With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on recent events in Ukraine. I will update the House on the situation on the ground, the diplomatic work going on to reduce tensions, the decisions we made at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday, and the approach that we will continue to pursue over the coming weeks.
Presidential elections will be held in Ukraine on 25 May. In the vast majority of the country, preparations are proceeding well under the observation of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The UK is contributing 100 observers to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights election observation mission, which is 10% of the total number; £429,000 for the first round of elections. We have also given £1 million in funding so far to the special monitoring mission. I met the heads of both those vital missions in Ukraine last week, and I thanked them for the hard work of their teams in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.
However, in two of Ukraine’s 25 regions—Donetsk and Luhansk, in the south and east of the country—the situation has deteriorated markedly over the past two weeks. A constant barrage of propaganda by the Russian media, and a steadily mounting death toll, are contributing to an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and division. So-called pro-Russian separatists, led by people who by their training, equipment and behaviour give every appearance of sometimes being Russian special forces, have continued to seize and occupy Government buildings in the south and east of Ukraine, using many of the same tactics that were deployed in Crimea. We have seen intimidation of journalists, abductions and murders. Missiles have been used to destroy at least four Ukrainian military helicopters, giving the lie to Russia’s claim that these are the actions of spontaneously organised local protestors, rather than well-trained, well-equipped professionals.
On 2 May more than 40 people died in Odessa, including many pro-Russian protesters trapped in a building that was set on fire—an act we condemn unreservedly. This weekend, separatist groups staged sham “referendums” on self-rule in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. Those polls were marked by blatant fraud, including multiple voting, no proper voting lists, and threats and intimidation against Ukrainians standing up for the unity of their country. The referendums met no basic standards of objectivity, transparency and fairness, and they have no credibility whatsoever. We will not recognise those or any other attempts to undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
The Government believe that our national interest lies in a democratic Ukraine able to determine its own future, and in protecting a rules-based international system. Therefore, our objectives remain to avoid any further escalation of the crisis, to support the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, and to uphold international law.
I visited Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia last week, to show our support at a time when all three countries are feeling acute pressure. We look forward to the signing next month of Georgia and Moldova’s association agreements with the EU, which will also establish deep and comprehensive free trade areas, and are currently under parliamentary scrutiny. I gave our strong support to the Moldovan Government’s plans to sign and implement the agreement, and encouraged them to make more progress on reform and in the fight against corruption. In Georgia I discussed, and thanked the Government for their contribution to, their partnership with NATO.
In Ukraine I met the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the Head of the National Security and Defence Council, as well as the Governor of Donetsk and two presidential candidates. I encouraged all Ukraine’s leaders to communicate with people in the south and east of the country, and to counter Russian disinformation. I welcomed the steps the Government have taken to launch an inclusive dialogue on constitutional reform and decentralisation, and to offer an amnesty for those who peacefully leave occupied buildings in eastern Ukraine. I assured Ukrainians of our support for the presidential elections, which must be allowed to take place free from violence and intimidation.
On top of our strong support for the work of the OSCE, the UK is providing technical assistance to support public financial management and other reform efforts in Ukraine. We have led the call for the urgent imposition of EU sanctions targeting individuals suspected of misappropriating funds from the Ukrainian state, and we hosted the Ukraine Asset Recovery Forum two weeks ago in London, with the United States and Ukraine, in order to co-ordinate this work.
As I have always stressed, the doors of diplomacy remain open. We continue to discuss the situation with Russia, and the Prime Minister had a long conversation with President Putin on 1 May. We strongly supported the Geneva agreement of 17 April and deplore the failure of Russia to join in implementing it. It is right to try now to revive the diplomatic process, and I support and welcome the efforts being made by OSCE Chair-in-Office and President of Switzerland, Didier Burkhalter. Last week I met him in Vienna, and I held further discussions with him over the weekend and yesterday in Brussels. Last Wednesday, he met President Putin and put forward a four-point plan, including the immediate launch of a national dialogue by the Ukrainian authorities with OSCE support. We have encouraged Ukraine to respond positively to this, and it is doing so. The Government have announced they will hold the first meeting tomorrow, and agreed that there will be both Ukrainian and international mediation in this process.
