Dr Julian Lewis: In earlier debates on 9 and 15 March, I set out my analysis – for what it is worth – of the nature of Putinism in the context of post-communist Russia, and I do not propose to try the patience of the House by repeating all that now. I will just say once again that the great country of Russia is in the grip of a sick, cynical psychopath who is himself firmly in the grip of small-man syndrome. Thus, he waves his shiny new intercontinental ballistic missiles at the world as if it had not been the case for the last half century that if Russia had wished to destroy the west, or if the west had wished to destroy Russia, either could have done that within the lifetime of a day.
What we have to look at more specifically are the political and military forces at work. I do not propose to dwell on the issue of the EU and its aspirations for a combined military voice, whether alongside, apart from or instead of NATO. All I say to the House today is what I have said for many years: without the United States and its military presence and power, there is no security for Europe, and I include the United Kingdom in that concept of Europe.
Once upon a time, it seemed crazy to suggest that the Kremlin archives would ever be opened, but at the end of the first cold war they were, and who knows, one day they may be opened again. I venture to suggest that when that time comes, it will be seen that one of the key factors that weighed heavily in Putin’s decision to do this monstrous thing of invading and raping the country of Ukraine was the way in which a new and apparently weak United States President betrayed the mission in Afghanistan – leaving not even in an orderly way, but in a disorderly way under the arbitrary pressure of a symbolic deadline. That, I am sure, sent a signal to Putin that he would never have a better chance than now to flex his military muscles.
There are the military means of opposing this invasion and the economic means of opposing it. I must say to the House that, while I praise all the efforts being made on sanctions, sanctions will not affect the outcome of this war unless and until Germany stops paying billions of euros to Russia to fund it. By all means let us go on with sanctions, but let us not fool ourselves into thinking that they can possibly be decisive under the present economic flow of wealth from Europe into Russia.
I want to make a point that I have not made before in these debates: this is clearly a David versus Goliath contest. People will nod at that and say, “Well, that’s a bit obvious.”, but I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members remind themselves why and how it was that David beat Goliath. Goliath was armed with all the might and the conventional weapons, but David was armed with a slingshot – a simple weapon that nevertheless proved more than a match for the traditional might of Goliath.
I suggest to the House that that is why, in most areas of the war it has been trying to wage, Russia has not been doing very well. Our Defence team can take a lot of credit for that, in terms of what they have supplied to Ukraine. Ukraine has been supplied with slingshots, in the form of missiles, that have meant that Russian aircraft are not safe in the skies, Russian tanks are not safe on land and Russian ships, as we have seen, are not safe in the Black sea.
However, there is one shot left in Goliath’s locker: the cruel, ruthless bombardment, from an apparently safe distance, by artillery, of Ukrainian cities. I am not quite satisfied yet with the answer we are getting on the question how we should be helping Ukraine to counter that. Matching artillery piece for artillery piece is not the answer, any more than matching tank for tank or aircraft for aircraft. We need to see a smart system of eliminating Russian artillery, in the same way that its other heavy equipment has been eliminated.
Bob Seely: rose –
Dr Lewis: I suspect my hon. Friend is going to make a constructive suggestion in that respect.
Bob Seely: On that point, targeted missiles of the kind we have seen launched at tanks at short range are an answer, but the argument in favour of moving to NATO calibre 155 is that, all things considered – of course shells come in different specifications – it offers slightly longer range. By using longer range, the Ukrainians can stay out of Russian 152 range and target them with their 155s, potentially forcing a change in Russian tactics. There is benefit in moving to NATO calibre as well as in directed missiles.
Dr Lewis: I do not dispute that at all, but we must remember that Russian artillery has Ukrainian cities to aim at, whereas Ukrainian artillery would only be aiming, presumably, at Russian artillery. That may be the best answer there can be, but I would have thought that some of the more modern, smarter systems such as suicide drones might be a more effective response.
That leads to my final point. When people say, “What does victory look like?”, it is not so much a question of victory over Putin as of showing Putin that, unless he desists from this, he will end up much worse off than if he gives up. What has happened so far is that his troops have paid a price that has not shown commensurate gains – his aircraft similarly, his tanks similarly and his ships similarly – so all he has left is this method of artillery. We want the Russians to think that every time they fire an artillery round, their artillery piece is going to be destroyed. We have a very capable Defence Minister [James Heappey] doing the wind-up – I am delighted to see him nodding – and that is my one point that I wish to see addressed, because if we can show Goliath that all his weapons are useless and that we can supply the slingshots, perhaps Goliath will decide that it is better to stay away from the battlefield.
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[The Minister for the Armed Forces (James Heappey): ... My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said that we require the slingshot so that David can fell Goliath once again. He mentioned the missiles that have been provided. He is absolutely right that the radars that enable counter-battery fire are the missing piece of the jigsaw – we are on it. ... ]