[Relevant documents: 19th Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-xviii, Chapter 5; and 40th Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-xxxvii.]
We now come to the main business: a general debate on Ukraine, for which there are three hours, protected. Before I call the Foreign Secretary to move the motion, it may be convenient for the House to know that 26 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to contribute from the Back Benches. Obviously there is no time limit on Front-Bench speeches, but I feel sure that the Foreign Secretary and his shadow will wish sensitively to tailor their contributions in the light of the level of interest among their colleagues.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine is the most serious test of European security in the 21st century so far. The United Kingdom’s interests are twofold. First, we want to see a stable, prosperous and unified Ukraine that is able to determine its own future, free from external pressure or interference. Secondly, we have a vital interest in the upholding of international law and the United Nations charter, the honouring of treaties, and the maintenance of a rules-based international system. Russia’s actions in Crimea run roughshod over all those fundamental principles, and threaten the future of Ukraine.
I pay tribute to the extraordinary restraint shown by the Ukrainian Government, Ukraine’s military forces and its people in the face of immense provocation, with part of their country invaded and tens of thousands of forces massed on their border by a neighbour that refuses to rule out further military intervention against them. There is a grave danger of a provocation elsewhere in Ukraine that will become a pretext for further military escalation. We are working urgently to agree the mandate of an expanded OSCE monitoring mission to all parts of the country in the coming days.
On Friday, I met United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before their bilateral talks here in London. Russia was presented with a series of proposals to de-escalate the crisis and to address the situation in Crimea. After six hours of talks, Russia rebuffed those efforts, and on Sunday the referendum went ahead. The Crimean authorities claimed a turnout of 83% of the population, with 96.8% voting in favour of joining Russia. Yesterday the Parliament of Crimea formally applied to join the Russian Federation, and President Putin signed a decree recognising Crimea as a “sovereign state’” He has now announced, in the last two hours, new laws to incorporate Crimea in the Russian Federation.
It was regrettable to hear President Putin today choosing the route of isolation, denying the citizens of his own country and of Crimea partnership with the international community and full membership of a range of international organisations, and denying Russia its right to help to shape the 21st century in a positive manner. No amount of sham and perverse democratic process or skewed historical references can make up for the fact that this is an incursion into a sovereign state and a land grab of part of its territory, with no respect for the law of that country or for international law.
The referendum was clearly illegal under the Ukrainian constitution, which states that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is an integral constituent part of Ukraine, that it can resolve issues related to its authority only within the provisions of the constitution, and that only the Ukrainian Parliament has the right to call such referendums.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way so early in his speech. Does he agree that any referendum that is held at the barrel of a gun and on an electoral roll that is manifestly not fit for purpose cannot be taken seriously?
Yes. This was a vote in circumstances in which Crimea was occupied by more than 20,000 Russian troops, and indeed the meeting of the Crimean Parliament that announced the referendum was itself controlled by unidentified armed gunmen and took place behind locked doors.
Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that there are legitimate and acceptable ways in which to pursue constitutional change—[Interruption]—and that, in such a way, the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski have highlighted the forthcoming independence referendum in Scotland as an agreed process? [Interruption.] Does the Foreign Secretary agree that any referendum must fulfil the highest democratic standards, as in Scotland, and must not be held in dubious circumstances and at the barrel of a gun, as in Crimea?
The referendum in Scotland was, of course, agreed in this Parliament, and will take place in a legal and fully democratic manner. The referendum in Crimea took place at 10 days’ notice, without the leaders of Ukraine being able to visit Crimea and without meeting any of the OSCE’s standards for democratic decisions or elections, which include verification of the existence of an accurate voter registration list and, in this instance, confidence that only people holding Ukrainian passports would be allowed to vote. None of those conditions was fulfilled. So of course this referendum is at the opposite end of any scale from the referendum that will take place in Scotland.
May I say to my right hon. Friend that if Russia wants to be isolated, we should allow it to be isolated? Russia needs the west a great deal more than we need Russia. We should not be afraid of being robust in our actions against the nationalist actions of President Putin.
I shall come to the measures that we can take in a moment, but we have already suspended preparations for the G8. The decision must of course be made by the G7 nations, but I think that the actions that Russia has taken make it highly likely that they will wish to establish meetings of their own, including the meeting of Foreign Ministers that was due to take place next month in Moscow. I shall return to those points shortly.
The OSCE mission to Ukraine was refused entry to Crimea on 6 March, and there are reports of considerable irregularities including voting by Russian citizens, Crimean officials and militia taking mobile ballot boxes to the homes of residents to persuade them to vote, and a black-out of Ukrainian television channels. The outcome of the referendum also does not reflect the views of minorities in Crimea, as the region’s Muslim Tatar minority, who make up between 14% and 15% of the population, boycotted the referendum. Furthermore, the ballot paper asked the people of Crimea to decide either to become part of the Russian Federation or to revert to the highly ambiguous 1992 constitution. There was no option on the ballot paper for those who supported the status quo. The House should be in no doubt that this was a mockery of all democratic practice.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe stated unequivocally last week that the referendum was illegal and should not go ahead. On Saturday the UN Security Council voted on a resolution condemning the referendum as “unconstitutional” and “illegitimate”, which was co-sponsored by 42 nations. Russia was completely isolated in vetoing the text, while 13 members of the Security Council voted in favour, and China abstained. Indeed, the House should be clear about the illegality not only of the referendum, but of all Russia’s recent actions in Crimea. Russia has advanced several wholly spurious arguments to justify—or try to justify—what it has done—
The Foreign Secretary is being very generous in giving way. He has been absolutely right to be robust in his response to this Russian aggression. He mentioned that there were 20,000 Russian troops in Crimea. While no one is advocating military intervention, does this not remind us that perhaps we should be fundamentally reassessing how much we spend on our armed forces? Although we may have the fourth or fifth largest defence budget, we rank 30th when it comes to deploying those forces overseas. That is a nonsense, given the extent of our global interests.
What my hon. Friend has said may take us on to wider debates, but I should point out that we are one of the few countries in NATO that spend 2% or more of GDP on defence. I think that only four NATO countries do that now. I have argued in the past—including at NATO meetings—that other nations will need to increase their percentages over the coming years.
My right hon. Friend has not yet mentioned the Council of Europe. Will this Government move to expel or suspend the Russian Federation from membership of the Council of Europe for this most blatant breach of the 1949 statute?
The secretary-general of the Council of Europe and I will meet and be able to consider these things later this week when he visits London, but my hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Of course, the Conservative Members who are in the Council of Europe have already moved away from the group that they were involved in with Russian members. One of the Russians listed for sanctions yesterday at the Foreign Affairs Council is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—in the Socialist Group. I say that not as a partisan point, but I hope Opposition Members will make their views on that clear.
I commend the Secretary of State on his strong stance on the recent situation in Ukraine. The EU has taken the step of imposing a sanction to stop 21 Russians. Does he feel the sanctions imposed by the EU, and at this moment the UK, will be strong enough to stop any more Russian incursions into Ukraine, especially east Ukraine, where there are clearly problems?
In 1994 Russia and all other key countries signed the Budapest memorandum, which preserved Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the clear breach by Russia of the 1994 memorandum, and how do we avoid reaching a situation in which we all feel the creeping threat of 1938?
That gives me the cue to run through, and make clear to the House, the spurious arguments Russia has advanced for its actions, including on the Budapest memorandum.
First, Russia says that it has acted in defence of Russian compatriots who were in danger from violence and facing a humanitarian crisis. However, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has stated that there is
“no evidence of any violence or threats to the rights of Russian speakers”
in Crimea. Indeed, there is no evidence of Russian compatriots being under threat anywhere in Ukraine, or of attacks on churches in eastern Ukraine, as Russia has alleged. It is not true that thousands of refugees are fleeing Ukraine into Russia, nor is there any threat to Russian military bases in Crimea, since the Ukrainian Government have pledged to abide by all existing agreements covering those bases.
Numerous international mechanisms exist to protect the rights of minorities, and Russia’s own actions are the greatest threat to stability in Ukraine. On top of evidence of gangs of thugs being bussed across the Russian border to provoke clashes with communities in eastern Ukraine, over the weekend the Ukrainian Government reported that Russian forces have seized an oil and gas facility 5 miles outside Crimea.
Secondly, to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), Russia claims not to be bound by any of its previous agreements with Ukraine, including the 1994 Budapest memorandum, on the grounds that the new Government in Ukraine are illegitimate. However, the interim Government, formed when former President Yanukovych fled his post, were approved by an overwhelming majority in a free vote in the Ukrainian Parliament including representatives from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. The Government have restored the 2004 constitution and scheduled presidential elections. Their legitimacy and their commitment to democracy are clear.
Moreover, treaties and international agreements are between states, not between Governments, and a change in Government does not in itself affect the binding force of those agreements. The commitments in the Budapest memorandum still stand, and Russia has flagrantly breached its pledge, in the words of the memorandum, to
“refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine”.
Thirdly, although Russia still denies that its troops are in Crimea, the Russians maintain that former President Yanukovych, whom they describe as the
“legitimate president of Ukraine”,
is entitled to request military assistance from Russia. That, too, is false, since the Ukrainian constitution is clear that only the Ukrainian Parliament has the authority to approve decisions on admitting foreign troops. The President has no such right, nor does the Crimean Parliament. In law and as a matter of logic it is clearly ludicrous to argue that a President who abandoned his post and fled has any right whatsoever to make any decisions about the future of that country, let alone to invite foreign troops into it.
Fourthly, Russia argues that the people of Crimea have a right to self-determination and that it is their basic right to choose to join Russia, citing Kosovo as an alleged precedent, but there is no equivalence whatsoever between Crimea and Kosovo and, as Chancellor Merkel has said, it is “shameful” to make the comparison. NATO intervention in Kosovo followed ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity on a large scale. An international contact group, including Russia, was brought together to discuss the future of Kosovo after the conflict. The independence of Kosovo followed nine years of work by the Kosovan authorities to satisfy the conditions of independent statehood and mediation by a UN special envoy. None of these circumstances applies to Crimea.
In all those areas, Russia is attempting to find justifications in precedent or law to excuse its actions in Ukraine and to muddy the waters of international opinion. What we are actually witnessing is the annexation of part of the sovereign territory of an independent European state through military force. The fall of President Yanukovych and the change of Government in Ukraine was a massive strategic setback for the Russian Government, who had made no secret of their desire to prevent Ukraine from moving towards closer association with the EU. Seen in that light the annexation of Crimea is a bid to regain the advantage, to restore Russian prestige and permanently to impair Ukraine’s functioning as a country, and given that Russia still maintains it has the right to intervene militarily anywhere on Ukrainian soil, there is a grave risk that we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis.
Given that the Foreign Secretary referred to the unilateral redrawing of boundaries, which we have not seen for the last 25 years, neighbouring countries will become very important. Although Turkey is a member of the OSCE, have there been other, more detailed, discussions with Turkey as to how it could help the EU and the US efforts?
Yes, there have been many discussions, including regular conference calls between EU Foreign Ministers and Secretary Kerry, which have also included my Turkish colleague, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, so Turkey’s opinions are very closely aligned with the ones I have been expressing. It of course has a particular affinity with the Tatar minority in Crimea, so Turkey is extremely anxious about this situation. It must choose its own measures, however: it is not a member of the European Union and it will choose, of course, its own measures as a sovereign state.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if President Putin is willing to use the protection of Russian speakers as a pretext for going into Ukraine and he gets away with it, he might think about doing the same in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania where there are also Russian speakers?
This is a source of profound anxiety to people in the Baltic states and other states of the former Soviet Union. Russia should take note that there has been very little, if any, diplomatic support for its position from central Asian states, who perhaps have some of the same anxieties.
Is it not the case that Ukraine was one of the largest owners of nuclear weapons in the world and it gave up those nuclear weapons on the basis of peace and security, yet it has now been railroaded by Russia? What kind of example does this set for the world going forward?
That is a very powerful point. When the Budapest memorandum was signed and the commitment was made not to use armed force against Ukraine, that was in exchange for its giving up of nuclear weapons. It sends a terrible signal to other nations that may be seeking nuclear weapons for Russia to behave in this way. This all means that if we do not stand up to such a profound breach of international agreements and the use of force to change borders in Europe in the 21st century, the credibility of the international order will be at stake and we will face more such crises in the future. Russia and others could conclude that it can intervene with impunity in other countries where there are either Russian compatriots or Orthodox populations. Indeed, it has been a Russian policy over a number of years to encourage such links and dependencies, through the issuing of millions of Russian passports in Ukraine and other countries bordering Russia. Events in Crimea form part of a pattern of Russian behaviour, including in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria.
My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) mentioned three states that are members of NATO, but two other relevant states, Moldova and Belarus, are not. Although it is Russia, rather than the European Union, that has made strategic mistakes in Ukraine, does my right hon. Friend agree that the EU should make sure that it does not make any strategic mistakes with regard to Moldova and Belarus, and that it is robust in its dealings with those states?
Of course we saw at the Vilnius summit the initialling of partnership agreements with both Moldova and Georgia, the two countries whose relationship with the EU is most advanced. It is very important that those agreements are signed and completed, and that our response to Ukraine sends out a message on our clear position against Russian interference in Moldova and Georgia, and indeed in other neighbouring states.
I wish to ask about the issue of impunity, because the Foreign Secretary is right to say that if Russia constantly learns that it can get away with things, it will continue to go further. For a long time this House has held the view that the people involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and in the corruption that he unveiled should be banned from this country. Why will the Government not just do it?
As the hon. Gentleman knows from previous debates, we already have the power, and we already use the power, to exclude from this country people guilty of human rights violations. The Home Secretary has made very clear her readiness to use that power.
Back to the main strategic issue—
I must make some progress now.
