The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 22 February 2022.
Yesterday was a dark day for Europe. The Russian President denied the right of a sovereign nation to exist, unilaterally recognising separatist movements that he sponsors and that seek to dismember Ukraine. Then, under the cover of darkness, he sent in troops to enforce his will. Putin appears determined to plunge Ukraine into a wider war. We must all stand firm in our support for Ukraine. We support the freedom of her people and their right to determine their own future without the gun of an imperialist held to their head.
There can be no excuses for Russia’s actions. There is no justification for this aggression. A war in Ukraine will be bloody, it will cost lives, and history will rightly scorn Putin as the aggressor. Putin claims to fear NATO expansion, but Russia faces no conceivable threat from allied troops or from Ukraine. What he fears is openness and democracy. He knows that, given a choice, people will not choose to live under the rule of an erratic and violent authoritarian, so we must remain united and true to our values across this House and with our NATO allies. We must show Putin that we will not be divided.
I welcome the sanctions introduced today and the international community’s efforts to unite with a collective response. However, we must be prepared to go further. I understand the tactic of holding back sanctions on Putin and his cronies to try to deter an invasion of the rest of Ukraine, but a threshold has already been breached. A sovereign nation has been invaded in a war of aggression based on lies and fabrication. If we do not respond with a full set of sanctions now, Putin will once again take away the message that the benefits of aggression outweigh the costs. We will work with the Prime Minister and our international allies to ensure that more sanctions are introduced.
Russia should be excluded from financial mechanisms, such as SWIFT, and we should ban trading in Russian sovereign debt. Putin’s campaign of misinformation should be tackled. Russia Today should be prevented from broadcasting its propaganda around the world. We should work with our European allies to ensure that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is cancelled. Whatever the sequencing of these sanctions, this will not be easy. Britain must work with our European allies to handle the disruption to the supply of energy and raw materials. We must defend ourselves and our allies against cyber-attacks. We must bring together the widest possible coalition of nations to condemn this action against a sovereign UN member state.
Ukrainians are defending their own country and democracy in Europe. We must stand ready with more military support for Ukraine to defend itself, and we must stand ready to do more to reassure and reinforce NATO allies in eastern Europe, but we must also get our own house in order. The Prime Minister said that the lesson from Russia’s 2014 invasion of Donbas is that we cannot just let Vladimir Putin get away it, but until now we have. We have failed to stop the flow of illicit Russian finance into Britain. A cottage industry does the bidding of those linked to Putin, and Russian money has been allowed to influence our politics. We have to admit that mistakes have been made, and we have to rectify them.
This must be a turning point. We need an end to oligarch impunity. We need to draw a line under Companies House providing easy cover for shell companies. We need to ensure that our anti-money-laundering laws are enforced. We need to crack down on spies, and we have to ensure that money is not pouring into UK politics from abroad.
Russian aggression has now torn up the Minsk protocol and the Budapest memorandum, but even at this late hour we must pursue diplomatic routes to prevent further conflict, so can the Prime Minister tell us what international diplomatic efforts are going on and what role the UK will have in that process? We know Putin’s playbook. He seeks division; we must stay united. He believes the benefits of aggression outweigh the consequences, so we must take a stand, and he believes the west is too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong. I believe we can, and I offer the support of the Opposition in that vital endeavour.