House of Commons
Tuesday 4 March 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
North Korea (Human Rights)
I welcome the recent United Nations report, which exposes shocking human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and I urge the DPRK authorities to respond to its contents. The United Kingdom is actively supporting a strong UN Human Rights Council resolution on the DPRK. Yesterday I was in Geneva, working to deliver a resolution that makes it clear that there can be no impunity for human rights violators.
As the United Nations has found North Korea to be committing crimes against humanity on a scale unparalleled in the modern world, will the Government refer those responsible to the International Criminal Court and lobby the BBC to broadcast the World Service into North Korea, given the increase in demand for the so-called immoral devices of small radios, the ban on which eased last month? We can no longer say we do not know—it is time to act.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend’s last comment. On the International Criminal Court, in principle it could be an appropriate forum, although the DPRK has not signed up to it. We strongly agree that there should be no impunity for crimes of this sort, so we need to look at the most effective way of holding the DPRK to account.
On the BBC, my hon. Friend will know that I have been in correspondence with and have attended the all-party group on North Korea to discuss the issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and the noble Lord Alton. We have approached the BBC and are waiting for its detailed response. I must stress, however, that the BBC World Service is operationally, managerially and editorially independent.
I remind the hon. Lady that I was in Geneva yesterday for the opening day of the UN Human Rights Council. The commission will formally present its report on 17 March, so these are very early days. The annual resolution led by the European Union and Japan will then be taken at the end of the Human Rights Council and we will work with colleagues there to ensure that we have the best possible mechanism to hold the DPRK to account. Incidentally, I believe that when the curtain is finally lifted on that country, we will see evidence of human rights violations that surpass anything we have seen in any other country in the past 50 years.
Does the Minister agree that the international community’s response to human rights violations in North Korea has been wholly inadequate to date and that we must now challenge that country with the same emphasis placed on security issues?
I do and I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work she has been doing. She has arranged a briefing by Open Doors this afternoon—I have asked officials to attend it—to highlight the plight of Christians in the DPRK. I also commend—this is not a plug—a book I have just read by the noble Lord Alton called “Building Bridges”, which is the most shocking account of what has been going on in that country.
20. What conversations are the UK Government having with China, specifically about the report’s recommendations on the forced repatriation of North Koreans, which is having a devastating impact on Christians who defect to China? (902804)
We have had discussions with our Chinese opposite numbers on refoulement—that is, the repatriation of those who have escaped from DPRK to China. We had a UK-China strategic dialogue last week and I raised the issue with my opposite number, as did my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with his opposite number.
I will make a statement shortly and I visited Ukraine yesterday. The United Kingdom is gravely concerned by the violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer and may I pay tribute to him for his extensive efforts during this crisis? Many of us share his concern about this rapidly developing situation. Does he agree that any allegations made by Russia that its minority in Ukraine is in danger would be best addressed through diplomatic means rather than by any use of force?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a very important point. Allegations have been made about threats to the Russian-speaking minority in Ukraine. I must say that I have not seen any evidence—no evidence has been presented of those threats—and I received very strong assurances from the Ukrainian authorities yesterday that they would not make any such threats. In any case, as he says, such matters should be resolved peacefully, and institutions such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe are always ready to assist with such matters.
As a schoolboy, I took the bus from Cwmbran to Pontypool via the village of Sebastopol, a reminder of how long the Crimea has been of significance in our history. Will the Foreign Secretary ask all Ministers to refrain from any superficial blame games for party political purposes, which are not in Britain’s interest, and to work with the Opposition to develop a united diplomatic response from Britain in the face of Russian aggression?
I hope that when I present my statement to the House later we will see strong unity on many aspects of this crisis. It is of course the Government’s responsibility to frame this country’s policy and the Opposition’s job to hold us to account for that, as the shadow Foreign Secretary often reminds me. I hope that there will be very strong unity on the key aspects and key principles involved in this crisis. We must debate coolly and calmly, across all parties, the measures we should take in response to it.
Former President Yanukovych left his post and then left the country, and the decisions on replacing him with an acting President were made by the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, by the very large majorities required under the constitution, including with the support of members of former President Yanukovych’s party, the Party of Regions, so it is wrong to question the legitimacy of the new authorities.
On disturbances in Donetsk and other areas of eastern Ukraine, there have been reports of some such disturbances, but it is not clear whether they have been inspired from outside Ukraine.
Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that without a swift and peaceful resolution to the Crimean crisis, the Government will consider imposing economic sanctions on Russia? Have he and the Government conducted a review of the options at their disposal to apply such economic pressure?
Our options are open on that. The European Union Foreign Affairs Council yesterday agreed to look at targeted measures. Our options are open on the further action that we can take, and which we will take in conjunction with our allies and partners, because that will make any such action more effective, when we are able to consider developments over the coming hours and days.
At this time of crisis, it is clear that the Foreign Secretary must have no conflicts of interest. Unlike the Swiss and the Austrian Governments, this Government have not frozen the assets of members of the Yanukovych regime. Human rights activists in Ukraine have contacted me to complain that the Tories have taken money from members of that regime in the past. Does the Foreign Secretary want take to this opportunity to clear up that matter?
I find the hon. Lady’s question ridiculous in the extreme, and I almost do not know where to begin to ridicule it. Certainly, Her Majesty’s Government would not be influenced by any such matters. I discussed with the Prime Minister of Ukraine yesterday our eagerness to assist with the return of stolen assets and their recovery for Ukraine. For the first time, the Ukrainian Government yesterday gave us a list of those involved; they had not done so previously. I have agreed with the Prime Minister of Ukraine to send a team urgently to Ukraine to advise the Ukrainians on the information they need to provide to us for us to be able to act on it. I think she can now see how utterly baseless her question was.
May I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend on his stamina? Does he agree that it is difficult to take the protestations of President Putin seriously in the light of the incident recently reported of Russian soldiers firing warning shots over the heads of Ukrainian soldiers seeking to go about their lawful business and then threatening to shoot them in the legs if they did not desist? Does he agree that that merely emphasises the fragility of the present circumstances, particularly the risk that either provocation or miscalculation could lead to a conflagration?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. It continues to be a serious risk that deliberate provocation, in particular, could give rise to a dangerous incident. I will say in my statement how much I commend the Ukrainian authorities for refusing to rise to provocation. I urged them yesterday, when I was in Kiev, to maintain that posture through all circumstances and at all times. I believe that they are determined to do so.
May I, perhaps to his surprise, commend the Foreign Secretary for maintaining a cool head in this situation? Clearly, there is tremendous provocation from President Putin. However, in the end, this situation will be resolved diplomatically or it will not be resolved, with terrible costs to the whole world. In that context, will he say now or later what his view is on Ukraine’s ability to have a free trade agreement with Europe, as well as a free trade agreement with Russia? Will that not be part of a diplomatic future?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. It is important that we never describe the strategic context for Ukraine as a zero sum game. We welcome the idea of closer links between Ukraine and the European Union. We have supported the association agreement and a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. We believe that those agreements would benefit the economy and people of Ukraine, and the economy and people of Russia. We absolutely recognise that Russia has important and legitimate interests in Ukraine. That, however, is not a justification for the armed violation of the sovereignty and independence of the country.
19. Russia’s actions in Ukraine represent the ramping up of a strategy of pursuing self-interested, unbridled, robust and determined actions. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that he will seek unification in Europe’s approach to finding a solution, with a focus on acting together in a robust and meaningful way? (902803)
We will do that. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe attended the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday while I was in Kiev. There will be a meeting of the European Council—the Heads of Government of the European Union—on Thursday to discuss these matters, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will attend. Yesterday evening, he telephoned President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel to co-ordinate our approach. I therefore can assure my hon. Friend that we will play a leading role in a united European approach.
I have stated previously my support for the Foreign Secretary’s efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to this crisis, and I repeat that today. However, yesterday in Downing street, there was a very serious blunder at a very serious time, with Government briefing documents mistakenly entering the public domain. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the impact of that blunder risks being much more than ministerial embarrassment, and that it risks compromising the UK’s influence with Russia and our key allies at what remains a crucial and, indeed, dangerous time?
Any such photographing of documents or making documents available for photographing is absolutely regrettable and should not happen. I hope that all officials will ensure that it does not happen in future. Nevertheless, it must be seen in perspective. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it has those implications. I want to make it absolutely clear that anything that is written in one document that is being carried by one official is not necessarily any guide to the decisions that will be made by Her Majesty’s Government. Our options remain very much open on this subject.
I find the Foreign Secretary’s words reassuring, in part. However, let us pursue the implications of what was revealed by the document. Does he accept that, given the gravity of the moment, if every country were to refuse to countenance any economic or diplomatic action that would affect its bilateral standing with Russia, the cumulative effect would be damaging not just for that individual country, but for regional stability and international order?
Yes, very much. I absolutely accept that, which is why I repeat that anything photographed, or a partial account of a document from one photograph, should certainly not be taken as a guide to the views of the Foreign Secretary, and not necessarily as a guide to the decisions that will be made by Her Majesty’s Government. Our options remain open, and I agree with the point made by the right hon. Gentleman.