Our national interest depends on a rules-based international system where nations uphold bilateral and global agreements in a whole variety of areas, from trade to security. We have worked with Russia in recent years to uphold agreements such as the non-proliferation treaty. The credibility of the international system rests on there being costs attached to breaking binding commitments and refusing to address disputes through peaceful diplomacy. The door to diplomacy, of course, always remains open, as it has been throughout this crisis. We have in recent days continued our efforts to persuade Russia to enter into direct talks with Ukraine and to take part in an international contact or co-ordination group, but faced with these actions it will be necessary to increase the pressure and our response.
Following the invasion of Crimea, the European Union took action at the Council meeting on 6 March to suspend visa liberalisation talks and talks on a new EU-Russia co-operation agreement. The Council also agreed that unless Russia de-escalated the crisis, we would move to a second stage of sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against named individuals. Yesterday, the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, which I attended, decided to introduce such measures, including travel restrictions and an asset freeze on 21 individuals, not just in Crimea, but in Russia. These people are responsible for actions that undermine or threaten Ukraine, and the measures have been taken in close co-ordination with the United States and allies such as Canada, Japan and Australia. Preparatory work is under way for a third tier of sanctions, including economic and trade measures. The European Council will consider further measures later this week, in the light of President Putin’s speech today and Russia’s actions in recent days. The British Government are clear that further measures need to be taken and, in the light of President Putin’s speech today, we will argue at the Council for the strongest position and range of measures on which agreement can be obtained in the European Union.
The most important thing the Foreign Secretary has just said is that the further measures the United Kingdom will be seeking will include economic and trade sanctions against Russia because of its annexation of Crimea. Will he confirm that that is indeed the case, and that the UK will seek financial sanctions and economic sanctions against Russia, and seek to persuade other countries to go down that route?
Let me be precise about what I said. I said that the preparation is under way for a third tier of sanctions. The Prime Minister said after the last European Council that we must be ready to pursue far-reaching measures, including in the economic, trade and financial areas. I have also said today that at the Council, which takes place on Thursday and Friday this week, the Prime Minister will argue for the strongest position and range of measures on which agreement can be obtained. That is the position I have set out.
I would in no way rule that out. The measures we agreed yesterday apply in Britain as well as the rest of the European Union, and of course we retain the ability to do what my hon. Friend has said.
As the House knows, we have decided with our G7 partners to suspend preparations for the G8 summit in Sochi this summer.
This is part of my answer to colleagues. We are also determined to ensure that we are taking all appropriate national measures. The Prime Minister announced last week that we would review all UK bilateral military co-operation not subject to treaty obligations with Russia, and I can announce now that we have suspended all such co-operation. Included in that are: the finalising of the military technical co-operation agreement; the cancellation of this year’s French, Russian, UK and US naval exercise; and the suspension of a proposed Royal Navy ship visit to St Petersburg and of all senior military visits unless in direct support of UK objectives.
We believe that in the current circumstances there is a compelling case for EU member states to act on defence export licences. The UK will now, with immediate effect, suspend all extant licences and application processing for licences for direct export to Russia for military and dual-use items destined for units of the Russian armed forces or other state agencies which could be or are being deployed against Ukraine. We will also suspend licences for exports to third countries for incorporation into equipment for export to Russia where there is a clear risk that the end product will be used against Ukraine. All such licences were reviewed following the Prime Minister’s statement on 10 March, and so we are able to act immediately. We encourage other European nations to take similar action.
As well as responding to Russia’s aggression in Crimea, it is also vital that the international community increases its financial and technical support to Ukraine through the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, to ensure that an economic crisis does not contribute to further political instability.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this morning the Speaker of the Transnistrian Parliament has written to the Speaker of the Duma asking for Transnistria to become part of the Russian Federation? Are we not on the edge of a serious situation? Can my right hon. Friend do more to unite the EU in speaking with one voice on sanctions?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s measures and congratulate him on a pretty robust stance by the British Government, even if other Governments are less robust. However, does he in all honesty believe that the measures agreed with our European partners are going to make the blindest bit of difference to Mr Putin, who is on a roll? What would happen if he did enter eastern Ukraine this week?
I believe that there are further measures that can be taken that will make a difference and, indeed, that a different relationship may be needed with Russia in the future, which I will mention at the conclusion of my remarks. In the interests of the House, I feel I should move to that conclusion.
We are absolutely clear with the Ukrainian authorities that the support we give them must be matched by economic and political reforms. I gave them this clear message when I was in Kiev two weeks ago and again yesterday when I met the acting Foreign Minister of Ukraine. Given that they have got many difficult decisions to take, it is vital that they build up support in Ukraine and in the international community, and part of the way to do that is to tackle corruption at the very outset. We will insist on such reforms and use the technical assistance I announced to the House in my last statement to help to bring them about. We are sending technical teams to Kiev to support reforms to the energy and social security sectors, and to work with the authorities on their business environment and public financial management. We are working up UK support for a flexible and rapid funding mechanism to support economic reform, and we are carrying out further work on asset recovery. We are working with Germany to support financial management, and we are working to support parliamentary and local elections.
At the emergency European Council, in response to a request by the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Heads of State and Government agreed to sign the political parts of the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which is an important symbol of the EU’s support for Ukraine. In taking those steps Ukraine should not be, and is not being, asked to choose between Russia and the EU. It should be possible for Ukraine to enjoy strong relations with both, and it is in Russia’s economic interest that it does that. I found on my visit to Ukraine that even Ukrainians in the south and east of the country do not welcome Russian intervention. Even those with many links to Russia, or those from the Party of Regions, believe in the independence and territorial integrity of their country.
By treating the situation in Ukraine as a zero-sum strategic context, Russia itself will lose strategically. Russia miscalculated its ability to control and influence the political situation in Ukraine during the events that led up to President Yanukovych’s departure. I would argue that by seizing Crimea, Russia has miscalculated again, because it has alienated a huge majority of public opinion in Ukraine, done immense damage to Russia’s reputation all over the world and increased the likelihood of European countries taking long-term action to reduce the balance of leverage in their relationship with Russia.
This is part of my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). We should be ready to contemplate a new state of relations between Russia and the west in the coming years, which is different from that of the past 20 years.
I will not give way again, because I want other hon. Members to be able to speak.
That relationship would be one in which institutions such as the G8 work without Russia; military co-operation and defence exports are permanently curtailed; decisions are accelerated to reduce European dependence on Russian energy exports; foreign policy plays a bigger role in energy policy; Russia has less influence in Europe; and European nations do more to guard against a repetition of the flagrant violation of international norms that we have seen in Crimea in recent weeks. That is not the relationship that we want or have sought to have with Russia, but it is the relationship that Russia’s actions look like they will force us to adopt.
Over the past four years, we have worked to improve relations with Russia. We have worked closely with it on Iran and on many areas of UN Security Council business, but there is no doubt that if no progress is made on Ukraine, relations between Russia and many nations in the world, including ours, will be permanently affected in this way. Russia should be clear about the long-term consequences. In the United Kingdom, we will not shy away from those consequences. On that, in this House and with our allies, we will be clear. We will be clear about our own national interest, which is in Ukraine being able to make its own decisions, in the upholding of international law and the UN charter, and in the prevention of future violations of independent European states.
I welcome the motion and this debate on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the British Government’s response. At the outset, let me make it clear that the Government have our support in seeking an urgent de-escalation of the crisis and in their efforts to date to secure a sustainable diplomatic resolution that respects and upholds the international law of which the Foreign Secretary has just spoken.
The crisis in Crimea represents perhaps the most significant security threat on the European continent in decades, and it poses a real threat to Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia’s recent actions have also reaffirmed the existence of a geopolitical fault line that the west ignores at its peril. Given the events still unfolding on the ground and the speech made by President Putin in the past couple of hours, few would claim that the international community’s response to date has been effective in securing a change of approach from Russia. Since the issue was last debated in the House, an illegal referendum has taken place in Crimea in the shadow of Russian guns, President Putin has signed an order recognising Crimean independence and approved a draft Bill on its accession, and Ukraine’s Parliament in Kiev only yesterday authorised a partial mobilisation of volunteers for the armed forces’ new reserve. The potential for further escalation of the crisis, therefore, remains real and deeply troubling. The international community must do more to encourage Russia to engage in constructive dialogue, while simultaneously applying greater pressure if President Putin refuses to change course.
I want to focus on three key issues. First, I will assess the international community’s response to date and why it is has so far not achieved the desired outcome. Secondly, I will outline the possible mechanisms by which the west can now engage Russia more effectively. Finally, I will look at a series of proposed steps that should be considered for raising the costs and consequences for Russia if the crisis is not swiftly resolved.
First and foremost, we must avoid a situation in which escalation continues as a result of the arrival of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Secondly, there must be a meaningful dialogue between the Ukrainian authorities and the Russian authorities, and I will explain what I mean by that in the course of my remarks. Thirdly, there must be a recognition that the international community remains unyielding in its opposition to the illegal referendum that took place in Crimea last weekend. Alas, the Kremlin has not yet recognised or acted on any of those steps, but I hope that it will do so in the coming days. Why do I make that point? Ukraine’s future still hangs in the balance, so today’s debate is welcome and takes place at a crucial time.
The recent trajectory of Ukrainian politics hinges on the events of 21 November when Yanukovych’s Cabinet abandoned an agreement on closer trade ties with the EU, and instead sought closer co-operation with the Russian Federation. Days later, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians descended on Maidan square, and for months the various protests endured and grew on the streets of Kiev. On 20 February, in a vibrant European capital, Government snipers turned their fire on protesters and the day ended with makeshift morgues lining the pavements of that historic city. On 27 February, just four days after the end of the Sochi winter Olympics, Russian troops effectively occupied Crimea under the false pretence of protecting its Russian-speaking population.
Ukraine faces a generational choice: in the decades ahead, can it face both east and west? Russia, too, is faced with two alternative futures: greater integration or greater isolation within the existing international order. It is right that the international community’s approach to date has been characterised by engagement with Russia where possible but by appropriate diplomatic pressures where required, which is why I welcome the draft UN resolution criticising the referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region. Recent events in Ukraine are a key test of resolve for the European Union in particular. This clear and flagrant breach of international law has happened on Europe’s doorstep, and the burden of responding to the crisis rests heavily on European Union leaders.
It is worth acknowledging from the outset that getting agreement among the EU 28 is always difficult, particularly when a number of member states are vulnerable to Russian action on issues such as energy supply. I therefore welcome the steps that have already been agreed by the EU, including the suspension of negotiations with Russia on visa liberalisation and targeted asset freezes and visa bans against those responsible for threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence.
Despite those important steps, I regret that, to date, the EU’s unity in condemning Russia’s military aggression has not been matched by a shared resolve to act more decisively in extracting costs and consequences for Russia’s actions. Only four days before this week’s Foreign Affairs Council, Chancellor Merkel made it clear that if Russia continued on its current course, it would cause
“massive damage to Russia, both economically and politically.”
Following her comments, and ahead of the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting, the press quoted reports that more than 100 names were being considered for targeted measures by the EU. At that Foreign Affairs Council meeting, a list of 21 individuals was agreed, and only 13 of them were Russian. Given that the objective of the sanctions is to alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leadership, it would be unfortunate if confused messages were sent to Moscow, however inadvertently, at this critical time.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the importance of the EU speaking with one voice. Does he not think that it was slightly naive of the French, German and Polish Foreign Ministers to take action without bringing the United States into the meeting? That would have shown unity not only within the EU but with our allies in north America.
I have no criticism of the French, German and Polish Foreign Ministers. We saw from the dynamic on the streets of Kiev that that potential agreement was overtaken by events, including the fleeing of the President from Ukraine. I do not believe that any reasonable criticism can be levelled at the European Union for somehow ignoring or being unwilling to work with our friends, colleagues and allies in the United States. Indeed, one of the brighter shafts of light amid the darkness has been the degree of effective co-operation between European leaders and the US Secretary of State John Kerry in the recent days and weeks. This is a big geopolitical moment and, as the Foreign Secretary made clear, all of us in the west—in the European Union and the United States—have a strong interest in upholding the international order that has lasted in Europe since the second world war.
Germany is particularly vulnerable to economic sanctions in relation to energy. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should work hard to convince the Americans to lift their restrictions on energy exports to Europe, as that would take pressure off Germany in this regard?
The hon. Gentleman’s point is well taken. My research in recent days has shown me that, notwithstanding the importance of looking again at the capacity for, say, liquid natural gas to be exported to the European Union from the United States, given its developing capabilities in shale gas and shale oil, this is not simply a matter of regarding energy as a strategic asset. We must also take into account the capabilities and facilities at the ports, for example. This is a longer-term endeavour and, critical though it is to be able to strengthen the resilience and diversity of the European Union’s energy supplies, the action that the hon. Gentleman suggests would not provide an immediate resolution to the crisis. It is important that we look at the issue, however.
Would my right hon. Friend like to correct the wrong impression that the Foreign Secretary gave—possibly inadvertently—when he referred to a Russian member of the Socialist Group of the Council of Europe? There is a tiny and uninfluential group of Russians in the Socialist Group, but the group of which the Conservatives have been members for a long time is dominated by Putin’s representatives and those of a similar character from other countries. Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the long record of the Socialist Group in opposing Putin, especially on Chechnya?
I am certainly happy to echo my hon. Friend’s point about the actions of the Socialist Group in relation to Chechnya, but given the severity of this moment in international affairs, it ill behoves the House to descend into a partisan exchange on which groups our respective representatives belong to in the Council of Europe. I understand that action has been taken by Conservative members of the Council of Europe—I am sure that the Leader of the House will set out the details at the end of the debate today—but it is important to speak with one voice at this critical moment in international affairs.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Russia is not the power that it once was? It is riddled with corruption, and with a population of only 143 million, it has a failing demographic. Male life expectancy there is barely 60. Russia is not the great bear that it pretends to be.
