Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham speaks in debate on current situation in Ukraine

On 9th February 2023, the House of Lords debated a motion to take note of the current situation in Ukraine, following Ukrainian president Zelensky’s vist to the UK. The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham spoke in the debate, urging that efforts remain focused on supporting Ukrainians in the UK and supporting Ukraine’s own defence, while pressing for clarity on the government’s expectations of the future of the conflict:

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, like others in this House I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for tabling this debate. I wish to convey the apologies of my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, having recently travelled to Kyiv, wished to take part in this debate but is detained by the business of the General Synod. He will follow the deliberations closely in Hansard. My most reverend friend and several others from these Benches took time away from the General Synod yesterday and were delighted to join Members of both Houses to hear the President of Ukraine address us.

I count it a privilege and not a little daunting to precede the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soames, whose insight and wisdom on the matters before us are truly formidable. On behalf of the Lords Spiritual, I look forward to listening to and learning from his contributions to the work of the House in the coming days.

I would like to explore some of the issues which have arisen in recent weeks concerning how we assist Ukraine militarily while ensuring that we avoid strategic miscalculation. There can be no doubting the illegality, immorality and brutality of the Russian invasion. Nor can there be any doubt that Ukraine has a legitimate right to self-defence and to arm itself with the necessary equipment to do so. The military, financial and political support NATO countries have shown Ukraine since the start of the war has been just, necessary and proportionate. It is surely right that, as the war progresses and the early predictions of Russia’s swift victory prove ill-judged, our support for Ukraine grows significantly. The recent announcement that NATO countries will send tanks to Ukraine, a decision that would have been seen as taboo this time last year, has already given way to fresh debate on whether Ukraine should now also be supplied with fighter jets and longer-range missiles.

Such is our support for Ukraine that this is no longer being seen as a war solely between Russia and Ukraine. That is hardly surprising given that many western commentators now openly call for Russia’s complete defeat in Ukraine, either to bring down the evil Putin regime or to press for the decolonisation of Russia. Yet we need to be careful that, as the war progresses, our objectives do not shift from helping Ukraine defend itself to more comprehensively defeating Russia. Neither should we wishfully assume that a post-Putin Russia would see the country pathway seamlessly to democracy. In the meantime, we need to be reassured that we are not depleting our already diminished military resources, and we should strengthen our capacity for future defence without delay. Putin needs to see that we are serious in our preparedness for any widening of the conflict, should that be needed. This surely now requires a robust financial plan for immediate and medium-term increased defence spending and a strategic defence procurement plan, especially in the light of the sudden shift in security priorities because of the heightened threats in Europe.

Additionally, there can be no reduction in the need for supporting those fleeing the trouble in Ukraine. The initial early public support for the refugees was remarkable, and the government scheme very welcome, but more of the elderly relatives are now starting to come, and they have been harder to house. People in my diocese have found that there is also a particular problem for those leaving their host families to be able to find sufficient resources for a deposit for rented accommodation. We cannot keep taking from the international aid budget; we need a budget more in keeping with the fact that we are, in many ways, strategic players in a proxy war—a war that will need a long-term, committed response.

However, as we and our allies continue to support the people of Ukraine to defend themselves, how do we ensure that we do not become overconfident in our supply of advanced weaponry or so convinced by the rightness of our cause that we find ourselves in direct confrontation with Russia? There are significant cultural, religious and historical antecedents that need to be understood as having value in themselves if Putin is not simply to exploit those very things to bolster his increasingly costly war by framing western aggression as an attack on all that is instinctively and proudly Russian. In this, there is a propaganda war that we may not yet have properly addressed. I believe that we should, therefore, not defer from the Prophet Micah’s call to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. That should not soften strategic or military resolve to reply to violent aggression, but it may help, in the process, to avoid lapses of judgment caused by conflict fatigue. Indeed, it ought to stiffen the moral imperative to continue resisting such a grotesque evil, even though the financial and more tragic human costs may continue to increase.