I am sure the Foreign Secretary will agree it is important that the west, as far as is possible, speak with one voice regarding this aggression. Is he therefore concerned that, at least modestly, a range of views have been expressed by different capitals, which could weaken—or be seen to weaken—the west’s resolve in responding to this crisis?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about unity in the west, and I draw his attention to a number of things that have already been decided on a common basis. For instance, the decision to withdraw from G8 preparations this week, which we will keep under review, is by all G7 nations, from the United States to Japan, Canada, the UK and the other European participants in the G8. I believe we are acting in a united fashion, and it will be very important to continue to do so in the days ahead.
Last week, when I asked a question about British taxpayers in an austerity-riddled Britain having to hand over money to Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary told the House from the Dispatch Box that the only money would come from the International Monetary Fund. Does he still stand by that guarantee, or does he want to amend it?
I was explaining to the hon. Gentleman that the money that will come through the IMF is not out of the pockets of British taxpayers and into the pockets of anyone in Ukraine. Since then, given the situation, I announced to the Ukrainian Government yesterday that we will assist them with know-how—[Interruption.] Which is money. That is a new announcement. It is, of course, small in the scheme of Ukraine’s entire economy, but we will assist it with debt management, financial management, and all the things that were needed in this country after the Government that the hon. Gentleman supported left office. Ukraine needs that, and it is in our national interest to provide it.
Camp Liberty (Resettling Detainees)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has informed us that as of 20 February, 327 residents from a total of approximately 3,200 have been relocated outside Iraq thus far.
The Foreign Secretary raised that specific issue when he met Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari at the end of November—a meeting I attended. We have repeatedly supported the United Nations in its calls for more to be done to protect the residents, and we will continue to remind the Government of Iraq, as a sovereign Government, that they are wholly and totally responsible for the security of the camp.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and there continue to be worries about the security of the camp. We must set those in the context of security worries across Iraq at the moment. More than 700 people were reportedly killed by terrorist violence in January, and it is a serious situation across the country. We will continue to remind the Government of that country of their responsibilities, and do all we can to ensure the security of the camp.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that Sri Lanka has failed to ensure independent and credible investigations into past violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. She recommends establishing an independent international inquiry, and as the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire) made clear yesterday at the Human Rights Council, the UK fully supports that view.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. I am sure he understands the deep concern on both sides of the House and elsewhere about the continuing violations. Will he assure the House that the Government will work with other Commonwealth countries to put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to desist from their harassment of those who dissent, and to ensure that the international inquiry takes place?
Yes, those are points that the Prime Minister and I, and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), made forcefully when we were in Sri Lanka at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last November. We are pursuing the issue actively at the Human Rights Council to secure an international inquiry of the type recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I expect there will be vigorous debates at the Human Rights Council over the next few weeks, but we will certainly stick up for the view that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell) has put forward.
Given the intimidation and harassment being experienced by many human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers in Sri Lanka, what more can the UK and its international partners do to ensure that those who give evidence at any international inquiry are protected?
This is an important issue indeed, given the intimidation and sometimes the unexplained murder of journalists and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka. That strengthens the case for an international investigation. Of course, we are unable to provide directly protection within another country, including within Sri Lanka, but that strengthens the case for that international investigation. We will use that argument in the call for such an investigation.
I am more than well aware of the efforts the UK has made over the years to give Sri Lanka every opportunity to make good the President’s responses on seeking reconciliation and justice through a reasonable examination of the war crimes issue. I welcome the fact that there is a sense that time has run out for those efforts, but how can my right hon. Friend convey to Sri Lanka that it is in its interests to comply with an international inquiry and provide the evidence? If it chooses not to do so, it will make an international inquiry very difficult.
My right hon. Friend has often done a very good job of presenting that case to Sri Lanka. We continue to make that case. As he knows, Sri Lanka has made progress on de-mining and resettlement, but that is not sufficient to address accountability and human rights concerns, or to ensure that there is stability and democracy in future in Sri Lanka. We continue to ask the Sri Lankans to mount their own domestic investigation and inquiry, but in the absence of that, it is important that we press for the international inquiry to which hon. Members have referred.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that Sri Lanka’s failure to address the allegations was fundamentally a question of political will. Was it not incredibly naive of the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to believe that President Rajapaksa had any intention of conducting his own inquiry? Given the time that has been wasted by setting a March deadline, what has the Prime Minister done to use the UK’s position on the Human Rights Council to push for an international investigation, which he should have pushed for many months ago?
I think there was a lot of unity in the House on Sri Lanka, but the hon. Lady chooses to try to make it a party political issue. Having witnessed the bilateral meeting between the Prime Minister and President Rajapaksa, I assure her that there was nothing naive about it. The Prime Minister forcefully put the case for Sri Lanka to mount its own inquiry and forcefully made it clear that he would press for an international inquiry if it did not do so. That is what he is doing in his contacts with other Heads of Government around the world. I and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon, are doing the same with other Foreign Ministers. I hope the Opposition will concentrate on supporting that rather than trying to snipe about it.
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
The key advantage of TTIP is that a successful deal would create what would be by far the world’s most important free trade area, and would set global regulatory standards for trade on a transatlantic basis rather than having to wait for other countries to come and set the model for us to follow.
The partnership does indeed offer great potential to Europe and the United States, but as the Minister will know, there are fears that it could lead to a watering down of workers’ rights and environmental and social protection. What are the Government doing to ensure that that does not happen?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that considerable legal and other measures already exist on both sides of the Atlantic to secure proper protection for workers, and those matters are indeed in the minds of negotiators. However, I do not think that we should take our eyes off the enormous prize that a trade deal of this kind would represent in increasing economic growth and mutual trade on both sides of the Atlantic.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who campaign for us to leave the European Union would be turning their backs on a free trade area constituting some 40% of the productive wealth of the world, and that we would be unlikely to negotiate similar terms outside the Union?
I think it is true that the opportunity for a trade deal with a market of more than 500 million people in Europe as a whole is more attractive to United States negotiators than a trade deal with any single European country. Moreover, as my hon. Friend says, any member state that left the European Union would, unless alternative arrangements were negotiated, be abandoning the free trade agreements that the Union had negotiated with other countries around the world.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to applaud vigorously the initiative taken by our Prime Minister through the G8 to try to secure an international agreement on a system whereby all multinational companies pay their fair share of tax, but I am also sure he will accept that that can be realised effectively only on a global basis.
During my second visit to Burma in January, I met Aung San Suu Kyi, key Ministers, the Speaker, and the Commander-in-Chief. I discussed the need for constitutional reform and continued progress in the peace talks, and I raised in strong terms our concerns about human rights and about the situation in Rakhine state. I was also the first British Minister to visit Kachin state since Burma gained independence in 1948. Among other things, I met a group of Kachin world war two veterans, and paid tribute to their exceptional and brave service during the war.
I thank the Minister for his response, and pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker: if you had not raised the issue of political prisoners with the General and Ministers during your recent trip, they would not have been released.
May I urge the Minister to press the Burmese Government? There is still concern about the census. Many people have been displaced, Médecins Sans Frontières has been suspended from Rakhine, and there needs to be constitutional reform by 2015 if there are to be free and fair elections.
We approach this issue in a spirit of agreement, and, in accordance with the pledge that I had given the hon. Lady previously, I was able to raise the issue of political prisoners. I believe that there are still 30 whose cases are disputed.
As for the census, the hon. Lady will be aware that we are providing funds for it, and that it is the first census to take place for a very long time. There are issues surrounding it, but we believe that it is the right course. I believe that our engagement with Burma is on the right lines, but serious issues remain, not least the continuing problems in Rakhine.
I welcome what the Minister has said, and his engagement with Burma. Of course there are many challenges within the country, but does he not accept that the steps towards peace and democracy deserve our support and wholehearted engagement while the opportunity presents itself?
Yes, I do. I have been able to discuss the situation with Baroness Amos, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, in the last couple of weeks. I also discussed it yesterday in Geneva with António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and last night with Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
We are all extremely concerned about aspects of what is still going on in Burma, but we believe that, with our support across the board, the Burmese Government need encouragement on the path towards democracy. It was never going to be easy, but we must redouble our efforts to ensure that they deliver on the pledges that they have made.
On Friday I met representatives of the Karen community who have been settled in Sheffield for some period now. They expressed great concern about Karen people in Burma, despite the peace talks. What is the Foreign Office doing to look at the situation of the many ethnic groups in Burma, not just the Rohingya Muslims, and to ensure there really is peace and that they are given support to integrate properly into society throughout Burma?
The hon. Lady is right to raise that. We are extremely concerned about allegations of human rights violations and inter-communal violence. We have discussed this right across the board with Burma’s leaders and with Aung San Suu Kyi herself. The census is an important step. Whatever kind of Government then come about in Burma will, to my way of thinking, have to recognise some of the differences in the different parts of that country. Human rights are universal; we cannot pick and choose them, and everyone in that country is entitled to the same protection as everyone else, regardless of their ethnicity.