I find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. There has been too much commentary in recent days on the strategic genius of President Putin. In fact, he has been obliged to act out of weakness, rather than strength. Let us remember that this was the Russian President who viewed a Eurasian union as a credible alternative to the European Union. He has been unable to use soft power to secure the support of his potential allies and neighbours; instead, he has had to use hard power as a consequence of his unpopularity and of his sense of a loss of control following the events that we witnessed on the streets of Kiev.
This is not simply a matter of Russia facing demographic challenges, or of its abject failure to diversify its economy beyond the primary extraction of energy to move towards a more advanced form of economy, or of the very real corruption that continues to bedevil Russian society and the Russian economy; this is also about the fact that Putin is unable to secure the willing support of neighbouring countries, and that he is having to secure support through the use of military force. That represents a significant failure, rather than a success. Let us remember that President Putin has just spent $50 billion trying to accumulate soft power with the Sochi Olympics. What a waste of $50 billion, given that the international community is now seeing the Russian leadership’s true character through its action in Ukraine.
Is it not another important factor that the Russian Federation is now much more dependent on the international community than was the case in the old days of the Soviet Union? In those days, it had no stock exchange, and the rouble is now much more exchangeable than it was. Putin reportedly had to spend £2.5 billion shoring up the rouble in one day when he first went into Crimea.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is well taken. Russia is now significantly more integrated in the global economy than it was at the time of the invasion of Georgia in 2008, let alone during the earlier era of Soviet expansionism, to which many people have drawn comparisons recently.
I want to make a little more progress.
Today, the European Union is Russia’s largest economic partner, with an annual trade of £275 billion. The UK alone handles at least £2 billion of Russian business in financial services a year. Let us also remember that as a result of the corruption that I have mentioned, the Russian economy has witnessed significant levels of capital flight in recent years, as well as rising levels of Russian prosperity as a consequence of energy. In that sense, there is a real and enduring vulnerability among the Russian elites to the travel bans and asset freezes that have been put on the table by other European leaders in recent days. Let us also not forget that a central part of President Putin’s claim to legitimacy in the Russian Federation has been based on a guarantee of rising prosperity. However, we have already seen the effect that the proposed actions by European leaders has had on the rouble and the Russian stock exchange.
In the immediate term, the most powerful means to alter the Kremlin’s course is to target those elites on whom it relies for its support. That is why I hope that at the European Council meeting due to take place later this week, EU leaders will consider further expanding the list of Ukrainian and Russian officials subjected to these targeted measures. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s indication that that appears to be the British Government’s approach, ahead of the Council meeting on Thursday and Friday. I would also be grateful if the Leader of the House could confirm in his winding up whether, at that Council meeting, the UK Government will be urging the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit, which is still scheduled to take place in Sochi in June.
Labour has also argued that further diplomatic pressure can and should be applied in the short term by seeking agreement among the G7 on suspending Russia from the G8 group of the world’s largest economies unless President Putin changes course. I was intrigued by the Foreign Secretary’s remarks at the Dispatch Box on that subject. I understand that indications have been given by No. 10 since this debate began that the British Government could take further action in relation to the G7, as distinct from the G8. Will the Leader of the House clarify the position, not only on the cancellation of the G8 meeting but on Russia’s suspension from the G8? I think that the Foreign Secretary has indicated the willingness of the G7 countries to meet together as an alternative grouping to the G8, as a result of the Russians’ recent flagrant breach of the law.
Given the precedents that have been set by Russia, the European Union must also be prepared to increase the pressure if the short-term measures are unsuccessful. I certainly welcome the bilateral measures, which we heard about for the first time this afternoon, relating to UK-Russian military co-operation and to the steps that the UK Government are taking in relation to arms exports. In the medium term, the European Union must be prepared to consider stronger sanctions against Russia’s broader economic interests, such as its energy exports or its banking sector. Such decisions should not be taken lightly, and the burden on EU domestic markets must not be ignored, but, if required, those options must remain available to European leaders when they gather in the coming days.
Alongside short and medium-term pressure on Russia, it is also surely vital that the European Union considers the long-term strategic implications of the current crisis. I welcome the fact that at yesterday’s meeting EU Foreign Ministers met the EU Energy Commissioner. I encourage the EU to undertake urgent work on exploring ways of proliferating and diversifying European energy imports in the future.
Let me turn now to my final substantive point. As the Opposition, we do not believe that the crisis can be resolved simply by applying ever more pressure on Russia to change course. Effective engagement with Russia remains key to helping secure the diplomatic de-escalation and resolution of the crisis. In particular, the work done by EU High Representative Cathy Ashton in engaging with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov in recent weeks has been welcome. I also welcome the dialogue that took place last week in London between the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. At that meeting, the Secretary of State made it clear that in the view of the United States, Russia has legitimate interests—historical, cultural and strategic—in Ukraine.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the tone of this part of his speech. Despite everything that has been said over the past hour, we do have a bit of a problem in that a majority of people living in Crimea want to be part of Russia, and they had been part of Russia for 300 years, apart from administrative diktat in recent times. They also have a right to self-determination.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is a moot one given the circumstances in which the referendum took place. No one disputes the fact that there is a significant number of Russian speakers within Crimea, but it is a dangerous path to walk to suggest that the circumstances in which that referendum was conducted—in the shadow of Russian guns—in any way provide a free and fair expression of the will of the people of Crimea. Incidentally, it was also a flagrant breach of the Ukrainian constitution. Although it is important to recognise that Russia has legitimate interests, it is equally important to be clear and categoric in our condemnation of the referendum that took place at the weekend.
As my hon. Friend knows, in circumstances such as this I am often given to say that opinion polls come and go, but I can assure him that he is absolutely right in recognising the fact that the poll that took place this week cannot be taken as a serious reflection of the breadth of opinion across Crimea. As the Foreign Secretary said, the Tatars, who for understandable historical reasons have very deep anxieties about what the future holds, given the past experience of deportation to Siberia, largely boycotted the poll. There are clear instances of intimidation, and anything that would be considered free and fair is very far from what took place in Crimea this weekend.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. As I expected, he is making some measured comments. Is not the more fundamental point here that if we concede a precedent in Crimea, we are saying that it is open house for Russia to annex what ever part of its zone of influence it likes?
The hon. Gentleman eloquently highlights the extent of cross-party agreement on this issue. This is a huge geopolitical moment, and if we take our multilateral obligations seriously—as a permanent member of the Security Council, a member of NATO and a member of the European Union—these moments test us as an international community. In that sense, the signal that would be sent out, however inadvertently, by an isolationist attitude that says that this is a far away country and that there is nothing to worry about has very dangerous historical precedent. The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is a necessary corrective to some of the commentary that we have read in newspapers in recent days.
What has not been mentioned is that we have a large Ukrainian diaspora in the UK and indeed in Rochdale, some of whom I met on Saturday night. Many of them are extremely worried about their family in Ukraine and the fact that the problem might spread. Is there any reassurance that can be given to those people?
I fully appreciate that this must be a deeply troubling time for all those with friends, relatives and kith and kin in Ukraine. The best mechanism by which they can get the assurances they understandably want on behalf of their families is the diplomatic resolution which I trust the British Government are endeavouring to deliver, and which we need to work in co-operation with our international partners to secure.
Let me try to make a little more progress because I am conscious of the need to wind up, given the enthusiasm of Back Benchers to make their contributions.
There is an important point in relation to the tone of the exchanges with Russia. As the Foreign Secretary acknowledged, it is vital that in those exchanges a clear message is sent that this is not a “zero-sum game” between Russia and the west. I hope that it will be in that spirit that EU leaders agree the political part of the association agreement with Ukraine, which is due to be signed in the coming days. As well as sustaining this dialogue between Russia, the US and the EU, we should not forget the urgency of facilitating direct dialogue between the Russian and Ukrainian authorities.
I note that the EU has previously supported the establishment of a contact group, and note further that only yesterday Russia proposed the establishment of a support group for Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that this group would push for Ukrainian recognition of the Crimean referendum, which is clearly a difficult issue for the international community; urge Ukraine to implement portions of the 21 February peace deal; encourage Ukraine to adopt a new constitution setting out broad powers for the country’s regions; and require Ukraine to uphold military and political neutrality.
When the Leader of the House winds up the debate, I would appreciate it if he could set out the British Government’s thinking on both these proposals—on the contact group that has been advocated by Germany and the European Union and on the contact group that was proposed by the Russian Foreign Minister yesterday.
In conclusion, the Russian invasion of Crimea demands international condemnation. We should uphold the principle of international law and recognise Ukraine as a sovereign state. Its cultural, linguistic, and historical affinities with Russia do not, and never will, justify the recent breaching of the international multilateral legal norms that have guided our actions since world war two. Furthermore, what those who oppose further specific economic and financial measures must understand is that there will be real and lasting consequences for the west of not demonstrating resolve in the days and weeks ahead. I fear that the consequences are already clear. We have a Russia emboldened in its ambitions towards Ukraine; a central Europe ever more fearful of future political destabilisation and military insecurity; and a United States increasingly concerned about Europe's willingness to act, even diplomatically and economically, in the face of such threats. A combination of deft diplomacy, shared resolve and a unified response are the best means by which we can de-escalate this continuous and dangerous crisis, and ultimately re-affirm Ukrainian sovereignty and preserve European security. The British Government will have our support in working to achieve that desired outcome.
The crisis we are living through is a crisis not just for Ukraine but for every European country, including the United Kingdom. For the first time since 1945, a European state has invaded the territory of another European state and annexed part of its territory. The Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, President Obama and other European leaders have stressed, as has the shadow Foreign Secretary, that this is a crucial moment in the history of Europe. That fine rhetoric will be justified only if it is matched by our response to what is happening and what could still happen. Sadly, the measures on visa controls and asset freezes for individuals, which have been announced by both the United States and the European Union, are a pathetic and feeble response. They do not match the seriousness of the situation, which those implementing the responses have acknowledged that we face at the present time.
The issue is not simply one of Crimea. Crimea is of no strategic importance to Russia—Sevastopol is important but it has had control of Sevastopol for years. The Russian objective is effectively to control all the areas of the former Soviet state, not necessarily by reintegrating them into the Russian Federation but by ensuring that they become Russian dependencies. That will happen because we have seen already that the response to the measures announced so far has been one of contempt by Moscow, and that could continue if we do not respond more robustly.
The only way in which we can effectively hope to have a significant impact on Mr Putin's thinking is through financial and economic sanctions. That approach has become much more effective in recent years. We know that Iran is at the negotiating table because of the success of the financial and banking sanctions it has experienced. Dare I say it, but the United Kingdom withdrew from Suez because of the United States’ threat of financial sanctions against this country—a threat that was very effective even many years ago.
The Russian economy is not the Soviet economy. It is much more integrated and I noted with some interest that the chairman of Gazprom apparently sold all his shares in the company some days before the crisis reached its peak. Financial sanctions will not change the world, but Putin would have to live with a Russian economy in which no other part of the world would invest and in which billions were coming off the Russian stock exchange. The crucial ingredient is access to the world financial markets, particularly the financial markets of this country, of Europe and of the United States.
I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I was encouraged when he said that the further measures for which the British Government will be pressing will be economical and in trade: they have to be, and they have to include financial sanctions. Of course, one cannot impose sanctions against another country without accepting some difficulties for oneself. I was encouraged that the Financial Times, of all newspapers, given its normal clientele, said this morning in its editorial that the Europeans
“must decide whether it attaches more importance to its international credibility than its commercial interest.”
I believe that that is a proper reflection of the measure of events.
We must also face the crucial question of what happens if the British Government are robust—I hope that they will be; in the light of what the Foreign Secretary has said, perhaps they are being robust, but I shall wait to see what happens—but cannot get the agreement of some other European countries. What will happen if they remain, in my words, feeble in their response? Western unity is important—I do not doubt that—but western action is even more important. If, at the end of the day, we cannot get unanimity, I would want to see the British Government, as well as, I hope, the American Government and those of a range of European countries, imposing financial sanctions, even if we cannot get full unanimity in the international community.
We must ensure two things. First, Mr Putin must feel financial pain in the Russian economy because of what he is doing. Secondly, we must be able to look ourselves in the eye and say that we did all that we could, all that was reasonable and all that was available to us to ensure that the horrors of the 1930s were not repeated, not in exactly the same form, but in a form that will damage European security and stability for a generation to come.
I commend the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) for his superb speech and I agree with every single word he said.
I welcome the fact that the Government have allowed time for the debate, although given the seriousness of the threat to security and peace in Europe—the worst for decades—it would have been nice if we had had a little more time. Perhaps we can have some more time in the days and weeks to come.
Given the time limit, I shall restrict my comments to asset freezes and travel bans. I welcome what was announced yesterday by the European Union and United States, but the mood of this House is that that did not go nearly far enough. As the Foreign Secretary will know, Russia is based on a kleptocracy and a lot of the corrupt senior officials and politicians around President Putin have their money in London. Russia’s own central bank has estimated that two thirds of the Russian assets and money in London come from the proceeds of crime and corruption, yet all the organisations that campaign on this issue, from Transparency International to anti-corruption organisations, have said for a long time that Britain has a very poor record of doing anything about that.
Two years ago, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) tabled a motion in this House that was unanimously passed. It called on the Government to take measures similar to those taken by the United States and along the lines of the Magnitsky Act that would have imposed asset freezes and travel bans on named Russian officials who were associated with the outrageous torture and murder of the Russian lawyer, Magnitsky. I am afraid that the Government did nothing and, as far as I can see, have done nothing since. None of the names announced by the European Union is on the Magnitsky list. They all seem to have a very narrow association with the immediate military action in the Crimea.
The Foreign Secretary said that he had the powers to act, so if the Government want to do something now why does he not announce—the Leader of the House could even announce this when he winds up the debate—that the Government will honour the will of this House, unanimously passed two years ago, and introduce similar measures to those introduced by the Americans? Only when the kleptocracy and the elite around President Putin begin to feel some of the pain of the sanctions and measures that have been outlined will Putin feel anything and realise how intolerable his actions were.
