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Caution needed in UK’s support for Ukraine, Bishop tells peers

13 February 2023


Destroyed Russian tanks stand across the road from a church in the town of Sviatohirsk, Ukraine, on Sunday

Destroyed Russian tanks stand across the road from a church in the town of Sviatohirsk, Ukraine, on Sunday

THE UK Government needs to be careful that, as the war in Ukraine continues, its objectives do not shift from helping Ukraine defend itself to defeating Russia more comprehensively, the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, has said.

Bishop Williams was speaking during a debate on Ukraine in the House of Lords on Thursday.

The sudden shift in security priorities in Europe, he said, meant that the UK Government needed “a robust financial plan for immediate and medium-term increased defence spending and a strategic defence procurement plan.

The Bishop asked for assurance that, by supplying Ukraine, “we are not depleting our already diminished military resources, and we should strengthen our capacity for future defence without delay.”

President Putin “needs to see that we are serious in our preparedness for any widening of the conflict”, he said.

Bishop Williams also said: “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.”

He then asked, however: “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?”

Had the Government set limits to the military support the UK provides, he asked. “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. As an alliance we remain undecided on what victory means or looks like.

“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.”

Lord Soames, a former defence minister, making his maiden speech to the House, echoed the Bishop’s comments. The fighting in Ukraine had added to the “grave and now widespread concern that this country needs to pay a great deal more attention to defence and to sustaining our capabilities”, he said. The UK faced threats from elsewhere: China, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. “We need to concentrate on this with the same clarity, focus, and decisiveness as we devote to Ukraine,” he said.

Responding for the Government, Lord Ahmad, a junior Foreign Office minister, said: “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.”

The Government’s expansion of support for Ukraine was not just about providing the immediate capability and requirements for its military, he said. “It is also about taking a multi-year approach to ensure that Ukraine has the military means and skills for generations to come. The threat will not cease.”

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