With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to update the House on the crisis in Ukraine, developments over the past three weeks and the action that we propose to take now. I apologise for my croaky voice.
From 6 April, illegal armed groups began to occupy Government buildings in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk. From 12 April, in an apparently co-ordinated fashion, police and security service buildings were seized in smaller towns across the east of Ukraine. Like the armed men without insignia who took control of Crimea in February, many are well equipped, operate like professional soldiers who have trained together, and wear matching uniforms. Russia’s claim that these groups are purely local militias has no credibility.
NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, has stated that
“what is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organised and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”
We share that assessment.
On 14 April, I attended the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg where we decided upon additional sanctions. Those sanctions were then suspended in the light of talks in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU on 17 April, which succeeded in agreeing steps to reduce tensions. The agreement committed all sides to refrain from violence or provocative actions in the south and east of Ukraine. It required all illegal armed groups to be disarmed and to vacate all illegally seized buildings and occupied public places in return for an amnesty for protesters, in a process assisted by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special monitoring mission. The Ukrainian Government promised to take forward an inclusive, transparent and accountable constitutional process. I spoke to the Ukrainian acting Foreign Minister Deschytsia immediately after the Geneva agreement, and strongly welcomed the agreement.
The Ukrainian Government have made determined efforts to implement the agreement in good faith. They have put a draft amnesty law to the Ukrainian Parliament, begun a constitutional reform process, including decentralisation and the expansion of local authority power, and continued to collect illegal weapons. They are removing roadblocks around the Maidan, and protesters are vacating government buildings in Kiev. In addition, they have announced steps to guarantee the protection of the Russian language and its special status, and they have condemned anti-Semitism or intolerance.
The Prime Minister announced on Good Friday that the United Kingdom is providing £1 million to support the deployment of up to 400 additional observers to strengthen the OSCE mission in Ukraine. I pay tribute to the Ukrainian Government for the steps they have taken and for behaving with immense restraint in extremely difficult circumstances.
In contrast, Russia has so far failed to implement any part of the Geneva agreement. I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov last Wednesday and although I welcomed his participation in the Geneva meeting, I said to him that I could not identify a single positive step that Russia had taken to implement the agreement. It has not condemned the act of separatists or called on armed militants to vacate buildings and put down their arms. It has done nothing to rein in pro-Russian separatist groups, which continue to attack Ukrainian arms depots and military personnel, take over Government buildings and detain journalists and OSCE military observers, which we utterly condemn. The detention and parading of those observers, who should be released immediately, is utterly reprehensible and does further damage to the standing of Russia and the reputation of such groups operating in eastern Ukraine. The deplorable shooting today of the mayor of Kharkiv is another sign of the violence being instigated against those who opted to support a united Ukraine.
Furthermore, last week Russia announced further military exercises on Ukraine’s borders, Russia’s UN ambassador claimed that it had the right to deploy so-called “peacekeepers” on Ukrainian territory and Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia reserves the right to attack Ukraine to defend ethnic Russians. There is of course no evidence of threats to, or attacks on, Russians in eastern Ukraine.
I proposed to Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia could demonstrate its good faith by making an immediate public call for the full implementation of the Geneva agreement. I also proposed that Russia’s acting head of mission in Kiev could join in assisting the OSCE special monitoring mission on the ground, including by negotiating with the groups illegally occupying buildings. I warned the Foreign Minister that in the absence of such steps, the European Union and others would impose increasing sanctions.
As I have often said in this House, we do not view developments in Ukraine as presenting a zero-sum strategic choice. Ukraine can be a bridge between east and west and be able to maintain good relations with Russia. Our national interest lies in a democratic Ukraine that is able to make its own decisions and in a rules-based international system. Both considerations now require the adoption of further measures to increase the cost to Russia of its actions.
G7 Heads of Government issued a statement on Friday pledging to move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia. We also all undertook to prepare to move to broader co-ordinated sanctions, including sectoral measures, if necessary. Russia’s accession to the International Energy Agency and the OECD has been suspended, the EU has suspended visa liberalisation talks and there will be no G8 meeting in Sochi this year but a G7 meeting without Russia in Brussels instead.
The US has previously sanctioned 38 individuals and two entities. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have adopted similar measures and 33 individuals are subject to EU asset freezes and travel bans. At the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a resolution was adopted suspending the voting rights of Russian members. I pay tribute to Members of this House for the role they played in that vote. Permanent representatives in Brussels have been meeting today to finalise adding substantially to the list of individuals sanctioned by the European Union. Subject to final procedures, that will be officially agreed within the next half hour and the names of those concerned will be published tomorrow. We are in further discussions in the EU about future steps, including preparations for a third tier of sanctions involving far-reaching economic and trade measures. Those preparations are now well advanced and the European Commission has sent proposals to each member state.