I appeal to the Government to go much further at the European Council on Thursday and finally to take meaningful action on the money laundering and dirty money in London and against those Russian officials who are propping up Putin and putting their money here.
I have the advantage of agreeing with a great deal of what has been said, with one exception: the intervention made by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who I regret to see is no longer in his place, which was, I think, particularly inept. He and his colleagues complain when those of us who are opposed to independence argue that it might lead to introspection, but I rather fancy that he has made my point more directly than I could have.
As has already been acknowledged, the issue is not just about the fate of Ukraine and Crimea. It has long-term consequences for European security and the transatlantic alliance. I admit to some miscalculations about Russia. I did not calculate how the collective mood of Russia was so ready to respond to a dominant and ruthless leadership, albeit out of weakness. Nor did I expect that the perestroika and glasnost that we welcomed so enthusiastically in this country and elsewhere would become so despised at home in Russia. Nor did I expect that that disillusionment would spawn a determination to try to recreate a sphere of influence.
It is worth reminding ourselves on this occasion that it was Mr Putin who said that the break-up of the Soviet Union had been the single greatest foreign policy mistake of the 20th century, conveniently ignoring the fact that the break-up was inevitable for a variety of reasons that we need not discuss today. Anyone who heard his speech today will have found a great deal of difficulty in accepting the proposition that he did not want to restore the cold war when he somehow felt it was necessary to use the language of the cold war to support that proposition.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way and I agree with what he is saying. Although we cannot ignore or get away from how the mood has changed in many parts of Russia, we should nevertheless not forget that many people in Russia still do not support what the Government are doing. Indeed, tens of thousands marched for peace in Moscow just a few days ago. We should remember that and pay tribute to those who, with great courage, are still speaking up for human rights and democracy in Russia itself.
I admire the courage of those who seek to protest against a leadership so potentially brutal and determined as that explained by Mr Putin.
The other calculation that I made, and perhaps others would admit to this too, was that we should have seen the signs in relation to Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is easy to point to the history, but it is much more difficult to determine how to respond to the contemporary issues.
My right hon. and learned Friend mentions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As chairman of the all-party group on Georgia I have been struck by how our Georgian friends see Russian interests not so much in Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Crimea but in intimidating Governments, whether in Tbilisi or Kiev.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point.
I was turning to the question of how to respond. Since the very beginning, it has been accepted that a military engagement in response simply is not possible. If we consider carefully what the prospect would have been for a nuclear alliance facing a nuclear power across Europe, albeit initially in conventional terms, the risks of something much more serious would be profound. As a parallel, let us remember the atmosphere when, in Pakistan and India, across the line of control there were a million men under arms, and the possibility that some provocation or something of the kind could have brought grievous consequences.
Today, the Russians have offered a contact group. That is disingenuous in the extreme, because the basis upon which that offer is made is that Ukraine and the rest of the world should accept and endorse the illegality of the conduct that has given rise to the crisis of the moment.
How do we proceed? We proceed, I hope, diplomatically, by persevering and promoting the isolation that Russia found itself in at the Security Council—an isolation so considerable that China, which would normally be predicted to take the side of Russia, decided to abstain. On sanctions, I agree with much that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said a moment or two ago. We have to ask ourselves what the cost would be, but we also have to ask ourselves what the cost of not imposing sanctions would be, and take a long-term rather than a short-term view.
Russia is now emboldened by energy resources and fuelled by imagined slights, with a new confidence, but as has already been pointed out, that confidence is built on very shaky economic grounds. If there is an area of fallibility, that is in the Russian economy. That is why anything that can be agreed in order to impose pressure on that economy seems to me entirely worth while. I understand that Crimea has decided to adopt the rouble as its currency—a case of joining the sinking ship, rather than leaving it.
I accept the point that has been powerfully made by a number of contributors that the European Union and the United States of America must stand together. To quote a former Prime Minister whom I do not commonly quote, “This is no time to wobble.”
I do not think anyone can answer that question. My hon. Friend is right to ask the question, but I do not believe anyone can answer it at this stage, because in the end there will have to be a diplomatic solution. The one thing that is essential is that when these negotiations and discussions break out, as we hope they will, those on behalf of the Ukraine, the European Union and the United States are firmly in a position to say that if a diplomatic solution does not work, more can be done.
One of the issues that has been before us in Europe recently is the question of short-range nuclear weapons. There was a possibility of disarmament, both from the United States’ holdings and from Russia. That is no longer possible. In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, people will be relieved that that possibility is off the table.
Russia’s military deployment into Ukrainian territory is extremely disturbing and without justification. That invasion is reminiscent of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. I was just a boy at the time but I can still remember those events in 1968. It took nearly 30 years to get the Soviets out of Czechoslovakia. The only difference in the case of the recent invasion by Russia is that it was done by troops who did not dare to speak their name. We saw troops in what were obviously Russian uniforms, but with no insignia identifying them as Russian. We saw people in masks or covering their faces who did not respond to questions from interviewers.
Russia is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. That was hardly about security or co-operation in Europe. It was a unilateral invasion for its own purposes. I am a member of the OSCE parliamentary assembly and regularly meet Russian, Ukrainian and other members from Parliaments across the OSCE area. To me, recent events are a disgrace. What happened beggars belief. There has been mention of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia. If the conflict is not resolved fairly quickly by economic pressure, engagement and negotiation, it could turn into another of those frozen conflicts that we have seen elsewhere.
Strong and concerted action needs to be taken. I go some way with the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who said the response needs to go much further. The Foreign Secretary indicated today that there may be movement towards a G7 and away from a G8 if the G8 decides on such action.
I have acted as an observer at elections in Russia. I went to observe the last Duma elections in St Petersburg and saw the sorts of things that can happen. We know that the referendum was illegal. It was not sanctioned in Kiev or anywhere other than in Moscow. As an observer at those elections in St Petersburg, I remember watching a parliamentary count, seeing the figures being given out, seeing two Russian police officers escort those ballot boxes into a van, and the van driving off to nowhere. At the count afterwards, the figures that we were given were totally different from those assigned to that polling station when we were there. So we know how Putin and his people can organise elections. We know that there have been elections in Russia when the turnout has been more than 100%. The difference between the figures that were given for the number of people in Crimea who wanted to be part of Russia and the figures that we saw last weekend tells its own story.
Economic sanctions are important, as is energy policy. In the UK and particularly in my county, Lancashire, we are looking at fracking and shale gas as a future option. We also produce all the nuclear rods for the nuclear power stations throughout the country, so Britain can look forward to self-sustainable energy. Other parts of Europe and the European Union are not so fortunate. They will have to wean themselves off Russian gas and oil, because if Russia chooses to defend Russian-speaking people, as it would say, in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Transnistria, Moldova or any other part of Europe, the omens are very bad indeed. I take the point that was made earlier that unless the present situation is handled properly, it could be a re-run of the 1930s. Firm action now by our Government and Governments in Europe and the United States is essential if this is not to descend into the spectacle that we saw in the 1930s.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick), a valuable member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Russia is not listening to the international community. It was totally alone in the Security Council, with even its closest ally, China, abstaining. I strongly suspect that in a wider vote in the UN, it would have few friends. We should look hard at Russia’s motives. I agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), when he says that Russia is operating from a position of weakness at present. I believe its primary motive is to protect its naval ports at Sevastapol which, together with Tartus in Syria, is vital to its interests. If Ukraine moves closer to Europe, Russia will not feel comfortable about having a major strategic asset on what it would consider foreign land.
Secondly, I believe that Russia views with growing alarm plans to build gas pipelines across Ukraine. This weakens its dominant position as a major supplier of gas to the European Union. Thirdly, Ukraine, the second most powerful economy in the former Soviet Union, is a linchpin to its plan to build the so-called Eurasian Economic Union, a Moscow-led version of the European Union. The fourth, and the most worrying, is hubris. Anyone watching the way in which President Putin was acclaimed at the Sochi Olympics will realise that he is playing to the national stage.
It is a risky strategy. There is a strong chance that Ukraine will sink into chaos and fragmentation. But there is one chink of light. This is not the 1930s and echoes of Nazi imperialism or the post-war growth of the Soviet Union. Russia is now integrated into the global economy. Its businesses need western financial institutions and access to capital markets. If we are to make President Putin see sense, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) pointed out, it is through financial and economic sanctions. The Foreign Secretary knows this, and I salute the way that he has persevered with diplomacy. I have to confess that I distance myself from those who described yesterday’s moves as pathetic. He is right to keep diplomatic channels open and to give the Russians a chance to de-escalate. No one wants a conflict with Russia, and we have to accept that they have very strong hand. As we fight international terrorism, as we seek a resolution in Syria, as we pursue a permanent nuclear deal with Iran, as we withdraw from Afghanistan, we need the lines of communication open, and the Russians know it.
I suspect that round 3 of sanctions is inevitable and necessary, but I think we can also agree that sanctions are a double-edged sword. There are no cost-free sanctions. We have a huge stake in BP’s commitment to the Russian energy giant Rosneft. This is the company in which millions of British pensioners have invested their pensions. At the same time, we have to recognise—
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, but does he agree that the UK is perhaps not so badly placed as others, in that only 1.6% of our exports go to Russia, and only 1.7% of our imports come from Russia, and we are dependent on Russian energy for only 1% of our natural gas requirement?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this will entail major strategic rethinking, not so much by Britain, but by the rest of Europe.
We have to recognise that this is a difficult time for Germany, which is hugely dependent on Russia for its energy supplies and exports. Angela Merkel is making the right noises, but her still fragile economic recovery can ill afford the volatility arising from sanction plans, and we must help Germany as much as we can. In a strange way, this may be a moment of truth for Germany. In the post-war years, it has held back on major security and defence issues, but this saga is a wake-up call, not just for Germany but for all of Europe and its strategy. Russia will not hesitate to use its energy assets as a tool of foreign policy. It did it in Georgia, and we see it again in Ukraine today. Europe must now work towards reducing its dependency on Russia for its energy supplies, and building those pipelines passing to the south of Russia should be a priority.
Europe must reverse its downward trend in defence expenditure. Some NATO partners have virtually no defence capacity whatsoever. Crimea may not be of any direct strategic significance to us, but how we deal with this crisis has serious geopolitical implications. So let us speak in a language that Russia understands. We may not go to war over Ukraine, but the Baltic states, which gained independence from the Soviets with the fall of the Berlin wall, are a different case. They are members of the EU, of NATO and of the United Nations. Defence of these allies is our red line, and that needs to be marked out now, in indelible ink, before it is too late.
I have not traditionally participated in foreign policy debates, but I am pleased to be able to do so today because I feel strongly about the situation facing Ukraine. Indeed, it should be a huge concern to all those who believe in democracy and freedom—two words that we should remember in the context of this debate. Not only have we seen the military build-up in Crimea; we have also seen the increased Russian military presence in Kaliningrad, on the borders of Poland and Lithuania. On top of that, as Lord Ashdown pointed out yesterday, there is potential economic expansionism in the Balkans, in relation to Greater Serbia and Republika Srpska, in their ongoing communications with the Kremlin.
All that suggests that we could be embarking on a new era of aggressive Russian expansionism. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) that that is from a position of weakness, but nevertheless it is aggressive Russian expansionism. It is in the context, over the past 60 years or so, of relatively peaceful co-existence, which has been the focus of the diplomatic relationship between the west and Russia. However, since the end of the cold war, we have seen the welcome unleashing of democratic forces in the old satellite states of the Soviet bloc. As those have gathered pace, that peaceful co-existence with Russia has become increasingly fraught and tense, as Russia finds it difficult to deal with the new relationships that are being forged in Europe.
The key question for me is whether the culture, which in recent times has focused on embracing Russia, attempting to draw it ever closer into the economic fold of the EU and US, has begun to falter. Can it respond effectively to what is unfolding before our eyes? The suggestion so far is that the west is adopting an approach that is exactly in keeping with this culture, which has dominated western thinking in the post-war period and which is always aimed at bringing Russia to the negotiating table. I join the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) in saying that that position is very, very weak indeed. All the evidence on the table suggests that it will not work. We have a Russian President who does not care a jot what the west, the US or the EU think about his actions in Crimea. We are taking huge risks with European security and peace if we fail to acknowledge that fact.
I also believe that we are taking significant risks because we are in danger of witnessing the west slipping by degrees from what looks like a sensible cautious response to the situation in Crimea and Ukraine, towards what would effectively be appeasement of an aggressor. This is where the parallels with the 1930s become relevant. That is what we have to guard against. The last thing the west needs to see is a situation in which we effectively acknowledge that the Russians have annexed Crimea and that we will do nothing significant or meaningful about it. I cannot think of a worse signal from the EU and the US than allowing that situation to materialise. I agree entirely with what everyone has said about the need for us to speak with one voice in ensuring that we do not allow Russia effectively to get away with it. We need to bear in mind too that events are likely to transpire that require the more robust response that some hon. Members would like to see—much more robust than anything we have allowed for so far. We are talking about economic sanctions and trade sanctions.
I finish by saying to the Foreign Secretary that I was pleased to hear his much more robust attitude towards the situation this afternoon. When he goes to the European Council later this week, that determination to develop a much more robust response towards the situation in Crimea needs to be seen through and articulated as dramatically there as it has been here today.
We are dealing, as I suspect the Foreign Secretary is well aware, with somebody who is little more than an aggressive, weak and corrupt bully. The situation we see unfolding is ominous for the future of Europe and obviously dangerous for the future of Ukraine itself. Once influence was lost, once President Yanukovych left Ukraine, almost immediately we saw troops marching into Crimea, under the guise of being there on holiday or for unofficial reasons. It was claimed that the Russian army was not really there, but in the full glare of the international media it very clearly was and is.
