Speech in the House of Commons debate marking one year since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Liz Truss (Con, South West Norfolk):

One year ago on Friday, I got a phone call, at 3.30 in the morning, from my private secretary at the Foreign Office telling me that Vladimir Putin had begun a whole-scale invasion into Ukraine. Air strikes and a land invasion were targeting cities across that country, including Kyiv. It was devastating news, but although it was devastating, it was not unexpected. We had been seeing for months the way in which troops were being amassed on the border of Ukraine. We had very good intelligence showing us exactly what Putin’s plans had been.

We tried for months to forestall that invasion. At the Liverpool G7 summit back in 2021, we worked with our allies to come up with a package of severe sanctions, and we warned Russia that they would be put in place in the event of an invasion. For the first time in our history, we unveiled intelligence about what the Russians were planning. They were planning to install a puppet regime in Kyiv; they were planning to install false flag operations, with a view to trying to convince the world that it was not their fault that they had invaded Ukraine and that they had been provoked. Our intelligence prevented the world from believing that.

From 2015, we started training Ukrainian troops. We were also the first European country to supply weapons to Ukraine. We called out Russia internationally. I personally visited Moscow—as did many of my counterparts—to give directly to Sergey Lavrov and others in the Russian Administration the message of the severe consequences of their actions. Nevertheless, Putin went ahead. Despite the warnings, despite what he knew would happen, he went ahead, because fundamentally, he did not believe that the Ukrainians would fight, and he did not believe that the free world would have the resolve to stand up to him. He was proven wrong in both cases.

From day one, we saw sheer bravery on the part of the Ukrainians defending their country. We saw an Administration in Kyiv whom many people had expected to leave their posts—people expected Zelensky and his Cabinet to flee the country—but they did not; they stayed there. I remember being in a videoconference that evening with the Defence Secretary, and our counterparts, who were not in Poland or the United States but in Kyiv. They were defending their country and asking us for our help in what we could do.

We did all that we could. Together with our allies, not just in the G7 but from around the world—everywhere from Australia and Singapore to Switzerland—we put on the toughest sanctions. We pushed back the Russian economy by decades. We also supplied weapons to Ukraine. Many in this Chamber have said that maybe we should have supplied weapons earlier, but I can tell them—from working inside the Government—that we did all we could, as quickly as we could, to persuade allies, and we have now built up an alliance of countries supplying those weapons. I cannot wait to see tanks and fighter jets in Ukraine helping those brave Ukrainians. We also co-ordinated with our allies an international response. At the United Nations, 141 countries stood up against the Russian invasion and what Russia had done—that, too, was unprecedented.

But let us all be honest: we should have done more earlier. The reason why Putin took the action that he did was that he did not believe that we would follow through. And we did not take him at his word. As far back as 2007, at the Munich security conference, Putin made his intentions very clear. He has talked on many occasions about creating a greater Russia. He took action, as we know, in Crimea and the Donbas, but we did not do enough. We let it pass; we collectively turned too much of a blind eye. I am afraid to say that we—not just the United Kingdom, but Europe and the free world—also imported Russian gas and oil. We saw money flow in from Russia—money that was later to be used to buy the weapons that would be used against the Ukrainian people. We also failed to take action on defending Ukraine.

As my colleague the Member for Uxbridge—[Interruption.] I apologise; as my right hon. Friend Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—let us be honest, I should have more respect after everything—commented earlier, we signed the 1994 Budapest memorandum, which guaranteed the security of Ukraine. We should have provided more weapons to Ukraine and we should have allowed Ukraine to join NATO. Can we imagine this situation if Ukraine had been a NATO member under article 5 protection? It would simply not have happened.

Bob Stewart (Con, Beckenham):

The 1994 Budapest accord, which guaranteed the sovereignty of Ukraine, was also signed by Russia, so Russia is to blame as well.