Increasing the scope of the sanctions placed on Russia is the right response to the failure to implement the Geneva agreement and the continued destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. In the past two hours, the United States has announced that it is imposing sanctions on seven further Russian Government officials, including two members of President Putin’s inner circle, and on 17 companies also linked to Putin’s inner circle, as well as additional restrictions on 13 of those companies. The United States has also announced that it has tightened policy to deny export licence applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.
As these developments show, Russia is already paying a serious price for its actions, and the longer it breaches the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, the heavier the price it will pay, undermining its own influence in its neighbourhood, steadily disconnecting Russia from the international community and damaging Russia's own prosperity and security over the long-term. We have already seen the flight of more than $63 billion in capital out of Russia and the fall of the Russian stock market, and Russia’s economy is now forecast to shrink this year. The European Commission is preparing a comprehensive plan to reduce European countries’ reliance on Russian energy, and the G7 Energy Ministers will meet next week to discuss ways to strengthen our collective energy security.
The Ukrainian people deserve their own opportunity to make free democratic choices, free from corruption and from external interference. We are sending experts to help to improve public financial management, working with the World Bank to strengthen governance in Ukraine, co-hosting a forum on asset recovery starting tomorrow here in London to locate the proceeds of corruption, and helping to support free, fair and inclusive presidential elections on 25 May. We have helped to secure an increase in European Union assistance to help to ensure economic stability in Ukraine, bringing the total support available from existing EU budgets to more than £1.4 billion and we are calling for expert EU assistance to strengthen law enforcement and the rule of law. We support IMF plans to put in place a two-year programme worth potentially more than $17 billion that will help Ukraine to make the reforms it urgently needs and to build a stronger and more prosperous economy for the future.
Russia’s actions have caused deep alarm not only in Ukraine, but among its neighbours with Russian-speaking minorities, in particular the Baltic states. On 16 April, NATO agreed a set of measures to provide reassurance and confidence to NATO allies. These include more air policing and naval missions, and deployment of additional military staff from allied nations to strengthen NATO’s preparedness, training and exercises. The UK has contributed four Typhoon aircraft to boost NATO’s regular Baltic air policing mission, which have left today, we are contributing to AWACS reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania, and we stand ready to provide more support as NATO’s response develops. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is discussing these measures with colleagues in Estonia today, and I intend to travel to the region next week, including to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
It cannot be acceptable in the 21st century not only to invade and annex by force on the back of a sham referendum part of a neighbouring country, but to use military exercises and proxies to foment instability and disorder in that country, in an effort to disrupt its democratic elections. These are policies we have to be clear we oppose, and we must be ready to take measures that make very clear that approach. Russia’s actions betray its fear of democracy and the rule of law taking root in their neighbourhood. These actions are not consistent with being a strong and confident country, and are also in breach of international agreements and the UN charter to which Russia is a party.
It is in Russia's power to help to find ways for tensions to be reduced in Ukraine, and the doors of diplomacy remain fully open. We will continue to talk to Russia and to urge it to seek de-escalation. But repeated intensification of the crisis and violation of international law and refusal to implement agreements require a strong response from the international community, and the United Kingdom will be part of that, in keeping with our international responsibilities and in defence of our national interest.
I begin by thanking the Foreign Secretary for this statement and for advance sight of it.
Russia’s willingness to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine is the gravest challenge to the European security order in decades. As this crisis continues, there are those who now argue that these actions are already undermining the belief of so many Europeans in recent years that further conflict on the European continent had become all but impossible.
The difficult but vital task of the international community, which is a matter of bipartisan agreement across the House, must be to ensure that, by demonstrating to the Russians the costs and consequences of their actions, we manage to secure a de-escalation of this continuing crisis. So I start by joining the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to Members across the House who took steps to pass the recent motion that suspended the voting rights of Russian MPs on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
At the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet a number of US Senators who were clear in their view that further action by Europe was now necessary. So I welcome the announcement made on 26 April by the G7 to extend existing sanctions against Russia, as well as today’s meeting of the Permanent Representatives in Brussels to finalise the extended list of individuals sanctioned by the EU. Similar measures have been in place since the conclusion of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 17 March and yet, as we have heard, Russia has regrettably still refused to change course. By what criteria are individuals being identified for action? Is it those with the most concrete interests within Europe, those with the biggest capacity to affect the course of events in the region or those most implicated in previous illegal actions?