Upon that has now been built a referendum that can only be described as farcical. I have spent some time over the past year in this place debating referendums and how they should work. I know how complex it is to get something that accurately reflects the will of the people and unites those of different political opinions in accepting its result. There has been no effort whatsoever to hold a free and fair referendum in Crimea. There was 10 days’ notice, the question was changed three times and there was no definitive electoral roll, so we do not even know who was entitled to vote.
As has been said, the referendum was held in the shadow of the guns of Russian troops. It has no legitimacy. Even the result—more than 95% voted to be part of Russia—undermines the entire process. Yet we now find that a weakened Russia, which is lashing out at its neighbours because of the weakness around them, and in order to retain a semblance of influence over them, has forced itself into a situation in which it is now dominant in Crimea.
It is difficult to ascertain, even from the discussions that have taken place in this debate, what we will do about that and what the end position we want to achieve looks like. That worries me, because it sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, and not only for the situation before us, but for the future. There is no real chance that Mr Putin will decide all of a sudden that he wants to be incredibly reasonable, to respect proper democracy and to do things in a proper way. He cannot do that, because his image at home is built upon being the strong man who stands up to the caricature of the west that he paints for his domestic audience.
Yet we sit here and debate sanctions. We talk about restricting travel for 21 people. We talk about no longer attending, or inviting Russia to attend, talks on a range of issues, or stopping the streamlining of visas. It is right that we consider all those measures, but they are obviously not enough. They will not change dramatically the direction of travel of a President who is determined to achieve something that we do not support, that should not happen and that is clearly illegal under international law.
It is fascinating that even today we have seen Putin tell his Parliament that he wants to streamline the process for recognising Crimea as an independent state. There was talk earlier of Kosovo, which is still not recognised by Russia. I suspect that there is no chance of Russia recognising it in the medium term. That will not happen, even though it should. On Ukraine, however, where there has been an occupation, an illegal referendum and a disastrous series of events, we have heard a relatively weak response, up until now—I welcome the change in tone that I think we are hearing—from the western world. We see Russia rushing to recognise Crimea as an independent state. That is not a good situation to be in. We will not stop a bully behaving as such by displaying repeated acts of weakness and indecision towards him. We need to take firmer and stronger action, within the restrictions that we all recognise exist and the reality that some options are sadly off the table.
Last week I was pleased to welcome Andriy Shevchenko to Parliament. He addressed the all-party group on Ukraine and told us how things were on the ground in Ukraine and how the experiences were affecting democracy in his country. Next week I hope that we will be visited by some more Ukrainian parliamentarians, including Vitali Klitschko, Maria Ionova and Petro Poroshenko, and Andriy Shevchenko will visit again. He is keen to bring that delegation here. I hope that colleagues will take the time to listen to him and demonstrate their support for what he is trying to achieve.
We will not resolve the situation and get back on to the right path by showing weakness, indecision and a failure to act. We need to take strong measures and real action if we are to change President Putin’s mind.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on his speech—he just persuaded me against the idea of holding referendums very often.
What more do we really need to know about Vladimir Putin? Even if we leave aside for a moment his self-enrichment, which would put Victor Yanukovych, Imelda Marcos and Muammar Gaddafi to shame; the way in which misinformation, media manipulation and the repression of independent journalists are a standard part of the Putin package; and the perversion of the criminal justice system in Russia, which means that more than 95% of all prosecutions lead to conviction, because they are determined by political persuasion, rather than justice; what more do we need to know?
That was one of the other things I was leaving aside for a moment.
We know how Putin reacts in a crisis. That is what really worries me. He always reacts with extreme force. In Beslan the state used such force to resolve a hostage crisis that 334 of the hostages, including 186 children, were killed. When terrorists from the Chechen republic took over a theatre in Moscow, the state’s intervention ended up killing not only all the terrorists, but 130 of the hostages.
We also know about his territorial ambition. I can do no better than quote the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois). During a debate on Georgia in the previous Parliament, he said:
“Whatever one may think of Georgia’s actions on 7 August, Russia used grossly disproportionate force in response, and by subsequently recognising its supported regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia is attempting to redraw the map of Europe by force”.—[Official Report, 20 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 686.]
That is exactly what we are hearing again today. What more do we need to know?
In Syria, Putin actively prevented an early resolution to the conflict and assisted Assad’s barbarous regime in repressing its people, and all for the strategic advantage that accrues to Russia, as has already been said, from its naval base in Tartus, which is vital for access to the Mediterranean. Now, after trying to bribe, bully and coerce the whole of Ukraine into aligning itself with Russia and against the European Union, he has effectively annexed part of an independent country.
I am afraid that the international response, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said, has thus far been pitiful and spineless. People have even trotted out in this Chamber the argument that most of the people in Crimea are Russian speaking and wanted to join Russia in the first place. Can Members not hear history running through the decades? In 1938 the British apologists for Hitler, combined with those who felt that Germany had been treated badly after the first world war, combined with the British mercantilists who wanted to do more business with Germany, and combined with the British cowards who wanted to avoid war at all costs, argued, using the same argument that has been advanced today, that the vast majority of the people in the Sudetenland were really German and wanted to be part of Germany.
I have no desire for us to be at war, or for there to be a war of any kind. I opposed the proposed military intervention in Syria for the simple reason that I could not see how bombing that country would help. However, we should be ready for any eventuality. I was saddened that when I formally asked the Foreign Secretary on 30 November 2011 whether he would rule out the use of force in tackling Iran’s illegal nuclear ambitions, he refused to do so. Others agreed with him. I was told, including by Members on my side of the House, “Don’t be silly. You simply can’t rule things like that out.” Well, perhaps they were right, but I want to ask now why on earth we ruled out any military intervention, in whatever set of circumstances and at whatever stage, from the very beginning of Putin’s advances into Ukraine. I am not arguing for war; I am simply asking why we do one thing for Iran but say exactly the opposite when dealing with Russia.
I think that the EU has shown little honour in this. The Ukrainian Government have behaved with extraordinary and admirable restraint.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. In the last but one Foreign Office questions, I asked the Foreign Secretary what the fact that NATO has a co-operation agreement with Ukraine means, and he gave the impression that I was asking for war. I was not asking for war; I just wanted to put the military options on the table.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I think he also agrees with the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who spoke earlier.
There has been little honour in the way that Britain, France and the United States, having signed up to the Budapest memorandum, which guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine, now make lots of great speeches but introduce the measliest level of sanctions and targeted interventions against Russian individuals.
The real problem is that we all know where this might all too easily be leading: to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Belarus. What will we say then? What will we do then? We have done far too little to safeguard European energy supply over the years. We have surrendered our military capacity to intervene. We have let commercial interests alone determine our foreign policy. We have failed to tackle deep Russian corruption within the EU, especially in Cyprus. It is not so much that we have let Russia pick us off country by country but that we in the European Union, country by country, have gone begging to Russia to try to do more business with it and left aside too many other issues.
There are things that we could and should be doing. We should target a much longer list of Russian officials. The Foreign Secretary referred, I think, to Leonid Slutsky. He should not be a member of the Socialist Group in the Council of Europe, and nor, for that matter, should his party. I am delighted that the Conservative party has now taken the action that it has, for which I had been arguing for some time. I cannot see for the life of me why the Government still use their slightly weaselly language about the potential of a Magnitsky list. It has been implemented by the United States of America, the European Union has called for it, and the Council of Europe is calling for it, and we should go down that route.
A Russian friend of mine says that Putin is not yet mad. That may be true, but what will our surrendering and our appeasement do for his sanity?
The Foreign Secretary said that this is the most serious crisis of this century. I think it is probably the most serious crisis since the fall of the Berlin wall.
We should not be surprised by what has happened in Crimea. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said, we have seen it all before. We have seen it in Georgia, where Putin adopted exactly the same techniques as he has now used in Crimea—namely, issuing Russian passports, fomenting revolt among local anti-Russian sentiment so that pro-Russian sentiment can be expressed, and then going in on the pretext of saving his compatriots. This should not have come as a surprise to us, and he is clearly on a roll. The question is what we do now to prevent him from pursuing aggressive Russian expansionism, as the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) rightly described it. I agree with every single word she said, and I hope that such sentiments will get wider currency outside the House.
I agree with all those who believe that the response from the west has been feeble if not worse. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said himself that the credibility of the international order is at stake. The whole security of Europe, wider Europe and potentially elsewhere is at stake if this matter is not resolved. There is a feeling that the European leaders, in particular, are subject to some form of paralysis. They have been responding to events, which are overtaking them. They are behind the drag curve, and we need to take more vigorous action.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I should think that Putin is laughing all the way to the bank. The bank may not be in London, but he will be laughing all the way to a bank. This is the whole point. He might be weak, and we have seen other weak leaders around the world, not least in Argentina, lashing out. I have some sympathy with the view that he is, as it were, lashing out, but the question is whether we continue to let him lash out or have to draw the line.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to the Budapest agreement. We need to understand the significance of ignoring Russia’s flagrant breach of this agreement, to which it, the United Kingdom and the United States of America were signatories. The other European countries were not signatories, but we have a special position and the United States has a special position. This is not a guarantee of Ukraine’s borders, but it is a statement that the Russians
“respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”.
Those borders have been infringed. The question arises of how we can possibly trust Russia if it is prepared so flagrantly to breach an agreement to which it signed up only 20 years ago.
Then the question is: where next? I have a British friend in eastern Ukraine who has been briefing me on what has been going there, and it is perfectly clear that Putin has won the propaganda war. He is telling all his people in Russia that Ukraine is run by a bunch of fascists and it is his duty to go and protect the Russian-speaking people there. The truth is, as my friend found out when he went on to the streets of Donetsk and listened to people’s accents, that these were not pro-Russian Ukrainians but pro-Russian Russians who had been bussed in. He said, “The accents I heard were from St Petersburg, not Donetsk.” Putin has been quite flagrantly provoking the Ukrainians. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, it is a great tribute to the Ukrainians that they have not risen to that provocation.
I am sure he has. Twenty years ago, I worked for the Sukhoi Design Bureau for a year, and Russians made it apparent to me that there is a strong sense of Russian nationalism and they did not want their country to be raped. Putin is clearly playing to that. He is a man who has photographs of himself stripped to the waist, bearing a gun, standing over a shot bear, and so on—a man who plants a Russian flag on the floor of the Arctic ocean. One has to ask oneself, “What sort of a guy is this?”
Let us ask what is next. It is perfectly clear from what my friend in eastern Ukraine is saying that Russia is on a roll. The Russians will move fast, and eastern Ukraine is at risk, because 34% of Ukraine’s economy is in the east. Crimea has no direct land link to Russia; it runs only through Ukraine. So where will the Russians go next? They will annex that land to give them direct access into Crimea. Where might Putin then go? To Odessa. That is why I said to the Defence Secretary yesterday that we need to take more robust action. If he manages to get to Odessa, Ukraine will become landlocked because it will have no access to the Black sea and no port.
These are very serious stakes. I do not know, Mr Speaker, whether you saw the BBC television series, “37 Days”, but it is chilling how the kinds of conversations heard there are being reflected in what we are discussing today. I have no wish to provoke military intervention and no wish to harm the Russian people, but I do believe that the security of Europe is at risk if we do not take action. We need to understand the risks of inaction. Turkey has talked about closing the Bosphorus to Russia because of its treatment of the Muslim Tatars in Crimea. The Russians have been exercising repeatedly on Ukraine’s borders, and it is time for NATO to act and put together some exercises. In my view—I say this to the Foreign Secretary—NATO should have a maritime exercise in the Black sea to serve notice on the Russians, “You do not go near Odessa.”
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) is completely right to call for much tougher action, because this is the first time since the end of the second world war that part of a sovereign European country has been annexed by another nation. He is also right to draw attention to the Budapest memorandum, because when we and the Americans signed it in 1994, we gave assurances to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security.
The Prime Minister has said that Russia has committed a
“flagrant breach of international law”,
that what has happened is “unacceptable”, and that this is
“the most serious crisis in Europe this century.”
However, the European response, as the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), said earlier, has been absolutely pitiful. Limited measures on visas and assets have been announced for just 22 people, not a single one of whom is a member of Putin’s inner circle. European leaders might have wanted to send a signal without escalating the situation, but Putin’s response, which was to legitimise the outcome of the ludicrous and illegal referendum held over the weekend, was contemptuous.
Not content with moving Crimea to Russian time, Putin clearly wants to turn the clocks back completely to before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin—a former KGB colonel who regards the collapse of the iron curtain as a huge mistake—has made no secret of his belief that Russia should control former Soviet republics.
We have to ask ourselves what has actually changed for Putin, given that, to all intents and purposes, he is a brutal, cold war and Soviet-style dictator, terrorising his opponents at home, murdering them abroad, invading other countries and supporting terrorists such as Assad in conflicts elsewhere.
The only thing that does appear to have changed is that, as we saw with Syria, the west has become utterly impotent, weaker than ever before and unable—or unwilling—to stand up for its values, preferring instead to allow Russian oligarchs to use often ill-gotten gains to buy up huge swathes of London, our businesses, our football clubs and even our newspapers.
We should be pressing much more urgently for much more robust sanctions, such as further asset freezes and visa denials to members of the Duma who voted in favour of providing military support to Ukraine, thereby supporting Russia’s illegal invasion and continued occupation of Ukrainian sovereign territory.
We should seize the foreign currency assets of the Russian Government, Russia’s central bank and Russian state-owned companies. It is estimated that two thirds of the $56 billion moved out of Russia in 2012 were the proceeds of crimes, bribes to state officials and tax fraud. Let us make Putin’s elite cronies and financial backers choose between supporting his dictatorship at home and invasions abroad on the one hand and their wealth on the other. We should change the locks on their fancy apartments in Kensington, board up the mansions they have bought in the home counties, and empty their bank accounts to show them that the west will not tolerate the sort of brutality and corruption that passes for government and business in Putin’s Russia.