Yes I do, and you, Mr Speaker, and others at all levels in this place are trying to show best practice. In effect, we are trying to build a democratic country in a country that has not been a democracy. We are trying to embed democratic institutions and that requires a lot of work, and I pay tribute to those right across this House—officials, civil servants, Ministers, Opposition MPs. All of us have a part to play in this, given our long-standing close affinity and history with that country.
Afghanistan (British Civilian Personnel)
11. What steps his Department is taking to provide protection for British civilian personnel currently working in Afghanistan. (902794)
Government Departments take the duty of care for our civilian personnel serving in Afghanistan extremely seriously and all civilian personnel are provided with a high level of protection, but for obvious reasons, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand, we do not publicly comment on the nature of that protection.
I thank the Minister for his answer. In the light of the recent horrific attacks in Kabul, and, indeed, the risks to British civilians working for peace and development worldwide, can the Minister assure us that the Department will be keeping advice given to civilians under constant review and that proactive communication will continue to be made, particularly with non-governmental organisations, on that matter?
Yes, I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The travel advice is reviewed on a regular basis and each time there is an attack or any intelligence. It is cross-checked against what we are doing in other parts of Government and is kept under constant review.
The Minister will be aware that the Afghan elections are approaching. The international security assistance force is drawing down, but the crucial US-Afghan partnership agreement has yet to be signed. Will the Minister update the House on when that important agreement will be finalised?
No, I cannot. We continue to encourage the Afghan Government to sign that agreement for all the reasons my hon. Friend mentions. We believe it is clearly an important part of the future of Afghanistan moving forward, and we will continue to encourage the Afghanistan Government to sign it as soon as possible.
This Friday morning there will be a meeting to commemorate the life of Alex Petersen, one of the young men who lost their lives in Kabul in January. That highlights the fact that those at risk are not just the civilians who work for the British Government, but the civilians who work for contractors and in other peace-building capacities. Will the Government focus on them as much as on British UK Government personnel?
Absolutely we will, and I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to all those who lost their lives because they were clearly doing a very valuable job, attempting to make the lives of ordinary Afghans better than they are at present. The point of the travel advice is to provide precisely the sort of guidance she seeks. Some 13 foreign nationals were killed in the attack I think she is referring to, and it is a great tribute to them all that young people continue to go to Afghanistan and carry out that work.
Obviously, one significant threat to civilians is bomb attack, which underlines how despicable it was that my constituent Jim McCormick, a convicted fraudster, made £50 million out of selling to the Governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries a completely bogus and useless bomb detector. Would it surprise the right hon. Gentleman to know that those useless detectors are still being used in Iraq and many other countries, and that a company in Romania is now patenting, and presumably will produce, an identical device, which obviously will be equally useless? Will he take measures to inform as many countries as possible of these eventualities, and prevent them from using this device and thereby putting civilians at risk?
I can only say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments entirely. When the Foreign Office was made aware of this issue in 2010, we attempted then to inform everybody of exactly what had happened and what the consequences would be, and we will continue to do that.
British civilians working for both the Government and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) stressed, non-governmental organisations have played a crucial role in helping the ordinary people of Afghanistan, especially women, to improve their lot and have a better future, which is why they are targeted by the despicable Taliban. So what are the Government doing to ensure their safety, not only now, but especially after the military draw-down?
I suppose the answer to the question of what we are continuing to do now is the British military presence in Afghanistan, the aim of which is to increase security throughout that country. A series of programmes will continue after the draw-down, particularly the training of the Afghan military and police, and the Government will do all they can. I echo the comments the right hon. Gentleman made about the contribution made by so many people in the voluntary sector.
Illegal Wildlife Trade
More than 40 nations attended the illegal wildlife trade conference and vowed to help save iconic species from the brink of extinction. The London declaration contains commitments for practical steps to end the illegal trade in rhino horn, tiger parts and elephant tusks, which fuels criminal activity. Botswana will host the next conference.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the London declaration marks significant progress made in combating wildlife crime? But can he assure the House that what has been put on paper will be translated into positive action before the Botswana conference next year?
I very much hope so. In particular, the elephant protection plan, which was endorsed during the conference by five key African states, now needs to be implemented in those states, and funded by other states and by the private sector. If that happens, it can become a game-changing agreement on preserving the African elephant. I certainly hope that major progress will be made on that before we get to Botswana in a year’s time.
The Syria crisis is worsening by the day, with no sign of the Assad regime having any willingness to negotiate the political transition demanded by the UN Security Council. The second round of Geneva II negotiations ended on 15 February without agreement. Those supporting the regime, including Russia and Iran, need to do far more to press it to reach a political settlement.
The war in Syria is a tragedy for its people, who have seen their lives, families and homes torn apart, and for the region, which has seen millions of refugees displaced to neighbouring countries. What steps are this Government taking to alleviate the tragedy, promote regional stability and do all they can to prevent a contagion of this crisis?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his description. I probably cannot describe all those things in one answer to a question, but in our efforts to alleviate the crisis UK aid is now providing: food for more than 210,000 people a month; water for 1.4 million people; and cooking sets and blankets for 300,000 people. So he can see the scale of the assistance that is being delivered. Tomorrow, I will attend the International Support Group for Lebanon meeting in Paris, where we will be working with other nations on providing the necessary assistance to help stabilise Lebanon, too.
I realise that relations with Russia are rather difficult at the moment, but will the Foreign Secretary renew his efforts to talk to Iran and Russia to bring about a renewal of Geneva II, a ceasefire and then some kind of political solution? The crisis in Syria cannot be ignored just because of events that are happening elsewhere.
Yes is the basic answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question. I assure him that although Ukraine occupies a great deal of attention, all our work and the pace of our work on Syria will be maintained. We are suggesting to Russia and others that there should be new work and meetings among the permanent five members of the Security Council to try again to make a diplomatic breakthrough on Syria—I cannot hold out any prospect of that at the moment—and of course we will hold discussions with Iran, so the answer to his question is yes.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on winning the 2014 Clinton prize for women, peace and security for his leadership on preventing sexual violence in conflict. Given the widespread violence against women and girls in Syria, what steps is he taking to ensure that women are properly represented and properly heard as he attempts to renew Geneva II?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have advocated the inclusion of women to a greater extent in the peace talks on Syria. A women’s action group was formed in parallel with the Geneva II negotiations, and I went to meet its members in Geneva and have invited them to visit the UK. I constantly urge the UN, including the UN Special Envoy, to ensure that women’s representatives are included in future negotiations. I am pleased that the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces ensured that women were represented in its delegation.
Recent suicide attacks in Lebanon have shown the intense danger of the Syrian conflict expanding beyond the borders of Syria. After the end of the Geneva talks last month, what efforts is the Foreign Secretary making to discuss with the UN a process to bring the parties back to Geneva and to begin the process of negotiation that is so desperately needed?
The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the dangers in Lebanon. As I have said, we shall hold the international support group for Lebanon, which I shall attend, tomorrow in Paris. He is also right to emphasise the importance of bringing the parties back to the table. For that to happen, the Assad regime has to be ready to discuss the creation of a transitional governing body. The offer that Lakhdar Brahimi made to both sides when the talks last ended was that they would discuss terrorism, as the regime describes it, and a transitional governing body, as the Opposition wanted, in parallel. The regime refused to do that, but it needs to become ready to do that for the talks to get going again.
Persecution of Religious Minorities (Pakistan)
14. What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Pakistan on the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in that country. We remain deeply concerned about the persecution faced by Christians and other religious minorities and continue to raise that with the authorities in Pakistan at the highest level. My right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Warsi most recently raised the matter with the Pakistani Prime Minister during her visit last October. (902797)
Many of my constituents have written to me about the persecution of Christians across the world and want British Government action. The Minister appears to recognise the sectarian bias, which is a significant problem in Pakistan. What talks has the Minister had with the Pakistani authorities to assist them in protecting all religious minorities?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue. It is something that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes extremely seriously across the world. It is vital that Pakistan guarantee the rights of all its citizens regardless of faith and ethnicity. The UK Government are extremely active and raise issues of religious freedom on a regular basis. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met faith leaders in Lahore last year, and my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Warsi has had frank discussions not just with the Prime Minister but with the national security adviser of Pakistan and the then Minister for National Harmony. We did so both on a bilateral and multilateral basis.
Yesterday I visited Ukraine, and tomorrow I will attend the international support group for Lebanon in Paris.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer.
With the Antarctic Act 2013 now successfully passed, what reassurance can Ministers give on encouraging other signatory states to the treaty to ensure that they, too, put into their domestic law measures to protect the Antarctic?
My hon. Friend deserves huge congratulations on successfully piloting his private Member’s Bill through Parliament and the significant positive contribution that the Antarctic Act 2013 will make. Other countries need to ratify the treaty’s provisions quickly so that they can come into effect. I know that through his contacts he is pushing Germany and the United States, and I can inform the House that my officials are in regular contact with their counterparts and will use the Antarctic treaty meeting in April to continue to push other countries to ratify.