The Foreign Secretary has indicated that the G7 is also exploring the possibility of wider sectoral sanctions against Russia, and I welcome those steps. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary stated in an interview on Sunday that such measures would be implemented
“if Russia continues to escalate this crisis.”
The Foreign Secretary confirmed today that the Government’s view is that the recent events in eastern Ukraine are
“being carried out at the direction of Russia.”
In the light of growing evidence that Russia is indeed escalating the crisis, will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether a continuation of the Russian Government’s current approach would itself in time constitute grounds for the G7 to decide that trade and sectoral sanctions were now necessary and appropriate?
The crisis is naturally causing real concerns among our NATO partners, in particular the Baltic states and Poland. I therefore welcome the steps announced by the Foreign Secretary today, but will he say a little more about his discussions with those NATO allies about the vital and necessary co-operation in the light of their pressing concerns given the security situation in the region?
An additional priority in the coming weeks must be securing conditions for free and fair presidential elections taking place in Ukraine on 25 May, which will involve operational and diplomatic support for the interim Government in Kiev. The Foreign Secretary is right to highlight today the £1 million pledged by the UK to support the deployment of up to 400 additional observers to strengthen the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission. In the light of the appalling treatment of seven OSCE monitors, which the Foreign Secretary rightfully condemned, will he confirm whether the OSCE intends to continue its mission in the east of Ukraine for the foreseeable future? What steps can and should be taken to try to protect those involved in the monitoring exercise?
I welcome the high-level international meeting due to take place in London tomorrow to support the Ukrainian Government’s efforts to recover stolen assets. The Foreign Secretary is right to support International Monetary Fund plans for a two-year programme to help Ukraine to reform and to become more prosperous in the long term. However, so far, no commitments have yet been made about the time frame for the delivery of that IMF support, so will the Foreign Secretary update the House about the progress made on that matter? Will he confirm whether those discussions are taking into account the significance of the period leading up to the elections on 25 May?
The current crisis has seen a series of tactical steps taken by the Kremlin, but it has also revealed longer-term strategic issues for Europe. Russia supplies around a third of the EU’s gas, but the Kremlin is also dependent on revenue from oil, gas and coal exports to the EU. I therefore welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the European Commission’s plan to reduce European countries’ reliance on Russian energy and the announcement by G7 Energy Ministers that they will hold discussions next week. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether a date will be set at that meeting for the publication of a report? Further, will he offer the House the British Government’s estimate of what actually is a realistic timetable by which the necessary infrastructure could be put in place to ensure a more meaningfully diverse supply of energy to Europe in the years ahead?
In conclusion, the days ahead mark a crucial juncture not just for Ukraine, but both for the European Union and our NATO allies. This is a moment of real geopolitical significance. Russian action, together with the international community’s response, is being watched not simply in the region, but right around the world. As in past weeks, in the days and weeks ahead, the Government will have our support in their efforts to help to ensure a de-escalation of the crisis by evidencing the costs and consequences to the Russians and by allowing Ukraine the opportunity to choose its own future.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for setting out a bipartisan approach, which is very welcome at important moments in foreign policy; it helps this country to send, and other countries to hear, a clear and united message. He joined me in paying tribute to Members on all sides—and I mean all sides—of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for their work over the past few weeks.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the criteria for placing people on the EU sanctions list. We have focused so far, including in the list that is about to be published, either on people in Crimea who have been part of what has happened there or on Russians involved in supporting the actions that have been taken in Crimea or eastern Ukraine—in other words, people with a direct political or other responsibility for what has happened. Of course, that could be broadened in future—the basis of the US sanctions is broader—but that is what we have focused on in the European Union. A question for the coming days will be whether to change the criteria for future rounds of sanctions if they prove necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman asked at what point in Russia’s escalations we will apply the third tier of sanctions, which is one of the major issues facing those countries applying sanctions. I do not think that it would be helpful to set out in detail a trip wire or red line, not least because that would invite Russia to go up to that point, knowing that it would not be subject to such sanctions. In the minds of many European countries, such sanctions are to be applied in the event of a Russian invasion of parts of eastern Ukraine. However, I think that it is important to hold out the option of applying such sanctions in circumstances that amount not to a military invasion, but to a political and forcible takeover by other means of large parts of eastern Ukraine.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about NATO Foreign Ministers. We are in close consultation across NATO. NATO Foreign Ministers met at the beginning of the month to discuss the situation in detail, and many of the measures that NATO has announced are the result of our discussions. The OSCE mission, which he asked about, is certainly continuing. The observers who have been taken hostage and paraded are not actually part of the special monitoring mission that is supporting implementation of the Geneva agreement; they are part of the military monitoring that the OSCE does anyway in an attempt to reduce tensions across eastern Europe. So far, the situation has not affected the OSCE’s determination to continue its mission. As of Friday, 122 observers have been deployed. As I mentioned in my statement, one of the reasons we have provided additional funding is so that up to 400 additional observers can be deployed, and we are in favour of the OSCE deploying a great many additional people.