We should kick Russia out of the G8—I think that is absolutely clear. The summit due to be held in Sochi in June should be cancelled and Russia should be suspended from the Council of Europe. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s earlier statement about military exports, but Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation should be suspended and existing trade negotiations cancelled.
Putin will obviously use western dependence on Russia’s state-owned and state-controlled energy companies to try to ward off tougher measures, so we must decrease that dependence in the long term and we should immediately explore how western energy imports can be diversified away from Russia.
The truth is that the west needs to decide which is more important: our values and commitment to democracy, freedom and the rule of law, or the dubious benefits of the west’s commercial relationships with Russia.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s speech and am encouraged that every speaker in this debate has sent a strong message. I commend in particular the powerful speech by the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
I have chaired the all-party British-Ukraine group for the past four years. I was last in Ukraine six months ago—in Yalta in Crimea—attending the European strategy conference, at which representatives of all the parties in the Ukrainian Parliament, with the single exception of the Communist party, made clear their absolute commitment to pursuing the path towards closer European association through the association agreement and the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. However, even then the warning signs were there.
If we read President Putin’s speeches about Eurasian economic union over the past couple of years, we will see that his clear ambition is not just free trade but building a political union. Discussing economic unions is familiar to us in the west, but his is a much more sinister ambition.
A few weeks before the conference in Yalta, I was in Armenia. The Armenians had also said that they wanted closer association, but then came under huge pressure from Russia, including threats to their security and economics. As a result, the Armenians announced that they were no longer pursuing European integration, but instead would join the Eurasian customs union.
Similarly, Ukraine was put under massive pressure and the result was that it, too, changed course. What President Putin did not expect was the extraordinary protests that took place across Ukraine afterwards, particularly in Maidan. In debating Russia’s actions, we must not forget the crimes committed in Maidan and the many heroes who died in Ukraine displaying immense courage. They still need justice.
I say to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), who is sitting on the Front Bench, that I have received an appeal from the Ukrainian Medical Association of the United Kingdom regarding the nearly 400 people who still require urgent medical treatment as a result of the suffering they experienced in Maidan. If Britain could provide specialist treatment to some of them, as other countries are doing, that would be another way to show our commitment to helping the people of Ukraine.
It is the Russian intervention that we are rightly focusing on this afternoon. The Foreign Secretary made it very clear that there is no justification in international law for the actions of the Russians. They are in breach of all agreements, but in particular they are in breach of the Budapest memorandum. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) made the powerful point that the Budapest memorandum was signed because the Ukrainians gave up a nuclear arsenal equivalent to that of France, America and China combined in return for guarantees. The fact that that can just be swept away is a very dangerous message for other countries that we might hope are also now amenable to the idea of giving up their nuclear weapons. It is essential that we protect the Ukrainian interest and defend the sovereignty of Ukraine.
There is a real danger, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) spelled out, that this might not be the end. The people of eastern Ukraine are being subjected to a constant diet of Russian propaganda on television about how the country has been taken over by Nazis and fascists and that they are at risk. The BBC World Service correspondent told us that his own grandfather, who is a resident of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, had said to him that he did not dare leave his house because he was so terrified that he would get murdered by these fascists who had taken over the country. The correspondent said, “That’s completely untrue. There is no evidence of that at all. Why do you think that?” He said, “Because that is what I am hearing on the television every single day.”
The response so far has not been strong enough. I welcome the measures announced, but the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee is absolutely right that we need to do more. Economic and trade sanctions are probably the most powerful things. One of the most powerful messages delivered to President Putin that I have heard about is that from the chief executive of BlackRock, who apparently rang him and said, “Do you realise there will be no further investment by western countries into Russia if you continue down this course?”
We have considerable economic leverage over Russia and we must use it. It may be that there will be a small cost attached to it and the City of London might lose some trade and some companies might lose some contracts, but, frankly, that is a small price to pay compared with the price we potentially face paying if we do not send a very clear message that this is unacceptable and that we will stand up against it.
It is a great privilege to speak in this important debate about the very serious situation in Crimea and Ukraine.
The whole House is agreed that the events of the past two weeks have gone in completely the wrong direction and that what we want to see is the peaceful democratic development of Ukraine. We all know that conflict will set that back. If this crisis is not to escalate, we need to concentrate on bringing down the temperature, but securing Russian participation in meaningful talks about the future will be difficult.
It is clear that a vote with transparent ballot boxes and no international monitors does not reach the required standard for a free choice for Crimean people. When he winds up the debate, will the Leader of the House explain whether we are going to stick with our position on the overriding importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, or are we going to discuss what we believe would be a free and fair plebiscite?
As the Foreign Secretary has said, Ukraine should not have to choose between Russia and the EU. It is quite clear that the Russians feel they have a great deal at stake. Their major—possibly the major—concern is the warm-water location of the Black sea fleet. Will the Leader of the House explain how it could be maintained were Ukraine to join NATO?
May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)? My real worry is that the Crimean peninsula is isolated and that the Russians require land access to it, which means coming through eastern Ukraine.
The hon. Gentleman, whose military expertise goes far beyond mine, makes a very useful point.
As we have previously discussed in the House, we need to look at the behaviour of the new Government in Kiev. The under-representation of Russian speakers from the east and the appointment of two oligarchs as governors of eastern regions does not look inclusive.
When I was in Ukraine a couple of years ago, it was absolutely clear that weak institutional arrangements had been further sapped by a weak political culture and an undeveloped civil society. Virtually every senior politician was supported by an oligarch—unless they had become one themselves—and it was very unclear who controlled whom.
I was therefore extremely concerned to receive e-mails from human rights activists in Ukraine who claimed that British parliamentarians had received money from Dmitry Firtash, a major Ukrainian oligarch. He owns 45% of the Ukrainian gas transit company, which controls Gazprom’s supplies through Ukraine to Europe, and he also owns a major chemical industry in the country. Mr Firtash is estimated to be worth between $600 million and $5 billion. He has been linked to President Yanukovych and even to President Putin.
When I raised the possibility of conflicts of interest with the Foreign Secretary on 4 March, he described my question as “utterly baseless” and “ridiculous in the extreme”. Since then, in an episode described by one analyst to the Financial Times as “seismic”, Mr Firtash has been arrested in Vienna by the Austrian organised crime unit, following a seven-year investigation by the FBI.
We have also learned that Mr Firtash had a meeting at the Foreign Office on 24 February. I hope that the Leader of the House, who will wind up the debate, can tell us whom Mr Firtash met, what was discussed and whether the issue of sanctions or asset freezes was on the agenda. On the same day, the Foreign Secretary said in the House that he wanted to see an “end to pervasive corruption” in Ukraine. We all agree with that, but I notice that Mr Firtash is not at the moment on the sanctions list issued by the EU.
Even the most cursory glance through the Electoral Commission website reveals that in recent years the Conservative party, in various guises, has received nearly £200,000 from associates of Mr Firtash. The Harlow Conservative party has received £40,000 from Mr Shetler-Jones, who was the chief executive officer of Mr Firtash’s holding company, Group DF. Mr Shetler-Jones has given money in his own name and via a company called Scythian, which he owns and of which he is a director.
Earlier in the Parliament, Baroness Neville-Jones was refused the post of National Security Adviser because of her links to Ukrainian oligarchs. She, too, has received money from Mr Shetler-Jones. During the previous Parliament, the Electoral Commission looked into whether Scythian was an active company, but it has not published its findings. It is apparently a consultancy that advises on energy matters, but it is not clear who its clients are.
That is not only a concern in this country but a serious problem from the perspective of Ukraine. Ukraine has lost the equivalent of almost half its annual GDP to outflows into offshore accounts during the past three years. The all-party group on anti-corruption says that a proportion of those funds have been laundered through the UK, that this is a clear example of the damaging role UK companies and individuals play in aiding foreign corrupt officials, and that assets should be identified, frozen and returned without delay. The Foreign Secretary has said that he is working on Ukrainian asset recovery, and I hope that the Government will take a no-holds-barred approach.
I do not need to repeat the profiling of President Putin that, like the problems, was completely and comprehensively set out by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but the real challenge at the heart of the issue is how to respond. We could of course do lots of huffing and puffing. There has been plenty of that during the past few years, which is one reason why Mr Putin has felt that he can carry on with impunity.
The most traditional route is that of sanctions. Although I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), I am afraid that I am slightly cynical about whether we will in the end get to a stage at which sanctions are robust enough to make a difference. The view at large is that sanctions are somehow pain-free, being effective at only one end, but major sanctions usually end up also affecting the people who put them in place. It will take real courage on behalf of the Germans, for example, to push for something in an area such as gas.
There is also the military way to respond. The Foreign Secretary, like many other countries, has been absolutely adamant that a military response is not on the table. I recognise that it is not a political solution or one that would help the situation, but we should not entirely rule out some form of military assistance or aid to the Ukrainian forces, who are equipped with obsolete and rather poor equipment. They are standing guard against the Russian bear almost as a Dad’s Army force at the moment. Russia never hesitates to help Syria with the latest weapons systems when trying to undermine the United Nations or, indeed, the international community. At the very least, expertise in military hospitals should be given to help people who are already suffering.
I think that the real thing we must deal with here and now is Ukraine. We must make sure that Ukrainian people have the ability to defend themselves should the Russians overstep the mark.
The long-term solution is of course through economics. It is important to resolve the EU-US free trade treaty to make Mr Putin feel what isolation is like, and to help Europe come to terms with its apparent energy dependency on Russia, which only makes it more and more vulnerable to a man who has proved time and again that he uses energy as a weapon.
There does not always have to be a hot war or a high -stakes conflict for us to face each other down. How quickly we rushed to forget the lessons of the cold war and sought to retire members of the intelligence agencies who were put out to grass when it ended in 1990-91. Let us remember that intelligence agencies around the world helped to change the behaviour of the Soviet Union and to make it collapse from within. Not a month now goes by without people denigrating our intelligence community —most recently thanks to Mr Snowden, who is now enjoying the hospitality of Mr Putin, and there is an irony in that—but they largely understand the Russian bear, know what makes Mr Putin vulnerable and know how to turn up the heat.
Let us remember that the source of Mr Putin’s power is the secret state, in which he can imprison people without trial, and in which he can persecute homosexuals and non-governmental organisations in the Russian state. He gets his power from manipulation, intimidation and corruption, but that is where he is vulnerable. If we can deter and deny him the ability to use that state within Russia and further afield, we can weaken him, and in doing so we can certainly deter him in future.
Let us unleash our intelligence services and capability. Let us no longer be afraid to hide them and run away from the accusations of Snowden. Let us make life a little more uncomfortable for Mr Putin. Let him feel what it is like on the other end of his intimidation in the secret state. Let us not put him in a cold war, but let him feel the cold winds of isolation that we can bring about if we isolate him economically, isolate him militarily and isolate him in his ability to break international law around the world. One cannot be a major player, riding bareback on a horse, if one is isolated from the international stage.
I welcome this timely debate. I think everyone acknowledges the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine and the tensions that have followed Russia’s desire to annex Crimea from the rest of Ukraine. President Putin has swiftly signed a decree to recognise Crimea as a sovereign state—a move that paves the way for Crimea to join the Russian Federation.
I appreciate the efforts that have been made by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in this matter. Sadly, we continue to witness the escalation of the crisis and defiance from the Russian President. It is clear that the US, the EU and the new Ukrainian Government do not recognise the referendum. The acting President of Ukraine has vowed:
“We are ready for negotiations, but we will never resign ourselves to the annexation of our land”.
The military threat to Ukraine is real and there is no legitimacy in the action that has been taken by Russia. What we have seen is the bully-boy tactics of someone who feels that he can walk over international law and hold the rest of the world to ransom. The referendum was held at a time when armed soldiers from Russia had invaded another sovereign, independent country. There was 10 days’ notice of the referendum, which is a mockery of the democratic process. There is no escaping the fact that Putin’s action was a blatant violation of territorial sovereignty. No one can ignore that. The referendum might satisfy Russia and its pro-Russian friends in Crimea, but no democratic country can take the referendum seriously.
What should we do in response? Sadly, over the years, the west has not had the courage to stand up to Russian aggression, in the hope that Putin would somehow decide to conduct himself in accordance with international norms. What will stop Russia from using its military muscle in other neighbouring countries? The decision by the EU and the US to impose sanctions on selected Russian and Ukrainian officials is but a limited response to Russian aggression. Isolating her is one thing; confronting her is something else. How can we make Russia respect international law and ensure that further incursions by Russian troops into Ukraine or other neighbouring countries do not happen?
Dialogue and engagement have been spoken about today. Dialogue and engagement have taken place with Russia over many years, but they have failed to stop Russian aggression. How can we ensure that we will succeed in our dialogue and engagement now? I believe that we need to encourage the Foreign Secretary to encourage his international partners to agree to the immediate suspension of Russia’s membership of the G8. We need the imposition of financial sanctions and the freezing of assets. In other words, we must make Russia feel the impact and pain of its actions. Words of condemnation are not enough. Actions will speak louder than words. We must demonstrate resolve and prove that aggression will not succeed. We hope for a diplomatic solution, but we must prepare for what will happen if diplomacy fails.
I believe that Putin is putting it up to the west. We are in danger of looking weak, as he presents himself as the strong man of Europe.
I want to conclude, because I realise the restriction on time, but I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. There is no use putting it back up to Putin if we do not carry through our actions. Our actions will speak louder than our words. We must remember that what has happened in the past has not made Putin back down. We must therefore think through our actions carefully. We must work with our international partners to ensure that our plan will succeed on behalf of Ukrainian citizens and other neighbouring countries that are threatened by Russia.
I am grateful to follow the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea). This has been a thoroughly constructive debate and there has been a great deal of unanimity across the House about the danger that the situation presents.
