I beg to move,
That this House has considered Ukraine and UK relations with Russia.
May I start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to hold this debate this afternoon? I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who changed his diary so that he could respond to the debate.
Some might think that events in Ukraine have calmed down and that there is no longer the same conflict raging as a few weeks ago, as there is not nearly as much coverage of it in our own media. It has been superseded by events in the middle east and the threat from Ebola in west Africa, but the truth is that the situation in Ukraine is no better. It dominated a large part of the recent discussion at the G20, and the war, which has now been raging for several months, has led to more and more people being killed every day. Therefore, it is absolutely right that this House should debate the events in Ukraine and their consequences for our own relations with Russia.
I should perhaps start by referring to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I chair the all-party British-Ukraine group and I have received support from the British Ukrainian Society in that capacity.
It is difficult to believe that it was only a year ago that we saw the start of what has become known as the revolution of dignity. On 21 November 2013, after many months of negotiation on Ukraine signing the European Union association agreement, it was announced that it would not actually happen. That is what proved to be the catalyst for the protests, which became known as Euromaidan. The protests may have been sparked by that announcement, but they were not actually about the EU as such; they were, I think, much more about the overwhelming feeling of the people that they could no longer tolerate a corrupt and discredited Government who had sent a clear signal that, instead of moving closer to western values and the freedoms we uphold, they were turning in the opposite direction and moving closer to Russia.
Over the next few days, the numbers grew, and on 8 December—its anniversary was only a few days ago— 1 million people came out across Ukraine in the march of the million. They converged in Independence square in particular, and the Lenin monument was toppled. Today is the first anniversary of when the Berkut riot police first tried to attack the Maidan and the Ukrainian people came out in the middle of the night to resist the attack and defend the protesters.
It had been a peaceful protest by hundreds of thousands of people, but during the following weeks the protesters suffered beatings, disappearances and shootings. I want to take this opportunity once again to pay tribute to those who are now called the Heavenly Hundred, the activists who died in January and February in the Maidan. Like the Minister, I had a meeting yesterday with Vitali Klitschko, who is now the mayor of Kiev. He talked about the crimes committed against those people in Kiev and the fact that they still have not received any justice: nobody has been arrested for or convicted of those crimes. There is no question but that the people of Ukraine still want justice, and they look to their new Government to try to obtain it. I hope that they will concentrate on that, because the crimes that took place there were too great for no one to be held responsible for them.
Following the Euromaidan protest, events deteriorated. First, there was the Russian intervention in Crimea. The Russians already had a military presence at the naval base in Crimea, but there was then the illegal occupation and annexation of the entire Crimea. That was followed by the so-called referendum, which upheld no democratic standards whatever and was entirely bogus.
Since then, the situation in Crimea has got worse. We know that large-scale violations of human rights are taking place there. Both pro-Ukrainian activists and particularly Crimean Tatar activists have been persecuted, and a large number of them have disappeared. At the same time, there has been a large increase in the Russian military presence. We understand that some 50,000 Russian troops have moved into Crimea, with Iskander tactical missiles that can carry nuclear warheads and can reach Romania and Hungary.
The completely unacceptable situation in Crimea led to the first imposition of sanctions. Since then, attention has obviously focused on what is happening in eastern Ukraine.
I am terribly sorry not to have been in the Chamber for the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but I will have an opportunity to read it tomorrow.
One of the most remarkable things during the past year, as the hon. Gentleman will know, was when President Putin said that, for Russians, Crimea was as sacred as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Does that not show that there is certainly a tinge of madness in what is going on in the Kremlin?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is also an honourable friend, because I had intended to mention that. He is absolutely right that President Putin recently made a speech in which he referred to the sacral nature—I think he used that word—of Crimea to the Russian people because Prince Vladimir had been christened there. That all occurred before the present state of Russia emerged, so to seek to justify an entirely illegal occupation and the subsequent oppression of both the Ukrainian population in Crimea and the Tatar population seems to me wholly ridiculous. I must say that I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis.
I obviously do not want to inflate President Putin’s ridiculous comments, but the west has a slight problem. Crimea was part of Russia from the end of the 18th century. It is heavily dominated by ethnic Russian speakers who wish to be part of Russia. It was given to Ukraine by a diktat of Khrushchev in 1956. Unfortunately, whatever one may think of President Putin, the Russians in Crimea have some right to self-determination.
I would not disagree with what my hon. Friend has said. However, in whatever circumstances it occurred, Crimea became part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, as has been recognised since the war by all legal bodies. Indeed, it was accepted by Russia, which signed up to international agreements recognising that fact.
The wishes of the Russian-speaking community in Crimea are very unclear. Opinion polls taken before the Russian intervention showed that although a large number of people were Russian speakers and therefore different from Ukrainian speakers, the majority of the population nevertheless wanted Crimea to remain part of Ukraine. It is not at all clear that before the recent events in Crimea a majority wanted to join the Russian Federation. Certainly the attempts by the Russians to demonstrate that through what, as I have said, was an entirely bogus referendum are unconvincing. The argument applies most strongly in Crimea but in eastern Ukraine too. There are people whose first language is Russian and who feel a close association with Russia, but that does not necessarily mean that they want to leave Ukraine and become part of the Russian Federation.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. On his latter point, does he agree that the worst thing we in the UK could do would be to use that argument, or say, “Well, we’ve provoked Russia by talking about expanding the EU, and we have taken NATO up to its borders”? That would in some way excuse Russia’s actions and promote the myth—which emanates from the Kremlin—that the situation is somehow our fault rather than squarely down to Russia’s completely unacceptable aggression.
I will say a little more along those lines, but I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. The idea that what has happened has been somehow at the instigation of the west and America ignores the fact that the people of Ukraine have the right to choose their future. They have overwhelmingly demonstrated—most recently in parliamentary elections, which I want to speak a little about—that they see their future as moving closer to the west and to Europe, and they do not wish to move away from that and back in the direction of Russia. We must respect their right to make that choice.
At the moment, the greatest violence is taking place in eastern Ukraine, and a war is going on in what is known as the Donbas region. There are violations of the Minsk accords every day. Civilian areas are being shelled, there are shootings, and an extremely fierce battle has been raging over several days and weeks for Donetsk airport, where despite the Russians deploying some of their best troops—the Spetsnaz—we understand that they have suffered heavier casualties and the Ukrainians have managed to repel them.
We are told by the Russians that there are no Russian troops in that part of Ukraine, but we know that there are regular movements of military vehicles across the border, and we understand that anything up to 10,000 regular Russian troops are in eastern Ukraine, not to mention the tens of thousands lined up along the border. So-called humanitarian convoys regularly cross into eastern Ukraine. The Red Cross or international observers have not been permitted to inspect those humanitarian white lorries, and local reports state that the most recent humanitarian convoys have contained ammunition.
The battle is fierce and has resulted in heavy casualties. In the summer a strong tank battle resulted in something like 70% of Ukrainian armour being destroyed by Russian forces. President Poroshenko has said that at the latest count, 1,250 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and 3,000 injured, but casualties have not been only on the Ukrainian side.