The IMF support is a two-year programme, and its delivery depends upon the financial needs and performance of the Ukrainian Government over the coming weeks. It takes into account the proximity of the presidential elections. On the long-term strategic issues, I am in favour of being as transparent as possible at an early date about what the plans might involve, but clearly they still require further discussion.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how long it would take to change the infrastructure of Europe. Of course it would take many years to change the infrastructure in all the ways that could be considered, for example by completing construction of the southern gas corridor from the Caspian sea, or by changing infrastructure in the United States so that liquefied natural gas could be exported from its east coast. However, I think that a determination to embark on those and other measures would have an economic effect long before they were fully implemented. Russia has to take that into account in its actions now.
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye on this statement, which I must nevertheless balance against the intense interest that colleagues have expressed in the Second Reading debate on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, which is to follow. Accordingly, and exceptionally, as I am sure the House will concur, it might not be possible for me to accommodate everybody who is interested in this statement. If I am to have any chance of doing so, there will be a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benches alike.
I put it to my right hon. Friend that the rescue of the failed state of Ukraine from civil war needs to be kept entirely separate from any attempt to overthrow the historic treaty of Küçük Kaynarca of 1774—[Interruption.] Well, we base our defence of Gibraltar and the Falklands on ancient treaties, so they should not be disregarded. The treaty of Küçük Kaynarca transferred the sovereignty of the Crimea from the Ottoman empire to the Russian empire. Hundreds of thousands of Russians sacrificed their lives in the 1940s in defence of that, and even Mr Gorbachev has publicly announced that he regards the Crimea as an integral part of Mother Russia—and the whole of the Russian people take the same view.
Treaties of the 18th century are important, and we do indeed rest our case in some international disputes on those treaties, including the treaty of Utrecht. My right hon. Friend should nevertheless bear in mind the fact that Mr Khrushchev transferred the sovereignty of the Crimea to Ukraine—[Interruption.] I think I am receiving some support from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). Russia took that decision—also a validly taken international decision—so my right hon. Friend should reflect on the fact that we now try not to settle international disputes in the same manner as in the 18th century. The fact that Russia annexed the Crimea by force in the 1770s does not allow the Russians to do so in the 21st century.
Will the Foreign Secretary say a word about Germany’s view on economic sanctions? One of the kidnapped military monitors is Colonel Axel Schneider—a high-ranking German officer—so does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that might concentrate the mind of the German people on the need to be firm against Russia?
Four German observers are involved, which is a matter of great concern to Germany and to us. Chancellor Merkel spoke very clearly about these matters on Friday, saying that we needed to adopt additional sanctions and that G7 and EU measures come with the full support of Germany. She has called for the extension of the EU list of names, for further additions to it and for intensified preparation for the wider economic measures that may prove necessary. The support of Germany is certainly there.
Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that his very strong condemnation of the continuing aggression of Russia towards Ukraine is an acknowledgement that the rather symbolic sanctions measures taken thus far—despite the annexation of Crimea—have had absolutely no impact on Mr Putin’s thinking or his continuing behaviour? Does my right hon. Friend accept, and will the western community now accept, that the time for wide-ranging trade, economic and financial sanctions has come? Will he confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will undoubtedly support at the very least economic, financial and trade sanctions if a single Russian soldier again crosses the border into its neighbouring state?
My right hon. and learned Friend will have heard me talk about the intensified preparation of those sanctions. That is going on now; I gave a little detail about it in my statement. I mentioned earlier the debate about the criteria for imposing those sanctions, but a Russian military invasion of eastern Ukraine certainly triggers such sanctions—certainly in the view of the United Kingdom and, I think, of the great majority of European Union nations. We stand ready to take such measures and we will not shy away from them.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary’s statement and with the thoughtful response from my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander). The puzzle surely is this. On one reading, Russia is acting with a kind of irrational belligerence and aggression, given that it is inviting the retaliation that the Foreign Secretary has explained, which will be intensified, so what is Russia really after? Will the right hon. Gentleman share his assessment? Could we pursue an alternative strategy, because it does not seem to me that we are getting anywhere with this approach? Russia is not getting anywhere—it is suffering economically—and we are not getting anywhere.
