Rishi Sunak’s Government has been accused of pursuing a “war policy” over Ukraine by a cross bench peer who was previously the boss of a Russian oil company. Lord Skidelsky was speaking during a House of Lords debate on the conflict sparked by Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s invasion on February 24, with foreign minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon responding by pointing out Vladimir Putin could stop the war at any stage by ceasing its “illegal assault” and pulling out its troops.
The UK has provided stockpiles of weaponry to the Kyiv government since Russia’s invasion of the country began in February 2022, including anti-tank missiles, and helped train thousands of Ukrainian troops.
Criticising the UK’s approach to the conflict, Lord Skidelsky, who until the start of the year was a director of the Russian oil refining firm Russneft, said: “The Government’s policy is a war policy. I support a peace policy.
“In calling for peace I may be an isolated voice in Britain but not in the world. Everyone outside the Nato world is calling for negotiation and some within NATO. I draw attention to French President Macron in particular.”
He added: “I am not privy to secret military intelligence but such evidence as I do have, plus a dose of common sense, suggests that neither Russia nor Ukraine can achieve their war aims at the present level of hostility.
“So the pursuit of victory is bound to bring escalation on both sides. Russia will intensify its air war and NATO will provide Ukraine with more weapons to shoot down Russian aircraft.
“At what point such escalation leads to the accidental or deliberate deployment of tactical nuclear weapons is anyone’s guess but the danger must be there.”
The war needed to ended “as soon as possible” and that can only be via negotiations based on a ceasefire, Lord Skidelsky argued.
He added: “I utterly reject the premise underlying the Government’s policy that it is up to Ukraine to decide if and when it wants to end the war.
“President Zelensky’s policy is ‘to get our land back entirely’. Of course it is up to Ukraine to decide what to do, but we cannot give Ukraine carte blanche to determine its war policy when we are in fact providing it with the weaponry to continue the war at considerable sacrifice to our own people.
“The decisions for peace and war, on what terms to end the war, have to be taken by Ukraine and NATO jointly.”
Lord Skidelsky nevertheless argued no meaningful talks were possible while Mr Putin remained in office and urged the UK to offer an “incentive” to secure his departure.
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The peer said: “It’s not just that his personal prestige is too heavily implicated but his attempt to achieve it is leading his country to disaster.
“His invasion of Ukraine has galvanised Ukrainian nationalism, expanded NATO, shifted the balance of power in Europe to its most anti-Russian eastern states, exposed hitherto hidden Russian military and technical weaknesses, subjected Russia to the most sweeping economic sanctions ever imposed and provoked the emigration of many of the most talented Russian scientists, technicians, thinkers and artists.
“He has erected a new monument to imperfect, incompetent statesmanship.
“Any settlement in the war which can inspire confidence for the future will require Mr Putin’s departure from the scene.
“How this is to come about I don’t know, it’s beyond our control, but we can offer an incentive.
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“Our Government can say it will be willing to join our partners in serious negotiations to end the war with a new Russian government.
“This would encourage forces within the Russian state to implement a change of Government.”
He went on: “It might not succeed, but it is infinitely better than the dangerous bellicosity we seem to be trapped in.”
Responding, Lord Ahmad said: “The only reason missiles are flying through European skies today is because of Russian action.
“It is an unwarranted aggression and it is unacceptable.”
He added: “We will not be deterred from supporting Ukraine. Russia is the aggressor. Russia must withdraw.
“Russia can end this war by ceasing its illegal assault on Ukraine today and withdrawing its forces.”
The minister said: “We will stand firm. We will be relentless in our support for Ukraine’s right to self-defence.”
Crossbencher Lord Skidelsky, 83, born Robert Jacob Alexander, was born in Harbin in the Republic of China to Boris Skidelsky and Galia Sapelkin, British subjects of Russian ancestry.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, he refused to resign from Skidelsky declined to resign as a director on the board of the Russian state-owned company Rusnano Capital, as well as criticising sanctions which targeted Russia and argued that the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine should be given an opportunity to separate from Ukraine.