Attack on UkraineDefenceSpeeches

Alec Shelbrooke – 2022 Statement on Nuclear Weapons and Vladimir Putin

The statement made by Alec Shelbrooke, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, in the House of Commons on 11 October 2022.

Russia’s continuing assault on Ukraine is an unprovoked and premeditated attack against a sovereign democratic state and it continues to threaten global security. This week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is meeting with Defence Ministers in Brussels to discuss further support for Ukraine, and later today my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be speaking to members of the G7.

I can assure the House that the UK and our allies remain steadfast and united in our support for Ukraine. As previously set out to the House, Defence is playing a central role in the UK’s response to the Russian invasion, providing £2.3 billion-worth of military support and leading in the international response.

We were the first European country to provide lethal aid to Ukraine. To date, we have sent more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, more than 200 armoured vehicles, more than 120 logistics vehicles, six Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak launchers and hundreds of missiles, as well as maritime Brimstone missiles. In addition, we have supplied almost 100,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, nearly 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition, 2,600 anti-structure munitions and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosive.

Defence is also providing basic training to Ukrainian soldiers in the UK. To date, we have trained over 6,000 Ukrainian recruits in the UK, and we continually review and adjust the course to meet their requirements. Defence will continue to respond decisively to Ukraine’s requests and the equipment is playing a crucial role in stalling the Russian advance and supporting our Ukrainian friends.

President Putin’s comments on nuclear are irresponsible. No other country is talking about nuclear use. We do not see this as a nuclear crisis.

Mr Ellwood

Thanks to our support and that of allies, Ukrainian forces have done the unthinkable in pushing back Russian force. However, with Putin now on the back foot and the third largest military in the world humiliated, this conflict has entered a darker chapter and we cannot be bystanders. Putin cannot be seen to lose this war and, as his response to the Kerch bridge attack shows, he is stooping to ever more unconventional tactics. The threat of Putin’s turning to tactical low-yield nuclear weapons remains low, but it has increased, posing questions for Britain and the United States that must be addressed before, not after, that line is crossed.

Russian military doctrine allows first use of nuclear weapons in response to conventional attacks on Russian soil. That is why the sham referendums took place in the Donbas region—so that Putin could claim it was part of the motherland. In response, as things stand, our formal position is so-called strategic ambiguity: the promise of a response, but no public clarity on what that might be.

We gained a reputation for blinking when it came to Georgia, on chemical weapons use in Syria and when the Crimea was annexed. I believe we should state now what our conventional response would be to Putin’s either deploying nuclear weapons directly or targeting hazardous infrastructure such as chemical or indeed civil nuclear plants. Such clarity could be the very deterrent that helps to prevent such hostile actions from taking place, rather than the vague position we have now.

Our adversaries—not just Russia—must know and fear the military consequences of daring to resort to using nuclear weapons, even if they are low yield. This is not an operational decision but a political call. We have a duty to do all we can to deter Putin from going nuclear. Let us not leave it to chance. Let us exhibit the robust statecraft and engagement that this unpredictable war now requires.

Alec Shelbrooke

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments. I reiterate what I said at the start: President Putin’s comments are irresponsible. No other country is talking about nuclear use, and we do not see this as a nuclear crisis. President Putin should be clear that, for the UK and our allies, any use of nuclear weapons at all would break the taboo on nuclear use that has held since 1945 and lead to severe consequences for Russia.

President Putin has launched an illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. His forces continue to commit senseless atrocities. The people of Ukraine seek only to restore their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we will continue to support Ukraine’s right to defend.

My right hon. Friend speaks of tactical nuclear missiles, but nuclear is nuclear. I reiterate what the Secretary-General of NATO said:

“President Putin’s nuclear rhetoric is dangerous. It is reckless. NATO is of course vigilant. We monitor closely what Russia does. Russia must understand that nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. And it will have severe consequences for Russia if they use nuclear weapons. And this has been very clearly conveyed to Russia. So we will continue to support Ukraine. And we will continue to support them in their efforts to liberate even more territory, because they have the right to do so.”

It is not and never has been tactically smart to outline exactly what the response would be to any potential situation. We will continue on the lines that this Government and, indeed, the Secretary-General have outlined.