The parallels between what Hitler did in Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1939 and what Putin and the Soviet Federation are doing today are prescient. In 1939, Hitler walked into Czechoslovakia on the pretence of protecting German speakers. He manipulated the media, just as Putin is doing today by shutting off some of the Ukrainian media, manipulating the Russian media in east Ukraine and pretending that Russian citizens have something to fear from the transitional Government. After all, they are only a transitional Government. With proper negotiations, there could have been a democratically elected Government for whom every part of Ukraine had an opportunity to vote.
We have to be very clear to Putin, who is a bully and a really tough man, that the west will not just stand by and watch him annex the weak parts of the former Soviet Union. I pointed out in an intervention that the Speaker of the Transnistrian Parliament in Moldova has written to the Speaker of the Duma today to say that Transnistria should become part of the Russian Federation. That was no doubt orchestrated by Russia. Russia has done other bits of stirring in Moldova. The Gagauz community in the south-west of Moldova is nothing to do with Russia and is a Christian enclave, but it has been stirred up to oppose the good non-Russian Government in Moldova. I do not think that we should stand by if President Putin makes further moves—and if he makes further moves into east Ukraine, the Ukrainians will fight. There will therefore be a very serious situation if he goes much further.
The west must show clear resolve, as a number of speakers have said, not least my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). We need to be absolutely united in our economic voice. That will mean many nations making economic sacrifices. If we had taken tough measures in the mid-1930s, despite the economic downturn, the second world war, and its initiation, in particular, might have been very different.
I urge the Foreign Secretary and his team to do all they can to show leadership in Europe and to ensure that Europe is heard to be speaking with one voice. This is not the time to be soft-hearted and to oppose economic sanctions, visa bans and so on. We must speak with one voice and we must be prepared to take economic sanctions. We must all act in concert—Europe, America and the other front-line states that have influence in this matter, such as Turkey. We must all take part in one diplomatic initiative, because if we fail to make our clear voice heard by Putin now, goodness knows where we might end up.
The solidarity and unity in this debate have been heartening.
Too many people in this country and among our allies have been wandering aimlessly towards the teeth of the Russian bear, either as direct economic appeasers or because they do not want to think about nasty things going on in the extremities of our continent. However, the invasion of sovereign territory and the deprivation of human rights, including through the closing down of media, mob rule, bullying and the ignoring of minority concerns, are happening in Europe. We in the west need to wake up from our post-cold war dream of so-called peace dividends, our tiredness of conflict, our yearning for an end to austerity and other such pleasant thoughts, and face up to the new reality.
The reality of Putin’s Russia is not a pretty one. It is a regime that has no respect for international rules and conventions. It is a regime that has no morality in the western sense and that feeds on a diet of brute political strength and money—much of it stolen, in one way or another, from its own people. We apply our morality to Russian intransigence, and Putin and his henchmen laugh at us and just see weakness. They see a split Europe that is afraid to rock the economic boat and a US President who will do anything he can to avoid foreign policy distractions.
In Russia itself, human rights are little more than an afterthought. I hear now that extreme web and blog restrictions are being put in place. History has shown time and again that brutal dictators cannot be appeased. I recently spoke to a former Latvian Minister, and I hear from other countries surrounding Russia of their fear of what might happen as they count the numbers of ethnic Russians within their own borders.
I recently reread Winston Churchill’s speech in this place after the Munich conference, on 5 October 1938, and I commend it to hon. Members. The similarities between Crimea and the Sudetenland—a brutal power marching into a neighbour on the pretence of saving its own ethnic peoples—are chilling. At that time, Churchill remarked:
“I have always held the view that the maintenance of peace depends upon the accumulation of deterrents against the aggressor, coupled with a sincere effort to redress grievances.”—[Official Report, 5 October 1938; Vol. 339, c. 362.]
How apposite are those words now, and how well we would do to heed them.
The difference then was in the remedy. Churchill called for immediate rearmament, and although NATO will clearly need to reassure its ex-eastern bloc members of our article 5 obligations, it is not war that we now face immediately, although it would be remiss of the Government not to review alternatives, including reactive military ones. The current situation is more about affecting Russia where it cares most, and that is money. Yes, Putin has reignited Russian nationalism, but his political base, and that of his kleptocratic regime, is all governed by money, and mainly oil money at that. Thieves need access to their ill-gotten gains, and in the case of Russia, that means properties in Chelsea and the south of France, children in English schools, boats in the Med and wives in Bond street and rue Saint-Honoré. My feeling is that the kleptocracy will implode quicker if we stop that access than if we send in 50 divisions or move new nuclear weapons to the Polish border.
Yesterday’s EU travel ban and asset freeze on 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine is a weak and half-hearted negation of responsibility by the EU of which we should be ashamed. We should head the list of those sanctioned with Putin and his acolytes and work downwards to include all Russians. Even if the intention is to ratchet up sanctions, we should have been clearer about the implications of Russia annexing Crimea. We should remove Russia from the G8 and the Council of Europe. If it wants to behave as a 19th-century bully, why should it be allowed to G8 meetings? Tough sanctions should be put in place, along the lines of those on Iran, and Russian banks should be excluded from our financial system. Some seem to be saying that we have too much to lose if Russia retaliates. That is nonsense; I disagree.
It is a great privilege to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who made a passionate case for a robust response.
We must realise that for Putin, the cold war has not ended. We have not come to a new resolution or settlement about borders; instead, he is passionately trying to readjust the borders and then fight again to ensure that Russia becomes what he sees as dominant right across eastern Europe and into the Caucasus and central Asia.
I have worked in Georgia and felt the deep, dark shadow of Russia over everything that is done in politics and economics. Sometimes it makes the citizens of Georgia feel that they have a short leasehold rather than a freehold over their own borders. On that basis, Putin has already succeeded in what is probably his first objective, which is about not just Crimea but the total shake-up of identity in the region. He has polarised Russian nationals across the former Soviet Union, destabilising the Caucasus, the Baltics and now the Balkans, and he has won an important battle—removing the confidence of citizens there in their current borders.
It is important, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, that we are robust on political and economic sanctions. However, we must also consider offering carrots. Where is our Marshall plan for Ukraine, to kick-start and modernise its economy and say that a modern, non-Russian-dominated Ukraine is a positive and important place to be? Where is our support for Russian speakers and Russian nationals who do not live in Russia? They are free Russians, and we should celebrate them. We should ensure that being a free Russian is seen as something of great value, and that they can counter the problems of Russians whose internet is being taken over, whose communications are being closed down and whose newspapers are being dominated by central Politburo-type mechanisms. We have to value the things that Russians outside the border have.
There is another economic element of the matter that we should examine, which is Cyprus. It is the centre of second-tier Russian investment, beyond those who have penthouses in London. The banking structure and real estate in Cyprus are greatly dominated by Russian investment. If we and the Cypriots can bear down on Russia with effective sanctions, ensuring that investments and current deposits are frozen, we will be in a position to shake Putin where it matters, through the people around him. They are the people with the money, who feel threatened by the destabilisation that the current President of Russia is creating not just for Russia but for the rest of us in Europe.
I apologise to the House for not having been present for the whole debate—I was speaking in Westminster Hall—and as a consequence, I shall be brief.
The more complex a situation, the clearer we should be about what is in our national interest. The sovereignty of states must be respected and the right to self-determination must be upheld in Ukraine, as it must in Moldova, Georgia, Serbia and elsewhere. Ukraine must continue to develop to become a stable democracy, free from corruption, and its economy must develop too. NATO members must have confidence that the alliance will protect their sovereignty and interests, and international law must be upheld. It is directly in the UK’s national interests that those things are so, so what actions and inactions follow from those objectives?
First, we must support Ukraine economically and politically and allow its civic development. Secondly, Ukraine must lead the response to developments in Crimea. Thirdly, we must not recognise the result of the referendum as legitimate. Whatever the outcome of a further ballot, should it happen, Putin and Russia must face the repercussions of their actions. No one disputes that Russia has an interest in the future of the Crimean peninsula, but in response to events in Kiev and Crimea, Putin pursued not legal diplomacy but illegal aggression. It was only because of Ukraine’s restraint and the cool-headedness of her troops that we did not have bloodshed.
Sanctions must be proportionate to Russia’s actions and must be escalated if she continues to pursue the same policy, and we must lend our support to the Ukrainian Government if they wish to prevent Russia from gaining a deep hold on Crimea through banking, technology, political and civil structures and the military. We must also ensure that the situation in Crimea is properly observed and reported on.
I am sure that many Members who have spoken in the debate have touched on the failure of British and EU foreign policy to prevent the current situation from arising, and perhaps even suggested that it has exacerbated it. I might agree with some of those sentiments, but today I will constrain myself to saying that we must learn from the situation. We must work with the EU, the US and others to present Russia with compelling reasons to stop the hostilities. However, a lack of consensus should not prevent the United Kingdom from defending her interests vigorously. Russia should be in no doubt that by taking the steps she has in the past few weeks, she has damaged her interests in the extreme, and she should know that we will defend our own.
The situation will not be easily or swiftly resolved, but Britain should commit to the process for the long term. We may have been slow getting out of the blocks, or perhaps we were not even at the starting line when the gun was fired, but we must catch up. The message from the House today must be that we are determined to do so.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt).
Two years ago this month, the House called for a UK Magnitsky law, inspired by dissident Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured to death and posthumously prosecuted on orders from the Kremlin for disclosing the biggest tax fraud in Russian history.
The Magnitsky law is relevant today because it would create a presumption of near automatic UK visa bans and asset freezes for individuals where there is concrete evidence that they had a role in torture or other gross human rights abuses. It should apply not just to Russia but more generally, and it could be used to impose sanctions on those involved in other egregious violations of international law, such as the unlawful use of force that Russia is bullying Ukraine with.
Why should we care about the violation of such basic rules of international life hundreds of miles away? Do we want to become a safe haven for international outlaws—the mafia bosses, the despots and their fixers? Do we want London to be the safety deposit box for their dirty money? The answer from this House must be no. We should ban those crooks and bullies as a matter of course, and prevent them from siphoning their illicit gains through London or British companies.
The Government already have power to impose visa bans and asset freezes, but that power is underused and, frankly, lacks transparency. If someone is deported or extradited from this country, there is a major public debate and huge transparency, yet there is a veil of secrecy over visa bans and the decision-making process concerning them. We still do not know whether any of those linked to the Magnitsky case had been to Britain either around that time or have been since. Likewise, the Serious Fraud Office and HMRC were passed evidence about the criminal money from the Magnitsky cases and links to Britain, but they did precious little.
The links between the Magnitsky case and the current crisis in Ukraine are palpable. There is evidence that three companies cited in documents recovered from Yanukovych’s presidential palace are registered in the UK: Navimax Ventures, Roadfield Capital LLP, and Fineroad Business LLP are holding some of those assets, and it is striking that all three share the same UK address, offshore shell companies, and directors as companies linked to the Magnitsky case. Further reports suggest that Yanukovych used British shell companies to finance the construction of various properties, including the presidential palace, which is part-owned by a UK-registered firm named Blythe (Europe) Ltd. Many of those siphoning their money through Britain are also directly connected to Putin himself, as others have said.
The wider point is that after Iraq and Afghanistan, this country has, in the words of US President John Quincy Adams, grown wary of going abroad
“in search of monsters to destroy”.
The public’s appetite for serving as the world’s policeman is unlikely to return, yet from the Arab spring, through Putin’s Russia to China, we are likely to face more and more cases of serious violations of international law, where the international response is divided, where there is no domestic appetite for military action, and where wholesale economic sanctions may be too blunt a tool. We need better tools for targeted financial sanctions that apply a direct cost to the worst violations of the cardinal rules of international law, whether torture in the Magnitsky case or military aggression in Crimea. The Magnitsky model offers that accountability, a way to deter those who bankroll the likes of Putin, and a pressure point to hit despots where it hurts.
We may not be the world’s policeman, but that does not mean we should let the henchmen of despots or dictators waltz into this country, buy up property, send their kids to school here and enjoy a very British veneer of respectability, as if their outrages back home had never happened.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) quoted John Quincy Adams who famously warned against his country going out seeking “monsters to destroy”.
I declare an interest: I have been interested in Russian culture and history ever since my Russian Orthodox wedding to my Russian Orthodox wife. I have visited Kiev, and I want to explain to the House how important Ukraine is to the Russian people. In our island, secure as we are, we sometimes do not understand the importance of history and of fear, and of the great fear of the Russian people. I am neither pro-Russian nor pro-Ukrainian, because I am also sympathetic to Ukrainians living in western Ukraine who are Catholic Uniates, and I understand the divisions of that country.
History is everything. My wife’s grandmother escaped through Crimea in 1918, and her first husband was dragged out of the woods and shot by Bolsheviks, simply because of his name and title. The Russian people—this is seared into their soul—went through the most appalling suffering during the second world war, not least in Crimea. When one goes to Kiev, as I have done, and walks around the Russian Orthodox cathedrals, one understands the Kievan Rus’, which was founded 1,000 years ago. Ukraine is not just some settlement. I am not apologising or being an apologist for Putin or what he has done; I am just trying to explain to the House how importantly Russians feel about the future of Ukraine, and how sensitive we must be to their sensibilities. That particularly applies to Crimea, which has been Russian since the time of Catherine the Great, and Russian speakers are the dominant part of the population. I know that the Tatars have been treated appallingly, but—again, the House will not like what I say—many Russians believe that some elements of the Tatar population collaborated with what they call the fascist invaders.
We must remember that Finland, too, was occupied by Russia for a considerable period. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Russians have an affinity with Finland that perhaps gives Russia the right to think about what to do in a place like Finland? It still holds some Finnish territory.
No, of course I do not. Finland was also occupied by Sweden, but there is no time to debate that. Ukraine is a completely different ball game to Russians than Poland. My point is that Ukraine is an extraordinarily divided country. This is not a simple, liberal argument about a long-standing independent united country and a foreign aggressor. Western Ukraine is fiercely anti-Russian. As I said, it is Catholic Uniate, its capital city is Lviv, and formerly it was largely inhabited not by Ukrainians but 80% by Poles who were forcibly removed by Stalin. Before that it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and was called Lemberg. The whole of western Ukraine is therefore passionately opposed to Russia—quite understandably—and wants to break free.
