The statement made by James Heappey, the Minister for Armed Forces, in the House of Commons on 24 October 2023.
Since I last updated the House in my opening remarks in the debate on Ukraine on 11 September, the situation on the ground has remained largely unchanged. Slow and steady progress is being made by the Ukrainian armed forces, which continue to grind their way through the main Russian defensive position. Defence Intelligence estimates that the number of Russian permanent casualties —in other words, those who are dead or so seriously wounded that they cannot return to action—now stands at between 150,000 and 190,000 troops. Total casualties are estimated to number up to 290,000.
A limited Russian offensive is under way at Avdiivka on the outskirts of Donetsk city. Fighting has been fierce, and we assess that the average casualty rate for the Russian army was around 800 per day in the first week of the offensive. As ever, Putin and his generals show no more regard for the lives of their own troops than they do for the people of Ukraine.
However, even this ex-soldier can admit that wars are not only about the fight on the land. Since the last debate on Ukraine, the Ukrainians have opened up a new front in the Black sea, destroying a Kilo-class submarine and two amphibious ships, as well as making a successful strike on the Russian Black sea fleet headquarters. The consequence, as President Zelensky has rightly said, is that the Russian Black sea fleet is no longer capable of resistance in the western Black sea. As we move beyond day 600—it is day 608, to be precise—of Putin’s “three-day” illegal war, he has still not achieved any of his initial strategic aims, and he has now ceded sea control in the western Black sea to a nation without a navy.
The UK continues to donate significant amounts of ammunition and matériel, paid for from the £2.3 billion commitment for this financial year. That follows the same amount being given the year before, and that is an important point. Our gifting is about more than headline-making capabilities such as Challenger 2 or Storm Shadow. It is the delivery, month after month, of tens of thousands of artillery rounds, air defence missiles and other small but necessary items of equipment that positions the UK as one of the biggest and most influential of Ukraine’s donors. The UK is also the only country to have trained soldiers, sailors, aviators and Marines in support of the Ukrainian effort; we have now trained over 50,000 soldiers, sailors, aviators and Marines since 2014.
Events in the middle east have dominated the headlines, but in the Ministry of Defence and across the UK Government—and, clearly, in His Majesty’s Opposition, as they brought forward this urgent question—Ukraine remains a focus. I think that seeing this very timely question will matter enormously to our friends and colleagues in Kyiv. I remain every bit as confident today as I have been on all my previous visits to the Dispatch Box over the last two years that Ukraine can and will prevail.