I strongly believe it is in the interests of all concerned to seize these opportunities to reduce tensions. It is manifestly in the interests of the people of Ukraine, including in Donetsk and Luhansk, where there is a danger of the violence growing even worse and many more lives being lost. It is in the interests of Russia, because some events have already moved beyond its control, and because the long-term economic and political costs to Russia of an escalating crisis will be very serious. It is also urgent, because the situation is deteriorating, and the elections are only 12 days away. We look to Russia to exercise its influence and to take every opportunity to restrain those responsible for violence and disorder, consistent with President Putin’s remarks last week that the elections are a step forward.
Yesterday I attended the EU Foreign Affairs Council, at which we made it clear that attitudes and behaviour towards the holding of the elections will have particular importance in deciding whether or not wider economic and trade sanctions will be applied. Preparations for these sanctions are at an advanced stage.
There is no doubt that the Ukrainian authorities are making thorough preparations for the elections to be held, and therefore Russia’s willingness to exercise its influence over illegal armed groups in parts of eastern Ukraine will be the decisive factor in whether everyone in the eastern provinces will be able to exercise their right to vote. Since Russia has taken no practical steps to de-escalate the crisis so far, we agreed yesterday to add a new group of 13 individuals and two companies to the list of persons sanctioned by the EU. This is the first time that entities—companies—have been sanctioned by the EU in relation to the crisis.
We agreed to expand the criteria for sanctions. These will now cover not just individuals directly responsible for undermining the security, territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, but also a broader range of individuals and entities linked to separatist and illegal activities. For the first time, the sanctions will also be applicable to entities in Crimea or Sevastopol whose ownership has been transferred contrary to Ukrainian law, and to those who obstruct the work of international organisations in Ukraine.
At the Foreign Affairs Council, we also called on Russia to take effective steps to fulfil its Geneva commitments: to refrain from provocative acts and intimidation, to use its influence with separatist groups to compel them to disarm and to vacate illegally occupied buildings, and to cease its destabilising campaign. We demanded that Russia move its troops away from the Ukrainian border. President Putin said last week that troops were returning to their regular training grounds. However we have seen no evidence that Russia has reduced the huge number of its troops stationed just miles from Ukraine, and in fact Moscow continues to encourage the actions of separatists, including through the state-controlled media.
In addition to these steps, we agreed as Foreign Ministers that the EU will prepare a possible civilian mission in Ukraine, to support capacity building in the fields of rule of law, and judicial and police reform. We maintained our firm commitment to sign the remaining provisions of the association agreement with Ukraine, including the deep and comprehensive free trade area, as soon as possible after the presidential elections.
It is clear that if Russia does not take the path of de-escalation, the long-term cost to it will grow, in an economy already shrinking and suffering massive capital flight. G7 Energy Ministers met in Rome last week and committed themselves to reduce market power and political influence through energy supply. EU leaders will discuss further detailed measures when they meet in June.
The people of Ukraine deserve the right to choose their own Government in a free and fair election, just as we do. They also deserve to be free from external interference and duress and to have the chance to chart an independent future without the debilitating corruption and mismanagement of recent years. They should have every opportunity to be a bridge between east and west, and not to have their country pulled apart by the fanning of hatreds, the wilful sowing of violent disorder, and the insertion of provocateurs and separatists from over their borders.
There is now a fresh opening for Russia, and anyone else fostering violence and tension, to turn back from the brink. The coming days will demonstrate whether they are going to take it. The UK will do everything it can to encourage that and to support the holding of open and fair democratic elections. The international community must continue to be prepared to act with resolve and determination, to persuade the Russian Government to change their approach, to defend a rules- based international system, and to prevent a deterioration of the situation in the wider region.
Mr Speaker, you and the Foreign Secretary will, I hope, be aware of the reasons why the shadow Foreign Secretary is regrettably not able to be here to respond to the statement. I thank the Foreign Secretary for it, and for advance sight of it.
Before turning to the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on Ukraine, may I first briefly address the recent horrific events in Nigeria? We welcome yesterday’s written statement and the steps taken by this Government, alongside allies, in support of the Nigerian-led efforts to rescue the captured girls. We note that the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s conclusions make reference to the situation in Nigeria. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that in recent days, Members on both sides of the House have been urging that the opportunity be given to debate the matter in Parliament. I expect that those requests have been noted and that the Government will respond accordingly.
