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The Defence Secretary made a statement to Parliament updating members on the UK’s continued programme of military aid to Ukraine, including Challenger 2 tanks.
Mr Speaker, it’s been a month since I last updated the House on the situation in Ukraine. Over the last four weeks, extremely heavy and attritional fighting has continued, especially around the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, and in the less reported-on sector of Kremina, in Luhansk. Over Christmas, Russia has continued its assault on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
But no matter how cruel or how much loss of life accompanies it.
Russia has singularly failed to break the will of the Ukrainian people or change the policy of its leaders. We continue to closely monitor how Russia’s long range strike campaign will evolve, as it eats deeper into its strategic reserves of modern missiles. It is notable that Russia are now using the forced labour of convicts to manufacture weaponry. Ukraine, however, continues using its internationally provided long-range artillery to successful effect.
Mr Speaker, throughout the war, Russia has managed to lose significant numbers of generals and commanding officers. But last week’s announcement that their commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, had been unceremoniously bypassed, with Chief of the General Staff General Gerasimov personally taking over field-command, is certainly significant. It is the visible tip of an iceberg of factionalism within the Russian command.
Putin apparently remains bullish, and with Gerasimov’s deference to the President never in doubt, we now would expect a trend back towards a Russian offensive – no matter how much loss of life accompanies it.
Mr Speaker, in 2023 there is no loss of momentum from the international community, quite the opposite. President Putin believed the West would get tired, bored and fragment. Ukraine is continuing to fight and, far from fragmenting, the West is accelerating its efforts.
The United States has invested approximately $24.2 billion in support for Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on the 24th February last year. It has delivered thousands of anti-aircraft and anti-armour systems and has recently stepped up that support – delivering Patriot air defence battery and munitions and 45 refurbished T-72B tanks as well as donating 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles to assist with the counter offensive.
We also welcome the decision of the French government to provide Ukraine with their AMX-10 light, highly mobile, tank. This has been used, very recently in reconnaissance missions by the French army and was deployed as recently as the Barkhane mission in West Africa.
Mr Speaker, important as these contributions are in and of themselves, what matters more is that they represent part of an international effort that collectively conveys a force multiplier effect. None of this is happening unilaterally. No one is doing this on their own.
Soon, I shall be announcing the first round of bids to the joint-chaired Danish/UK International Fund for Ukraine. I am grateful to Sweden for adding to the pot of money donated. That now includes Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Iceland, Lithuania and others have donated to that fund.
Meanwhile Russia, isolated and without such support, has now lost over 1,600 main battle tanks in Ukraine since the start of the invasion. But if we’re to continue helping Ukraine seize the upper hand in the next phase of this conflict, we must accelerate our collective efforts diplomatically, economically and militarily to keep the pressure on Putin.
In December I told the House that I was “developing options” to respond to Russia’s continued aggression in a “calibrated and determined manner”. Today I can announce the most significant package of combat power to date to accelerate Ukrainian success.
While the tanks and the AS90s will come from our stocks, along with their associated ammunition, a significant number of the other donations are being purchased from the open market or from supportive third-party countries.
Today’s package is an important increase in Ukraine’s capabilities. It means they can go from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. President Putin cannot win but he is equally certain to continue inflicting this wanton violence and human suffering until his forces are ejected from their defensive positions and expelled from the country.
That requires a new level of support – the combat power only achieved by combinations of main battle tank squadrons, operating alongside divisional artillery groups, and further deep precision fires enabling targeting of Russian logistics and command nodes at greater distance.
Mr Speaker, we will be the first country to donate Western main battle tanks. And, we will be bringing a further squadron of our own Challenger tanks to higher readiness in place of the squadron sent.
Even as we gift Challenger 2 Tanks, I shall, at the same time, be reviewing the number of Challenger 3 conversions to consider whether the lessons of Ukraine suggest that we need a larger tank fleet.
We will also build on the Army’s modernisation programme – at pace. Specifically on artillery, I am accelerating our Mobile Fires Programme. So instead of delivering in the 2030s it will do this earlier this decade. I have also directed that, subject to commercial negotiation, an interim artillery capability is to be delivered.
After discussion with the United States and our European allies it is hoped that the example set by the French and us will allow those countries holding Leopard tanks to donate as well. I know there are a number of countries wanting to do the same. No-one is going it alone, as I have said.
Mr Speaker, it’s worth reiterating why we are doing this. Because in 2023 the international community will not let Russia wait us out while inflicting terrible suffering on Ukrainian civilians. The international community recognises that equipping Ukraine to push Russia out of its territory is as important as equipping them to defend what they already have.
This week dozens of nations will meet in Ramstein, Germany, to progress further donations and international coordination. The Kremlin will be in no doubt that we are resolved to stand by Ukraine in her fight.
Doubling down on the success of our basic training of Ukrainian military in 2022 in the United Kingdom, we are also now increasing this number this year to a further 20,000. Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands have already joined this effort and I’m pleased to say we are now going to be joined by a group of Australian military to train in this country as well. Leaving their summer to join our winter.
Our decision today is a calibrated response to Russia’s growing aggression and indiscriminate bombing. The Kremlin must recognise that is it their behaviour that is solidifying the international resolve and that despite the propaganda Ukraine and her partners are focused on the defence of Ukraine. None of the international support is an attack on Russia, or NATO-orchestrated aggression, let alone a Proxy War.
At its heart it is about helping Ukraine defend itself, upholding international law and restoring its sovereignty. We believe that in 2023, increased supplies, improved training, and strengthening diplomatic resolve will enable Ukraine to be successful against Russia’s poorly led and now badly equipped Armed Forces.
From the outset President Putin believed his forces would be welcomed with open arms, that Ukrainians wouldn’t fight and that Western support would crumble. He has been proved wrong on all counts. Today’s package will help accelerate the conclusion of Putin’s occupation and all its brutality and ensure that in 2023 and beyond if necessary, Ukraine maintains its momentum, supported by an international community that is determined more than ever that Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion will fail.
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