Unpleasant though the alternatives are, given that Russia will clearly not allow pro-Russian forces in the east of the country to be militarily defeated, which is the least worse of these two outcomes? Either those areas are allowed to become relatively autonomous, or the situation is fought to a military finish, the only outcome of which—given that the west will not intervene militarily—would be Russian occupation of the whole country.
I will come on to what we need to do to respond to the Russian intervention. To some extent, I agree with my hon. Friend that we need political reform, but it should not only be about the two regions in Donbas. If he will forgive me, I will continue my current theme but I promise I will come back to that.
I want to talk not only about the fighting that is taking place in Ukraine, but about the massive abuse of human rights. We have Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers in eastern Ukraine, but confidence that they can monitor to the desirable extent is limited. I have heard criticism that they have been unable to carry out proper monitoring of the situation.
There has been a massive population displacement, from both Crimea and Donbas—something like 1.5 million people have been displaced, and that may well be an underestimate. Hostages have been taken. Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian servicewoman who was elected to the Ukrainian Parliament, is being held in Russia. Wearing my other hat as Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, I should mention that we are conscious that Oleg Sentsov, a distinguished Ukrainian film director, was abducted and is being held in Moscow. With my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), I attended a conference last week of the Council of Europe to discuss media freedom and the importance of the protection of journalists. We heard about two journalists who are being held hostage. There have also been a number of casualties among journalists.
If we listen to and watch Russian media, we get a completely different picture. There is no account of that whatever. The Russian propaganda machine is insistent that the Kiev Government are a bunch of fascist gangsters who have been imposed on the population. The Russians make regular claims of abuses by Ukrainian troops, and often produce photographs of bodies—it later becomes apparent that the photographs were taken during other conflicts many years ago.
Perhaps the most outrageous Russian media manipulation took place after the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17. There was overwhelming evidence, which is now widely recognised throughout the western world, that the airliner was shot down by Russian separatists using a surface-to-air missile that they had managed to obtain. Despite that, Russian media initially told us that the aircraft had been shot down by the Ukrainians, because the Ukrainians had mistaken it for President Putin’s plane and were trying to shoot him down. Another claim was that the incident was a plot dreamt up by the west, which had flown an airliner full of dead bodies over Ukraine that could then be brought down to discredit the Russian separatists. Even this week, pictures have been produced in Russian media claiming to show a jet fighter that shot the plane down.
Despite the fact that those pictures were obviously faked, the concern is that a huge number of people believed the story. A substantial proportion of the Russian population—the majority—are convinced it is true. I therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition of the importance of countering that propaganda, which he gave me when I raised the matter with him after the statement on the G20. He said that President Obama had also recognised the need to counter Russian propaganda. I welcome the launch in this country of Ukraine Today, an English-language channel that will try to set out events accurately. I hope we and the Ukrainians do what we can to increase our efforts to get out the truth of what is happening. I welcome the intention of the new Ukrainian Government to set up a national public service broadcaster, which they have suggested could be modelled on the principle of the BBC.
What do we need to do to put pressure on Russia, and make it clear that its behaviour is unacceptable and that there must be penalties? Sanctions were first imposed after the annexation of Crimea and there has been a gradual escalation since then. Many people say that sanctions are pointless and have no effect, but they clearly are having a significant effect on the Russian economy. There has been a sharp downward revision in its prospects for growth, and they have affected the Russian currency and the Russian stock market. In my view, we need to do more. I would like to see a strengthening of sanctions. I recognise that that requires international agreement. The Minister and the Prime Minister have been at the forefront in pressing for the strongest response from the international community, but I have been alarmed by reports that some have been suggesting that perhaps we can now begin to relax sanctions. I hope the Minister can reassure me that we will make the case as strongly as possible that there is no justification to relaxing sanctions. If the current destabilisation continues, there may even be a case for strengthening sanctions still further.
In January, the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will seek the reinstatement of its voting rights and the renewal of its credentials. There is a grave danger that some countries in the Council of Europe—possibly Germany, France or Greece—may vote to restore those rights. Is this not absolutely the wrong time to send the signal that what has been done by Russia is actually all right and there is no need for further sanctions?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I have not always been the biggest fan of the European convention on human rights, for other reasons. Nevertheless, membership of the Council of Europe requires one to subscribe to the basic conditions of human rights. Russia is so far outside meeting those standards that it would be wholly ridiculous to suggest that we should now reinstate its voting rights in the Council.
I, too, am a member of the Council of Europe. I personally think there is no real possibility of us voting to restore Russia’s voting rights, but I would be opposed to kicking Russia out of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is a parliamentary union that often involves states we do not agree with, but with which we may achieve some movement. It may be a forlorn hope, but jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.
That is very much my view too. We have to keep talking to Russians. I will come on to say something about that, and we should take advantage of forums, but the Council of Europe represents certain values. At the moment, Russia does not appear to subscribe to those values.
These are discussions that will no doubt take place in the Council of Europe. There is not a complete contradiction between the views of my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and for North Thanet. The issue of voting rights is currently on the table.
On my hon. Friend’s previous point about sanctions, there is no doubt that if the Russians were to take further military action on any scale in Ukraine we should increase the sanctions regime. There are two areas on which we would need to increase sanctions: anything that could be regarded as military supplies, including French warships; and oil and energy, which would mean that our German friends would suffer considerably as the largest importers of Ukrainian oil and, in particular, gas. Do we not need to try to get all our European allies on board to make the sanctions regime work?
Clearly we do. I am sure the Minister will respond to that point, but my understanding is that we have been very active in pressing the case and I hope we will continue to do so. My hon. Friend refers to the possibility of having to strengthen sanctions in the future. My one concern—I hope it is misplaced, but I fear there is a reason for it to be taken seriously—is whether Russia might seek to move beyond eastern Ukraine and establish the land link between eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and at the same time acquire a seaport at Mariupol. There have been suggestions that that is in the Russian mind, and there is heavy troop build-up that might support the idea, but whether it happens we must wait to see. We must make it clear, however, that were it to take place, there would be severe consequences.
I am sorry I was not here for the opening of my hon. Friend’s remarks. He is absolutely right about the risk of Russia’s seeking to annex land giving them a land link to Crimea. I cannot emphasise strongly enough to him and the House, as I have been warning for months, that this is Russia’s intention. Does he agree that this is not just a remote prospect, but a key component of Russia’s plans? Putin’s plan is to acquire a land link with Crimea and possibly then to link up with Transnistria, and leave Kiev and the bulk of Ukraine as a rump for the EU.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues, I gently remind him that opening remarks in a Back-Bench debate are supposed to be for 10 to 15 minutes. He has now been speaking for 25 minutes, although I realise he has been pulled into different areas by interventions. Members who wish to speak and would not like to be under a time limit should bear it in mind that the debate will have to end promptly at 5 o’clock. I hope he will concentrate on making his points and concluding his speech.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been tempted by my hon. Friends. As you point out, the debate runs until 5 o’clock, so I hope there will be time for everyone to speak.