Turning to Ukraine, as the Foreign Secretary stressed, the situation in eastern Ukraine is deeply troubling. The violence continues, the death toll is rising and the situation is increasingly volatile. He is right to condemn unreservedly the offence on 2 May in Odessa, where more than 40 people died. He is also right to condemn the referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk on Sunday, which were both illegal and illegitimate. The priority must now be for calm to be restored and further violence to be prevented.
The events over the weekend have created a key moment when the real resolve and intentions of Russia must now be tested. In recent days, President Putin has publicly issued words that some have seen as a sign of possible progress. The international community, however, must judge President Putin not by his words alone but by his actions. He said that the referendum should be postponed. Now, he must condemn the fact that it has taken place. He said that presidential elections might be a step forward. Now, he must help to create the conditions for them to take place peacefully. He said that he has withdrawn troops from the border. He must allow NATO to verify that. He has signed up to the Geneva accord of 17 April. Now, he must help to implement it. If President Putin fails to take the minimum steps required to demonstrate that he is willing to change course, the west must be prepared to increase pressure in the days and weeks ahead.
We welcome the steps agreed at yesterday’s EU Foreign Affairs Council to extend existing targeted measures, including against two Ukrainian companies. On the measures agreed, will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he expects the expanded criteria to result in the addition of further Russian entities to the list of companies targeted by such actions? Will he confirm whether we are taking steps to secure a further meeting between the signatories as a way of trying to make further progress on implementation? We note the Council’s conclusions in support of a further meeting, but in the light of Russian statements that no such meeting is planned, could he set out the likelihood of it taking place?
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on the EU’s preparatory work on possible wider trade and economic sanctions against Russia. Can he provide any further detail on the measures under consideration? Will he confirm that any steps taken by Russia to seek to prevent the peaceful process of presidential elections this month would be deemed a serious escalation, and further evidence of their wilful intention to destabilise the situation in Ukraine further? We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s confirmation that an association agreement is due to be signed with Georgia and Moldova next month, alongside a free trade area.
The Foreign Secretary will be aware that many countries in the region, especially those from the former Warsaw pact and former Soviet Union, but also including our Nordic allies, have a deeper concern that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are not an isolated incident but part of a developing and worrying trend—particularly in the light of claims by the Russian Government about their need to protect Russian speakers or ethnic Russians, irrespective of their nationality or the credibility of any real threat against them. It is little wonder that this has caused apprehension and even alarm. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm what discussions he has had with our EU and NATO allies on our response to these developments?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Given that he asked about Nigeria, it may be in order to say one sentence about Nigeria. I issued a written statement yesterday, the matter was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday and I briefed the Cabinet on the situation this morning. Our team was deployed to Nigeria last Friday and has had meetings over the last few days with the Nigerian security authorities, with the President and with representatives of the families of the girls who have been abducted. They are working closely with the US team and we are in close touch with the Nigerians about what more we can provide as additional assistance. That was a long sentence! I hope it briefly keeps the House up to date on how we are responding to this appalling crime.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed through his statement and questions the bipartisan approach we have to the crisis in Ukraine. He was quite right to say that President Putin and Russia should be judged on their actions, not just on words at press conferences, and that we should be prepared to increase the pressure. The decisions we took yesterday in Brussels are clear evidence of our willingness to increase the pressure. Not everybody expected us to agree further sanctions yesterday, but we felt that in the absence of concrete steps from Russia to de-escalate, it was right to add to the sanctions. To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question about whether there could be further extensions to the list of individuals and entities subject to asset freezes and travel bans, yes, absolutely there could be. Because we have substantially widened the criteria, many more individuals and entities can now be added if the circumstances warrant it. There is a real readiness across the whole European Union to do so.
I said in my statement that the wider sanctions—wider economic, trade and financial measures—which we have not yet imposed, are at an advanced stage. I am not able to announce any details, because they would of course have to be agreed in detail at the time. The detailed work has been done by the European Commission in consultation with EU members. It would be desirable to have a further meeting of the parties that took part in the Geneva talks of 17 April. However, it is possible to make progress even without such a meeting, as the work over the last week by the chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, President Burkhalter of Switzerland, has demonstrated. We are in close touch with him, and he is working closely with the Ukrainian authorities and is, of course, in regular touch with Moscow to try to make his four-point plan work. I very much welcome his dedication to that task, and I will remain in close touch with him.