I believe that Russia’s actions in Crimea, and now in eastern Ukraine, are a response to the unexpected and rapid fall of President Yanukovych and his Government, which was understood in the world—and indeed in Russia—to be a major reversal for Russian foreign policy. The long-term consequences of that response have not necessarily been thought through. Russia has acted to restore some of what it might think of as its prestige internationally or domestically, and therefore taken these actions. There is an alternative approach—the one agreed in Geneva only 11 days ago, with Russia’s Foreign Minister present—which is for all concerned to de-escalate tensions while the Ukrainian Government pursue constitutional reform, including decentralisation to the regions of Ukraine. That is the alternative model.
Is not one of the most chilling features of this affair the continued assertion of the right of Russia to intervene in other countries on the pretext of protecting Russian citizens or Russian passport holders? Has my right hon. Friend taken the opportunity to advise the Government of Ukraine, and other Governments perhaps in a similar position, about the importance of avoiding a response to any provocation—whether accidental or deliberate—that might be seized upon as a justification, however spurious, for further such intervention?
That is a very important point. It is a chilling aspect of Russia’s statements on this crisis, and I have indeed discussed it with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ukraine. I commend them again for their restraint and their refusal to rise to provocation. They have been doing their best to create and maintain law and order in their country without giving a pretext for Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine, and so far they have done a very good job under intense domestic political pressure.
Several ISAF countries are heavily reliant on Russian heavy lifting capacity and access to airspace as part of their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Is there any evidence that Russia is using that airspace and capacity as a bargaining counter in the negotiations?
Not so far. I am not aware of any interruption of co-operation on Afghanistan. Our co-operation with Russia on that and other international issues, such as the E3 plus 3 negotiations with Iran, is being maintained by us and by Russia, uninterrupted by the Ukraine crisis.
My right hon. Friend makes the point that I made in my previous answer. We continue to work with Russia on the Iranian nuclear negotiations and many African issues. We also try to work with Russia on Syria, although we have not succeeded in agreeing a common approach on that particular subject. He may be assured that we will maintain those efforts in the coming weeks.
The Foreign Secretary will continue to receive widespread support in all parts of the House if he maintains the calibrated but determined approach that he has laid out in his statement. The trick is to make certain that the Russians realise the level of determination to resist their incursions into Ukraine, balanced by allowing them the time to think through the consequences of their actions—I am not at all sure that they have done so. Does he agree?
Yes, I absolutely agree. Thinking through the long-term consequences has not necessarily happened, as I said to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain). Part of our approach is to take certain measures that have an impact while making it clear that there are further and more serious measures that we are prepared to take. We are giving the time for that to sink in and for negotiations to take place such as those in Geneva 11 days ago. I hope and believe that we have the calibration right, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for it.
May I commend my right hon. Friend’s robust but typically graduated approach, which together with Ukraine’s restraint gives every opportunity for Russia to come back into the situation and be part of the future? If there are to be costs and consequences for Russia’s illegal action, and if they are to mean anything, there will be costs and consequences for the United Kingdom. Is my right hon. Friend confident that, in particular, the City of London is well prepared for that and will give him every co-operation in making sure that the sanctions he imposes are effective and that London will not become a bolthole for the investment of those who are seeking to evade the sanctions placed on them?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. If we do have to move to a third tier of more far-reaching sanctions, it is important that they cover various economic trade and financial areas, and the United Kingdom would have to play a very important part in that. It is important that sacrifices that are necessary are shared across the whole of the European Union, but we would certainly play our part, and of course we would seek to construct these measures in a way that had the maximum effect on the Russian economy and the minimum effect on European Union economies.
There has been some talk of the possibility of providing arms to Ukraine’s military. However, when I was there two weeks ago with a number of colleagues it became apparent that more basic support equipment such as tents and protective clothing would be welcome. Has there been any consideration of providing that?
I very much welcome the visit to Ukraine by Members of Parliament from both sides of the House; that is, in itself, an important sign of our willingness to work with Ukraine and to understand the issues in that country. We have long supported projects of defence reform and improvements to the armed forces in Ukraine. We are not supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons, but we are open to supplying the sort of equipment that the hon. Lady asks about. We are looking sympathetically at its requests for these things at the moment.
Is it not clear that Russia, having repudiated the 1992 Budapest agreement to which the United Kingdom is a signatory, and now the Geneva agreement as well, is intent on invading eastern Ukraine? While I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced, not least the deployment of four Typhoons, may I renew my plea that NATO be charged with the responsibility for sending a maritime taskforce at least to deter the Russians from attacking Odessa, because that if that were to happen the remainder of Ukraine would have no access to a sea port?
