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Ben Wallace – 2022 Statement on Ukraine

The statement made by Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, in the House of Commons on 21 February 2022.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the latest situation regarding Russia’s actions towards Ukraine. As I have already said, I apologise that the Opposition had such late sight of the statement.

As of 09.00 hours today, there are now more than 110 battalion tactical groups massed around Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus. In addition, in the Black Sea Fleet, there are two amphibious groups, nine cruise missile-equipped Russian ships and a further four cruise missile-capable vessels in the Caspian sea.

In the last 48 hours, contrary to Kremlin assurances, we have seen a continued increase in troop numbers and a change in force disposition, moving from holding areas to potential launch locations. All the indicators point to increasing numbers and readiness of Russian forces, and, not surprisingly to many of us, the pledge to withdraw Russian troops from Belarus at the end of their joint military drills on 20 February was not carried out, and the exercise has now been extended until further notice.

Complementing this troop build-up has been the proliferation of false flag operations, propaganda stunts, and Russian news outlets carrying fictitious allegations. These are not the actions of a Russian Government fulfilling their repeated declarations that they have no intention of invading Ukraine. In fact, over the last few weeks, we have seen the Russian “playbook” being implemented in a way that gives us strong cause for concern that President Putin is still committed to an invasion. I believe that he is in danger of setting himself on a tragic course of events, leading to a humanitarian crisis, instability, and widespread suffering—not just of Ukrainians, but of the Russian people.

Like many of us, the Russians know the consequences of military interventions. The Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the first war in Chechnya are just two examples of where Russia saw too many young men returning home in zinc-lined coffins. The Government therefore urge President Putin—for the sake of his own people and even at this eleventh hour—to rule out the invasion of Ukraine and recommit to a diplomatic process for us to address the perceptions of the Kremlin.

Over recent weeks, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have engaged numerous times with our international counterparts, including my own visit to Moscow to meet Defence Minister Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov. We have made clear our determination to uphold the defensive principles of NATO and to defend the right of sovereign countries to make choices about their own security arrangements. As the Russian Government have signed up to, states have

“an equal right to security. We reaffirm the inherent right of each and every participating state to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance.”

That statement was signed by the Russians in 1975 in the Helsinki Final Act, in 1994 in the Budapest summit declaration, in 1999 at the Istanbul summit, and, most lately, in 2010 at the Astana summit. We urge Russia to stick to its commitments that it has openly made and signed up to over the years. My counterpart, Defence Minister Shoigu, repeated to me in person that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine, but, while we take them at their word, we must judge them by their actions.

At our meeting I also took the opportunity to address the proposals in Russia’s draft treaty, because, while this is not a return to normal UK-Russia relations, it is important that, as one of Europe’s biggest military powers, the UK maintains strong lines of communications with Russia in order to avoid miscalculation and the risk of inadvertent escalations. I also continue to speak regularly to my Ukrainian counterpart, Defence Minister Reznikov, as we continue to support the armed forces of Ukraine.

Since 2015, the UK—alongside the likes of Sweden and Canada—has responded to Russia’s previous illegal occupation of Crimea with defence capacity building, including training and reform. As I announced to the House last month, we took the decision to also provide lethal aid to Ukraine. That now means that, alongside the United States, Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands, the United Kingdom has not just spoken, but acted.

I am pleased with the efforts being made by a range of European leaders, including President Macron, to find a way through. We must remain resolute in our commitment to NATO’s formal response to the Russian draft treaties, which all NATO members signed up to. Intimidation and aggression, however, must not be rewarded.

We should be under no illusion: the Russian forces have now massed on Ukraine’s borders 65% of all their land combat power. The formations present and the action of the Russian state to date not only threaten the integrity of a sovereign state, but undermine international law and the democratic values in which all of us in Europe so strongly believe.

The Foreign Office has now relocated the embassy further west in the country, and two weeks ago advised that all UK nationals should leave Ukraine via all means possible. The Ministry of Defence will continue to monitor Russian actions, support Ukrainian defensive efforts and contribute to NATO’s response measures. We continue to hope that President Putin will relent and pull back from an invasion, but we must prepare ourselves for the consequences if he does not. I will update the House, as I have done over the past few weeks, both in the Chamber and to colleagues online.