Given Chancellor Merkel’s confirmation that she does not support a fundamental reform of the European Union’s architecture, will the Minister for Europe update the House on when we may expect some clarity from the Prime Minister about what powers he wants repatriated to the UK?
I was heartened by Chancellor Merkel’s strong words about her determination to work with the Prime Minister to secure a European Union that is significantly more competitive, more democratic and more flexible than it is today. I wish that, instead of carping all the time, the hon. Gentleman would join us in that great project of reform.
T2. The coalition Government have set great store by encouraging stronger economic, cultural, religious and tourism links with India. With that in mind, there is constant lobbying for the reintroduction of direct flights from London to Gujarat, and especially Ahmedabad. What diplomatic efforts can Ministers launch to assist that campaign and get that much needed reform in place? (902810)
Of course the issue of direct flights between London and Ahmedabad is ultimately a commercial decision for airlines, but India hosts the largest UK diplomatic network in the world and we now have a British trade office there. I visited Gujarat and met the state’s Chief Minister Modi in March 2013, and we would welcome such direct flights because a huge section of the population travels to and does business with that thriving and vibrant part of India.
That remains to be seen, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Ministry of Defence has important arrangements not just Russia but with several central Asian countries, and there are also other routes out of Afghanistan. There has been no impact so far, but we will keep the House informed.
T3. Next week will mark three years of devastating bloodshed in Syria and one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tell the House what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the preventing sexual violence initiative in ensuring that those who have survived sexual violence receive the comprehensive services that they need not only inside Syria but in the wider region? (902811)
We have started our work on that, but there is much more to do. The team of experts that I formed, who can be deployed anywhere in the world to help local groups and authorities to combat sexual violence, have been deployed to the Syrian border. Of course we have ensured that of those people who will be entitled to come to the United Kingdom, we shall strongly prioritise those who are vulnerable to violence, including the victims of sexual violence. However, we are only scratching the surface of this immense and tragic issue, which we will discuss further at the preventing sexual violence summit that I will host in London in June.
T6. Following the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Washington this week, will Ministers give their assessment of the progress of the Kerry talks between Israel and Palestine towards achieving a two-state solution and, especially, regarding illegal settlements? (902814)
There remains, I hope, healthy optimism that something positive will come out of the Kerry process. I think Members on both sides of the House will commend the energy that the United States Secretary of State has brought to the issue. He hopes to agree outline terms by the end of March, and at that stage we will be in a much better position to see how we might take the process forward.
T4. On Saturday, more than 100 people were injured and, tragically, 29 were killed as a result of the brutal mass stabbing in the Chinese city of Kunming. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever the underlying issues, that horrific attack is no solution to the problem? Will he join me in expressing our condolences to the families of those affected? (902812)
I strongly condemn the brutal terrorist attack at Kunming train station on 1 March. My thoughts and sympathies are with the families of the victims and those injured. Our consular team responded immediately to reports of the incident, speaking to local police and hospitals where the victims were taken for treatment. The Yunnan authorities have confirmed that no British nationals were caught up in the attack. We remain in touch with the local authorities and receive regular updates.
T7. One of the main reasons given to this House in 2001 for our involvement in Afghanistan was that 90% of the heroin consumed in Britain came from Afghanistan. Thirteen years later, and after the tragic deaths of 447 of our brave soldiers, 90% of the heroin on the streets of Britain is still coming from Afghanistan, where the heroin crop is at a record level. Helmand is controlled by the Taliban. Can this be described as “mission accomplished”? (902815)
The hon. Gentleman is right that the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan remains a very serious problem that has not been defeated, but of course many other things have been achieved in Afghanistan, and he is losing sight of that in his question. Terrorist bases that were operating for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have been destroyed, the threat to the world from terrorism originating in Afghanistan is now much less than it was in 2001, and the Afghan people have been able to make enormous progress in other ways—so that is only one dimension on which we should measure the operations in Afghanistan.
Touching on the Foreign Secretary’s responsibility for GCHQ, in a speech this morning the Deputy Prime Minister initiated an independent review of the intelligent balance that needs to be struck between digital freedom and national security. Even to a keen supporter of the intelligence services like me, that does not seem unreasonable. Why were Conservative Ministers not willing to support it?
The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking in his own capacity on that issue. I reiterate what I have said to the House before about the extremely strong system of oversight that we have in this country, with which my hon. Friend is very familiar. Of course, there are issues being looked at now by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and I think it wise for most of us to await the Committee’s report.
I understand the point the hon. Gentleman makes, but he needs to recognise that the elections were held in accordance with the Bangladesh constitution. I understand that voters in more than half the constituencies did not have the opportunity to express their will at the ballot box, but the final result of elections in Bangladesh is ultimately a matter for the Bangladeshi people to judge. The United Kingdom will continue to provide support through updating electoral registers and training polling officials.
In February 2011, I was on an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Georgia. We went to the border with South Ossetia where, through binoculars, we saw Russian troops and the Russian flag displayed. The Russians had invaded in 2008 and they remain there today. Anyone who believes that doing nothing will remove the Russian troops from Crimea should look at history; it will actually do the reverse.
Of course I will come on to these issues in a minute, in my statement. My hon. Friend is quite right to point to what has happened in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and, indeed, Transnistria, where Russian troops remain stationed on a permanent or long-term basis. There is every indication that the intentions for Crimea are the same.
T8. Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), the political violence and deaths in Bangladesh are deeply disturbing. How are the Government using their good offices to assist the parties there to restore civil order and create good governance? (902817)
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the appalling electoral violence in Bangladesh, which we completely condemn. We continue to support the Government structures by updating electoral registers, training polling officials and putting in place new systems for publishing details, particularly as people stand for office. Those improvements will, we hope, create and strengthen the foundations for better future elections.
The simple answer is that those reports are almost certainly credible. One of the most damaging aspects of the conflict in Syria is the help given by both Iran and Hezbollah to the regime forces. That will need to stop before there can be any peace in that country.
When the Foreign Secretary visited Colombia recently, did he raise the fact that last year 78 human rights defenders, political activists and community leaders were killed—the highest number for a decade? Does that not suggest that the Government’s constant reiteration of the claim that things are getting better in Colombia is not the case and that more needs to be done to protect people engaging in perfectly legitimate political activity?
Yes, in Colombia two weeks ago I raised those issues with the President and other Ministers, including the increase in the number of deaths of human rights defenders last year, which is very important. Part of the answer is a successful peace process, and the Colombian Government have been right and courageous to embark on that. If successful, it will change the entire environment in Colombia, but more needs to be done in other ways to protect human rights defenders, and that is certainly something we discussed with the Colombian Government.
Does my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe agree that although the free trade agreement with the United States is a very good step in the right direction, it is nevertheless very unambitious that the EU spends only 2% of its annual budget on trade, compared with over 40% on subsidising farming?
There has been international condemnation of Putin’s actions as Russian aggression intensifies in Ukraine. However, European leaders seem hampered by the dependence of much of the European Union on Russian oil and gas. What effective action will be taken to stop Putin walking over the will of the people of Ukraine?
Here in this House and in the United Kingdom we believe in freedom, democracy and self-determination around the world, but my right hon. Friend will recall that the referendum in Scotland is taking place with the agreement of this House and of the Government of the United Kingdom as a whole. Under the Ukrainian constitution, that would be the proper arrangement in Crimea as well.
With permission I will make a statement on the situation in Ukraine. The House will recall from my statement last Monday that, on Friday 21 February, former President Yanukovych and the opposition in Ukraine signed an agreement to end months of violence. Shortly afterwards, Mr Yanukovych fled Kiev, the 2004 constitution was restored, early presidential elections were called for 25 May, and an interim Government were appointed.
Last Wednesday, President Putin ordered military exercises involving a stated 38,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine. By Friday, unidentified armed men had appeared outside airports and Government buildings in Crimea. On Saturday, President Putin sought and received the approval of the upper House of the Russian Parliament to use Russian armed forces anywhere on the territory of Ukraine, without the consent of the Ukrainian Government, citing a
“threat to the lives of Russian citizens”.
Russian forces in Crimea went on to take control of Ukrainian military sites, including in Belbek, Balaclava and Kerch, and to establish full operational control in Crimea. Helicopters and planes have been deployed. The Russian Government have not ruled out military action in other parts of Ukraine—indeed, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has reported Russian fighters infringing Ukrainian airspace over the Black sea.
Her Majesty’s Government condemn any violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine which contravene Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Helsinki Final Act and the 1997 partition treaty on the status and conditions of the Black sea fleet with Ukraine. Under that agreement, Russia is entitled to station troops and naval personnel on its bases in Crimea, but not to deploy troops outside those bases without the permission of the Ukrainian Government.
Moreover, Russia’s actions are in breach of the Budapest memorandum, signed in 1994. In return for Ukraine’s giving up its nuclear weapons, Russia joined the United Kingdom and the United States in reaffirming its obligation to
“refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Russian Government have argued that there is no legitimate Government in Kiev, but the incumbent Ukrainian President abandoned his post, and the subsequent decisions of the Ukrainian Parliament have been carried by large majorities, required under the constitution—including from members of the former President’s party, the Party of Regions. The suggestion that a President who has fled his country then has any authority whatever to invite the forces of a neighbouring country into that country is baseless.
