20 May 2024
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown urges support for Ukraine to prevent global ramifications

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown highlights the urgent need for Europe and the US to provide significant support to Ukraine to deter further Russian aggression. He warns that failure to do so will be exploited by Russia as they seek to strengthen co-operation with China leading to potentially dangerous repercussions in other regions of the world.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

I think this House is at its best when we get serious issues of this kind, and those on all sides of the House are in agreement—broad agreement—about what needs to be done. We have heard some excellent and informed speeches from both sides. I think the announcements made at the beginning of this debate by the Deputy Foreign Secretary are very welcome, particularly the £3 billion this country is going to give Ukraine this year and every year thereafter, while some of the significant sums—for example, on artillery and drones—are very welcome.

We have reached a critical point in the Ukraine-Russia war when we, along with our allies, need to decide how far and for how long we can take our support. In recent weeks, Russian forces have made slow but important advances in the area of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, compounding their advances by stretching the Ukraine army along a wide front. Opening up new fronts as well as widening those in the south-east Donetsk and Luhansk regions will stretch Ukrainian forces in a battle of resources, as Ukraine awaits the delayed US aid and equipment.

The UK and US have provided strong support for Ukraine, but there have been limitations and critical delays, as others have said, in providing the weapons and equipment needed. We are at a point where this war is dragging on, with limited and slow advances on both sides. The west has provided enough support for the Ukrainians to defend themselves, but not enough to make decisive advances, let alone enough to end the war. We must decide with our allies whether we will step up this support to persuade the Russians to withdraw from Ukraine. What we should not do is allow a war in Europe to drag on for many years and become a frozen conflict. That would cause an increased death toll, damage Ukrainian infrastructure and impact on our own and other western economies. Not only would it continue to prolong the suffering of the brave Ukrainian people, but it would make the job of rebuilding the country in the longer term much more difficult.

There is a strong possibility that, if we are not sufficiently determined to oppose Russia now, its aggression will not cease with Ukraine. We have only to look at what is happening in Georgia at the moment. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the demonstrations against the foreign agents law, it is clear that the majority of people in Georgia want a closer alignment with Europe and NATO than with their historical ties to Russia. That will be a cause for thought in Moscow. I use those words carefully.

In Europe, there is the possibility of risk to a Baltic state or Moldova. What would it mean if a NATO state were targeted next? Estonia’s Prime Minister urged NATO allies at the security conference in Tallinn to follow their response by stepping up support for Ukraine, while Moldova has recently defied Russia with a EU security pact deepening defence co-operation. Of course, one of the outcomes, whatever happens in the war in Ukraine, is that both Sweden and Finland have become members of NATO. Those deeply independent, non-aligned, neutral countries joining NATO must be a real slap in the face for the Russians. European countries have a huge vested interest in continuing to provide considerably more equipment and training. As I have mentioned, some countries such as Germany and Poland are to be commended for what they have done.

As I have said, the UK is sending an extra £500 million on top of the £2.5 billion in military aid that it had already pledged to give Ukraine in 2024. In February, the EU agreed to a further £42 billion package, but by March it had failed to meet its targets on sending shells to Ukraine. After the US and Germany, the UK is the third largest supplier of weapons and equipment to Ukraine.

As I said in my intervention on the Deputy Foreign Secretary, who made an excellent speech, I think we must do much more on the diplomatic front to encourage a coalition of the willing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) said, the consequences of the Russians winning in Ukraine are huge in the longer term. I think it would mean that a number of non-aligned nations will decide that they are perhaps better off with the coalition of Russia and China, rather than with the west, which would be an utter disaster. It is important that we try to build that coalition of the winning, and I am not just thinking of Europe and America. There are countries in south-east Asia and in the middle east that we should be trying to persuade to join this coalition.

The US has been a huge supplier of arms and financial support, and its contributions to the war have far outweighed what has been sent by all other countries put together. In a recent visit to Kyiv, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, pledged ongoing US support for Ukraine after Congress approved the $61 billion aid package. Arriving at the frontline, as my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) has said, are the ATACMS—army tactical missile systems—which are long-range precision-guided missiles. Of the $61 billion-worth of aid being provided, about $8 billion will be used to resupply Ukraine with missiles and ammunition. That is a crucial point, because these missiles are absolutely critical.