The eastern part of the country around Donetsk and Crimea is a completely different state of affairs. We must be aware that however many speeches we give, and however many sanctions we impose, this is not just about a tyrant—Putin—invading a foreign country. A great proportion of the Russian population feels very strongly that the west is imposing double standards. The west insisted on self-determination for the Kosovans, and Serbia is very close to the Russian heart as a fellow Orthodox country. The House may not agree with that, but that is their point of view, and imposing any amount of sanctions will not change it.
We must stop playing power games. It is too dangerous a situation, and the west must realise that it cannot tear Ukraine away from Russia. We must stop these games of Ukraine ever joining NATO—thank God Ukraine is not in NATO because we would be involved in a war. We must stop these games.
My hon. Friend said yesterday in Defence questions what a different position we would be in had we let Ukraine become part of NATO. We must realise and impress on Russia that membership of NATO involves the criterion that an attack on one is an attack on all. If we are not prepared to protect a country in that way, we must not give it bogus guarantees.
I must finish shortly as others want to get in.
An attack on one NATO country is an attack on all of them. Poland is a completely different state of affairs from Ukraine. As I have said, we must stop the power games of trying to detach Ukraine from Russia. It is not going to happen. Russia will not allow it to happen, any more than we would allow an integral part of what we consider to be important to our soul and our history to be detached from us. It is a dangerous game—[Interruption.] Well, somebody has to give an alternative point of view. There is no point in the House of Commons if we all agree with each other all the time. I am trying to explain the Russian point of view.
Encouraging Ukraine to join NATO is obviously absurd, but it is also extraordinarily dangerous to encourage Ukraine to join the EU. As I said, I am neither pro-Russia nor pro-Ukraine, and I am in favour—this may be a cliché—of peace and humanity. I want Ukraine to have a devolved system of administration so that the west can run itself, as can the east. Ideally if we can think in terms of free-trade areas and Ukraine having some sort of free-trade agreement with the EU, that is positive, sensible and acceptable to Russians. However, we should please not take any step further, because we will be indulging in extraordinarily dangerous power games.
It is a great honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). His analysis of history is extraordinarily interesting, but of course in this House we must confront the political realities that exist as a consequence of an aggressive Russia. This is where we are and that is what we must do.
We need to recognise two or three things. First, President Putin is obsessed with energy and control. He is also, as has been noted already in this House, a bully who is bullying from a weak-ish position. We must recognise the dangers of that, because it is dangerous for weak people to get into difficult situations. Secondly, Russia is in effect becoming disconnected from the international world, and we cannot afford for that to happen. All our actions must be couched in terms of a tough approach, while considering what we must do in the long run to ensure that Russia returns as part of a proper international environment.
We have to bear in mind what is really happening in Ukraine. This whole business drives a coach and horses through self-determination and we cannot accept that. An unstable situation has been created in an area that ought to be promoting and enjoying economic growth. Anybody who thinks it is not in Britain’s interests to have a stable Ukraine and a stable wider region is wrong, and we have to express that in those terms. There is also the question of how Ukrainians have behaved. As has already been said, there is no evidence of inappropriate actions against Russian speakers, either in Crimea or elsewhere.
What can we do? We have to think about the next steps. The great problem is that this situation is part of a pattern of behaviour exhibited by the Russian political system which has to be stopped in its tracks. We have talked about energy, which is key to President Putin’s thinking and should be key to our solution. The EU has a huge opportunity to hang together and demonstrate how it can promote meaningful action against the Russian state. We must ensure that our energy policy is diverse and less reliant on Russia. We cannot allow one European state, or other European states, to be picked off. We cannot invite European states to take actions that are detrimental to themselves, without seeing support from the European Union. The challenge for the EU is twofold: to express an energy policy that gives comfort to all member states, and to recognise the importance of having an energy policy that makes it possible for Europe to act in unison.
It is important to ensure that Europe acts together immediately in a forceful way to prevent a repetition of this situation and to act firmly as a matter of urgency. I am pleased with the overall feeling of the House. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s speech and I endorse what the shadow Foreign Secretary has said.
We have had a short but timely debate, with a remarkable degree of agreement among Members on both sides of the House about what we are facing. The crisis in Crimea represents the most significant threat to security on the European continent in decades. The Foreign Secretary made that point when he visited Kiev earlier this month, and he made it again in his contribution at the start of the debate.
The Russian Government are riding roughshod over Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are in breach of international law and their own treaty obligations. The annexation of Crimea, after an illegitimate and unconstitutional referendum, makes that crisis much worse. It is right that the international community, and indeed members of this House, speak almost completely with one voice on this grave violation of international law and norms. Our priority now must be to avoid the possibility of a further military escalation. The UK must continue to urge a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, and that is what the Foreign Secretary is doing.
We welcome the targeted measures announced in Brussels yesterday by the United States and the EU, including measures aimed directly at those responsible for the military incursion into Crimea. Overwhelmingly, speaker after speaker in the debate has pointed out that the measures are not nearly adequate enough, given the developing situation. The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) called the sanctions “pathetic and feeble” in his contribution. We heard, with some relief, that the Government have determined on a series of escalations should Russia not desist from its current activity and behaviour. We would, however, like the Leader of the House—as far as he is able—to clarify the Government’s thinking on that escalation. Many hon. Members called for economic sanctions, up to and including trade sanctions. There have been many comments from Members in all parts of the House suggesting that hitting the oligarchs in their pockets to affect their ability to take their wealth across borders is the only measure likely to work. We have to be clear that if Russia wants to stay as a member of the international community it must change course. EU leaders should set a clear timetable for that change in the next few days. Perhaps we will see that emerge from the meetings towards the end of the week.
Labour Members are clear that we need a graduating hierarchy of diplomatic and economic trade measures to leave Russia in no doubt that more penalties will come if it does not start to listen and change its behaviour, and that there will be real consequences for its continued aggressive stance. Russia’s action is a flagrant abuse of international law. As many right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, this is a test of the west’s resolve in upholding the values and laws that unite us. The United Kingdom, as the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), both said, has a particular responsibility to fulfil its role as an upholder of international law, the UN charter and a rule-based system of international relations. The penalties announced yesterday are a step in the right direction, but we have to ensure that that resolve improves and strengthens, rather than diminishes, in the coming weeks.
We know that Russia is acting out of weakness. Many Members—for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw)—have said that sanctions need to go further. He was not the only Member who mentioned the Magnitsky Act, which hits oligarchies and elites where they are particularly vulnerable. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) made a similar point about standing up to bullies, and the hon. Members for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) did likewise.
There has been remarkable agreement across the House about the importance of ensuring that we can not only take action in concert with our allies, but perhaps take other actions ourselves, as a country with one of the largest financial centres in the world. We may well be able to make a particular difference by means of asset freezes that would hit the oligarchs where it particularly hurts. I should be interested to hear the Leader of the House’s view of the Government’s ability and willingness to impose sanctions that would have that effect, both in concert with our allies and unilaterally.
The Foreign Secretary gave some indications that there were other possibilities in the Government’s mind, such as a unilateral suspension of military co-operation with the Russian regime. He was inevitably coy—and I understand why he might want to be—about the precise form that some of the sanctions would take, but I think that Members would appreciate some indication from the Leader of the House that the Government will not rule out any such actions, both unilateral and in concert with our allies, as the weeks go on. Our Government have been working with their allies, and we must work together as a country, and as an international community, to avoid any further military escalation. We must also continue to pursue a diplomatic strategy in order to achieve that.
Let me ask the Leader of the House some questions. What is the Government’s thinking on the establishment of a Russia-Ukraine contact group? What is their view on the escalation of sanctions, including a move to economic and trade sanctions, and will they agree to consider some of those sanctions with respect to the City of London as well as in concert with our allies? What is their view on the access of oligarchs to London’s financial markets? I hope that the Leader of the House will also be able to say something about the G8 and Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, and about any other measures that the Government may be considering.
It is good that the House is speaking with one voice about this very important matter. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to enlighten us.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. I am also grateful to other Members, including the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who welcomed the debate. As I told the House yesterday, we will continue to update it—as my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have done—and to consider the need for further debate on what are clearly fast-moving events.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, the crisis in Ukraine is the most serious test of European security in the 21st century thus far. We have a vital interest to uphold: we want to see a stable, prosperous and unified Ukraine. Unfortunately, it is clear that Russia’s actions in Crimea have trampled over fundamental principles of international law, that they threaten the future of Ukraine, and that they have cast a deep shadow over European security and stability.
The events of recent weeks have provoked frustration and anger throughout the international community—sentiments that have rightly been reflected in today’s debate. I am grateful to all the Members who have given us the benefit of their experience and views. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) a sense of the solidarity that has been displayed today. I hope that that solidarity will be communicated, along with the agreement that we have observed not only between the principal parties in the House, but among Back Benchers who have expressed strong views, strongly held, which I hope will be understood and listened to.
The shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), expressed welcome support for the steps that the Government were taking, and made it clear that he favoured the toughest possible sanctions. The shadow Leader of the House asked about sanctions, and I can tell her that the Prime Minister has made it clear that he is looking for the strongest set of measures that can be negotiated and agreed. As the shadow Foreign Secretary will appreciate, it is not possible to specify those at this stage, in advance of the European Council, but I think that what the Foreign Secretary said about the measures that have already been taken was important.
Many Members, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), rightly expressed—in some cases, very strongly—a sense of the inadequacy of sanctions thus far. At last week’s Council the Prime Minister secured a step-by-step strategy, the purpose of which was to de-escalate and deter; it was not to escalate sanctions. It was hoped that the response of the Russian Government in the course of the last weekend, and not least the meetings that took place here in London at the end of last week, might have led to that de-escalation and might have deterred the Russian Government, but I think they must be aware now, and will be even more aware after the European Council and the steps our international partners take, that their failure to de-escalate the situation and their proceeding in the way they have will lead to far-reaching consequences.
I will not give way: Members must forgive me, as I have only three minutes to respond to the debate.
The shadow Foreign Secretary asked about the G8. We have agreed to suspend further planning for a G8 summit in Sochi this summer. I can also tell the House that we have endorsed the United States’ proposal that the G7 will meet in the margins of the nuclear security summit in The Hague early next week and that the March European Council will take a decision on the EU-Russia summit later this week. It is, I think, clear that it cannot be business as usual between the EU and Russia.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about the contact group. Our main objective is to bring the Russian and Ukrainian Governments together to discuss finding a diplomatic solution to the current crisis and to de-escalate the situation. The UK and partners are happy to support and help facilitate such talks, but they must take place without prejudice to Crimea’s future status. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) rightly said that in that sense the Russian proposal is entirely disingenuous.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) talked of the interdependence of European countries with Russia. A number of Members rightly made the point that we are now in a position where, as we consider further economic and trade sanctions, there will be far-reaching costs and consequences for Russia, but there will also be a degree of sacrifice and pain to be taken on our part, and European countries must understand and accept that.
The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) made a persuasive speech. Many Members rightly thoroughly endorsed her view that while we do not have to subscribe precisely to historical analogies, we must not allow aggression to go unanswered, we must not go down the route of appeasement, and we must make sure that that kind of use of force in contravention of international law and the sovereignty of nations is not allowed to succeed.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the right hon. Member for Exeter and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) asked about the Magnitsky case. The Government have long called for a full and transparent investigation into the tragic death of Sergei Magnitsky. We continue to raise the case with the Russian Government at all levels and make clear the importance of ensuring it is brought to a thorough and transparent conclusion. The UK does not intend to introduce a US-style Magnitsky list. We have a robust visa regime that enables us to deny entry to those who commit human rights abuses.
A number of Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), made it clear that the Russian objective is to destabilise and control, but we should understand—the shadow Foreign Secretary was right—that this is coming from a position of weakness on the part of the Russian Government, not from a position of strength. That is why we must take a strong position in response and stand up to bullying behaviour.
Time does not permit me to respond more to other Members, but what is clear from this debate is that there is a determination among Members of this House to uphold international law and to take robust measures in response to flagrant breaches of international norms and international law by the Russian Government.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Two years ago, on 12 March 2012, this House unanimously agreed a motion calling on the Government to introduce precisely the kind of Magnitsky list that the Leader of the House just mentioned. At the time, the Government said they were not going to oppose the motion—indeed, those in the Government shouted “aye” along with the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who had introduced the motion. Yet despite it having been unanimously agreed, the Leader of the House has today, as far as I can understand it, reneged on that position. Far from being more robust with Russia, we are being less robust today than we were two years ago. Have I got that right?
Far be it from me to say whether anybody has reneged or not, although I note in passing that to renege, whether disagreeable, not least in this case to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), is not unparliamentary—nothing unparliamentary has happened. He is a considerable expert in parliamentary procedure and has just written a two-volume tome on the history of Parliament. He may well be very dissatisfied, but he has vented his concerns and they are on the record.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, you noticed my eccentric gesticulations and today you note my great agitation. I think the point raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has wide ramifications, similar to those we were concerned about yesterday: what is the status of motions passed, either in substantive votes or nem. con. votes in this House, when they are the result of the Backbench Business Committee agreeing that something should be debated and voted on? There is something a bit wrong when the House passes a motion and the Government appear to take no notice of it. What is the point of having a vote in that case?
The hon. Gentleman has opened veritably a can of parliamentary worms. The issue he raises is important, and I do not seek to brush it off for one moment, but it is not a matter of order for the Chair. What I say to him in all seriousness and solemnity, recognising that the concern he expresses is probably more widely shared, is that ultimately it is for the House to decide what is the meaning of a particular decision taken. That is not a matter for the Chair but it is a matter for the House, and it is a point to which he and others can return if they so wish, but we cannot dilate upon it now. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda could if he were in order, but he is not and so he will not. We will leave it there for now.