On the question of whether the further steps to destabilise the elections represent a serious escalation, yes, that is absolutely right, as was made clear at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday and by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in their press conference on Saturday. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to refer to the concerns created, particularly in countries with Russian-speaking minorities, about how Russia has defined its interests and its right, as it sees it, to intervene in other nations in defiance of the UN charter and international law. That is why NATO has made decisions to give greater assurance to our colleagues, particularly in the Baltic states. As he knows, we have reinforced the air policing of the Baltic, including by sending Royal Air Force Typhoon jets, and we will take other steps as necessary.
One of the results of what Russia has done is that at the NATO summit, which we are proud to host in Wales in September, NATO’s responsibilities to ensure the collective and guaranteed defence of its European members, and our readiness to revitalise that and ensure that it remains there in the coming years, will be a topic of great discussion—greater than it would have been without this crisis.
The implications for this crisis go well beyond Ukraine. Putin has effectively said that the protection of ethnic Russians in another country is not a matter for the laws of that country or the constitution or the Government, but for an external power—namely Russia. This is a fundamental challenge to international law. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not enough just to de-escalate on Ukraine; we need assurances from the Kremlin that Russia will not interfere in any other sovereign state simply on the basis that ethnic Russians live there? Otherwise, sanctions must continue on that very basis.
My right hon. Friend is quite right that huge principles are at stake here. That is why the reaction in the United Nations has been so clear and overwhelming: in the votes held in New York, Russia was entirely on its own in the Security Council, with China abstaining. Russia was outvoted in the General Assembly by 100 votes to 11 precisely because the issues at stake are exactly as great as my right hon. Friend describes them. That is why I underline the long-term cost to Russia—in the reduction of energy market power, the reduction of influence in eastern Europe because of populations turning against it and NATO reinforcing its responsibilities for the defence of its eastern members. All of that flows from what Russia has done in recent weeks.
May I first welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and commend the approach he has adopted? May I ask him about the position of the German business lobby, part of which has been arguing, with the assistance of the former German Chancellor, against any kind of wider economic sanctions? The position of Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier has been commendable, but what assessment does the right hon. Gentleman make of Germany’s understanding that it is in its interest to ensure that if necessary, sanctions, including business sanctions, are strengthened if there is no other way of securing some observation by Russia?
I think that is understood in Germany—certainly by their ministerial and political leaders. I had a long discussion with Mr Steinmeier before yesterday’s Foreign Affairs Council, and he fully joined in bringing about the decisions we made at that Council, while Chancellor Merkel expressed Germany’s strong view at her press conference on Saturday. Of course it is understood across Europe that wider sanctions against Russia will have some damaging consequences in Europe. I have said before that if we come to that point, those sanctions will be designed to have the maximum effect on Russia and the minimum effect on European economies—but they would have an effect on Britain, France and Germany. The plans developed for such sanctions include measures to be taken by Germany, and the triggers for them are the ones that I described earlier. We regard Germany as working closely with us on this issue.
Is it not clear that, far from being deterred by the range of sanctions measures taken by the west, the Russians continue to escalate the crisis with impunity—not least by the deployment to Crimea of some of the most sophisticated weaponry, including, I understand, the latest K-300P Bastion-P mobile anti-ship missile systems? In those circumstances, how on earth can we expect Russia to honour and respect the outcome of the forthcoming presidential elections in Ukraine?
Russia certainly has the involvement I pointed out in my statement, but I also argued that, given the longer-term consequences for Russia, the escalating sanctions, and some of the tragedies that have happened, such as in Odessa, it is in Russia’s interests to co-operate with the initiative that the OSCE chair has launched, which we support.
Russia is capable of adjusting its approach. As others have said, President Putin’s actions will be much more important than his words, but his words last week, when he described the elections as a step forward in Ukraine, represent a substantive change in the Russians’ position. Their previous position was that Yanukovych was still the legitimate President of Ukraine. Clearly, if the elections are a step forward, the Russians have changed their position in accepting a new president rather than the old one. The Russian position has very much created this crisis, but it is not an immutable position.
The apparent contrast between what President Putin has been saying and what Sergei Lavrov appears to be saying—that the referendums must be accepted as an expression of opinion and taken seriously—is leading many people to believe that this is just a cynical tactic on the part of the Russian Administration. Does the Foreign Secretary share their fear, and, if so, does he believe that their analysis is recognised by our European partners?