I am not announcing any additional military deployment today beyond what I have said about the air policing mission, but I take note of my hon. Friend’s suggestion. I do not think that what has happened necessarily means that Russia has decided to invade eastern Ukraine. Clearly, it means that Russia has put itself in a position to do so, and the threat to do so has to be taken seriously. It also means that it has embarked on the destabilisation of Ukraine and a deliberate attempt to make it as difficult as possible for that country to function and for its presidential elections to be held—and that, of course, is bad enough.
When we were in Ukraine a fortnight ago, the extent to which Yanukovych has run down the country’s armed forces, presumably in anticipation of events such as these, was absolutely clear to me. May I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) and urge the Foreign Secretary and his NATO colleagues to consider urgently what can be done to strengthen Ukraine’s defences and to provide basic equipment such as secure radio and bullet-proof vests, and military advice and technical equipment, so that the country is more able to defend itself?
Broadly, yes—although I am not saying yes to all the items the hon. Gentleman mentions. I reiterate the answer I gave to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire. I do not think that former President Yanukovych anticipated his own demise and flight to Russia, but nevertheless it is true that the Ukrainian armed forces have been run down for a long time. We will be able to supply them with some basic items that help them to function and I will keep the House informed about that.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, with all business with Russia grinding to a halt, Russian stock markets in free fall, the rouble weakening, serious outflows of capital, interest rates rising and a possible forced debt sell-off, the markets are in fact providing de facto sanctions already?
Yes. Indeed, that should be of more concern to Russia than any sanctions we impose on individuals. The Russian economy is already slow-growing, certainly compared with our own. It has slowed further in recent months and it is possible, as I mentioned in my statement, that it will shrink this year. Every time Russia destabilises Ukraine, it is destabilising its own economy and reducing its own economic prospects, which will bring serious long-term consequences for Russia.
Most of the sanctions thus far have been targeted at individuals and the Foreign Secretary earlier announced more targeted sanctions by the United States of America against individuals. Is there not a real danger that all that will do is unite and cement the Putin regime and bind its members more to one another and to the Russian people? It would be far more productive to have serious economic and financial sanctions that affect the whole of the Russian economy.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for that. We have those more far-reaching sanctions in preparation. It is very important to keep like-minded countries together on this—that is a major consideration for us. That means the whole of the European Union and G7 acting together. It is certainly the majority consensus opinion that targeted sanctions—followed later, if necessary, by the more far-reaching measures—is the way to do this. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have advocated taking more far-reaching measures now, but I think on balance it is right to stick to the calibrated approach that I advocate and that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) has commented on. It makes it clear to Russia that such measures will follow a further serious escalation of this crisis.
Does the end game of the Foreign Secretary and the European Union include the requirement on Russia to disgorge Crimea, given the arrangements under the association agreement that were agreed in the conclusions of the EU summit a few weeks ago?
The association agreement and any other actions or documents of the United Kingdom and the European Union are not going to recognise the annexation of Crimea. It cannot be accepted internationally. That is why we are also looking in Europe at the economic measures we are going to apply to Crimea in its current condition, annexed by Russia. The only agreement we have with Russia on these matters is the Geneva agreement, which relates to de-escalating tensions in Ukraine. That is what the international community has come together to require.
Is there not a connection between the bully-boy tactics the Russians are now employing in Ukraine and the way in which democratic reforms and changes in Russia itself—the sorts of changes brought in by Mr Gorbachev in the late 1980s—have been reversed?
There is a connection. I said in my statement that I think Russia is fearful about the establishment of more fully fledged democracy and rule of law in its neighbourhood. There are domestic implications for Russia. That is part of the explanation for its actions and I think that is the wrong course for Russia to be embarked on. In the long term, a more open economy, better relations with its neighbours and a better functioning democracy in its own country would be in its own best interests.
As I mentioned earlier, some things would require long-term changes in infrastructure, but changes are taking place already. Today, Ukraine and Slovakia have signed an agreement for what is called a reverse flow of gas into Ukraine from European countries. Taken with other agreements, that means that Ukraine could now receive about 17 billion cubic metres of gas in total from the EU and other European countries. Changes are therefore already being made, but major changes in infrastructure will take years.
As has already been said, Putin’s popularity is increasing—really solidifying his approach—and sanctions may take some time to have an impact on ordinary Russians. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore tell us a little more about the discussions he is having with Russia’s neighbours and allies, and about the pressure that they might put on him? Why are we doing so little, or so it seems, in terms of the relationship with the UN?