Russia has also argued that Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine are in danger, but no evidence of that threat has been presented. Furthermore, international diplomatic mechanisms exist to provide assurance on the situations of national minorities, including within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe. These mechanisms, not the breaking of international agreements and the use of armed force, are the way to secure assurances of protection of the rights of minorities.
I commend the Ukrainian Government for responding to this extreme situation with a refusal to be provoked. The Ukrainian armed forces have been placed on full combat readiness, but the Ukrainian Government have affirmed that they will not use force, and I have urged them to maintain this position. However, there is clearly a grave risk of escalation or miscalculation and a threat to hard-won peace and security in Europe.
This Government have been in constant contact with the Government of Ukraine, with the United States, with our partners in the European Union and with our allies in NATO and the G7—and, indeed, with the Russian Government themselves. Our objectives are, first, to avoid any further military escalation, and instead to see Russia return its forces to their bases and respect Ukrainian sovereignty; secondly, for any concerns about Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine to be addressed by means of negotiations, not force; and thirdly, for the international community to provide Ukraine with urgent economic assistance, provided that it is ready to carry out vital reforms. I will briefly take each of these areas in turn.
First, we and our allies have condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and warned against any further escalation. The Prime Minister has spoken twice to President Obama, and I have been in daily contact with my counterparts in the European Union, NATO and the G7. We have made firm representations to Russia. The Prime Minister spoke to President Putin on Friday, and I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov on Saturday, when the Russian ambassador to London was summoned to the Foreign Office. We have urged Russia to meet its international commitments and to choose a path out of confrontation and military action.
At our request, the UN Security Council held an urgent meeting on Sunday. Members of the council called for international monitors to be sent to Ukraine to observe the situation and stressed the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the need to lower tensions. NATO’s North Atlantic Council met on Sunday, and called for Russia to withdraw its troops to bases and to refrain from further provocative actions in Ukraine, in line with its international commitments. The NATO-Ukraine Commission was also convened.
Yesterday, at the Foreign Affairs Council, European nations strongly condemned Russia’s acts of aggression, called on Russia immediately to withdraw its forces to the areas of their permanent stationing, and without delay to agree to the request by Ukraine for direct consultations with Russia as well as under the Budapest memorandum. The council stated that in the absence of de-escalating steps by Russia, the European Union will decide the consequences for relations between the EU and Russia, such as suspending bilateral talks with Russia on visa matters, and considering targeted measures. Heads of Government will meet at a European Council on Thursday. As the Prime Minister and President Obama have said, there must be significant costs to Russia if it does not change course on Ukraine.
EU member states have reconfirmed the offer of an association agreement with Ukraine, including a deep and comprehensive free trade area, and confirmed our commitment to support an international assistance package to support Ukraine, based on a clear commitment to reforms. The Council also agreed to work on the adoption of restrictive measures for the freezing and recovery of misappropriated Ukrainian assets.
In terms of immediate steps to respond to Russia’s actions and acting in concert with the G7, we have withdrawn the UK from preparations this week for the G8 summit in Sochi in June. We will not send any UK Government representatives to the Paralympic games beginning this week, while maintaining our full support for the British athletes taking part.
Secondly, we are urging direct contact between the Ukrainian and Russian Governments. We are willing to pursue any diplomatic avenue that could help to reduce tensions, so we have called for urgent consultations under the Budapest memorandum, or the creation of a contact group including Russia and Ukraine. We urge Russia to accept the invitation to attend talks under the Budapest memorandum in Paris tomorrow, which I will attend.
The UK supports the powerful case for the deployment of UN and OSCE monitors to Crimea and other areas of concern in Ukraine, given the grave risk of clashes and escalation on the ground. We are taking part in urgent consultations in Vienna. We welcome the Ukrainian Government’s support for such deployments and we call on Russia to follow suit.
The Prime Minister and I have both spoken to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to urge him to use the UN’s authority to bring about direct contact between Russia and Ukraine, and to urge the peaceful resolution of this issue. I welcome the fact that the deputy Secretary-General is in Ukraine today.
Thirdly, we are working to support the Ukrainian Government, who are facing immense political and economic challenges on top of the invasion of their territory. Yesterday, I returned from Kiev, where I encouraged Ukraine’s leaders to make a decisive break with the country’s history of pervasive corruption, failed IMF programmes and poor governance. I urged acting President Turchynov and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to continue to take measures that unify the country and protect the rights of all Ukraine’s citizens, including minority groups. I welcome the steps they have taken, including the appointment of new regional governors in Russian-speaking regions, and the veto of recent proposed legislation affecting the status of the Russian language.
In return for urgent commitments and reforms, it is vital that Ukraine receive international financial and technical assistance. The International Monetary Fund should be front and centre of any programme of assistance, an approach I discussed with the IMF in Washington last week, and it sent officials to Kiev yesterday. G7 Finance Ministers have issued a statement declaring our readiness to mobilise rapid technical assistance to support Ukraine in addressing its macro-economic, regulatory, and anti-corruption challenges.
The EU has also previously committed €610 million in financial assistance to Ukraine, which could be made available once an IMF programme has been agreed. In the longer term, through the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and neighbourhood funding, the EU will continue to provide significant support to Ukraine.
For our part, as I informed the Ukrainian Government yesterday, we will provide immediate technical assistance to Ukraine to support elections and assist with reforms on public financial management, debt management, and energy pricing. We are exploring further UK expertise to assist with programmes to tackle corruption, reform the labour market, and improve the investment climate in Ukraine, and a British team is already in Kiev to co-ordinate these efforts. We have also offered assistance on asset recovery. I agreed with the President of Ukraine yesterday to send a team to assist Ukraine to provide the information we need to recover stolen assets, and to address this problem more widely.
Over the past four years, the Government have sought and secured an improved relationship with Russia, and we continue to work with Russia on immense global issues such as the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and to try to make progress towards peace in Syria.
The UK’s national interest lies in a free, democratic, unified, stable and peaceful Ukraine able to make its own decisions about its future. We will continue to do everything we can to support the diplomatic resolution of all the issues I have described, exercising our responsibilities as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and working closely with the nations of NATO and the European Union. We will continue to discuss the situation directly with Russia’s leaders.
But we also have a direct national interest in the maintenance of international law, the upholding of treaty obligations, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nations, and the diplomatic resolution of conflicts that affect the peace and security of us all. For that reason, it is important that there is a clear response to these events, and that they are not repeated, and that is what we will pursue with determination in the days and weeks ahead.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it this morning.
This crisis represents the most serious threat to European security in decades. Russia’s actions are a clear and unambiguous violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. There can be no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion. None the less, the Ukrainian Government are indeed to be commended, as the Foreign Secretary has done, for their calm response to this severe provocation.
The immediate priority must now be diplomatic action to secure a de-escalation of the crisis. Achieving this requires the international community to show both unity and resolve in pursuit of a twin-track approach aimed at stabilising the current situation. First, the international community needs to alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by developing a graduated hierarchy of diplomatic and economic measures that make clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression. At the same time, the international community must make it clear to Kiev that the new Ukrainian Government must be inclusive, protect the rights of Russian-speaking populations within Ukraine, and make it clear to Russia that strengthening ties between Ukraine and the European Union should not be seen as a zero-sum game that will necessarily prejudice its own bilateral relations.
The obligations on Russia are clear, but so too must be the consequences of inaction. Yesterday’s decision at the EU Foreign Affairs Council to suspend further talks on the EU-Russia visa liberalisation programme was an important initial step, but will the Foreign Secretary inform the House of whether the UK was advocating further diplomatic measures beyond that?
It is right that the EU Council has called an emergency session for Thursday, but given yesterday’s events in Downing street, it is also right that there should be more clarity from the British Government, ahead of that meeting, about the types of costs and consequences that they are willing to impose on Russia. So will the Foreign Secretary reaffirm specifically that for the United Kingdom not only all diplomatic but all economic options do indeed remain on the table, going into the talks on Thursday? I am afraid that the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead.
The House should understand that the costs and consequences to the European Union of not achieving unity and resolve at this time are clear: a Russia emboldened in its ambitions towards Ukraine; a central Europe fearful of future military intervention; and a United States increasingly concerned about Europe’s willingness to act, even diplomatically and economically, in the face of such threats. Therefore, as well as pulling out of the Sochi G8 preparatory meetings, will the Foreign Secretary specifically confirm whether the UK remains open to withdrawing from that June summit?
Alongside diplomatic pressure, it is also right that the international community should give appropriate assurances to both sides about the potential dividends of avoiding a descent into further violence. Recent estimates suggest that the Ukrainian Finance Ministry needs $35 billion of support over the next two years in order to avoid economic collapse. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcement today of technical assistance for economic and political reform in Ukraine and, of course, he has previously highlighted the very serious and real concerns about ongoing corruption in Ukraine. However, given the acknowledged weakness of the present Ukrainian Government, will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether, in his judgment, the IMF will be able to respond in a timescale that avoids the present security crisis being rapidly followed by a financing crisis in Kiev?
