Ukraine: Ministry of Defence Strategy - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:31 am on 15 June 2023.

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Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 11:31, 15 June 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what arrangements they have in place for reviewing the Ministry of Defence’s strategy in relation to Ukraine.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the UK Government are dedicated to supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s illegal invasion. A key element of our response is being agile in our support as the conflict changes, and strands of work are constantly assessed to deliver this goal. Working closely with international allies and partners, and via our major contribution to the international donor co-ordination centre, we continue to enable and adapt support from across the world to meet Ukraine’s current and future requirements.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, some colleagues will be aware of my personal reservations about the war, but I now have to accept it: I too have to move on. Is not the simple truth that you cannot keep 140 million Russian citizens in information lockdown founded on a policy of brutality? The resistance to Russia’s approach to this war has to come from within Russia. That should now be the central focus of our strategy. Should we not be concentrating our resources on an information war and not just on a battlefield victory in which we are quasi-participants? A strategy based on war alone is destroying infrastructure, leading to mass population movement and destabilising the world economy.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I commend the noble Lord on his change of position; many people will identify and sympathise with his stance. If I may seek to reassure him, it has been the UK Government’s very clear position in relation to trying to bring this war to an end that only by going into peace negotiations from a position of military, economic and diplomatic strength will Ukraine secure a strong, just and lasting sustainable peace. Sadly, we are not there yet. I seek to reassure him that within the MoD, through various channels, ambitious and very effective attempts have been made to disseminate information within Russia, with evidence that this information is being increasingly received and taken up. He makes the important point that a powerful and cogent persuader in relation to President Putin will come from within Russia, when his country realises that this is a disastrous enterprise that it has embarked upon.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, in any review of strategy will my noble friend and the whole Government bear in mind very carefully the role of China in this situation? China is of course a country that supports Russia, and we all know that Putin very badly needs its support, but the Chinese are absolutely determined to oppose his possible use of nuclear weapons, which he keeps threatening. Is this not a key factor in calling Putin’s bluff, and should it not encourage us to press on and give Ukraine every weapon it needs, including aircraft cover, to gain the upper hand as soon as possible?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I express complete agreement with the last point made by my noble friend. Yes, I agree with his proposition. We welcome China’s engagement with President Zelensky. We expect China, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to stand up for the United Nations charter and for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We hope China will use its influence with President Putin to persuade Russia to cease its attacks, withdraw its troops and hopefully bring an end to the war.

Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made an important point in stressing information warfare, but he applied it rather too narrowly. Does the Minister agree that this information warfare needs to go far beyond the Russian population to other areas of the world that have been less than supportive of the campaign in Ukraine, particularly in what is perhaps inaccurately referred to as the global South, and that we need to do much better in this regard?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I think the House will concur with the principle of the noble and gallant Lord’s proposition. I can tell him that through diplomatic channels and, where we can, through MoD conduits, we make known to other powers that have been somewhat passive in their comments on this barbaric and illegal war that a more proactive response is necessary, that this is wrong and that history has shown us repeatedly that you do not achieve peace by pandering to a bully. People have to be prepared to stand up, call that out and act accordingly.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, following the question from the noble and gallant Lord and the Minister’s response, is there not a question of going beyond talking to elites and people at summit meetings, and actually reaching out to wider communities? It is actually the hearts and minds of citizens across the world that we need to get to. If we want India and China to be working on the same side and opposing this war, we need the ordinary citizens to get that message.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Yes, and I think there will be almost unanimity in response to the noble Baroness’s point. The challenge is finding a mechanism through which to disseminate that information. As your Lordships will be aware, that is a very challenging proposition indeed in certain countries. We in the UK are determined to play our part and do what we can to use communication to spread information and provide up-to-date positions. We can only hope that some of that is landing, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, however this conflict ends, and end it will, the threat from Russia will remain. What is the position of the United Kingdom Government on security guarantees, in advance of any possible NATO membership, to protect Ukraine from any future Russian threat?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As the noble Lord will be aware, the UK is supportive of Ukraine’s accession to NATO. We think that is a very important step forward in relation to Euro-Atlantic security. As he will be aware, that is for the member states of NATO to determine, and it will be for them to determine whether any other criteria have to be taken into account.

Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Conservative

My Lords, can my noble friend give us some more information about the very welcome meeting of the JEF in Amsterdam on 13 June? I congratulate my noble friend on the initiatives on behalf of this country to support the people of Ukraine, but can she let us know more about the air defence package that was agreed on 13 June and seems most helpful and most exciting?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Yes, I can provide my noble friend and the Chamber with some further information. This is a substantial package from JEF member states of £92 million. It will be procured through the International Fund for Ukraine and will be used to bolster Ukraine’s ability to protect its critical national infrastructure, civilian population and front-line personnel. The package will, for example, provide radars to help protect against indiscriminate Russian strikes, as well as guns and a significant amount of ammunition.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the best strategy for the people of Ukraine is to look towards a peace settlement? In this House we are used to Orwellian language, where we refer to defence and mean offence. The long-suffering people of Ukraine will benefit if there can be a peace settlement in which all Russian troops are withdrawn and some guarantee given to the Russians that the West has no hostile intentions towards them. It would, incidentally, be the end of Putin.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Peace could certainly be achieved if Russia withdrew from this barbaric, illegal war now. Unfortunately, far from accepting that, Russia continues on a path of violence, brutalism and barbarism. That has to be resisted robustly and that is why there is such a global alliance, in which the UK is playing a proud role, to see off this wrong.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that of course there are always discussions between us, Ukraine and our allies, including about how we disseminate information and to whom we send it? Is it not the case that now is not the time to show any weakness or doubt in what we are doing? Rather, it is a time to redouble our efforts and stay strong and determined, making sure that Russia and those who support her know that. We should have no doubt that this struggle is not only Ukraine’s fight but all our fight, in defence of the international rules-based order, freedom and democracy.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I commend the noble Lord on his sentiments; I agree with every word he uttered.

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Conservative

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, talked about “the global South”, but a large number of smaller countries still maintain full commercial, trade and military links with the Kremlin, including, I am afraid, a number of smaller Commonwealth countries. Can the Minister tell us exactly what HMG are doing in working with the Commonwealth Secretariat and making diplomatic representations to these countries?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As a matter of general United Kingdom Government business, we regularly look at the sanctions regime and engage with countries where we are concerned about continuing transactional relationships with Russia. As for the specific detail my noble friend seeks, I undertake to speak to my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon to see whether we can provide more information for him.