The relationship of the UN to this matter is of course very important. A debate took place several weeks ago in the UN General Assembly, when a resolution making clear the support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine was carried by 100 votes to 11. That illustrated the extent of Russia’s diplomatic isolation, but such a vote has not of course affected Russia’s behaviour.
We, of course, talk closely to neighbouring countries. I mentioned that the Minister for Europe is in Estonia today. The Baltic states are particularly concerned about what Russia has done, and we are increasing our military support for them. We will continue to work with neighbouring countries very closely, and I will visit Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine next week to reinforce that.
Given the danger that these tactics, if successful, will embolden Russia to do something similar against a NATO member state, as the Foreign Secretary suggested, is any thought being given to increasing the prominence of defence expenditure among Britain’s national priorities?
Defence remains a very important priority for the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend knows very well. These events mean that at the NATO summit in September, which we will be very proud to host in Wales, there will be increased consciousness of the need for NATO in Europe and of the need for confidence in the collective defence of NATO nations. I have already made the case at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting that that will mean, over the coming years, some NATO nations that spend much less than 2% of GDP on defence having to think again and to increase their defence expenditure.
When we were in Kiev over the Easter recess, an official made the point to me that Ukraine did not think, when it gave up its nuclear weapons, that it was doing so in return for a few targeted sanctions on individuals. If we are to make any meaningful progress on nuclear non-proliferation in future, do we not need to show the world that we will do whatever it takes to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including discussing now the prospect of a long-term energy boycott on Russia?
We do have to show that there are very serious consequences, which I have set out. Let us remember that a complete energy boycott of Russia would be very difficult to implement—at this moment, at any rate—for many EU nations, such as Bulgaria, that are heavily dependent on Russian supplies of gas. It would therefore be rash for the whole European Union to advocate an energy boycott of Russia, but it is right to talk about reducing—long-term—the reliance on Russian energy and to change the balance of leverage, as I have put it previously in this House, between Russia and the European Union. We are engaged in that, and Russia should really pay heed to it.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for the assistance the British embassy gave the cross-party delegation that visited Ukraine 10 days ago. Is he aware that many Ukrainians believe that their country will soon be at war and that this country has a special obligation to help them, as a signatory to the Budapest memorandum? Will he consider their request that targeted sanctions be introduced now against Russian financial institutions that can be shown to be supporting the separatists, and that we provide assistance in the form of intelligence sharing and the supply of non-lethal military equipment?
As my hon. Friend knows very well, I do not comment on intelligence matters on the Floor of the House, but I note the point he makes. I join him in paying tribute to our embassy, which is doing a very good job in extremely demanding circumstances. In our application of sanctions, we are taking into account those Russians who have been engaged in creating instability in eastern Ukraine. One of the next decisions that we will face, as I mentioned earlier, is whether to widen the criteria so that a greater range of Russians can be included in future.
At a time when the security of Europe is genuinely seen to be in question, will the Foreign Secretary agree that our membership of the European Union is integral to our ability to respond properly to crises such as that in Ukraine?
I welcome the escalation of sanctions and note what my right hon. Friend said about Russia’s self-inflicted wounds to her economy and her standing in the world. What is his message today to any individual or company that is considering investing in or doing business with Russia?
We have not declared a trade war or a boycott of Russia. There are British companies with huge investments in Russia that made those investments in good faith. If it comes to the adoption of more far-reaching economic, trade and financial measures, that will have an impact on some of those companies. However, any such message is for that point. We are not declaring an economic boycott of Russia today.
In just over three weeks, there will be presidential elections in Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary said in his statement: “NATO agreed a set of measures to provide reassurance and confidence to NATO allies.” Are any NATO measures under consideration to give material military help and support to Ukrainian forces if Ukraine’s eastern border is invaded by Russia in order to disrupt those elections?
No, not as things stand. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Our response to the situation has not been military outside NATO’s borders. Our additional assurance is to NATO members and relates to our collective defence. That does not extend to a military guarantee to Ukraine.
That is another reason why I will visit Moldova and why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe visited it recently. It is true that the security threats to Ukraine come from several directions: from the Black sea and Crimea, from Transnistria and from Russia forces on the eastern border. That underlines the importance of the strong messages about the costs of such intervention to Russia that I am sending today and that others, including the United States, are sending.
Quite rightly we are discussing south-eastern Ukraine, but there is an issue on the Polish border to the west. What assurance can the Foreign Secretary give my Polish constituents that he is not neglecting that aspect of the problem in his discussions?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the credibility of international agreements such as the Geneva convention, the UN charter and the Budapest memorandum is now at stake if the post-second world war international system is not to fail in the way the post-first world war system did?