Russia’s incursion into Ukraine was, of course, unjustified and illegal, but the Ukrainian Government none the less have a key role to play in helping to diffuse the situation by providing the appropriate assurances to Russia about their conduct, intentions and priorities. That includes being clear about the status of minorities in the country, the attitude to the Russian language and the conduct of fresh elections in the months ahead.
Will the Foreign Secretary set out what specific assurances he sought from the Ukrainian Government during his welcome visit to Kiev yesterday regarding the status of minorities and in particular the Russian language, given the steps previously agreed and then vetoed by the Ukrainian President? It is vital, as the Foreign Secretary has indicated, that these assurances are given as part of an open and direct dialogue between Kiev and Moscow. Indeed, a contact group may certainly have a constructive role to play.
The inviolability of Ukraine’s borders and territorial integrity reflects deeply held principles of the international system. The situation on the ground certainly remains tense, uncertain and, indeed, vulnerable to misunderstanding or misjudgment. That is why this is a time for cool heads and considered words.
As upholders of that international order, the United Kingdom and our allies have responsibilities that extend beyond regard for each individual country’s bilateral relations with Russia. The Ukraine crisis is surely a moment of real geopolitical significance, so the United Kingdom must not now retreat into a new isolationism and should instead keep all diplomatic and economic measures open to us and our partners as we work to achieve unity and resolve in the international community’s diplomatic response, and so contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis.
The right hon. Gentleman called for all diplomatic measures to be used, which, as he and the House will have gathered from my statement, is absolutely what we are doing. Indeed, I think from his questions that there is very strong agreement about the gravity of the threat and the principles that should guide us in responding to it.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke, as I have done frequently over the past few days, about the violation of Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty. Like me, he commended the Ukrainian Government on their restraint. I certainly urge them to continue with that and to continue to do everything they can to show that they are being inclusive within Ukraine and that there is no threat to Russian-speaking or other minorities. Indeed, I put it to them yesterday that they could consider positively additional changes to language laws to give an extra assurance. I very much welcome the decision of the acting President not to allow any laws that infringe Russian language rights to go ahead.
On the subject of the Ukrainian Government, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether I thought the IMF would be able to respond. I think there is strong recognition among the Ukrainian Ministers I met that they need to do something quite different economically and that they have to tackle the deep-seated issues that I described in my statement. I think it is entirely possible that the IMF will be able to respond, although possibly in a two-stage process, with the second stage following the elections on 25 May. I met three of the likely presidential candidates while I was there—they are not in the Government, but they are likely to run for President—and I encouraged all of them to support economic reforms, including an end to corruption and much greater transparency in government in Ukraine. I think there is a reasonable prospect of agreeing a programme on the basis of such commitments.
The right hon. Gentleman welcomed the initial step—I think that is the right way to describe it—taken at the Foreign Affairs Council. Certainly, the United Kingdom has strongly advocated that we need to be ready to take further actions. Those actions, however, must be on a united basis and, of course, be well judged and well targeted. Therefore, I do not think it would be helpful for different countries to announce ahead of the European Council what they want to see. It is important that the European Council agree a united position and whatever measures it decides to take on Thursday.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether all diplomatic and economic options remain on the table, and the answer is yes, as we discussed during oral questions earlier. No partially photographed documents should be taken as any guide to Her Majesty’s Government’s decisions on these matters. Those options remain open.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the June summit. We have suspended the preparations for it. As I told the media yesterday, the G7 will be able to hold meetings of our own if that suspension continues and that, of course, is an option. It will be necessary not only to take well-judged measures in our response, but for there to be recognition across the European Union that Russia needs the EU economically just as much, or more, than the EU needs Russia. We need to have the common political will and to organise ourselves in a sufficiently cohesive way in order to have the political will and economic leverage in future to make that much clearer than it is today. I think that doing that may be one of the longer-term consequences of what Russia has done in Crimea.
May I put it to the Foreign Secretary that Brussels is partly to blame for this Ukrainian crisis? If the already over-enlarged European Union is going to continue to try to extend its borders towards Mongolia, we will indeed finish up with a third world war. Every Russian knows that the capture of Crimea and Sevastopol was the greatest achievement of Catherine the Great—that is why she is called “Great”—and Potemkin. No Russian Government of whatever political complexion could ever give up Crimea or Sevastopol, and we can be absolutely certain that the Russian people are passionately in support of President Putin over this issue.
I differ with my right hon. Friend a little bit on this. Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 and followed that in the 1990s with a series of specific agreements, including the Budapest memorandum and the 1997 agreement on the Black sea bases, in which it forswore the use of armed force or intrusion on to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia chose to do that and it must honour its international obligations.
I assure my right hon. Friend that it is not the ambition of the EU, or of the UK for the EU, to extend its borders to Mongolia. What we are talking about is not Ukrainian membership of the European Union, but free trade: a free trade agreement—an association agreement—between the EU and a country that freely chose to enter into negotiations about it. It should not be possible for any other country to have a veto over any nation choosing to do that.
May I commend the work of the Foreign Secretary, and the wise approach of my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary? The Foreign Secretary will be aware that there is a very different narrative in Russia to justify actions that we all regard as completely unjustified. One issue on which the Russian Government have seized is the decision of the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, to seek to change the law guaranteeing regional languages, including Russian. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commendation of the interim President’s veto of that law, but would it not be better to pressure the new interim Government into repealing the legislation altogether? As long as it remains on Ukraine’s statute book, it will be a running sore, and it will be used by the Russian Government as a means of justifying their intervention.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Just to be clear, the repeal of the law has not gone on to the statute book: the President vetoed it. However, I agree with the thrust of his question, which is that there may well be more that the Government can do to give assurances on that matter, and to make sure that they have language laws entirely satisfactory to all minorities in Ukraine. I put it to the Prime Minister yesterday that that should be one of the things they work on, and we will encourage the Government of Ukraine to do so.
I am grateful for this second opportunity to ask a question, Mr Speaker, so I shall be brief. Does my right hon. Friend recognise any parallels between Russia’s action in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia and its current policy towards Ukraine and Crimea?
Yes, I do, unfortunately. What those actions—there is a parallel with Transnistria as well—have in common is that they can be seen as attempts to impair and permanently obstruct the proper operation of the free and democratic functioning of those countries and of their co-operation with Euro-Atlantic structures. There has been a clear pattern of behaviour towards Moldova and Georgia, and it is now being repeated in Ukraine.
Poland and the Baltic states are increasingly nervous of Russia’s expansionist tendency. As the Foreign Secretary has already said, there are still Russian troops in Georgia. Is it not therefore all the more incumbent on us—the European Union as a whole—to stand up, united and calm but extremely robust, lest Crimea become a 21st-century Abyssinia or Sudetenland?
Yes, I agree. All the words that the hon. Gentleman has used are important in that respect: in this situation, the nations of the European Union and the European Council when it meets on Thursday are required to be united, robust and calm. As I have explained to the House, the options for further measures are open. As I have also said, it is important that there should be costs to behaviour of this kind. I very strongly believe that.
That happened in the early stages of the Russian operation, and it was clearly designed to try to conceal the fact that it was a Russian operation. However, all such pretence was subsequently cast aside, because many thousands of Russian troops appear to have been deployed to Crimea. It shows that this was a well-planned, perhaps a long-planned, operation, and that it was put into force in a way that tried to minimise the reaction of the international community.
The winter Olympics have happened; the Paralympics are taking place over the next couple of weeks. As I mentioned in my statement, we will not be sending UK Government representatives, but the Government do not believe in sporting boycotts of Olympic events. Our athletes will continue to go to the Paralympics, and I am sure that they will have the support and enthusiasm of this House in the great endeavours they will make.
Will my right hon. Friend first make it clear that the document, which very unfortunately was partially revealed yesterday, is not a statement of Government policy? Does he agree that Russia’s actions are in breach not just of the UN charter, decisions of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Budapest memorandum, as he said, but of the agreement establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States, and that Russia’s actions have very serious implications for other former Soviet Union territories as well as for Ukraine?
My hon. Friend makes some very important points. I made it clear during questions that no single official document carried into a meeting is necessarily representative of the decisions that will be made by Her Majesty’s Government or by Ministers, but let me make that clear again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the implications for other former Soviet republics and for their independence. That is why this is not an isolated issue. It is not possible to say, “Well, this is okay. It is just about Crimea, and we don’t have to worry about it.” It has very important implications for upholding international treaties and obligations, and for respect for the independence and sovereignty of nation states.
The Council of Europe was established to promote respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and Russia is a member of it. What role does the Foreign Secretary see for the Council of Europe in the current situation?
There is an important role for the Council of Europe, and the right hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has already spoken to the secretary-general of the Council of Europe about the role that it can play. It of course has an important role to play in any issues about the protection of minorities. It is not acceptable for a member of the Council of Europe to behave in this way, and there must be consequences within the Council of Europe as well.