In his response, it would be helpful to hear from the Minister whether there are limits to the military support that Britain is willing to provide to Ukraine. Is there a clear set of criteria against which such decisions are being made? I would also value clarity from the Government as to what success looks like. We have pledged to help Ukraine win and to provide it with the weaponry to do so, but as an alliance we remain undecided on what victory means or looks like. What will territorial integrity look like? Would a post-ceasefire and internationally supervised referendum in parts of Donbass and Crimea be respected by all sides and sufficient to end the dispute over the territories? Are we looking to supply weaponry so that Russia can be evicted militarily from all of Ukraine, including Crimea? Or do we want Ukraine to be able, credibly, to threaten Russia’s control of Crimea in order to strengthen Kyiv’s position in any future negotiations?

The Foreign Secretary is right to say that we cannot

“allow this to drag on and become a kind of First World War attritional-type stalemate”,

but we need to be careful that such understandable frustration does not lead to mission creep and, with it, further unnecessary escalation.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord McDonald of Salford: So what are we going to do? In order for Ukraine to win, which is in our collective western strategic interest, we must do everything that we can to support it. The military training is vital. The tanks are important. The jets, too, will be important and we can take the risk. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, was talking about forward defence. Right now, Ukraine is our front line, too. What is done in Ukraine is done for our defence too. What we do there contributes directly to the defence of the United Kingdom. What is supplied to Ukraine is fulfilling a national purpose. We can take some risk because it will help us.

Also—this, I admit, is a personal calculation—the Russians are completely extended in Ukraine. They do not have the option to strike anywhere else. They cannot hit the Baltic states right now because they have nothing with which to hit them. Another little piece of the Russians’ miscalculation was as regards NATO. The only thing stopping Finland and Sweden from joining today is Turkish hesitation, but that will be overcome. We collectively need to do all that we can to help them.

One other thing that President Zelensky said yesterday, which received less interest, was the value of preventive action before armed conflict starts. One of the most important things for him was the training of Ukrainian forces in the UK, which started under Prime Minister Johnson. This meant that, when things kicked off, they had sufficient resilience to resist. Zelensky’s challenge is to expand that sort of assistance, and yet the DAC in Paris and our development community is resistant to the idea that military training can be a proper subject for overseas official development assistance. It would be good to take up his suggestion and reconsider that resistance.

Lastly, there are the ultimate objectives, which are all about Ukraine. The ultimate objective does not touch Russia, and that is important to acknowledge and repeat, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham did. We are not at war with Russia. We are not going to touch its territory and there needs to be clarity about that. Once Ukraine has won its war in its territory, that will be enough

Lord Coaker (Lab): I start my remarks by reiterating the importance of ensuring that Putin does not succeed. We can once again be proud that our country was among the first to support, and remains at the forefront of supporting, this battle for the rule of law and for the principle that force and aggression cannot be allowed to prevail. Our stand with Ukraine is for democracy, human rights and justice. This country has a proud tradition of standing up for those principles with our friends and allies, and we will do so once again in Ukraine as we have done so many times in our past.

It is a battle that is well understood not only here in Westminster but across our country. As President Zelensky will have witnessed, there is immense good will among our people to stand firm with the people of Ukraine. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham highlighted that point, as did many others, including the noble Lord, Lord Risby, just now. The British people understand that it is not just us in Westminster who believe that this is important; they understand that the Ukrainian fight is our fight, that their battle is our battle, and that the battle for democracy and freedom in Kyiv, Ukraine and beyond is the front line for us as well. It is a struggle for democracy and is therefore our struggle.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, Putin believed the West to be weak. He believed that we would cave in, that we would not stand with Ukraine, that we would be frightened and intimidated. He made many miscalculations but this was clearly one of the biggest. Instead of dividing us, we are more united than ever in our belief and our desire to see this through. We will do all we can to see it through.

Let it be seen that we will stand up against aggression, intimidation and those who undermine the rule of law not only here in Europe. As others have said, this has lessons for us in the rest of the world as well. Tyranny, oppression and dictatorship cannot win, and our fight in Ukraine sets out to prove that.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con, Foreign Office): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham asked, “Where does this go? What is the United Kingdom’s position?”. I am sure that all noble Lords who spoke from the Front Benches would be able to align themselves with it. We have reaffirmed our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity within its recognised borders, as well as its right to pursue its own security arrangements. Our military support to Ukraine is enduring and we will continue to support it across all three domains, be that land, sea or air.

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