20 February 2023
James Cleverly makes a statement on the situation in Ukraine

Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, makes a statement on the situation in Ukraine one year on from the Russian invasion.

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.

This week, the war that President Putin expected to last just three days reaches a year in duration. Russian forces have killed thousands of Ukrainians. Eighteen million Ukrainians have left their homes. Thousands have been forcibly deported to Russia. Historic cities now lie in ruins. Russia has targeted hospitals, schools and energy supplies, and because of Russia’s blockade of the Black sea ports and its economic blackmail, some of the world’s poorest people are now paying higher prices for food, energy and the means of survival.

In the areas liberated from Russian forces, the Ukrainians have uncovered mass graves, as well as evidence of rape and torture on an unimaginable scale. Putin is responsible for this. His invasion was unprovoked and it was illegal. He could stop it at once by withdrawing his forces from Ukrainian land, but he is making the lives of millions of people hell for the sake of his imperial delusions. He blundered into a war that he cannot and will not win. Ukrainians were always going to resist a hostile attack aimed at wiping out their country.

Early last year, in New York, I predicted that if Putin were foolish enough to invade Ukraine, Ukrainians would defend their homeland ferociously, and I have been vindicated in that prediction. Today, they are more unified, more proud and more determined than ever. As President Zelensky said when he addressed my right hon. and hon. Friends and Members from across the House in Westminster Hall on 8 February, “freedom will win”. We and the whole world remain united and resolute in our support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and for the defence of the UN charter.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

How resolute are we? Are we going to give them aeroplanes?

James Cleverly 

I assure my right hon. Friend—I will make reference to this later on in my remarks—that the determination of the Ukrainian people is unbounded. I will talk about what further support we might give them later on in my speech.

The UK and Ukraine stand side by side in the face of this aggression. We have become the closest of friends and the most committed of partners. We are inspired by its heroism and by the resilience of the Ukrainian people. We come together as never before; we share a common purpose.

Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)

When I go out in my constituency, I am struck, a year on, by the support of the British people. Despite the adversity they face with cost of living pressures, they still think this is the right thing to do. Does the Secretary of State agree?

James Cleverly 

The British people, in every corner of the United Kingdom, have demonstrated a generosity of spirit that is admirable. That should make every single Member of this House proud.

Ukraine’s heroic armed forces have already recaptured thousands of square miles from the Russians, driving them out of more than half of all the territory it grabbed last year. But Putin shows no sign of withdrawing his forces. If we are to change his mind, Ukraine will need to take back more land. Today, the Russian army is on the defensive, morale is pitiful, casualties are immense, and its troops are running out of key weapons and ammunition. This is exactly the right moment for Ukraine to seize the advantage. That is why we and our allies must step up our effort to ensure that Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace. Justice must be served on those responsible for war crimes and atrocities, in accordance with international law.

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

The Foreign Secretary has made an outstanding start to the debate. Last week, the Vice-President of the United States said that the US has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity. Has His Majesty’s Government now come formally to the same conclusion?

James Cleverly 

We are looking very closely at the evidence that is being compiled. While we have not made a formal designation, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, and other right hon. and hon. Members across the House, that we will ensure that those who are responsible for atrocities, whether in the field or right up to the desk of Vladimir Putin himself, will be held accountable.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)

I thank the Foreign Secretary and welcome the Government’s move to freeze the assets of Russians engaged in supporting the Putin regime. The EU has already set out a plan for how it will move frozen assets into a rebuilding programme for Ukraine. Our good friends and allies, the Canadians, have also set out in legislation how they will be doing that. What is causing the delay with respect to the UK? Why have we dithered while others have acted?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his assessment of how far forward other countries are in this situation. We are all looking at how we can ensure—I will make reference to this later in my speech—that the people responsible for the damage will ultimately pay for the damage. The facts are that he is wrong about how far forward other nations are. On Canada, I discussed the issue with Foreign Minister Joly on my recent visit. We have a similar legal system and it is testing the legal parameters. We will, of course, learn from its experience.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I thank the Foreign Secretary very much for his positive response—we expect that and thank him for it. Reports are filtering through about systematic rape, abuse and sexual attacks on women of all ages, from as young as four to as old as 83. They are systematic and approved at the top of the Russian Government and their troops. On taking action and collating all the evidence to ensure that those perpetrating these depraved and evil acts are held accountable, I am sure the Foreign Secretary will give the House the assurance it needs, but we need it as a nation as well.

James Cleverly 

That is an extremely important point, and one that, again, I will refer to later in my speech. I will say now, however, that when I visited Kyiv and Irpin and spoke with Ukrainians, and when I also spoke with Ukrainians during our Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict conference here in London, the testimonies that I heard were genuinely heartbreaking, and I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the perpetrators will not go unpunished.

Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)

As other Members have said, we are seeing terrible atrocities in Ukraine, and in retrospect this awful situation may be classified as a genocide. This is not the first time that Russia has undertaken a genocide; it did so in 1932-33 with the Holodomor, but we as a country do not recognise that as a genocide. I hope that when this is over—as soon as possible—we can look again at the Holodomor, in which millions of people were murdered, as they are being murdered now, and reclassify and recognise it formally as a genocide, as many other countries already do.

James Cleverly 

That is another extremely important point, to which I referred when I made some brief comments to the press after my meeting with Foreign Minister Kuleba in Kyiv. It would obviously be wrong to prejudge how this is defined in the future, but we know, because we have heard Vladimir Putin say it himself, that his intention is to eradicate the whole concept of Ukraine.

Sir John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

James Cleverly 

I will make some more progress, because a number of the interventions made so far have touched on points that I was planning to make in my speech, but I assure my right hon. Friend that I will give him an opportunity to intervene later.

Increased military support for Ukraine is the quickest and therefore the most humane way to end this war. I witnessed the extraordinary courage and resolve of the Ukrainian people when I travelled to Kyiv and Irpin three months ago: I saw for myself, and I understand fully, that they will defend themselves and their land whatever the cost may be. They will never give in. They will never surrender. Russia’s untrained conscripts, sent to the frontline of a war that makes no sense to them, will never be able to match Ukraine’s martial spirit. That is why Ukraine is going to win, and that is why we must ensure that it wins as quickly as possible.

The UK’s military, humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine since the invasion started has reached nearly £4 billion. I pay tribute to, and commend, my right hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) for the decisiveness and resolve, in the early stage of this conflict, which gave the Ukrainians a fighting chance, enabled them to defend their capital city, and bought them the time they needed to push back the Russian forces. I am very glad that both my right hon. Friends are present.

We are proud to be the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine, after the United States of America. We were the first country to provide the weapons that Ukraine needed to defend itself. In 2023 we shall at the very least match the £2.3 billion of military aid that we gave last year, and we shall add more advanced capabilities across land, sea and air.

Sir John Whittingdale 

My right hon. Friend referred to the importance of holding Russia to account for its crimes. He will be aware of the action that is already under way in both the International Criminal Court and in the Ukrainian judicial system, but can he confirm that the Government now support the establishment of a special international tribunal to pursue Russia for the crime of aggression?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We have joined a working group to look at a special vehicle for full accountability, because, as I said in response to an earlier intervention, it is not enough just to hold to account the people committing the rapes, murders and brutality; we must ensure that those who are ordering them to do so and facilitating that brutality are also held to account.

Mr Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)

My right hon. Friend is right to commend the heroism of the Ukrainian armed forces, which has been second to none. Our military aid is therefore absolutely paramount and we are right to give it. There is clearly a continent-wide challenge that embraces all of NATO around our ammunition supplies and our ability to sustain the war effort in Ukraine in the way that is going to be required. Can he commit that we are reassessing as a matter of urgency our defence stocks, which must be severely depleted at this juncture, to make sure that we can sustain the effort, however long it takes?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend is right to say that we need to support the Ukrainians until they are victorious. I have made the point on the international stage, including at the Munich security conference at the tail end of last week and over the weekend, that this equipment and this ammunition is to be used to fight in that theatre against that enemy. We are lucky that the young men and women who are conducting that fight are Ukrainians rather than British. We therefore have an enhanced duty to ensure that they are successful. I say to anyone in the international community or among our allies who is thinking of holding back their stocks for a rainy day: this is the rainy day.

Dr Luke Evans 

Leading on from that, Biden has pledged a further $500 million for weapons, and we have given £2.3 billion from here. What message do we have for our European colleagues and those across the world on supporting us to come forward and make sure that Ukraine is successful?

James Cleverly 

I have had this conversation with NATO allies and others. This is not just about ensuring that Ukraine can defend its sovereignty, territory and people; as I will come on to later in my remarks, this is about defending the UN charter and the international order that has kept us safe since the end of the last war. All countries that believe in defending those principles should make every effort to assist Ukraine at this time.

We will give the Ukrainian forces the upper hand on the battlefield so that they can reverse Russia’s gains and limit Putin’s ability to target civilian infrastructure. We must also develop their force structures and capability so that they can build a deterrence force for the future. Over the last six months we have trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops to bring them up to battle readiness, and we will upskill a further 20,000 this year. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week, we will train Ukrainian fast jet pilots and marines as part of a long-term investment in their military capabilities.

When the Prime Minister and President Zelensky met earlier this month, they underscored our joint determination to achieve a just and sustainable peace. We shall work together in international organisations to achieve that, and to defend the principles of the UN charter. I am travelling to New York this week to speak on Ukraine in the UN Security Council. I will tell the truth about Putin’s brutality and Ukraine’s heroism, but we must always increase our efforts, with partners, to tackle the steady drip of poisonous Russian propaganda and lies. We will work together to help Ukrainian grain to reach world markets. The Black sea grain initiative and the Grain from Ukraine initiative boost food security for the world’s most vulnerable people.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. On the subject of training pilots, the aircraft that we have—the Lightning and the Typhoon—are totally incompatible with fighting in Ukraine. They require large sustainment and they operate from bases well away from in theatre. The aircraft that could be ideal is the Gripen, which the Swedes have. We do not have the people to train the pilots and we do not have the aircraft or the simulators on which to do it, so I am slightly concerned when the Foreign Secretary says that we are going to train pilots. I wonder how we will do it.

