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23 Feb 2024

UK Defence Secretary's Statement on Second Anniversary of Russia's Full-Scale invasion of Ukraine

UK Defence Secretary's Statement on Second Anniversary of Russia's Full-Scale invasion of Ukraine
Source: UK Secretary of State for Defence
UK Ministry of Defence Press Release

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps statement to the House of Commons:

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker I would like to update the House on the current conflict in Ukraine as we prepare to mark two years since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion.

Like many in this House, I remember exactly where I was on 24 February 2022.

Just before sunrise, I was woken by a phone call, to be told Russia had illegally invaded Ukraine – a car would be outside at 6am and headed for COBR.

After that meeting, Ministers went to speak to their respective Ukrainian counterparts.

At the time I was Transport Secretary, and my arrangement was to speak via Zoom with my then opposite number, Oleksandr Kubrakov.

Oleksandr – whom I’ve subsequently got to know very well – was standing in the middle of a field outside of Kyiv. I asked him about the situation and he told me that, quite frankly, he didn’t know how much longer the city would last.

The Russian army was understood to be just kilometres away. The wolf, or in this case, the Russian bear, was literally at the door. Expert opinion suggested Kyiv would be taken in perhaps three days’ time.

And yet – as this war drags into its third year – far from winning, Russia has been pushed back from those early days.

Putin has achieved none of his strategic objectives. His invading force has suffered more than 356,000 casualties.

Ukraine has destroyed or damaged around 30 per cent of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

And Ukraine has retaken 50 per cent of the territory that Russia stole from it.

Meanwhile, Oleksandr Kubrakov is now the Deputy Prime Minister and his job is actually the restoration of Ukraine when this is over.

So Putin arrogantly assumed this conflict would be over in days – and he was wrong. He reckoned without the strength of the international support that would rally to Ukraine’s cause.

And I am proud that over the course of the past 730 days, Britain has been at the forefront of that global response.

Our efforts, always a step ahead of our allies, have made a genuine difference.

From the outset, we declassified intelligence – specifically to scupper Russian false flags.

Our NLAW anti-tank missiles, provided in advance of the full-scale invasion, and our Javelins helped brave Ukrainians devastate Putin’s menacing forty-mile armoured convoy, which was headed direct for Kyiv.

We were the first to send main battle tanks with our Challenger squadron, plus 500 armoured vehicles and 15,000 anti-armour weapons.

All of this helped to degrade Russia’s once formidable fighting force with Putin’s losses amounting to 2,700 main battle tanks; 5,300 armoured vehicles; 1,400 artillery pieces.

Throughout this conflict, our 4 million rounds of small-arms ammunition have allowed Ukraine to maintain a rate of fire and recently helped keep the Russians at bay during their winter offensive.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has been unable to achieve the air superiority that they’d assumed they’d have, in part, thanks to our donation of 1,800 air defence missiles and over 4,000 British drones have been sent to date.

Mr Deputy Speaker, this conflict has demonstrated that drones are changing the face of modern warfare and we are already learning the lessons from that, which is why earlier today, My Honourable Friend, the Defence Procurement Minister, launched the UK Defence Drone Strategy, to stay ahead in this new frontier of technology, backed by at least £200 million announced by the Prime Minister, making the UK the biggest drone partner with Ukraine/

Yet it’s actually at sea where the allied contribution to Ukraine’s cause has been most keenly felt.

Our mighty Storm Shadows, and our uncrewed sea systems, have helped Ukraine achieve a breakthrough in the Black Sea.

Not only has Russia lost seven different surface ships, plus a submarine, but a Black Sea corridor has opened up for trade – allowing Ukraine to export 19 million tonnes of cargo, including 13.4 million tonnes of agricultural produce.

At the end of last month, Ukrainian agricultural exports from its Black Sea ports had reached the highest level since when the war began – far exceeding what happened under Putin’s Black Sea Grain Initiative.

But as President Zelenskyy said to me when I last visited, the UK’s contribution has been monumental.

And he pointed out that, since the start of the conflict, the UK has sent almost 400 different types of capabilities to Ukraine.

Together, we’ve shown that when Ukraine gets what it needs, it can win – which is why the UK is continuing to step up our support.