Moving on rapidly, I want to talk about the economic challenges facing Ukraine, which is an area where I think we can do a lot more. The challenges are considerable. There has been a massive currency depreciation, the economy is likely to shrink for the third year in a row, and about 20% of production capacity in eastern Ukraine has essentially been lost. The immediate challenge is the winter. It is now 0° in Kiev; a few days ago, it was minus 15°, and obviously demand for energy will be high. Ukrainians are prepared to accept sacrifices—they told me, “We will take cold showers”—but it is important that the energy supply is there, and I am reassured that gas reserves have been increased and that the gas supply has now been reversed from Europe back into Ukraine.
What Ukraine needs, however, is investment. Yesterday, I chaired a session of the Adam Smith Ukrainian investment conference where we heard from business men that they wished to invest but needed the confidence to do so. There is still concern about the level of corruption, which is one of the greatest challenges facing the country. I want to make two, related suggestions that I hope the Government will consider. The first comes from the British-Ukrainian chamber of commerce, which is pressing for a political risk insurance scheme to be established. The World Bank already has the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, but it is limited in what support it can offer Ukraine, so the chamber of commerce has suggested that there be a special fund to provide political and conflict risk insurance.
Related to that, the Federation of Employers of Ukraine is assembling a private guarantee fund, and there are calls for a new Marshall plan for Ukraine, which I understand is getting support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the French Government and America. So there are things we could be doing to increase the confidence of western investors that it is safe to invest in Ukraine.
I rise to intervene at the risk of infuriating you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope it will be taken on board that my hon. Friend has been extremely generous in giving way.
It is not just Mayor Klitschko’s Kiev that will need help through the winter, but the whole of Ukraine. If the present and only legitimate Government are to survive, do we not need to move immediately to give whatever support we can to help the Government survive through the winter and into the new year?
The challenges of the next few months, through the winter, are substantial, but hopefully the prospects will improve if they can get through it. I was encouraged yesterday that Vitali Klitschko seemed to think they were well placed to resist the problems of severe winter weather, but obviously it will be a challenge.
The real key to the future of Ukraine—this is the message we hear from every Ukrainian—is that there has to be serious reform and it has to take place quickly. It is essential that measures are put in place to prevent corruption, to make changes to political institutions and also to bring about devolution. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) talked about semi-autonomous status; I would not go that far, but it is certainly desirable to devolve power and give greater responsibility to all the regions of Ukraine and to more local institutions.
I am encouraged in that I think the new Government under President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk are determined to make the changes and they have brought in as Ministers people with real expertise, some of whom have come from different countries. We have an American-born Ukrainian Finance Minister and there is an Estonian in the Government. That, I think, sends the message that wherever the expertise lies, the Government will take advantage of it.
Perhaps even more encouraging were the recent elections to the Ukrainian Parliament in October. The Russians made out that that would lead to extremists coming in. Indeed, they even tried to announce that extremists had been elected, but when the results came out, they showed that Svoboda, the right-wing party that had been in the previous Ukrainian Parliament, did not meet the threshold, achieving only 4.7%; while the Communists achieved only 3.9%. What was elected was a coalition of three parties, which are all now western-leading, pro-European and working together.
Perhaps most encouraging of all—I am coming to the end, Madam Deputy Speaker—is the fact that the new Ukrainian Parliament includes a number of young people who have come out of civil society and academia. Such people said to me that they previously never thought it worth getting involved in politics because the whole system was corrupt. Now they have chosen to stand for election and they are determined to take forward the reform programme. Let me mention two of them for a specific reason: Svitlana Zalishchuk and Aleksei Ryabchyn. They are young Ukrainians who have been elected, and they are also John Smith fellows, and I want to pay tribute to the work of the John Smith fellowship—not just in Ukraine, but in a number of east European countries, where it is helping to give young, up-and-coming politicians the experience and the opportunity they need through the fellowship. It is now paying off, in that those people are being elected to help govern their country.
I believe that we have a duty to try to help Ukraine in its political, constitutional and economic reform programme, and I very much hope that we will soon be able to ratify the European Union association agreement. Ten countries in Europe have already done so, and I hope the Minister will be able to say something about that. We have an obligation because we are signatories of the Budapest memorandum, which Ukrainians still feel strongly gives us an obligation to assist—not necessarily militarily, but at the very least to give all the help we can.
As was said earlier, Ukraine is in the front line, but it does not stop there. President Putin talks repeatedly about “Novorossiya”, which extends the border to Moldova, Georgia and the Baltics. We know that Ukraine is where the test is at the moment, but what happens there will have huge implications for global security. That is why I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I look forward to hearing both Front-Bench team responses in due course.
I apologise for not being able to stay for the winding-up speeches; I mean no disrespect to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or to the Minister.
I very much agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) has said. The alarm bells are ringing here. Of all the international hot spots at the moment, this is probably the most dangerous and possibly the one that threatens the UK the most.
It is interesting that Ukraine is helping to flag up Russia’s direction of travel. Much as the Chinese attitude towards Hong Kong flags up China’s current direction of travel, what is happening in Ukraine flags up where Russia is going. My main concern is that unless there is a breakthrough—it does not seem very likely at the moment—this will become a frozen conflict, which we will have to live with for a long time.
Since the ceasefire was agreed on 5 September, more than 1,000 people have been killed. New talks were meant to start yesterday, but I believe that they will start tomorrow. Let us hope that we can then have a real ceasefire. The Russians are clearly breaking the old one. They are clearly sending in troops. They deny that, pointing to private militias over which they say they have no control, which is absolute piffle. Let me pick up a point that was made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). It is feared that Mariupol will be the next target, so that the Russians can build a land corridor to Crimea along the south coast.
The economic situation in Ukraine is dire. The country is in recession, there have been serious outflows of cash and there is a drain on the reserves. The manufacturing part of the country is in the disputed areas in the east, and it is beginning to look as though the Russian tactic is to target that aspect of the economy and bring about an economic meltdown that will destabilise Kiev. In May, the International Monetary Fund pledged $17 billion; $10 billion, in one form or another, was pledged by others, but is proving much harder to collect. Despite those funds, however, the situation is deteriorating. It is estimated that at least another $12 billion to $15 billion will be needed, and there is a big question mark over where it will come from and who will supply it. Moreover, it is clear that much more money is needed to pay for the defence of the country.
All this is causing political tensions. Elections took place in October, and I think we were all pretty relieved about that, but the coalition is already beginning to look a little shaky. The House should send the message that coalitions can indeed be shaky, but together people can actually achieve something. I urge the members of the coalition to stay together and swallow their differences, because if the coalition were to fall apart now, it would be absolutely disastrous. It would send the wrong message, and would dampen the enthusiasm of those of us who are committed to supporting the country.
The other piece of political advice that I would give the Ukrainians is that they must stay close to the European Union. Throughout all this—through thick and thin—it has always been the European Union that has stood by them. The EU is the only body that has been able to stand up to Russia. It was EU mediation that sorted out the gas supplies, it is the EU that is brokering the next ceasefire talks, and it is the EU that is imposing sanctions and maintaining them. As I look around the Chamber and see some of my more Eurosceptic colleagues, I feel that I should point out that the EU sometimes has its advantages and its values.
