A defence minister has said “we must be prepared” for the war in Ukraine to last “a very, very long time”, as he suggested the conflict was now shifting to a war of attrition.
Leo Docherty’s comments came as Conservative MP James Sunderland asked him in the House of Commons about “policy resilience” and how long the support to Ukraine might last.
Mr Docherty said “we can’t speculate” about how long the conflict might go on for but warned “we must be prepared for it to last a very, very long time”.
He noted that people should be reassured by the fact the UK and allies across Western Europe had the “resolve to see this through”.
The defence minister appeared in the Commons to answer an urgent question from Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey, who accused the Government of leaving a “defence-shaped black hole” in the Queen’s Speech and called for a rethink of Army cuts.
Mr Sunderland, the MP for Bracknell, said: “We have heard from his previous answer about the fact that the level of support to Ukraine will continue but can I ask him please for how long it will continue? Particularly if the conflict goes from months into years, becomes an attritional campaign, and also is that view and stance shared by all of our other allies?”
Mr Docherty replied: “We have all been clear that our support to Ukraine is something I expect to last many years. We have had a very close defence relationship since 2014.
“I think we are moving to a phase of the campaign that is attritional and will be continued at tragic and significant cost of the Russian state.
“We can’t speculate on how long it might last but I think we must be prepared for it to last for a very, very long time. We should be reassured by the fact that we and our allies across Western Europe have the resolve to see this through.”
Mr Healey called on the Government to supply Ukraine with Nato weapons and to “rethink Army cuts”, saying: “The UK now needs to shift from crisis management of the current conflict to delivering the medium-term military support that Ukraine will need for Putin’s next offensive. This means new Nato weapons instead of Soviet-era equipment.”
He added: “The head of the British Army this week has said the Army is too small, despite Conservatives voting down Labour’s motion in this House a year ago to halt further cuts.
“So, will he accept there was a defence-shaped hole in the Queen’s Speech? And that the Government must now rewrite the integrated review, review defence spending, reform military procurement and rethink Army cuts?”
The Army has already been cut to its smallest size in 300 years. Now when Russian threats are rising, new recruits can’t even apply to join.
We need to hear from Ministers what they’re doing to fix this failing system and support those who want to proudly serve our country https://t.co/NidD46fQBy
— John Healey MP (@JohnHealey_MP) May 10, 2022
Mr Docherty said the Ukrainian armed forces were seeing a “wholesale institutional reinvigoration” thanks to aid from the UK and on Army cuts, he said that “thanks to the £24 billion uplift in defence spending, we are in good shape and we are a good size”.
The defence minister also gave an update on assistance provided to Ukraine so far, including more than 6,900 new anti-tank missiles, “a further consignment of Javelin anti-tank missiles”, and eight air defence systems.
He reiterated commitments to send 300 more missiles, armoured fighting vehicles and other support including “anti-ship systems”, as well as further humanitarian aid.
“The United Kingdom has confirmed £1.3 billion of new funding for military operations and aid to Ukraine,” he added.