James Cleverly 

As my right hon. and gallant Friend knows, I am a good, old-fashioned team gunner, so I understand ballistic artillery and very little else, but I am assured by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, in close co-ordination with our Ukrainian friends, that the training contribution we are making is genuinely valuable and very much valued.

Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)

It is said that war is easy but peace is hard, which ignores the fact that war is never easy and that peace is a light we must all attempt to pursue to avoid an escalation of hostilities. The Secretary of State will be aware that the devastation caused by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria will have an impact on our ability to maintain the Black sea grain deal. What support is being offered to Turkey, and what is the UN doing to secure the position of food supplies to the rest of the world?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is not directly linked to the subject of this debate, but I can reassure him that I have been in regular contact with the Turkish Foreign Minister with regard to our ongoing support to Turkey and north-west Syria as they attempt to deal with the terrible consequences of the earthquake. I committed to keeping the House informed in my urgent statement, and I will make sure I do.

Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

James Cleverly 

Given the number of people in the Chamber, I will try to make progress before taking another intervention.

In addition to our £2.3 billion of military support, we are providing more than £1.6 billion of non-military assistance, some £1.35 billion in lending guarantees through the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, £100 million in direct budgetary assistance and £220 million in humanitarian support.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)

Talking about gunnery, the Ukrainians are managing to maintain barrages of between 5,000 and 6,000 shells and rockets a day—they are probably receiving barrages of 20,000 a day from the Russians—which is equivalent to a small NATO country’s annual procurement before the war. Is my right hon. Friend confident that we and the Americans have the industrial capacity not only to maintain our current level of support to the Ukrainians but to increase it without diminishing our own stocks, which are getting fiendishly low?

James Cleverly 

The simple truth is that we have to make sure we provide the Ukrainians with the ammunition they need to get the job done. Our industrial base will have to step up a gear, I have no doubt, but we should be confident that our NATO allies, including the industrial might of the United States of America, will considerably outmatch the capability of the Russian Federation to produce ammunition.

I give the House notice that I now intend to make progress. Our vital humanitarian assistance, delivered through the United Nations, the Red Cross and non-governmental organisations, is saving lives and helping to protect the most vulnerable in Ukraine and those forced to flee Russian attacks. The ongoing attacks on civilian infrastructure underscore Putin’s increasing desperation, and we have provided £22 million in direct support to Ukraine’s energy sector. This includes £7 million for more than 850 generators to ensure vital facilities such as hospitals have power.

Duncan Baker 

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

James Cleverly 

I will make progress.

And we are providing £5 million for safety and security equipment for the civil nuclear sector.

We are working closely with international partners to reduce their energy dependence on Russia. The UK phased out Russian coal from August 2022 and banned imports of Russian liquefied natural gas from the start of this year. In December, alongside the G7 and Australia, we set a price cap on seaborne Russian crude oil to restrict Putin’s primary source of revenue for his illegal war. Despite elevated oil prices, Russia’s Finance Ministry has reported a $47 billion deficit in 2022, because of the decisive action we have taken. We will continue to work with partners to cut off Russia’s hydrocarbon revenues and accelerate the global transition to clean, reliable sources of power.

We have also imposed our largest and most severe package of sanctions ever against Russia. With our allies, we have frozen more than £275 billion-worth of Russian assets; in addition to the 1,200 individuals already sanctioned, we will introduce new measures against those in Russia and outside it who are supporting or profiteering from this war. We will crack down ruthlessly on those who seek to evade sanctions.

Abuses and violations of human rights have been committed by Russian forces on a systematic scale: torture and killing of civilians; rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war; and forced deportations. We will not allow these crimes to go unpunished. We will support the war crimes investigations, those of both the Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court. In March, the UK will host a major international meeting to support the ICC in investigating alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

When this war is over, Ukraine can never again be left vulnerable to attack. A strong Ukraine must be safe, flourishing and prosperous. With our Ukrainian friends, we will co-host the 2023 Ukraine recovery conference on 21 and 22 June, here in London. Together, we plan to mobilise the combined might of public and private finance to ensure that Ukraine gets the vital reconstruction investment that it needs. I know that this House will join me in calling on Putin to withdraw Russian forces from Ukrainian territory and immediately bring an end to the barbaric attacks against civilians. The Ukrainians have endured months of relentless attacks and bombardment, but their spirit is unbroken. We share their determination that Putin’s illegal attempted invasion will fail and this House demands that justice be done.