I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind. I would not object to being drawn on a lot of points, but I do not want to become involved in an argument with him about that particular issue. I do not think that the EU can be blamed for all this. There is much more to it in the history. Indeed, my hon. Friend has talked about the history himself.
I believe that sanctions are the only action that Russia will understand. When they were first imposed, they were described as “pathetic” , but—as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon—they are working and proving effective, and they may yet be what brings Russia to the negotiating table.
After the unexpected visit of Mr Hollande, the President of France, to meet President Putin at the airport—which rather surprised us all—Putin told reporters, “We need to resolve” the conflict, and said that Russia respected Ukraine’s territorial integrity and wanted to see it restored. Good for Mr Hollande, I say, but can we believe it, and do we think it will happen? I suppose, in Mr Putin’s mind, such matters often depend on whether it is the morning or the afternoon, such are his mood swings. The House will be interested to know that they also appeared to resolve the helicopter carriers dispute, with Mr Putin saying that France can keep them providing it returns the money, which is an interesting straw in the wind, and it remains to be seen whether France does return the money.
More significant is the intervention of Angela Merkel who has made sweeping criticisms of Russia, and accused the Russians point-blank of creating problems. It is important to remember her background, as someone who comes from eastern Germany and who understands what it is like to be under Soviet occupation. After the G20 summit in Brisbane she warned that Russia’s ambitions stretched beyond Ukraine, which is a very serious accusation to make. She said that it is trying to make some Baltic states “economically and politically dependent.” She then went on to remind us all that article 5 of the NATO treaty applies to all allies, which is probably the most significant part of this, and reflects the concern being felt in Berlin at the moment about the developing situation. Of course, Ukraine wants to be a member of NATO so it has the umbrella of article 5, and the question for all of us is whether we could possibly defend Ukraine, and I am not sure we could, frankly, so I think we have to be very careful before we get too drawn into that debate.
The Baltics have to be our priority. I think the Baltics are a red line for us all, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister has more than once confirmed from the Dispatch Box that that is the position of the British Government. I also welcome the deployment that has taken place there, and I am sure that if the situation in the Baltics deteriorates further, provisional plans are in place.
Over recent months we have seen 40 unusual aircraft intrusions into the region. The Russians are clearly testing response times, and they have been probing UK airspace, too, and I understand that right now the Royal Navy is keeping an eye on Russian warships doing exercises in the channel. The big question for us all now is whether we should be doing more on the defence side. That is something we will have to keep a close eye on.
My fear is that the situation will get worse before it gets better. No less a person than former President Gorbachev said in an interview with Tass, the state-owned news agency:
“Now there are once again signs of a cold war.”
This process can, and must, be stopped. After all, we did it in the ’80s: we opted for de-escalation and the reunification of Germany, and back then the situation was a lot tougher than now, so we could do it again.
This reflects the fact that there are serious tensions inside the Kremlin at the moment, and one often speculates about what on earth is going on there. There are clearly two camps. There is what is known as the Siloviki, those who have a background in security and/or the military, and there are the economic liberals who are concerned about the economic situation in Russia.
That dispute inside the Kremlin will intensify with western isolation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon pointed out, the Russian economy is now in freefall: the rouble is plummeting and the oil price is wreaking havoc with the Russian economy. What President Gorbachev did not say in his interview is that that is exactly what happened last time, and it may be that that brings Russia to the negotiating table—maybe Mr Putin’s conversation with President Hollande was not just a flippant remark, and maybe second thoughts are going on.
Russia is clearly now flailing around. It is resorting to the old tactic of unpredictable testing of EU reactions by cancelling the South Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Europe, which I suspect is more cover for economic weakness. That may force the EU to look more urgently for alternative gas supplies, which I think we would all welcome, even though it may well cause division inside the EU.
We have to keep our resolve. We have to keep united and stand by Ukraine both in NATO and the European Union.
I am delighted to have been able to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for securing the debate. He and I went to Ukraine about a month ago and visited the Prime Minister, Mr Yatsenyuk. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) when he says that the situation in Ukraine is extremely serious. I have used parallels before, and there are parallels with the German annexation of the Sudetenland. First, they caused trouble with their own German speakers, then they used that as a pretext to go in with military force. That is exactly what has happened with Ukraine. Let us see where this might go.
I must intervene. It is a grotesque insult to Russia, which suffered appallingly at the hands of the Nazis, to equate in any way the Russian Government, for all their faults, with the Nazis. That is just the sort of remark that fills the Russian people with absolute despair. They were raped and pillaged and there were 50 million dead. I hope that my hon. Friend is not making any kind of equation.
Well, I’m afraid I am. Actually, if we look at what happened to the Russian people after the war, we see that they experienced significant suffering, just as some of the German people did during the war. I am just pointing out that what the Russians have done in Ukraine is just as unacceptable as what the German Nazis did during the war. As long as we understand that, we will all appreciate which way we should go forward.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia obviously remain tense, and that is a concern for the UK and the wider world. It is encouraging that the situation seems to have improved in the past few days, but there are still reasons to be extremely worried about the stability of the region and the impact that the situation could have on the United Kingdom.
As I said, I recently visited Ukraine with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and we met the Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. We met the head of defence and the American and British Ambassadors to Ukraine. We also met the leaders of four political parties. My visit to Ukraine, which took place during the summer, showed me in demonstrable form the dire situation that Ukraine has found itself in since the current round of tensions with Russia began. The former President Victor Yanukovych sent his commissars around businesses and absconded with several billion pounds when he fled to Russia. That added to Ukraine’s already parlous financial situation, leading to the devaluation of the hryvnia against the dollar, with the currency hitting a 10-year low. Naturally, that has made it more difficult for Ukraine to buy much-needed foreign goods.
It seems that the situation in the region might have improved over the past few days, with the news that a ceasefire in the east of the country between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels seems to be holding, and with hopes of further talks in Belarus tomorrow. Let us hope that the day of silence called by President Poroshenko will hold, and offer real hope of a lasting truce, rather than simply being a lull before a new round of military action.
It is welcome that Russia has resumed gas supplies to Ukraine after months of difficult talks. This will be a substantial help to Ukraine during the winter. The annexe to the House of Commons Library briefing shows just how important this is to Ukraine, as it imports 25.1 billion cubic metres of Russian gas. I know that the Ukrainian Prime Minister will welcome this development, as getting through the winter was precisely what he was concerned about when we spoke during my visit. When I asked him what would be the most appropriate assistance for the west to give, he shrugged his shoulders and suggested everything from military uniforms through to the most sophisticated weaponry to combat the supplies being provided to the rebels by Russia. We know that the west is not going to supply any such sophisticated weaponry. As if to emphasise his point, he said:
“We have a very difficult winter to get through”.