The US has also been stepping up its own arms manufacturing, as we heard on the Public Accounts Committee visit to the Pentagon two months ago. That is critical. Europe needs to step up its arms manufacturing, which it has pledged to do, but it seems to be doing that far too slowly. This is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex said, just about manufacturing. Huge volumes of hardened shelters are required to store the shells. There is a lot attached to building up this capacity, and my hon. Friend was right to indicate those figures. Furthermore, after that first year, the step-up in the second year will be even greater, which is good news.

As the Prime Minister said, we are facing some of the most dangerous and yet transformational years to come. Others have mentioned that the Ukrainians must be free to make decisions on how they use the arms that we supply, and they should not be hampered by conditions imposed by us. It is utter nonsense to watch Russian troops massing on the border near Kharkiv, and then to expect the Ukrainians not to use the vital weapons we have supplied to prevent that from happening.

An important area that has not yet been discussed is that, as any military tactician knows, to win a ground war air superiority is needed. Therefore, if the west really wants to help Ukraine, it must be far more generous in providing fighter aircraft, complete with trained Ukrainian pilots and anti-aircraft missiles. Ukraine has consistently asked the US for fighter jets to counter Russia’s air superiority. In May 2023, the US agreed to let other nations supply Ukraine with US-made F-16s. However, the US has hundreds of those aircraft, which are being rapidly superseded, and it could well afford to donate some of them. Instead, it says that the F-16s must be supplied by Denmark, the Netherlands and other nations, and we must train those pilots in how to use them. As others have said, our missiles have been very effective at deterring Russian ships in the Black sea.

I am not really criticising, but the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) slightly dismissed the fact that grain was getting out of Ukraine. It is not only good in itself, but important—others have touched on this—that small businesses are able to flourish in Ukraine. It is important that they are able to generate profits, and even more important that they are able to employ people who are not able to fight in the war, such as women who are not at the front. It is important that the Ukrainian economy is beginning to flourish again.

Dave Doogan 

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman at all. I was very specific in what I said, and I talked about a “tactical advantage”, which is minimal.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown 

I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman has said.

As Russian advances were being made in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin was making a state visit to China, in a show of strength. China is the largest investor in Ukraine after Russia, and it is propping up the ailing Russian economy by buying a significant quantity of Russian oil and gas at cheap prices. China could have a significant influence on Russia to settle the war if it chose to do so. A group of colleagues visited China the other day and made those points, but I do not think we had any impact on the Chinese. Surprise, surprise some might say, but we have to go and we have to engage, otherwise we certainly will not have an impact.

Putin has been making recent changes, dismissing his Defence Minister who had been in charge since 2022—the beginning of the war, when Putin expected Russia to take Kyiv in days—and replacing him with a very different person in Andrey Belousov. He is now overseeing the $117 billion defence spending that Russia has embarked on, and building up a Russian war machine that is reminiscent of what they did in world war two, by turning the entire economy to a war footing, which suggests that Putin is preparing for a long war with Europe. In addition, Russia’s allies, China, Iran and North Korea, have huge manufacturing capabilities that could replace a significant proportion of the Russian arsenal if it wished. If we and our allies are unwilling to provide more decisive support, there will inevitably be a political settlement between the two countries, which will leave Russia in a far more powerful position.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex indicated, we do not know what the US position will be after the elections in November. That is why I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that it is imperative that we engage with both sides in that election—Republicans and Democrats—so that whatever happens we strongly make the point that it is vital that the Americans continue on their course. Otherwise there is a danger that we will not be able to win this war.

Hotbeds of tension that could unravel in the years to come in the middle east and in east Asia around Taiwan and China are being carefully managed at the moment. Eyes are on the west and how we deal with Russia. The more Russia succeeds in Ukraine, the more co-operation between Russia and China seems to be strengthening, and the old enmity between them is reducing. That is incredibly dangerous. Urgent concerted and positive help must be given to the Ukrainian people in their hour of need for as long as it is needed, to deter Russia from taking any further offensive action in the rest of Europe.


Earlier Intervention in the same Debate

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

The news that my right hon. Friend has given the House this afternoon on the amount of military equipment and money going into Ukraine is greatly encouraging. Britain has courageously led the world on co-ordinating the effort against Russia’s operation in Ukraine, supported, of course, by the Americans and, to be fair, the Germans, but we three nations cannot do it all. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage other rich nations and allies around the world to contribute their share?

The Deputy Foreign Secretary (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to underline the importance of that. I think the position is a little better than he suggests, but he may rest assured that we are pressing everyone to give the support that Britain is giving, in whatever way they can.