Yes, I think so. Again, the test is what actually happens. There is a strong school of thought which holds that Russia’s call for the sham referendums not to go ahead, although they went ahead, was intended more to disclaim responsibility for them than actually to discourage them. The Russians have reacted by saying that they respect what they see as the will of the people, which was expressed in such a massively anti-democratic fashion as the referendums, but they have not reacted in the same way as they did after the sham referendum in Crimea, by annexing the territory concerned. They clearly see Donetsk and Lugansk in a different light from Crimea, and what they want to do is different. It is terrible, but it is different, and we will continue to judge them by the differences in their actions.
My right hon. Friend paints an understandably grim picture. At the risk of over-dramatisation, I would say that this has all the characteristics of a powder keg. President Putin will not adopt diplomacy until he is satisfied by what he has achieved or is forced to come to the table, which renders the point made by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) all the more significant. Is my right hon. Friend entirely confident that the countries of the European Union will be unanimous in any further extension, and, in particular, that the United States will form part of any such extension, given that this is a matter for the Atlantic alliance as a whole?
So far, the co-ordination between the United States and the EU and between EU nations has been very strong, and we in the UK play an important role in ensuring that there is that co-ordination. Any discussion behind closed doors often features a variety of views—as one would expect, when 28 EU nations are involved—but so far we have had no difficulty in reaching unanimous agreement on the sanctions that I have described, and that includes the decisions we made yesterday. Russia should not underestimate the willingness of the European Union to add further measures, including more far-reaching measures if necessary, and to engage in close co-ordination with the United States of America in that regard.
The first broadcast in Ukrainian by the BBC World Service was in June 1992, and the last was in April 2011. Given that the Foreign Secretary himself has referred to the constant propaganda from Russia, will he discuss with the BBC whether it is time to reinstate that service?
I think that point is worth considering. As I discovered in Ukraine last week, there is a constant demand for other media and for impartial media, given the behaviour of Russian-controlled or Russian-sponsored media, and we are considering ways in which that can be encouraged without controlling it ourselves. Of course, there is now a greater proliferation of television channels and forms of communication of every kind, so the answer is not necessarily to replicate exactly what we had before, but in many parts of eastern Europe there is a need for impartial information and news, and that is something that we must not neglect.
Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates or another emergency occurs elsewhere which requires the House to sit during prorogation, the issue of a royal warrant will be required? Will he explain how that procedure would work in practice?
It is no simple matter for the House to sit during prorogation, which is one of the reasons for making my statement today. Indeed, it would be unprecedented. Nevertheless, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 provides a means for the House to sit in extreme circumstances, if there is a threat to the United Kingdom. The Leader of the House will be much more familiar with the details than I am, but I think that my hon. Friend should bear in mind that the threshold for the assembly of Parliament during prorogation is very, very high.
While Russia undoubtedly has responsibility for the crisis that has occurred, is it not a fact that many people feel an attachment to Russia, particularly in eastern Ukraine? Whoever wins the presidential elections on the 25th of this month, will there not be a responsibility—a very important responsibility—to reach out to the large number of people who, rightly or wrongly, feel a greater attachment to Russia than to Ukraine?
According to reputable surveys, even in the eastern parts of Ukraine there is little evidence that people want to be part of Russia, although of course there is much evidence of disaffection in regard to politics, their own former leaders in Kiev, and so on. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that reaching out and inclusivity within the whole of Ukraine are vital, and that will be a very important task for whoever wins the presidential election. I have now met five of the presidential candidates—including all the leading ones in Ukraine—and have given them that advice, as well as the advice that they must secure an end to the whole culture of corruption and cronyism that has prevailed in Ukraine in the past.
Whatever we may think about Russia—and I for one am distinctly unimpressed—the Russians are people with whom we must do business. I have in mind the negotiations over Iran. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to avoid institutional hostility and keep the lines of communication open, although the Russians do not make it easy for us?
“Unimpressed” is a good bit of British understatement from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. My right hon. Friend is right: it is important to keep channels of communication open. That is what I do with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and that is why the Prime Minister has spoken to President Putin several times during this crisis. Even as we speak, our representatives are sitting with Russia in the E3 plus 3 negotiations with Iran, and working constructively together on one of the world’s other great issues. We will make every effort to continue to do that, because it is in the global interest and in our national interest.
Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that we do not simply suspect that Russia is behind much of the armed insurrection in the east of Ukraine, but hold the country squarely responsible? If such tactics were attempted in a NATO member country, they would trigger a full article 5 response.