Liz Truss:

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that Russia is, of course, to blame, but we should hold ourselves to high standards and follow through on the commitments that we make, as should our allies such as the United States.

There is unfinished business in terms of offering Ukraine the security that it needed, which is why we need to learn the lessons of what happened. Frankly, we were complacent about freedom and democracy after the cold war: we were told that it was the end of history, that freedom and democracy were guaranteed, and that we could carry on living our lives without worrying about what else had happened. We were told that there would be no challenge to those basic principles and that we had won the argument. We know now that that argument is never finally won. We need to keep winning the argument, and we need to keep defending our values with hard security and economic security, if we are to succeed.

First, we need to do all we can to make sure that Ukraine wins this war as soon as possible. Every extra day means lives lost, women violated and towns destroyed. We need to do all we can, as fast as we can—in my view, that includes fighter jets. We have had a discussion today about which are the best possible options, but having spoken to the Ukrainians about it months ago, I know that what they want is an option. Let us work with our allies to get them an option to use, otherwise they will not be able to prevail. We also need to make sure that Ukraine has the economic wherewithal to continue the fight and that we are continuing to support it internationally.

Secondly, we must not be complacent when that war is won. I do believe that Ukraine will win the war—there is no way that Russia will win the war—but we need to make sure that the future of Russia is a more positive future than the one that we enabled at the end of the cold war. What does that mean? It means that we should never again be complacent in the face of Russian money and Russian oil and gas. Instead, we should make sure that any lifting of sanctions is tied to reform in Russia. We can never again have the situation where we enable freedom and free trade between the west and Russia, and that is then used to develop a kleptocracy, which is exactly what we have seen take place.

We need to make sure that Russia pays for the crimes that it has committed and that it is held to account for the appalling atrocities and war crimes—all of them. We need to make sure that money seized from the Russian state is used to rebuild Ukraine. That is vital. Of course, we in well-off countries such as Britain should contribute, but I cannot imagine a situation where Russia simply goes ahead as if nothing has happened and does not contribute to rebuilding Ukraine. That is vital and I will be pushing for it to happen.

Thirdly, we need to learn the lesson about how we deal with authoritarian regimes more broadly. President Xi has made very clear his intentions with respect to Taiwan. We have to take those seriously. During the Russia-Ukraine conflict—the invasion by Russia of Ukraine—we have amassed, for the first time in history, a group of nations that is prepared to put on sanctions and act together. We need to formalise this grouping, which I have described as an economic NATO—the G7 plus our key allies, such as the EU, South Korea and Australia. We need to bring that group together and start developing our plans now because, although we ended up doing those things after the invasion of Ukraine, prevention is far better than cure. Let us develop these economic tools and let us be clear with China exactly what would happen if there was an escalation with respect to Taiwan. Let us be clear about that now.

Let us also make sure that Taiwan can defend itself. Let us not leave another free democracy undefended for an authoritarian regime to invade. That is a very important principle. The reality is that, as a proportion of the world’s population, fewer people are living under democracy now than 30 years ago. Can we imagine what the world will look like in 30 years’ time if we do not act now? It is not a world that I want to live in.

We have heard some excellent contributions to the debate and I am pleased about the unity that we have seen and continue to see across the United Kingdom. We need to do all we can to support Ukraine and we need to act as quickly as possible. I am familiar with the vagaries of the Government machine, after spending 10 years in various Government Departments, so I will do all I can to support my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his efforts to make sure that things happen as quickly as possible.

We also must not forget the broader arguments. Freedom and democracy are the lifeblood of our society and other free societies around the world. We need to be prepared to do all we can to defend them now, before it is too late. The fact is that being tough is what will bring us peace, and that is what we need to do.

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In Ten Years to Save the West, Truss, who as Prime Minister sought to champion limited government and individual freedom, will argue that the rise of authoritarianism around the world and the adoption of fashionable ideas propagated by the global left give us barely a decade to preserve the economic and cultural freedom and institutions that the West holds so dear.