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Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014

The UK is providing £19 million of assistance to the Ukrainian Government. We are one of the largest contributors of election and border monitors, but most importantly, we are maintaining pressure on Russia through sanctions to withdraw troops, to cease support for separatists and to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine.

I am sure the House wishes President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk every possible success in resolving their dispute with Russia peacefully. I met the Prime Minister in the summer and he told me that his country was desperately short of resources and equipment. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to do whatever they can to help.

The Government have already made non-lethal equipment available to support the Ukrainian armed forces, and we are working with European Union partners to look at the needs of the Ukrainian economy over the coming winter. Ukraine faces a massive energy crunch over the next few months, and the Ukrainian economy is likely to have shrunk by more than 6.5% since before the conflict began. We are acutely aware—we discussed this at the Foreign Affairs Council last Monday in Luxembourg—of the fact that Ukraine is likely to be looking for further support from the EU this winter.

Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that the dismemberment of Ukraine stays at the forefront of everyone’s mind? Can he absolutely assure the House that there is no intention on our part of allowing this to slip down the agenda, thereby allowing the aggression to stand and the de facto creation of new Russia to become embedded?

The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. The big risk is of a frozen conflict and people’s attention turning elsewhere, and it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge that some of our European partners are more robust on the agenda that he has set out than others. We are determined—and we have some powerful allies in the European Union—to maintain the pressure on Russia, including keeping sanctions in place, until Russia complies with its obligations under the Minsk agreement, in particular: the removal of Russian forces; the proper monitoring of the border between Ukraine and Russia, not the line of control between separatists and Ukraine forces; and an end to active Russian support for the separatists.

Last night I returned from Kharkiv, which, as my right hon. Friend knows, is just to the north of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. In Kharkiv on Sunday, the situation was calm, peaceful and orderly, and I suspect we will find that the results of the election will prove to be fair and a proper reflection of what the people of Ukraine want. That being so, will my right hon. Friend call the Russian ambassador in and tell him that it is wholly inappropriate for the Russian Foreign Minister to seek to promote unofficial elections in Donetsk and Luhansk?

Sunday’s elections were a clear demonstration of Ukraine’s commitment to democracy. We have made it clear, and the European Union again last week endorsed a collective position, that we will not recognise illegal elections organised by separatists. The only elections we will recognise are those organised by and operating under Ukrainian law.

It is good to be back on the Front Bench after a short absence. I thank hon. Members for their messages of good will, especially those from some Government Members who are somewhat fearful of their own party’s direction at the present time.

In our current debates about the European Union, we should not forget that its expansion to include former Warsaw pact countries was a victory for peace and democracy. It was a foreign policy victory for the west, championed by the Conservative Government at the time, and it means that war between member states is almost inconceivable. However, for countries outside the EU, such as Ukraine, it can be a very different story. Following the elections, what more can we do with our European partners to stop the further undermining of Ukrainian sovereignty and ensure that a newly elected Government there is free to choose its own path for the country’s future?

First, I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s return to his place on the Front Bench. We look forward to debating all these issues with him.

Of course the election on Sunday was important in underscoring the legitimacy of the Ukrainian Government. I have already set out our demands that the Russians comply with their obligations under the Minsk agreement—withdrawing their troops from Ukrainian territory, allowing proper monitoring of the border and ending their support to the separatists—but it goes further than that. It is about the more subtle forms of Russian control and influence over the Ukrainian economy and political system. We are working closely with President Poroshenko and his Government to ensure that Ukraine has a robust position in response to those forms of pressure. Although the European Union does not agree on all issues in relation to the Russia-Ukraine dispute, it is pretty much clear and unified in its view that Ukraine must be allowed to choose its own future free of external pressure.