Additionally, we have seen reports that TB, hepatitis, HIV and AIDS are spreading largely unchecked as a result of fighting in eastern Ukraine, caused by a lack of medical supplies. Luhansk and Donetsk saw the most deaths from TB in Ukraine last year and the highest co-infection rates of HIV and TB. This is yet another reason why it is in Ukraine’s interest to normalise the situation, so that the people are not condemned to suffer from those illnesses.
As I have said, the situation seems to have stabilised slightly. Reports of the ceasefire holding are much more encouraging than the reports we were receiving until recently which told of daily violations of the ceasefire. However, we must be open to the fact that relations between Russia and Ukraine remain tense. Ukraine is resolute against more land grabs by Russia. The Ukrainian Government are maintaining solidarity, as we heard, with their citizens in Crimea by continuing to supply them with food and water. The Prime Minister was most resolute that most Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine did not want to secede from Ukraine and be reunited with Russia, and that in the west of Ukraine there was almost 100% support for closer relations with Europe. Given that support for a united Ukraine, the Government are and should be committed to maintaining their territorial integrity, and we should support them in any way we can in that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon has mentioned, those statements from the Ukrainian Prime Minister were exemplified by the recent elections in Ukraine in October, when the old Party of Regions did not even feature on the ballot paper, while the President’s, Prime Minister’s and the Mayor of Lviv’s parties received a combined 54.93% share of the votes cast. That was a vote in favour of a pro-European direction, and it shows a clear intention of the people of Ukraine that they favour closer links with Europe.
However, Russia, has until now not been listening to the democratic results in Ukraine. The universal view we found in Ukraine was that Putin is not finished yet. So what is likely to happen? A minority thought he would carry out a big military offensive, including establishing a Mariupol corridor to supply Crimea. That is difficult in the winter because the barges cannot go across the Black sea. We were told that in such circumstances Ukrainians would defend themselves with whatever they had. However, as my hon. Friend said, we were also told that 70% of their tanks had already been taken out by the Russians. The majority view, and possibly the one to which I would subscribe, is that Putin will keep causing relatively minor trouble wherever he can in order to destabilise the whole country, with the aim of bringing about a failed state. At this point, the Americans and the EU would have to decide whether they wanted to bail Ukraine out. Many people think that Putin’s aim is to gain control of the whole of the north coast of the Black sea, including Odessa, and eventually, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, move along to Transnistria in Moldova. Certainly, the Romanians and the Poles, in neighbouring states, are very alarmed by that prospect.
The future of our bilateral relations depends on Putin’s strategy. Clearly, the illegal seizure of Crimea is sufficient rationale for Britain to lead Europe, along with the USA, in the implementation of strong sanctions. In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, I alluded to the fact that if there were to be further military action along the lines I have indicated, for example, taking a Mariupol corridor, we would have to consider ratcheting up the sanctions regime further. As others have said in this debate, the sanctions have already worked, with a 40% devaluation of the rouble against the dollar, a plummeting stock exchange and the drying up of foreign investment, all of which is compounded by a falling oil price—it was below $64 a barrel yesterday. This has all pushed up the cost of Russian borrowing from just under 8% in December 2013 to 12% today, and has led to President Putin saying in his annual state of the nation address that Russia would go into recession in 2015, with the economy ministry predicting a contraction of 0.8% instead of the previous prediction of an increase in GDP of 1.2%.
If tensions between Ukraine, Russia, the UK and the rest of the EU are to be reduced, we must develop a more intelligent relationship between all these players. We must recognise that deep within the Russian psyche is the perception that their hegemony is being encroached on by the west; the Russians’ fear is that if Ukraine integrates further with the EU, their geopolitical sphere of influence will diminish. Geopolitics is incredibly important to Russia, perhaps more important than economic success. That could be why, despite the deteriorating economy, Putin’s personal approval ratings are currently running at 80%.
There are many areas where we could be co-operating with the Russians which we have simply had to close off. For example, we could co-operate in relation to the Islamic threat, as Russia faces a huge Islamic threat on its southern flank. There are many other areas on which we could be co-operating but are not able to do so at the moment.
If it is in Russia’s interest to have economically stable countries on its border, we must continue to emphasise the benefits of that. For example, it would be able to form strong bilateral trade agreements to its mutual advantage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South has said, the alternative is for Europe to diversify its oil and gas supplies away from Russia, which would hit it badly, especially with the low oil price at the moment. Russia may have started looking east towards China to sell its oil and gas, but it will always need the European markets, technology and expertise.
Closer economic co-operation between Russia and the EU was beginning to happen under Gorbachev, but it has since fallen off the cliff edge. We must try to reinstate that again. Improving economic relations and trying to convince the Russians that mutual economic success is more important than geopolitics will lead to better political and diplomatic relations between the UK, EU, Ukraine and Russia. After all, we are all Europeans at heart.
Although things may be improving slightly between Ukraine and Russia, relations remain incredibly poor. There is concern that this improvement in the past week or so is simply a lull to allow both sides to regroup. It is in everyone’s interest to improve these relations and to achieve stability.
To improve relations between Ukraine, the UK and Russia, we must remind the Russians that we are all Europeans and that, instead of suffering from sanctions, we could all enjoy much greater economic success by putting geopolitics to one side and co-operating. Allowing Ukraine to flourish, as Poland did, could be a huge benefit to Russia. We should be encouraging closer economic co-operation, which will in turn develop into closer political relations.
What we are witnessing over Ukraine is a clash between two systems of international relations: the western liberal system held up by the US, the UK and Europe versus the more traditional power politics epitomised by Russia. That was highlighted by a comment by the US Secretary of State, who said:
“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th-century fashion”.
With all due respect to Mr Kerry, Russia has, quite simply, proved him wrong. We in the west like to imagine that our liberal system is the universal way, but the reality is that traditional power politics is much more dominant in the rest of the world. I make no defence of that; I just make the comment. Although our own actions are coated in thick veneers of liberalism and democracy, to which we no doubt generally adhere, this idealistic terminology masks the reality that we ourselves deal with the world through old-fashioned power politics.
For years, the EU, the US and the west generally have interfered in the internal politics of Ukraine in an effort to draw that country away from Russia and towards us—Ukraine has for three centuries been part of Russia. Russia has tried to counter those moves, and even though we might demonise Mr Putin, there is no conceivable leader of the Russian Federation who would not have done the same. The fact is that we are the liberal democrats and they are the strong men, but that is incidental to what is being done. We should also recall that Russia, Ukraine and other nations of the former Soviet Union do not enjoy the same advantages that we have enjoyed, so it is inherently unfair to judge them by the same yardstick.
We know that the Whig narrative of history is a myth. Anyone who believes the myth of progress after Auschwitz and Hiroshima must be wearing blinkers. Look at those photographs of modern free women studying in the universities of Tehran and Kabul in the 1960s and 1970s and then witness their condition, rights and appalling position today. Our rights and freedoms do not just arise out of the primordial fundamental; they are contingent on certain circumstances. We in Britain are not destined to be a parliamentary democracy with a prosperous economy; it has taken centuries of slow and gradual development with often quite arbitrary situations that has allowed our tradition of parliamentary democracy to emerge.
