Statement by the Secretary of Defense to the House of Commons on Ukraine: March 9, 2022

With your permission, Mr President, I would like to inform the Assembly about the situation in Ukraine and the support of His Majesty’s Government for the government in Kyiv.

The situation on the ground is serious. As we remember, on February 24, the forces of the Russian army, without provocation, entered the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Along three main axes, Russian armor attempted to occupy Ukraine. His plan was to reach and encircle Kiev, surround the Ukrainian forces near the border, and invade from the south to join his forces via Mariupol.

The Russian high command has committed 65% of its entire ground forces, which are unquestionably in possession of overwhelming firepower and armour. It is estimated that at the start of the invasion they had between 110 and 120 battalion tactical groups dedicated to the task, compared to around 65 in Ukraine. Their stockpiles of missiles gave them even more strength to reach Ukraine from a distance. However, what they didn’t have and still don’t have is the moral component so often necessary for victory.

After 14 days of war, according to the Ukrainian General Staff, as of March 6, Russian losses were assessed at 285 tanks, 985 armored fighting vehicles, 109 artillery systems, 50 multiple rocket launcher systems, 44 aircraft , 48 helicopters and 11,000 soldiers. , who lost their lives unnecessarily. There are numerous reports of surrenders and desertions by the increasingly disillusioned Russian military. To be clear, these are Ukrainian numbers; I must warn the Chamber that we have not verified them through defense intelligence or any other means.

I can report to the Assembly our assessment that, of the initial Russian objectives, only one has been successfully achieved. While Russian forces control Kherson, Melitopol and Berdyansk in southern Ukraine, they currently surround the cities of Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol but do not control them. Moreover, their first day objective of targeting the Ukrainian air defense failed, preventing complete air dominance. The Ukrainian armed forces have put up a solid defense while mobilizing the entire population. President Putin’s arrogant assumption that he would be welcomed as a liberator has rightly crumbled as quickly as the morale of his troops.

For its part, the United Kingdom continues to play a leading role in supporting Ukraine. On January 17, I announced to the Assembly the government’s intention to provide military assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces. Aid took the form of body armor, helmets, boots, hearing protection, rations, range finders and communications equipment, and for the first time also included weapons systems. The initial supply was to be 2,000 new light anti-tank weapons (NLAW), small arms and ammunition.

In response to further acts of aggression from Russia, we have now increased this supply. I can inform the House that to date we have delivered 3,615 NLAWs and continue to deliver more. We will also begin delivery of a small batch of Javelin anti-tank missiles shortly. I want to assure the House that everything we do is linked to the decision to provide defensive systems and is calibrated not to reach a strategic level.

Britain was the first European country to provide lethal aid. I was pleased that soon after a conference of military aid donors that I held on February 25, many other countries decided to do the same. From all over Europe, donations have arrived. In particular, I would like to highlight the importance of the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Romania, the Baltic States, Belgium and Slovenia for their leadership, and we must not ignore the importance of the German government joining us, in a change of position, and the gift of this aid.

Donations are not enough; getting help to the front line is just as important. Again, Britain is in the lead, because alongside Canada, the United States and Sweden, we have invested in building up Ukrainian military capabilities since 2015, and we find ourselves able to coordinate delivery to alongside our partners.

As the conflict escalates, the Russians are changing tactics, so the Ukrainians must too. We can all see the horrific devastation inflicted on civilian areas by Russian artillery and airstrikes, which were indiscriminate and deadly. It is therefore vital that Ukraine maintains its ability to fly and suppress Russian air attacks.

To date, the international community has donated more than 900 man-portable anti-aircraft missiles and thousands of anti-tank guided weapons of various types, as well as various small arms. However, the capability needs to be built up, so in response to Ukrainian requests, the government took the decision to explore the possibility of donating Starstreak high-speed man-portable anti-aircraft missiles. We believe that this system will remain in the definition of defensive weapons, but will allow Ukrainian forces to better defend their skies. We will also increase supplies of rations, medical equipment and other non-lethal military aid.

As in any war, the civilian population suffers horrendous hardship. According to Ukraine’s education minister, 211 schools have been damaged or destroyed, and media footage shows Russian strikes hitting kindergartens. The Chernihiv regional administration reported that the Russian air force was using FAB-500 unguided bombs against targets in the city, and according to Human Rights Watch civilians in Mariupol are now deprived of water and food. electricity for almost a week. President Zelenskyy spoke of children dying of thirst. Today, the estimated number of Ukrainian civilians killed or injured is over 1,000, but the real number is expected to be much higher, and I fear the worst is yet to come. It is for this reason that the UK will increase its funding for Ukraine to £220 million, including £120 million in humanitarian aid. This will make the UK the largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Ukraine. We also support humanitarian work with the Polish and Romanian governments at the borders.

As I said in my last statement, we still think it is worth trying to exert diplomatic pressure on Russia. This week, my good friend the Prime Minister met with the Prime Ministers of Canada, the Netherlands and Poland. He also spoke with the leaders of France, Germany and the United States, as well as with the Prime Ministers of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The foreign minister is in Washington at the G7 and also attended the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting earlier this month. I myself met the Ukrainian ambassador this morning. President Putin should be and can be convinced that the international community is united against his actions. He stays strong and won’t back down.

In addition to providing direct military support to Ukraine, we continue to strengthen our contribution to NATO’s collective security. NATO defense ministers will meet next week in Brussels to discuss next steps. The UK is doing its part to provide military support and reassure its allies. We currently provide significant air power to NATO, including increased air patrol, with both Typhoons and F-35s for NATO Air Policing. We also deployed four additional Typhoons to Cyprus to patrol NATO’s eastern border, and sent 800 additional troops to Estonia. Over the past week, Apache and Chinook helicopters have taken part in exercises in Estonia. Meanwhile, HMS Diamond has sailed to the eastern Mediterranean, HMS Northumberland is on a northern deployment and HMS Grimsby is in the Norwegian Sea supporting NATO mine countermeasures.

On Monday, HMS Prince of Wales, RFA Tidesurge and HMS Defender joined HMS Albion and RFA Mounts Bay for Exercise Cold Response, a multinational exercise off the coast of Norway, and HMS Richmond will train with the Joint Expeditionary Force. We have put more than 1,000 additional British troops on readiness to support humanitarian responses in border countries. Britain’s contribution to NATO is significant and enduring. It is important at this time that, in order to maximize our reassurance and resilience effect, we coordinate through NATO and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Few of us will not have been moved by President Zelensky’s speech yesterday. His people are fighting for their very survival. His country is united against this aggression, and this is indeed his country’s darkest hour. Yesterday I saw footage of a Russian armored train, bristling with guns, heading towards Mariupol. A brave Ukrainian woman ran to the train and shouted “Slava Ukraini” – deadpan, unintimidated by the guns. This woman’s bravery should inspire us all.

I know that many of our constituents and colleagues are afraid of what will happen next. President Putin and the Kremlin continue to threaten countries offering aid to Ukraine. Their military campaign will, I fear, become more brutal and indiscriminate, but I firmly believe that our strength in resisting such bullying comes from our alliances. As long as we stand united, both as a House and as an international community, threats from the Kremlin can do us no harm. We must rely on the peoples of all of Europe who stand side by side to protect our values: our freedom, our tolerance, our democracy and our free press. It is our shield.

About Marco C. Nichols

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