There is no doubt about that. I hope that I made it clear in my statement, but I am happy to restate our certainty about Russian involvement in the violence and disorder that have taken place in eastern Ukraine. What has happened does not have the characteristics of spontaneous protest. The level of equipment, training and co-ordination involved demonstrates that there is outside intervention. Ukraine is not, of course, a member of NATO, but I am sure that were such things to happen in a NATO member country, it would be able to invoke article 5 of the NATO treaty.
Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), in affirming our support for NATO and article 5, what other countries apart from ourselves and the United States have sent troops or planes to exercise in the Baltic states and Russia?
The United States did the last rotation of Baltic air policing and we are contributing to it now, as my hon. Friend knows. The French have deployed four Rafale aircraft which are based in Poland. Denmark has deployed four F-16 aircraft to Estonia and there is work on further maritime deployments as well. So a variety of countries are involved in these exercises and policing.
I welcome the deployment of UK forces to front-line NATO states, and I also welcome the Foreign Secretary’s visits to Georgia and Moldova as well as Ukraine, but what assistance and help can we give, particularly to Moldova, because what might happen in Transnistria at some point could be a repetition of what has happened already in Crimea?
This is a very important point and it is one of the things I went to Moldova to discuss with its Government. Of course, the opening up of a closer economic relationship with EU countries is a major opportunity for them. Already, when Russia stopped buying Moldovan wine, which is one of its principal exports, the EU opened up to Moldovan wine. We may have to be ready to do that in other areas of the economy as well. The Moldovan Government made a number of requests to me on my visit, and I am thinking positively about all of them and discussing them with my EU colleagues.
While in no way condoning Mr Putin’s actions, I just wonder if the EU has played into his hands. Should not peace and reconciliation be our objective now? Should we not in this context reassure Russia that we have no intention of dragging Ukraine into our orbit by Ukraine joining NATO, that any free trade associations with the EU will be balanced with free trade associations with Russia, as Mr Putin proposed, and that there should be full devolution for east and west Ukraine?
We have always made it clear—and I make it clear again now, as I did in my statement—that we have always seen Ukraine as having strong relations with east and west and that it has never been our objective to pull Ukraine in a direction that means it loses its important economic and political relations with Russia. I think that that message is very clear and we are clearly supporting, in the work of the OSCE, decentralisation in Ukraine in a way that is acceptable to the whole of its population, including its regions. I therefore think the problem has lain in the perception of Russia—an inaccurate perception—rather than in the actions of western countries.
Will the Foreign Secretary say something about NATO’s longer term intentions? Since 1990 we have had constant expansion of NATO and that in turn has encouraged an equal and opposite reaction within Russia. Does he not think it is time to stop the expansion of NATO and to try to bring about a peaceful central European region?
NATO is not an alliance designed for offensive purposes. NATO is designed for the defence of the countries concerned and there are free sovereign nations who aspire to join NATO. What is more, their aspiration to join NATO is one of the positive influences on them to adopt strong democratic systems and free and open societies. So the expansion of NATO has been a very healthy development for many countries in the world. I think it would be wrong to bring down the shutters and say, “This is not available to any more countries at any stage.” Becoming a member of NATO is a demanding process, but I think it would be wrong to confine NATO to those countries that are already a member of it.
The NATO summit is four months away. Various NATO members have reaffirmed article 5 already. Would it not make sense for all NATO members to reaffirm article 5—that an attack on one nation is an attack on all—at this time, as the NATO summit is four months away?
I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no doubt about that: the commitment of all the 28 members of NATO to article 5 is absolute. This is a treaty obligation, and this is something they all take very seriously, but to show, through our exercises, our deployments and our planning for the future, just how seriously we take it could very much be something to which the NATO summit turns its attention. That is not just up to us; it is up to all our colleagues in NATO, but I think that, in that sense, my hon. Friend makes a very good point.
I support the UK deployments to the Baltic states and those of other NATO countries. Without wanting to provoke Russia, do the Foreign Secretary and the North Atlantic Council accept that it may well be necessary, in order to give real substance to the article 5 guarantee, to have longer-term deployments of NATO troops in some of those post-Berlin wall accession countries?