Last month, the Prime Minister announced we’ll be investing a further £2.5 billion into military support for Ukraine, taking our total military aid package so far to over £7 billion and our total support to over £12 billion, accounting for economic and humanitarian as well.

So Mr Deputy Speaker, in that spirit, today I can announce a new package of 200 Brimstone anti-tank missiles in a further boost to defend Ukraine.

These missiles have previously had significant impact on the battlefield, in one instance forcing Russian forces to abandon and retreat from an attempted crossing of a river.

But members will recall a few days ago President Zelenskyy told the Munich Security Conference that an “artificial deficit of weapons will only help Russia”, and he is right.

And so today we’re giving Ukraine more of the help they need – inflating their capabilities, so they can defend freedom’s frontline.

Other capabilities will also be coming their way too.

Our UK founded and administered International Fund for Ukraine has pledged more than £900m to help Ukraine plug its gaps in its capabilities, delivering cutting-edge drones along with electronic warfare and mine clearance capabilities with millions worth of kit to come. 

We’re not just investing in weapons, but in the brave personnel who carry them. So far Britain has put more than 60,000 Ukrainian troops through their paces, here in the UK.

But Operation Interflex, our main training effort, is going to expand even further. 

I’m delighted to announce that Kosovo and Estonia are joining. And they’ve joined with us, Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Romania all training Ukrainian troops here in Britain.

And together we will train a further 10,000 in the first half of 2024.

Meanwhile, we are building capability coalitions.

Alongside Norway, we are leading a Maritime Capability Coalition and we’ve been joined by a dozen other countries in this enterprise – this is about Mine detection drones, raiding craft, Sea King helicopters – which have already been sent their way – so Ukraine can build its navy and defend its sovereign waters.

Last week, I met with my NATO counterparts pin Brussels, and I announced together with Latvia, that we would lead the drone coalition. That will allow us to scale up and streamline the West’s provision of miniature first-person view, or FPV drones, to Ukraine – while supporting the establishment of a drone school for Ukrainian operators and a test range, as well as develop AI swarm drone technology, which will surely be critical in the next phase of this war.

Britain has earmarked some £200 million to procure and produce long-range strike and sea drones and has become Ukraine’s largest supplier of drones. 

Yet this is far from the summit of our ambitions. In December, we set up a new taskforce to build a strong defence industrial partnership with Ukraine, ensuring Ukraine can sustain the fight for years to come.

And in January, the Prime Minister signed the historic Security Cooperation Agreement. This is the start of a 100-year alliance that we are building with our Ukrainian friends.

And once again, it is the United Kingdom that has signed the first such agreement, with welcome signings from France and Germany having followed.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the Ukrainians have the will, and they have the skills. They’ve shown that if they’re given the tools – they can do the job. But their need today remains particularly urgent.

Russia is continuing to attack along almost the entire front line, only recently decimating and capturing the eastern town of Avdiivka.

The Kremlin continues to callously strike at civilian targets – most recently hitting a hospital in Selydove.

And Putin is making absolutely no secret whatsoever of being in this for the long term.

Russia’s economy has indeed shifted onto a full-time war footing, spending some 30 per cent of their federal expenditure on their defence – a nominal increase of almost 70 per cent just on last year alone.

And if the cruel death of the remarkable, brave, Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has taught us anything at all – it is that Putin’s victory is something that none of us can afford.

The tyrant of the Kremlin is determined to simply wait out the West. He believes that we lack the stomach for the fight, and we must show him he is wrong.

And this house may not be united on all matters, as we have seen in the last 24 hours, but we are united on one thing – and that is our support for Ukraine.

So the UK will continue to double down on that support. And all freedom loving countries must be compelled to do the same.

This year will be make or break for Ukraine. So it’s time for the West – and all civilised nations - to step up, and give Ukraine the backing it needs.

Two years ago, when I spoke to an anxious Oleksandr Kubrakov, who had retreated to that field outside Kyiv, he did not know what would happen to Ukraine.

But now, entering the third year of this conflict – it is remarkable to see the Ukrainians remain in full fight.

I know that the whole House will join me in saying that the UK won’t stop supporting the brave Ukrainians, our friends, until we can enjoy a call celebrating victory.


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