Thank you for contacting me about the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine.
President Putin has unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by land, sea and air. This is a premeditated and wholly unprovoked attack on a sovereign democratic state. Like all of us, I am utterly horrified by what is happening and my thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainian people and their President, whose defiance, courage and patriotism in the face of foreign aggression is inspiring.
The UK and allies have been clear all along that there would be a severe cost for any further Russian military incursion into Ukraine.
I commend the world leadership shown by the Prime Minister in support of Ukraine over these past months, and the leading role he has played in encouraging the West to impose the most severe and coordinated package of sanctions Russia has ever faced in response to Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine. In lockstep with allies, the UK is:
- Freezing the assets of all Russian banks with immediate effect, including VTB, Russia’s largest bank. Co-ordinated with the US this is the single biggest financial sanction in history.
- Preventing Russian companies from borrowing on the UK markets, effectively ending the ability of those companies closest to Putin to raise finance in the UK. This is in addition to banning the Russian state itself from raising funds in the UK, as previously announced.
- Alongside the US, EU, Japan and Canada, cutting Russia’s Central Bank off from our markets.
- Strengthen our trade and export controls against Russia; banning the export of a range of high-end and critical technical equipment and components in sectors including electronics, telecommunications, and aerospace.
- Sanctioning President Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
- Sanctioning over 100 companies and oligarchs at the heart of Putin’s regime, including the vast majority of the Russian defence sector.
- Sanctioning members of the Russian Duma and Federation Council.
- Banning Russia's national airline (Aeroflot) from UK airspace, and indeed any aircraft which is registered in Russia or owned, chartered or operated by a person connected with Russia from UK airspace.
- Imposing new restrictions to cut off wealthy Russians’ access to UK banks.
- Excluding many of Russia's key banks from the SWIFT financial system (and pushing for a full ban).
- Imposing sanctions on Belarus for its complicity in Putin's invasion.
I welcome that the UK has, for a number of years now, worked to support Ukraine's security and defence. The UK has trained over 22,000 members of the Ukrainian army through Operation ORBITAL and, since 2019, assisted Ukraine to build up and sustain a naval capability. In the months prior to the invasion, the UK provided extra support in the form of 2000 anti-armour missiles, which the Ukrainians are now putting to good use. The UK has sent further military support to Ukraine since the invasion. The UK has led on the provision of military support and has encouraged our European neighbours to do the same; I welcome the steps that Germany, for example, is now taking.
The UK spends more in cash terms than any NATO member, other than the US, on defence. The UK is Europe’s largest contributor to NATO. We have deployed more troops to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence than any other ally. The British Army leads the NATO Battlegroup in Estonia and, because of this ongoing crisis, is doubling the number of UK personnel based there and sending additional equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.
The UK also has troops stationed in Poland as part of NATO's enhanced Forward Presence there. Royal Marines from 45 Commando have also deployed to Poland to support the Polish Armed Forces with joint exercises, contingency planning and capacity building in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This support is being offered on a bilateral basis and is not part of the UK’s offer to NATO. Additional aircraft have also been posted to our base in Cyprus to patrol the skies with NATO Allies in Eastern Europe, and UK warships are conducting patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea alongside NATO Allies from Canada, Italy, Spain and Turkey.
It is important to note that the UK has long called on others to increase their contributions to the NATO alliance, and it is very welcome that, for instance, Germany recently announced that it will henceforth spend 2 per cent of its GDP on defence.
There are some who say that NATO is to blame for Putin’s action. To them, I say; this is simply not true. NATO is and has always been a defensive alliance, which does not threaten Russia or any other country. NATO remains committed to the dual-track approach of strong defence and meaningful dialogue. In the NATO-Russia Council earlier this year, Allies made clear to Russia that any further aggression that threatens Ukraine's sovereignty or territorial integrity would carry a significant cost.