Yes, absolutely it could be, and over the next six weeks there will be further meetings of NATO Defence Ministers and of NATO Foreign Ministers, which I will attend in the run-up to the summit we will host in Wales. We have not felt it necessary to take decisions yet about such longer-term deployments; that will depend on how this crisis develops, but we absolutely do not exclude the possibility of doing exactly as the hon. Gentleman mentions.
What assessment has been made of the impact of Russia’s actions on its own economy, and how much more damaging would the proposed further trade sanctions be over and above these self-inflicted wounds, which presumably Russia thinks are a price worth paying?
Russia’s actions have contributed to its mounting economic problems. One of the main international forecasts for Russia’s economic growth has been downgraded for the coming year from 2.3% to 0.2%. Russia’s Finance Ministry has announced that its economy shrank in the first quarter of this year. The flight of capital from Russia so far this year is now thought to be of the order of $80 billion. Russia’s bonds have been downgraded one level so they are now only one level above junk status. These things have all happened in the last couple of months, and are therefore partly linked to this crisis. This is why I emphasise some of the long-term costs to Russia and repeat that it is in Russia’s interests now to find, with the OSCE and the rest of us, a path of de-escalation.
I welcome the statement, and particularly the increase in the sanctions against Russia. The Foreign Secretary will know better than most Members the personality and character of President Putin. Is it not important to make it absolutely clear—he has partially done this—that sanctions will increase in severity week after week, month after month? If we look at the experience of Iran, we see that it is when we get into banking and financial services sanctions that things really start to hurt.
I agree. We have taken this graduated approach but we have never hesitated to add further at each stage, and we demonstrated that again yesterday. I say again that Russia not should underestimate our determination to go further if necessary. The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of financial measures. Some of the measures taken by the United States have already had some financial effect, but it would be possible to go much further than that, including through what the United Kingdom could do.
The Kremlin, the leading members of the Duma and the Russian media have consistently sought to undermine both the authority and the credibility of the interim President of Ukraine and the Government in Kiev. Given that Russia is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe, both of which will be observing the elections next week, what assurances has the Foreign Secretary been given by his Russian counterpart that the Russians will recognise those elections, endorse the result and recognise the authority of the elected President to speak for all the people of Ukraine?
As I am sure my hon. Friend anticipates in his question, we do not have any such assurance from Russia, but of course we do have the one change in Russian policy and attitude to the legitimacy of the elections, which was President Putin’s statement last week that the presidential elections are a step forward in terms of national unity in Ukraine. This demonstrates the importance of the election observation missions, of the elections being demonstrably free and fair, and of the maximum number of people in Ukraine being able to participate in them, because all those things will contribute to the legitimacy of the outcome. I suspect that Russia will be faced with a very legitimate electoral process in Ukraine and will then have to decide its attitude to it.
We have not recognised, and will not recognise, the annexation of Crimea. What we are seeking through OSCE diplomacy now is de-escalation rather than an already prescribed end state. National dialogue in Ukraine in return for Russia acquiescing in elections in Ukraine is really what the OSCE is pursuing. If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether our bottom line is everything going back to normal in the future while Crimea remains annexed by Russia, my answer would be no. There will be permanent consequences from what has happened in Crimea and ever more serious wider consequences—the sorts of consequences I have talked about—if Russia continues on this overall path.
I visited Odessa recently and came across an EU office which was rightly focusing on reporting on the situation in Moldova, but was not reporting on local developments. Given the disjoint between actual events and how they are sensationally reported in the press, should there not be better independent assessments, possibly used by offices such as those of the EU, to counter the pro-Russian propaganda about which the Secretary of State has spoken?
That is a very important point, and it relates to part of the importance of further expanding the OSCE special monitoring mission. We might also deploy—and we are in favour of deploying—a civilian EU mission to advise on judicial and police reform, but what my hon. Friend is talking about is very much the job of the special monitoring mission. We are supplying further monitors from the UK, with the capability to build up to having 500 monitors in total. Their objective reporting will be very important in the coming weeks to international understanding of the situation.
Both the current Government in Kiev and the Foreign Secretary in his statement have pointed out that the referendum in Donetsk region was vitiated on the grounds that no valid register of electors is available. That being the case, how do they propose to hold valid presidential elections in the region on 25 May?