The Foreign Secretary will recall that when he made a statement last week, I asked whether he had received an assurance—a cast-iron commitment—from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia would not intervene in Ukraine. We have now seen it intervene, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can confirm overnight reports that I have had from a friend in Donetsk that the Russians have bussed in Russian citizens from outside Ukraine to act as agents provocateurs? Does he agree that that kind of action is wholly unacceptable and represents a return to a kind of Soviet-style foreign policy?
Although I cannot confirm the reports mentioned by my hon. Friend, I have heard other reports to the same effect, including when I was in Ukraine yesterday. That is why I said at questions—when I was asked about disturbances in eastern parts of Ukraine, such as in Donetsk—that it is not clear whether disturbances have been inspired from outside. There is a serious possibility that some of the disturbances are inspired from outside the country, and we should see them in that light.
Citing Russia’s central bank, the Financial Times reports today that up to two thirds of Russian money in London is from corruption and other crime. At the very least, if Britain’s tough words are to mean anything, should not those assets be frozen now?
We have very important regulations in this country covering politically exposed persons—banking regulations cover them—and we have strong laws on money laundering. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said about agreeing with the Ukrainian Prime Minister yesterday about the recovery of assets stolen from Ukraine. Our options are open on that.
Given our experience of applying sanctions to several parts of the world in recent years, I would only add at the moment that if we are to apply sanctions to individuals we must be very sure of our case legally and have the evidence to sustain cases through court proceedings. We have to bear that in mind.
Surely we must ensure that we cannot be accused of double standards. We were rightly prepared to violate the territorial integrity of Serbia to protect the right to self-determination of the Kosovans. Presumably, we should look equally kindly on the right to self-determination of the ethnic Russians in Crimea and Donetsk. Therefore, can we please resist the wilder talk of economic sanctions, which can only damage the fragile recovery of Europe, and instead engage in diplomatic dialogue with Russia and Ukraine?
As my hon. Friend can gather, we are engaged in every channel of diplomatic dialogue and that will continue. As I have said, I will be in Paris tomorrow at the same time as Foreign Minister Lavrov. Our diplomatic efforts with Russia will continue at all times.
However, as other Members have said, it is right to have a response that goes beyond that. That is why we have announced certain measures in respect of the G8, why the EU has made an announcement about the visa regime and why I have said that other options are on the table. Such a challenge to international order and the maintenance of the UN charter and international law cannot possibly go ahead without costs and consequences.
France is currently negotiating a €1 billion deal for two Mistral-class ships to be delivered to the Russian navy. Has the Foreign Secretary had any indication that France is considering whether it is appropriate to go ahead with that deal or whether to make it part of the sanctions negotiations?
We have had no indications from France about that matter. As the hon. Lady will have gathered, there will be further extensive meetings, including between the European Heads of Government at the European Council on Thursday. Arms export licences will, of course, be one of the issues that European nations have to consider. It is important that we consider them together and have a united approach, but we must examine that issue.
To pick up on the Foreign Secretary’s last point, the implication of what he has said is that if the Russians continue with their current strategy, there will be targeted sanctions against Russia from the EU, NATO and the US. Russia will respond by retaliating against individual countries to try to fracture the unity of that policy. Is he confident that he can maintain the unity of that policy in the long run, and what action is he taking to make sure of that?
As my right hon. Friend will have noticed, I have stressed several times the importance of unity among the western nations, including in the European Union; the importance of any measures being well judged and well targeted; and the importance of any measures being legally sustainable. That is why these matters require calm and careful consideration, rather than quick unilateral announcements by this country or any other member state of the EU.
Russia’s action is obviously to be condemned and there should be no apologies for what it has done. However, is it not the case that a large majority of people in Crimea feel a strong attachment to Russia? We all know about Khrushchev’s impulsive action of handing Crimea over to Ukraine in 1954, when both places were part of the Soviet Union. If we want to de-escalate the crisis—surely we are not talking about a second Crimean war—is it not possible to find out through the democratic process, difficult as it is, what the people of Crimea want? I think that the majority verdict would be along the lines that I have indicated. Surely the views of the people should be taken into account in this crisis.
We are not talking about a new Crimean war, although the action that Russia has taken—the use of armed force in Crimea—has risked a new Crimean war for that country. I would make one point to the hon. Gentleman. There is a Russian-speaking majority in Crimea, although it is of the order of 50% to 60%, but there are also important minorities, including the Tatar minority, and their rights need to be respected as well. It is too simplistic an approach to say that the majority in Crimea would like to be in a different situation from the current one. Any referendum that is held should be consistent with the constitution of the sovereign nation of Ukraine. That is not the current proposal.
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that part of the problem is that Ukraine is a deeply divided society, in which both sides have, at one time or another, played winner-takes-all? He talks, rightly, about the importance of maintaining a unified Ukraine. Does he agree with the conclusion of Professor Anatol Lieven that
“the only way to keep Ukraine together may be the introduction of a new federal constitution with much greater powers for the different regions”?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is for Ukrainians to decide their constitutional structure. I am simply advocating the idea that they should make their decisions in accordance with their constitution. It is a country in which there is a strong case for more decentralisation. There is also a strong case, strategically, for turning away from a winner-takes-all attitude in politics. I have gone out of my way to stress to Russia that we do not see the situation in zero-sum terms. Although we welcome close ties between Ukraine and the European Union, we recognise that Russia has entirely legitimate interests in, and an entirely legitimate relationship with, Ukraine. We will continue to make that argument.
I think that we need to send out a search party to find the backbones that many European Governments, including our own, appear to have misplaced. The west has never seemed more unable or unwilling to stand up for its values. That weakness has clearly emboldened Putin—a KGB thug. Surely we should be pressing the case much more robustly for sanctions and asset freezing. What I cannot understand is why Putin is still a member of the G8.
We have made an announcement about the G8. The hon. Gentleman must remember that we are working through diplomatic channels to make progress at the same time. That is the decision that we have taken. He might disagree and think that our reaction should be entirely about imposing costs. We have chosen, with other western nations, to advocate diplomatic ways forward at the same time as assessing how to ensure that there are costs and consequences. I agree with him about the importance of there being costs and consequences. I simply remind him that it is important for those to be arrived at in the united, robust and calm way that some of his hon. Friends have advocated.
I hope that a bully like President Putin will listen carefully to the strong and clear messages that the Foreign Secretary has delivered at the weekend and today. None the less, Putin will have noticed that, more importantly, the Russian stock exchange has collapsed by 10% and the rouble is under severe pressure. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree with me that, by contrast with what my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle said, economic sanctions against Russia will work, even if it is at some cost to businesses in the UK?
For the avoidance of doubt, I think that the hon. Gentleman had in mind the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). It is important not to have cases of mistaken identity, because the Father of the House was looking gravely perturbed by the hon. Gentleman’s question.
As I mentioned before, our options are open. I stress again that any measures must be well judged and well targeted, and that the European Union and the western world must be united. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) is right to point to what happened on the Moscow stock exchange and to the value of the Russian currency yesterday. There are major risks for Russia economically. I expressed the view a few moments ago that, in the medium to long term, Russia needs the economic co-operation of European nations just as much as or more than they need the co-operation of Russia. That has to become part of Russia’s calculations in the coming years.
Given President Putin’s increasing international and domestic malevolence, is there not a danger that the west will get caught between saying strong words and taking no action on the one hand and, on the other hand, allowing Russia’s legitimate interests, such as its interest in the port of Sevastopol and its Mediterranean port, and its economic interests, to provide some spurious legitimacy for his actions? Is there not a case, therefore, for a new, more global, deal that addresses the legitimate Russian interests—although not the illegitimate ones—but protects self-determination around Russia’s border? That might provide some comfort to the President, and more importantly to the people, that NATO has limited ambitions around Russia’s border, because I think that that is part of the problem.
We must be alert to the dangers to which the right hon. Gentleman correctly refers, and we must be prepared to be imaginative about long-term frameworks and solutions. We have already made the argument—I made it only a week ago to Foreign Minister Lavrov—that we recognise those Russian interests and are not seeking a zero-sum strategic game, and that there will be ways for the Russian economy, as well as the Ukrainian economy, to benefit from closer ties to the European Union. However, the response to us and other countries making that argument has been what we have seen over the past few days. That does not stop our making it, but it shows how difficult it is to construct a global deal, as the right hon. Gentleman said.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has a huge opportunity to make a difference on the ground and assist with de-escalation. What efforts are being supported at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna to ensure that the largest-scale monitoring mission is dispatched as soon as possible?
We are working on two things in the OSCE, and I mentioned that urgent consultations are taking place in Vienna. One is the deployment of monitors to try to avoid the flashpoint we have been talking about. So far, Russia is refusing to accept such monitors in Crimea, but perhaps we can do more in other parts of Ukraine. We are also working on the creation of a contact group to try to open a new diplomatic channel and a forum for Russia and Ukraine to discuss things together. So far, Russia has not accepted that idea either, but we are continuing to pursue both ideas.