Seventy years of communism perverted the spirit of the people of the former Soviet Union and prevented them from developing the institutions, the habits and the traditions that we all too easily take for granted, whether here in the House or in the United Kingdom as a whole. It is precisely why we traditionalists and Conservatives have been so defensive and circumspect when it comes to altering the traditions of this House or the British constitution. To alter, change or abolish one portion thereof, no matter how small, may have numerous unintended and unforeseen consequences, with the potential to wreak havoc on the rights and freedoms that we have inherited from those who came before us.
Taking this into account, we must recognise how important it is to understand the Russian mentality. Russia suffered for decades under communist rule. Russia has experienced at first hand the future that we are marching towards and rejected it. We here all believe we are wonderful, enlightened, modern liberals, and of course we have totally and wholeheartedly rejected nationalism and all those other nasty things, but the Russians feel very keenly that they have been wronged. They were allowed to sit at the western table only when they were weak and ineffective under Yeltsin as their economy was plundered by criminal oligarchs.
Moscow has definite security concerns regarding NATO expansion in Ukraine. Likewise, I am sure we would have had definite security concerns had Ireland or Belgium considered joining the Warsaw pact. The US would have similar concerns if, for instance, Mexico had tried to join some Russian sphere of influence.
I want to back up my hon. Friend’s point. Twenty years ago, as the chief of policy at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, I repeatedly sent in papers saying that the expansion of NATO eastwards was poking the Russians in the eye, when we consider their history. That is exactly what we have done.
Might it not be worth at least attempting to see things from the perspective of others and the perspective of most Russian people? Is it not wise to try to understand how we and our actions are perceived by them? How can we possibly make correct decisions about what to do if we have zero understanding of what makes other people tick? That is especially true if those people have extraordinarily different histories, not least the fact, as I said before, that Russian people suffered the most appalling tribulations as a result of invasion by the west within the lifetime of many Russian people.
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend, but he is trying to paint Russia as a victim. What would he say about what Stalin did to the people of Ukraine? He starved them to death when that country was the bread basket of the Soviet Union. What about the Ukrainian people who have that deeply seared in their memory? Are they not victims too?
Absolutely right. I agree entirely with that. I am not pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian. I fully accept the appalling suffering of the Ukrainian people, particularly under Stalin, and the dreadful suffering that they experienced from the Nazi invasion. I am not making that point; I am simply trying to explain that the Russians have a point of view, and if we are to do the right thing, we must understand that. We may not agree with it. Nothing I say militates against a free, independent and prosperous Ukraine.
We have to wake up to the reality that many Russians think, act and feel differently from us, and that no amount of bullying on our part with sanctions will turn them into western liberals with our point of view. Not all Russians agree with what I am saying, but many do. Many take quite the opposite point of view from us. We in the west seem to have lost our critical faculty. We make the fatal error of believing our own propaganda and, worse, expecting other people to believe it too. None of us here believes Mr Putin’s propaganda. I do not support him or believe in him or defend him to the remotest degree, but why do we expect people in Russia, the Crimea or eastern Ukraine to believe our propaganda? They judge us not by our words but by our actions. Why should they do otherwise? Look at our immediate recognition of the seizure of power in Kiev this past February, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). I make no defence whatever of the previous corrupt Ukrainian regime, but we preach respect for the law then completely disregard the Ukrainian constitution, article 111 of which lays out specific provisions for the impeachment and replacement of the President of Ukraine. These provisions were not applied, thus a succession, in the view of many, is at best irregular, at worst unconstitutional.
Let us remember 1993 in Russia. Yeltsin unconstitutionally dissolved the Duma and sent in tanks against a democratically Parliament, and the west backed him. What may have been the beginnings of a Russian idea of parliamentary sovereignty and the accountability of the Executive were nipped in the bud, with western powers nodding approvingly. It is all very well to pronounce the sacred inviolability of the borders of sovereign states, but when one does so, having undermined the borders of sovereign states as we did in Serbia, which many Russians point to, when we went to war over Kosovo, whose independence we now recognise, in their view it begins to look hypocritical.
Russia, we know, is certainly involved in the supply of weapons to the rebels in eastern Ukraine, but in Kosovo NATO forces—this is often mentioned in Russia—effectively acted as the air force for the Kosovan Liberation Army. In the war against Serbia, NATO forces bombed hospitals—this is what many Russians say—bridges, journalists’ offices, public markets and even the Chinese embassy. Russia has done wrong, but it has not done what the Nazis did in Ukraine.
Economically speaking, we are continually arguing for globalisation, the integration of world economies, free trade, allowing everyone to grow in prosperity together—all things that I and everyone else speaking in this debate agree with. Why, then, are we allowing politics to interfere with our economic links to Russia, which are very strong, and to frustrate Russia’s further integration in the world economy? Those who seek to undermine Mr Putin would be much wiser to seek to strengthen these links, to incorporate Russia much more closely in the wider world. Surely that would strike more deeply at the heart of Mr Putin’s separatist way of doing things, drawing the Russian people in rather than casting them out. Instead, we are playing into Mr Putin’s hands. Our cack-handed sanctions allow him to portray us as anti-Russian, thus further legitimising his position as the defender of Mother Russia.
Global economic recovery, we know, is extraordinarily precarious. Provoking crises with Russia risks unsettling the recovery, not just that of Russia but ours. With all due respect to the Ukraine, for Britons is it worth this possibility? One need not add BP’s significant investment in Russia, the billions of pounds of Russian money involved in the City of London, and European reliance on Russian energy. We must always remember that the existential threat to us is global Islamic jihadism, and Russia is an absolute crucial ally in that. Why put that at risk? Particularly at this time of commemoration, when we are looking back to the events of a hundred years ago, we must force ourselves to learn the lessons of 1914. Does anyone really think that the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne was worth the suicide of Europe? We do not want to sleepwalk into a war, the likes of which we cannot imagine.
Ukraine is a beautiful country. It has deep traditions, a proud culture, a long history. We should wish the Ukrainians all the best in their journey as an independent people, but it is obvious, I am afraid, that there is no intrinsic British interest in Ukraine. Ukrainian relations with Russia, Belarus, Poland and others are for Ukrainians to sort out, no matter how divided a people they are, and they are divided, but there is unequivocally no single shred of a reason why the United Kingdom should risk war over Ukraine. Our priority should be de-escalation, and then facilitating dialogue between the warring Ukrainian factions and between Ukraine, Russia and the west. We need to foster a breathing space in which Ukraine can make suitable constitutional reforms to allow for autonomy, as has been said. We should not put the global economy at risk, and we certainly should not risk a European war—1914 is ever present.
Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh on liberal democracy. Let me finish on a positive note. I am profoundly pro-life and anti-war. I want, if it is not too naive a thing to say, for Ukraine to be at peace. I really believe in this noble theme.
