have been giving any support along those lines? I entirely understand if she would like to write to me on that. That could be an obvious and positive way of encouraging the use of female police officers and female involvement in the justice system as a way forward.
I am pleased to see that the Statement contains a paragraph on the important and pressing issue of the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Reuters reported a couple of days ago that the IAEA chief was planning to take to the UN Security Council a proposed deal which it was hoped both Ukraine and Russia would sign, in an attempt to keep the largest nuclear power plant in Europe safe. Can the Minister tell me anything about that? Are the Government prepared to provide any support that might be useful, because the obvious problem will be how to monitor the situation and see what is happening on the ground? The Ukrainian atomic energy agency has expressed concern about the loss of staff. Are the Government prepared to offer any help they can in that area?
I thank the noble Baroness for her interesting observation following her visit to Ukraine. She illustrates a poignant example of the importance of Ukrainian women’s contribution to the resistance to what is happening in their country. I was not aware of the situation she described. I will investigate whether any of the humanitarian aid we are providing can specifically assist women who are taking up these roles because their male counterparts are at the front fighting the Russian invasion.
On the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the situation is concerning. We have made it clear that Russia should withdraw its forces and return full control of the plant to Ukraine, so we support all efforts to reduce the risks to the plant and we commend the IAEA’s work to ensure security there. If any progress can be made within the United Nations forum to achieve a safer environment for the power plant, that is certainly to be encouraged and commended.
My Lords, despite the subject, it is a rare pleasure to see such unity across your Lordships’ House and in the other place on a goal. I thank the Minister for her ongoing transparency, to the best of her abilities, and for answering the questions from all sides of the House on this initiative. I urge the Government to do as much as they can to maintain information and transparency to the media and the public, in order to ensure that the public remain on side at this important time, after 16 months.
I thank my noble friend. There are probably two prisms through which to look at this. One is that, just as the MoD, for example, has been fastidious but helpful in disclosing intelligence—which has certainly countered a lot of Russian misinformation and propaganda—the evidence we are getting is that the conduit of social media that we use is now reaching a pretty large audience. I very much hope that this has altered the dynamic. There was a very unequal balance in which disinformation and misinformation were predominant. I hope that we are neutralising that now and that a much more honest impression is being gleaned, particularly by people in Russia, about what their Government are doing.
The mirror effect is that people in this country understand what is happening and that it is wrong. Consider the millions who watched the Eurovision Song Contest and then learned that, during the Ukrainian contribution, the hometown of the two Ukrainian singers was being bombarded by Russian onslaught. People will have found that absolutely nauseating. It is, frankly, indicative of the bullying brutalism of Putin’s attack in Ukraine.
There is a clear understanding in the United Kingdom that something bad and wrong has happened, and we are doing everything we can with friends and allies to resist that and help Ukraine to defend itself. With a very popular medium such as the Eurovision Song Contest, members of the United Kingdom public will have got the message clearly: while two creative artists were doing what they do—singing and entertaining—Putin was arranging to bomb their hometown. They will be appalled by that and will say, “Anything you can do to counter and address that evil, do it”.