Of course it is true. The election observation mission, which I visited last week, is satisfied with the arrangements so far in 23 of the 25 regions of Ukraine. In Donetsk and Luhansk the picture is mixed—I think this is what the hon. Gentleman is driving at—and in some parts of those two regions the legitimate civil authorities have not been able to make preparations for the elections. That remains the case with 12 days to go, so Ukraine is faced with having a presidential election in which the vast majority of people in the country will be able to take part—but not all of them, thanks to Russian intervention.
The newly appointed chief executive of Ofgem confirmed to me this morning that in his opinion gas prices in the UK would go up if there was an interruption to the supply of gas coming through Ukraine to western Europe. In the light of that, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that extensive work is taking place within Government to model worst-case scenarios, so that we can build resilience in this nation against the unlikely event of that scenario occurring?
Yes, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is very conscious of this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Energy and Climate Change Secretary attended the G7 Energy Ministers meeting last week. I would add only that threats to interrupt the supply, with consequences not only for Ukraine but for countries beyond Ukraine, would be a further incentive for countries across Europe to reduce their dependence on Russian supplies in the medium to long term. Russia needs to bear that in mind as well.
One of the many alarming features of the situation in Ukraine is the likelihood that large amounts of arms and weaponry have fallen into the hands of not only separatists but criminals, gangsters and who knows who else. Is it not in Russia’s interests to ensure that it does not have on its borders a state where there is insecurity and armed gangs under nobody’s control? What steps can we take at the European level to try at least to monitor the entry of weapons from that part of the world into the rest of Europe?
That is a very important issue. Part of the plan being put forward by the OSCE involves a national plan for the disarmament of illegally armed groups within Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities have also been playing their proper part in implementing the agreement at Geneva by collecting thousands of illegally held weapons—when I last looked the figure was more than 6,000. There is therefore a national programme and an internationally supported programme for collecting those weapons, but of course the people fomenting disorder in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk are in no mood at the moment to give in their weapons. It will be in the interests of all concerned, including Russia, that they ultimately do so.
My right hon. Friend has always sensibly said that in this day and age a British Foreign Secretary has to deal with the world as it is, not as he would like it to be. Given the evidently huge support, rightly or wrongly, in Crimea for being part of Russia, is it the policy of Her Majesty’s Government that the annexation has to be undone or that the annexation is somehow regularised, ultimately to Ukraine’s satisfaction?
It is an annexation that we cannot recognise. It is not an issue we can resolve today, but we cannot recognise this and we will bring further penalties into force, through the European Union, on companies trading from Crimea and on travel from Crimea. That is a further package yet to be agreed, but we will agree it in the European Union. The annexation has long-term consequences. Of course we have to face the possibility that this could become a long-term frozen conflict, whereby a place treated by Russia as a part of Russia is not recognised by us as part of Russia. This does not prevent us from working on the wider efforts to de-escalate tensions in the rest of Ukraine, and it is important for us not to be prevented from doing that by the Crimean issue.
The Foreign Secretary has made it as clear as he can that wider EU trade and financial sanctions are likely, but given the speed with which the situation is deteriorating and the loss of life, can he give us any idea of just how imminently those sanctions might be ready to be implemented?
Sanctions can be added to at any time and on any day when it is necessary. Yesterday, following the developments of the past few days, we added to the sanctions at quite short notice, and we widened the criteria for the future so that the European Council can decide at any time to impose the wider trade and economic measures if that becomes necessary.
As my hon. Friend can imagine, I am in constant touch with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Our approaches are very closely aligned, as they are among western nations in general. I will be seeing him on Thursday to discuss our approach, particularly how we support the legitimate authorities in Ukraine after the presidential elections, so my hon. Friend can be assured that we are working very closely with the United States.
I commend the Foreign Secretary for his strong stance on Ukraine. Just last week, I visited the Ukrainian protest and rallying point opposite No. 10 Downing street. The frustration of those present was palpable, and they referred to the annexation by Germany of the surrounding countries before the second world war. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure the rank and file Ukranians, both inside and outside Ukraine, that the west is doing all it can to turn Russia from its ambition and aspiration?
Yes, I can. I think that the hon. Gentleman will gather from my statement that we are taking a wide range of measures, and we are stepping up those measures while all the time leaving open the door of diplomacy. That is, as I pointed out, in the interests of all the people of Ukraine, as well as those of Russia. In the absence of concrete steps to de-escalate by Russia, we will continue to increase the sanctions and the pressure on Russia, with all the consequences that I talked about earlier.