I believe that there is a role for Britain and France, in particular. We have no historical axe to grind. Unlike Poland and the Baltic states, we have not been invaded or suppressed by the Russians. As for the Russians, they still harbour some justifiable historical fear of German expansionism, and with some reason today in economic terms. Unlike some Americans currently in power, we also have a sense of history. We recall from Woodrow Wilson’s time that good intentions are not always enough and can lead to war. We know that western Ukraine around Lviv was never part of Russia; it was first part of Austria-Hungary and then Poland. We know that in western Ukraine they 100% want to be part of Europe. However, many of us are also sensibly sceptical about the expansion of NATO and the EU into former Russian lands.
I believe that a solution can be brokered, and I believe that we can play a role. We must convince Russia that we have no intention of trying to detach Ukraine from Russian influence to bring it under our own. We want Ukraine to be what it should be: free; independent; not part of the Russian sphere of influence or the NATO or EU sphere of influence; and with a strong federal structure and home rule for the east. Why should we want to break the Russian economy? Why should we want to destroy Mr Putin? If he goes, we could get somebody far worse. No feasible Russian leader would ever accept the permanent loss of eastern Ukraine. Let us be an honest broker. Let peace be our watchword, not war without end.
It is 33 years since I first met my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), and it is a real pleasure to sit beside him in the Chamber today and listen to his very sensible remarks about a situation that might see him classified as a bit of a peacenik. [Interruption.] He snorts at the suggestion. However, the circumstances in which we met all those years ago were the depths of the cold war. We co-operated with our colleague Tony Kerpel and others sadly no longer alive, such as George Miller, to do everything we could to counter communist-inspired campaigns to undermine the defences of western Europe in general and NATO in particular. Therefore, I do not think that either of us has a track record of being soft on the Russians. Why is it, then, that without having compared notes, we both find ourselves today urging caution in this scenario?
My hon. Friend concentrated on his historical analysis. I will concentrate on a rather simpler analytical approach. It boils down to one clear proposition: do not make military threats that cannot be or are not intended to be fulfilled. If military threats are made under those circumstances and they are not then fulfilled, there is a danger that your credibility is undermined for a time later, when you might have to issue a threat of retaliation that you intend to fulfil, and your adversary will not believe you mean it. That is how wars can start by mistake; because people do not take each other’s statements of position seriously.
Why does that relate specifically to Ukraine? It relates to Ukraine because the danger of the approach we are taking toward Ukraine in our rhetoric is to lump that non-NATO country together with other countries that are members of NATO. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), whom I congratulate on securing the debate and on the way in which he presented his case, that I agree entirely with his view of the condemnation-worthy activities that Russia is carrying out. However, I do not agree with saying that if Russia gets its way in Ukraine and in places such as Moldova and Georgia, then its next step will be to threaten the Baltic states, because we must not lump these things together.
NATO membership must never be offered glibly, lightly, or without thought of the consequences. [Interruption.] I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) agrees. We must consider the consequences of offering NATO membership without a serious intent to apply article 5 in circumstances of potential war. We all know what article 5 means: if any NATO country is attacked, the attacker is automatically at war with all the other members of NATO.
I never tire of making the point I am about to make. I have made it many times before and I am not going to be deterred from making it again; it is, indeed, a point about deterrence. In order for deterrence to work, it is not only necessary to show that if someone is attacked, the consequences—the retaliation—will be unacceptable; one must also show that it will be unavoidable. One must not give the potential aggressor any reason to gamble that he might be able to commit an act of aggression without facing the consequences.
When countries came together to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the intention was precisely to remove that uncertainty, which had existed in the 1930s. Then Hitler was able to gamble, while picking off one country after another, that the western democracies would do nothing. In fact, he got away with it in several countries, in a succession of aggressive manoeuvres, but then picked on one country too many and ended up involved in a war with the United Kingdom—or the British empire, as it still was at the time—on which he did not originally wish to embark.
By talking tough in military terms on the question of Ukraine, we are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough suggested, in danger of avoiding the realities on the ground. As I have pointed out before, when Russia stood in control of the whole of central and eastern Europe, there were periods when one country after another tried to shake off the communist yoke. We saw it in East Germany in 1953; we saw it in Hungary in 1956; and I personally remember seeing it in Czechoslovakia when I was 16 years old in 1968. At that time, when Czechoslovakia seemed to have got out from under totalitarian control, I argued very strongly that we should offer it NATO membership in order to try to protect it. I realise now, because I am rather more experienced in the ways of the world, that that would have been a counsel of madness, because given our ability to protect the country that we would be promising to protect, the promise would have been totally lacking in credibility.
It totally lacks credibility to suggest that countries such as Georgia and Ukraine should be offered NATO membership. Not many people are present in the Chamber today, but I predict—I hope I never have occasion to see this prediction come true—that if the country about which we were concerned were a NATO member, the Chamber would be packed, and that is because we would effectively be debating whether we were prepared to start world war three on behalf of that country, whichever NATO member it happened to be.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Baltics must be our red line. I was very interested to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham mention in an earlier intervention how, during his time in NATO, he had expressed concern about the extension of the NATO guarantee to so many countries from central and eastern Europe. I must say that I felt we were stretching the elastic to its limit when we extended that guarantee to the Baltic states, but I accept that we have a long history of trying to secure the independence of those states, stretching right back to the days of the Russian revolution itself. Therefore, there is a significant degree of credibility that we would be willing to resist militarily an invasion of the Baltic states, but that is not true in the case of Ukraine.
I can imagine four principal scenarios in Ukraine. The first is that, in an ideal world, Russia will have a change of heart, or sanctions will work and she will withdraw and restore the pro-Russian areas of Ukraine to Kiev’s control. I think that a fairly unlikely outcome. The second scenario, which in my opinion would be the best, would be an agreed decision to create an autonomous area within Ukraine, comprising the pro-Russian elements and territories. The country could therefore continue as a political entity, but with a loose federal structure.
Yes, in an ideal world it would be, but there is a slight problem with that scenario, namely that the Russians have the power to impose a solution and nobody else is willing to fight them to prevent them from doing so. That is the hard reality. We may not like the situation any more than we liked that in 1968 when Russia imposed its will with the crushing of the Prague spring; but I do not think anybody would suggest even now, with the benefit of hindsight, that it would have been right to provoke world war three at that time. In situations where we are up against people with a lot of power, we have to contain them until political affairs evolve gradually in the direction we want them to go.
I am glad that my hon. Friend agrees with me.
Let me deal with the other two scenarios before drawing my remarks to a conclusion. The third scenario is a split. It would be either a de facto split, which is being referred to as a frozen conflict—in other words, the pro-Russian communities would end up in control of their areas, glaring at Kiev and vice versa—or a de jure split, which would obviously be a less satisfactory solution than an agreed decision to stay together with an appropriate amount of autonomy.
Finally—this is the dread scenario, which really could happen—if we really were crazy enough to offer military assistance to Kiev and encourage it to think that there would be enough military supplies to enable it to overwhelm its adversaries in the pro-Russian parts of the country, it is an absolute certainty that Russia would respond militarily. In any conflict of that sort, Russia would prevail and it would not then be content to confine itself to the pro-Russian areas; it would invade and take over the whole country.