Given what the Foreign Secretary said about his recognition of the sensibilities of Russia in this situation, does he recognise that the EU’s ambitions for the Eastern Partnership and the association agreement over the past 18 months have borne some responsibility for the relationship between Russia and Ukraine? That is especially so given, for example, the express views of an EU diplomat last November, who stated—even threatened—that the Ukrainian leadership would have to come to the EU on their knees if they did not do what the EU wanted.
We are talking about an association agreement that remains on the table between the EU and Ukraine, and a deep and comprehensive free-trade area. That is similar to something that Ukraine would willingly enter into. There is no requirement from the EU that it does that, and it is a very different thing from EU membership. It was being discussed with the Yanukovych Administration, because they wanted to discuss it with the European Union. I assure my hon. Friend that from everything I have seen in Ukraine, having been there on Sunday and Monday, there is strong political unity in that country that welcomes seeing the back of President Yanukovych, and that wants to enter into closer association with the European Union. That is its sovereign right and decision, and we should be prepared to defend its right to make those decisions.
How close is the European Council to agreement on sanctions and other measures in response to Russia’s deplorable action, and how does that vary from the approach taken by the US?
Work is taking place on this now. The Foreign Affairs Council met yesterday and made the announcements that I referred to in my statement, and there will, of course, be further work among EU nations between now and the European Council. On Thursday the Prime Minister spoke to President Hollande, and last night to Chancellor Merkel to co-ordinate our positions, and we will keep in close co-ordination with the United States. The hon. Lady will have to wait, I am afraid, for the Council on Thursday.
I understand that broad economic sanctions would be both counter-productive and harmful to the City of London, and would require the much broader approval of all members of the EU. Surely, however, there is a case for targeted financial and travel sanctions against members of the Russian elite living in the UK and involved in the illegal invasion of Ukraine, and who are strongly suspected of human rights abuses perpetrated against Sergei Magnitsky.
There is a case for certain measures, and Members of the House, including my hon. Friend, make it well. I do not exclude the possibility of any such measures, but I simply return to what I was saying about them being well judged, well targeted and having a clear legal base. Those will be important considerations over the next few days.
Russia’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy—its military aggression in Crimea and the continued occupation of parts of Georgia—is funded by exports of its gas and oil. What can the European Union do to make countries in central and eastern Europe less dependent on oil and gas imports from Russia, and also make Ukraine less dependent?
There are many things that can be done, some of which are under way. Countries can develop alternative energy supplies—[Interruption.]—including fracking, as I hear some Members behind me say. As the United States becomes an energy exporter, there could be alternative sources of energy in the future. In December I attended the inauguration of the new pipeline project from the Caspian sea, which will be a new route for gas supplies into Europe that does not pass through or from Russia. That infrastructure will take time to develop, but it is important put it in place.
The world is becoming increasingly unstable, and this latest example to world peace is a classic case. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that our Government and country must rethink the funding of our armed forces to ensure we have the ships, and the Royal Navy, the Army and the Air Force, to meet potential threats in the future? I do not hint for one minute that we should go to war in this case, but it is surely a reminder that we need to keep our defences up.
In an unstable world we need to keep up our defences. That is absolutely right and it is why the country is investing in very sophisticated military projects for the future. As things stand, we maintain the spending of 2% of our GDP on defence, and I think that many NATO countries have reduced their defence spending too far. We are one of the few NATO countries that maintains spending of 2% of our GDP, and there are countries across NATO that need to re-evaluate that and increase their defence spending in the coming years.
On 9 July 1997 the charter on a distinctive partnership between Ukraine and NATO was signed, and on 21 August 2009, the declaration to complement that charter was signed. If possible NATO involvement is totally ruled out, are those signatures worth the paper they are written on?
The NATO-Ukraine Commission has met on the back of those agreements, and there will be further NATO meetings. We in the House are clear, as was said a few minutes ago, that we are not planning another Crimean war from this country’s point of view. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman advocates that NATO should do in addition to the diplomatic moves we have made through NATO. The agreements with Ukraine are important, but they do not include coming to the armed defence of Ukraine.
The UK Conservative delegation to the Council of Europe has sought the suspension of Russia from the Council of Europe and, pending a decision on that, has declined to sit on the European Democrat Group under its current Russian chairmanship. Will the Secretary of State say what more the UK delegation or the Council of Europe as a whole can do to contribute towards the restoration of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Ukraine?
The issue should be raised vigorously in the Council of Europe. I welcome the decisions made by Conservative colleagues in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. There are Russian representatives in other political groups of the Council of Europe, and all political groups from Russia are, in one way or another, approved by the Kremlin. Opposition Members may therefore wish to attend to those matters. I hope that members of all parties in the Council of Europe will pursue the matter vigorously at their forthcoming part-sessions.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly welcomed the vetoing of the legislation downgrading the Russian language in Ukraine, but he will understand that the fact that the Parliament was prepared to pass and propose such legislation caused severe concern to the 20% of the population in Ukraine who are ethnically Russian. What further measures does he believe the Ukrainian Parliament should take to give reassurance to that part of the population that they are not under threat?
That is a matter for the Ukrainians. As hon. Members understand, it is for the Ukrainians to decide in their country, but I put it to Ukrainian Ministers yesterday that, in addition to consolidating the veto of the legislation, they should think about crafting a new language law that represents the consensus in their country, and the long-term protection and upholding of the rights of minority languages in Ukraine. They are in the midst of a desperate crisis—we must understand that—but I hope they take that proposal seriously.
My right hon. Friend mentioned in his statement the creation of a contact group including Russia and China as an alternative to consultations under the Budapest memorandum. What has China so far said or done to assist in this situation?
My hon. and learned Friend might have noticed that I read that out as “Russia and Ukraine”, but China’s role is important. China has spoken at the UN Security Council of the importance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. I hope that that is a statement and a position that China can develop over the coming days.
The incursion of any foreign troops into the Ukraine is wrong and can lead to further war and destabilisation, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that part of the problem is the ambition of NATO expansion further eastwards and more NATO or US-run bases in the region? Is it not time to bring about a long-term neutrality and de-escalation of NATO’s presence on the borders of Russia?
Russia’s action is hardly designed to produce less NATO presence in countries that border Russia—far from it. The countries in close proximity to Russia will be anxious to have a stronger NATO presence in future. Russia’s action is very counter-productive from that point of view. NATO membership has not been in prospect for Ukraine. In any case, as so many right hon. and hon. Members have said, there is no excuse for Russia’s actions in the past few days. The idea that Ukraine was about to join NATO is certainly no justification for them. That was never in prospect.
Should we not look back at the lessons of the past couple of decades? The current Russian leadership is clearly not worried about its international obligations or treaties. As we have heard, it invaded and still occupies a part of Georgia; after a few diplomatic rumblings around the world, everything went back to normal. That gave the Russians the impression they can go on doing that with impunity, which is exactly what they have done. Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend to push for the toughest possible economic sanctions, particularly at Thursday’s European Council. That is the only lesson the Russians will learn; otherwise, we will see the same happen over and over again. It is not surprising that former Soviet Union countries are worried.
My right hon. Friend makes his point well. That is why it is important that there should be costs and consequences for what has occurred. I cannot add to what I said earlier on measures we can take and how they must be well judged and well targeted, but Russia’s action will lead, over the coming years, to European nations assessing their interests differently. It will have long-term consequences for Russia’s relationship with the rest of Europe. That should be of concern to the Russians, whatever measures we can take in the short term.
I come from an area with a strong Ukrainian community. Growing up in Newcastle-under-Lyme, I regularly attended our Ukrainian club with friends of Ukrainian descent. Given the troubled history of democracy in the Ukraine since independence from the Soviet Union, will the Foreign Secretary urge the Government in Kiev and all the major political parties to accept international observers in the forthcoming elections to ensure that they are as fair and free as possible to all who take part?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman can urge me to do that. We will do so. I have already stressed to the Ukrainian leaders the importance of the elections being free and fair and well conducted. They have set a rapid timetable—25 May—given the condition of the country, so international support is important, and I have already offered British expertise. We will certainly pursue the hon. Gentleman’s point on election observers.
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and his statesman-like handling of the situation. I urge him to work with all western allies of democracy to set out to President Putin with one voice a clear and credible position: that the aggressive intimidation and annexation of the new democracies of central and eastern Europe will simply not be tolerated. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the realities of the UK’s and Europe’s dependency on Ukraine and Russia make it crucial, as we set energy policy for the next Parliament, that, in addition to hitting the EU’s green targets, we put our energy security and geopolitical implications its at the top of the agenda?
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. I must not stray too far into the responsibilities of my colleagues, but it is important that our energy supply is not only efficient but sufficiently diverse for our national security. That will become an even more important consideration over the next few years.
Given the dangers of provocative misinformation by Russia, via media or social media, what discussions did the Foreign Secretary have with the Ukrainian Government on ensuring that the Ukrainian people, including those in Crimea, continue to have free and unfettered access to objective sources of information on what is happening in their country?