With a mind to the presidential elections on 25 May, has the Secretary of State assessed the number of British nationals who will play a role in monitoring those elections, and if so, what security arrangements will be put in place to protect them from any molestation?
I do not know how many British nationals will be involved, although some certainly will participate in the monitoring and in the work of the OSCE mission that I mentioned earlier. In the vast majority of the country I do not think security arrangements will be an issue, but we will, of course, look carefully in eastern Ukraine at what we need to do about that.
May I echo the importance of the cross-party visit that took place during the Easter recess? It was clear for us to see the role that Russian ringleaders were playing in stirring up tensions there. Given that two thirds of Ukraine’s GDP is owned by just 11 oligarchs, does my right hon. Friend agree that that powerful group could, if it chose, play a more influential role in stabilising Ukraine?
Yes, I do agree. My hon. Friend made some important reflections on the visit that he and other hon. Members made and which, as I said earlier, was very welcome. Those oligarchs can play an important role and I have spoken to some of them myself to urge them to play a strongly positive role in the future of their country.
When we were in Ukraine it was clear that what the Ukrainians call “little green men” are agitating in the east. Will the Foreign Secretary work with our international allies to step up our intelligence so that we can affirm what is known to everyone but not yet clearly evidenced in the international community and the public eye—that those are indeed Russian agitators in the east?
Again, I do not comment on our intelligence, but I can say that we are very confident that those personnel are Russian operatives—not exclusively so. When one considers how they are armed and equipped, how well trained and co-ordinated they are, and how well what they have done in eastern Ukraine mirrors some of what happened in Crimea, it would defy common sense to think them anything other than Russian personnel.
Given that most of the Ukrainian media has been shut down and that east Ukrainians are receiving a diet of Russian propaganda each day, what more can Britain do to use its soft power, including the BBC World Service, to ensure that we get some balanced propaganda and that the presidential and other elections take place?
The concept of balanced propaganda is a good one, and one we are all very fond of in this House, no doubt. My hon. Friend makes the good point that a multi-billion dollar true propaganda machine is operating on behalf of Russia, putting out stories to the people of east Ukraine in particular that often bear very little resemblance to reality. There is no shortage of outlets from the western media, and other outlets that are free to report things as they are, but it is one of the issues I will consider when I visit the region next week.
My constituents have been horrified at the incursion into Ukraine’s sovereignty in recent weeks, but they will be equally horrified at the recent comments by Scotland’s First Minister. Does the Secretary of State agree that Alex Salmond did not speak for Scotland on Kosovo, and he does not speak for the people of Scotland now when he claims that rising Russian nationalism is a force for good in the world?
Yes, absolutely. I think people throughout Scotland—indeed, throughout the whole of the United Kingdom—will be horrified by those comments. To pay tribute, even as Russia was annexing Crimea by force, to the restoration of pride in Russia is a gross error of judgment in international relations. The attitude of the Scottish National party is very concerning.
Will the Foreign Secretary give us an update on what is happening in Crimea?
The Tatars, an important minority in Crimea, have grave concerns about what has happened and what it will mean for them. In the European Union, we are looking at the economic restrictions that will apply to goods that are made in Crimea but not exported through Ukraine. It will be a difficult future for Crimea following the forcible annexation of the region.
It seems clear that further and tougher sanctions might be necessary. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is absolutely imperative for members of the EU and other states to work together carefully to ensure that each supports the other in any sanctions relating to energy?
Yes. The EU nations, and some countries beyond the EU, need to work very closely on this matter. As long as any one country of the EU is heavily dependent on Russian supplies of gas, the whole of the EU is affected by that vulnerability. Addressing the vulnerability of each individual nation, as well as the EU as a whole, is very important.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on the importance of reinforcing NATO and our own gesture of sending a flight of Typhoons to the Baltic states. Will he tell us which of our allies, apart from the United States, are involved in a similar move?
Other allies are involved. The United States and United Kingdom have most quickly provided assets, but other nations will be involved in some of the other actions of assurance. Rather than giving my hon. Friend an off-the-cuff selection of countries, I will write to him with the up-to-date list.
There would be implications for national competence and sovereignty in deciding to take that measure, but we can have co-ordinated plans to make sure that Europe is able to diversify its energy supplies. One of the most valuable things that could be done in Europe is the creation of a true single market in energy, with the necessary infrastructure and pricing. That would do more to reduce both prices and, ultimately, dependence on Russia than having a single buying agency.