As regards Ukraine’s stated ambition to join the EU or NATO, each and every nation must have a sovereign right to choose its own security arrangements. Countries choose NATO; NATO does not choose them. If Russia has concerns about enlargement, then perhaps it should ask itself why, when people were free to choose, they chose NATO – a purely defensive alliance. The UK stands up for the right of all countries, including Ukraine, to choose their own destiny; the Kremlin has no right to dictate what other sovereign states can or cannot choose. If Ukraine wants to join NATO, it should do so.
In respect of humanitarian aid, more than 1,000 British troops have been made ready to support NATO and allies in the event of a humanitarian crisis. These troops are at readiness in the UK to support a humanitarian response in the region should it be needed. On Sunday, the Prime Minister announced that the UK was sending an additional £40 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, bringing the total amount of UK aid pledged this year to £140 million. The UK is also guaranteeing up to $500 million of loans to Ukraine through Multilateral Development Banks.
The British Embassy in Kyiv has temporarily relocated. Embassy staff are operating from the British Embassy office in Lviv. British nationals in Ukraine should heed the FCDO's travel advice for Ukraine. FCDO rapid deployment teams have been deployed to countries neighbouring Ukraine to assist UK embassies in supporting British nationals who have crossed Ukraine's borders, including Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.
A number of people have raised with me that there should be a no-fly zone above Ukraine. I understand this, however, I would highlight the words of the Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, in the House of Commons that such a policy would present too high a risk of miscalculation and escalation that could ultimately lead to the inadvertent triggering of NATO’s Article 5. Our Prime Minister and Defence Ministers are doing everything they can to support Ukraine in their fight for survival, whilst avoiding taking us – and Europe - into a third World War.
I have also had a number of people contact me about the Foreign Secretary’s comments on British nationals joining the fight. Whilst I understand the sentiment and the desire to fight back, I do not condone these comments. The FCDO has advised against all travel to Ukraine and is recommending that British nationals still in Ukraine should leave immediately if it is safe to do so. I understand people’s desire to help in this terrible situation and I would highlight that the Ukrainian Embassy to the UK has set up a special fund to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine’s civilian population and to purchase medical and military supplies for Ukraine’s army. It is possible to donate at withukraine.org. As such, I would dissuade any Brit from travelling to Ukraine, whatever the reason.
The Prime Minister has said that nothing is off the table when it comes to the UK's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and indeed the desire of its people to live in peace, democracy and free from foreign bullying.
The Prime Minister has stressed that Putin must fail. I wholeheartedly agree and am reassured that the UK Government, standing alongside our friends in Ukraine and allies around the world, is using all possible means at its disposal and is urgently engaged upon ensuring he does. Be assured that I am following these efforts closely.
Finally, and alongside the letter (below) that I was proud to add my name to as a signatory calling on Ministers to seek a flexible and pragmatic approach to those Ukrainians wishing to gain temporary refuge in the UK, I strongly welcome the humanitarian support package announced by the Home Secretary yesterday [1st March 2022]. With changes already announced that will allow an estimated one hundred thousand close family members of British nationals or other people in the UK to come here immediately, the Government has taken the laudable step of offering even more assistance. The Ukrainian Family Scheme will significantly expand the ability of British Nationals and people settled in the UK to bring family members to the country, extending eligibility to adult parents, grandparents, children over eighteen, siblings and all of their immediate family.
This Scheme is free and those joining family in the UK will be granted leave for an initial period of at least 12 months during which these individuals will be able to work and access public funds, and it will be compliment by the Home Office opening a Ukrainian Sponsorship Humanitarian Visa Offer too. This will provide a route to the UK for Ukrainians who do not have family ties here, and they will be matched with individuals, businesses, community organisations, and Local Authorities who are willing and able to act as a sponsor.
The Home Secretary is rightly taking positive action to help those Ukrainians fleeing war in their homeland, and I continue to wholeheartedly support the Government to this end as it continues to respond to the on-going crisis.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.