It is what is colloquially called a no-brainer that if the Russians are determined—however wrongly, as my hon. Friends have variously suggested—not to let the pro-Russian provinces go, and they are not prepared to do so, the best outcome we can hope for is an agreed negotiation of autonomy for those areas. Such agreements are not unprecedented. It took us 38 years to reach some sort of agreement even in a province such as Northern Ireland, which was a rather less fraught or challenging situation than the one that we and the international community face in Ukraine.
I am delighted to take part in this very important debate. I am surrounded by some of my closest political soul mates, but I suspect that my view is slightly different from theirs. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) on introducing the debate, but it is disappointing that a matter of such significance to the security of our country, and of Europe more widely, has not attracted the participation of more Members.
I agree with the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway), that we face a very serious situation. My excellent hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and my—also excellent—hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) were right to have been inspirational in setting up the Coalition for Peace through Security. Its work during the cold war contributed to the understanding in the United Kingdom of the need to face up to the Russian threat. I agree with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said about our not making threats that we cannot fulfil, and not offering NATO membership to countries that we are not prepared to send our children to defend and put their lives on the line for.
I agree with much of that, but my hon. Friends were instrumental in establishing the Coalition for Peace through Security, whereas we face a threat to our security and a threat to peace. I do not know whether anybody saw the BBC programmes on the “37 Days” leading up to the war. I normally fall asleep watching such things, but I was absolutely riveted during the programmes, because the language of the conversations 100 years ago was the same as the language we are using in this place and in the corridors of power today.
It worries me that we might be in real danger of sleepwalking into some sort of very substantial regional conflict. That is because our minds are on Syria, and on the Gulf and Iran. Not enough minds are on China, and on what it is doing in the South China sea, where it is building port facilities and runways on uninhabited atolls. We face a very turbulent world, which is the price we are paying for the fall of the Berlin wall: the balance of terror has been exchanged for a very unstable world.
It is important that we take very seriously what is going on in Ukraine at the moment, and that we look at the Russians’ intentions. We know their intentions without having to look in a crystal ball, because they have been there historically. I have already mentioned what the Russians did to Ukraine in the 1930s: they starved the people who were providing them with their food. As recently as 2008, we saw what President Putin did in Georgia: he successfully provoked the Georgians— Saakashvili probably should not have risen to the bait, but he did—and the result was that the Russians invaded South Ossetia and Abkhazia with complete impunity.
We have seen what I warned would happen—forgive me for saying that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I could see what was going on in Crimea earlier this year. I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough says about Ukraine having been part of Russia, and about the need not to poke Russia in the eye. Yes, Sevastopol is as important to the spirit of the Russian navy as Portsmouth is to the spirit of the Royal Navy, but that does not justify walking into Crimea and annexing part of another sovereign country, in explicit contravention of the Budapest agreement which was signed in 1994 by Boris Yeltsin, John Major and Bill Clinton. I accept that that agreement did not provide an article 5 guarantee of Ukraine’s borders, but it was a deal with the Ukrainian people in which Ukraine gave up a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons that could have threatened us all, in exchange for recognition of its borders. What are we to make of a man, in the form of President Putin, who has so flagrantly breached an agreement to which his country was a solemn party? Should we regard that as an aberration or a one-off, or as what I believe it to be, which is a complete lack of care for how Russia is viewed, and complete disregard for international norms?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the pattern of behaviour that has formed over recent years. We probably had illusions a few years ago about where Russia might go, but sadly we have been very disappointed. He referred to the Budapest agreement. Does the way that Russia has abrogated those undertakings underline the fact that Russia also appears to be abrogating arms control agreements? Certainly the agreement on conventional armed forces in Europe is in tatters, and the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty is now being questioned. There is no progress on strategic arms reduction, but rather a big build-up in Russia’s nuclear programme.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point and it all militates in one simple direction: Mr Putin does not seem to care for international norms or that his country has in the past signed solemn and binding agreements. That is why we need to be on our guard.
We have the examples of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as Crimea. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, I worry that Putin’s objective is to create a land link with Crimea—at the moment I believe there is a 5-mile gap across the Black sea. He has no intention of giving it up, so will he leave it as it is and reinforce it with air supplies or by sea? I believe there is a risk that he will go for Odessa, thereby denying the rest of Ukraine access to a port. If he moves further west he links up with Transnistria, leaving only a slight border between western Ukraine and Lviv, and around there with Poland, and the rest would be surrounded by Russia. He will then say to the EU, “There you are. You can have the rump of Ukraine,” and that will become isolated and perhaps not economically viable—I do not know. I do know, however, that we must be on our guard because Putin has acted with complete impunity—my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East made that point. But if you make threats and do not follow them up, what is your counterparty to suppose?
The question that I go on to ask myself is this. There is Kaliningrad, that small Russian enclave on the Baltic coast, which is separated from the Russian motherland by a narrow strip of land between Latvia and Lithuania. If Mr Putin can with impunity do what he has done so far, what is to stop him saying, “I need a land link with Kaliningrad”? Article 5 of course stands in his way, but when I ask my friends, “Would you be prepared for your son or daughter to be sent off to go and fight for the Lithuanians or Latvians in the event that Mr Putin decides to annexe their territory and create that land link with Kaliningrad?” I sense no appetite for that. The question is, “Where is the British national interest in that?” People do not understand the significance of article 5—even in this House, hon. Members have been far too flippant about considering offering NATO membership to other countries without considering the consequences.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South was absolutely right: the red line has to be the Baltic states. We must make that red line clear to Mr Putin. We must say, “Thus far and no further,” and it must be followed up. We saw what happened to President Obama when he drew a line in the sand that was promptly blown away by the wind.
I wanted to back up my hon. Friend on that point. The Baltic states are a red line, and I would support moves to permanently position some of our troops in those Baltic republics, because that is a clear indication of our intention—just as Berlin was, where I served for two years.
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend, who brings immensely valuable personal experience to such discussions.
I have referred to the Baltic states, but I should like to emphasise the point that was made by, I believe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South about the penetration of UK airspace by Russia. The Russians are doing that with increasing regularity, but for what purpose? Are they coming to look at our beautiful countryside? Are they inspecting our beaches with a view to, perhaps, acquiring some land in the lovely parts of Norfolk or Lincolnshire, including the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough? What are they doing? What about the periscopes in the Irish sea? If anything demonstrates the folly of giving up our maritime patrol capability, it is the recent discussion about our dependence on a number of other countries to track Russian submarines.
By their deeds shall ye know them. Mr Putin’s deeds are clear for us all to see. We therefore ignore them at our peril. That is the danger. What do we do? My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) is right: there are areas in which we have a common interest with Russia. We share the threat from Islamic fundamentalism—Russia is a Christian country. In the early part of the 20th century, there were great links between the Lancashire textile industry and Russia, and those links were developing, but that all came to an end with the arrival of the communist state.
I am pessimistic. I do not see how we can engage with Russia with all that Mr Putin’s history and his clear pattern of behaviour implies. We are in a difficult situation. It is perfectly clear that his economy is collapsing. He is doing like many in his condition do. We all remember President Galtieri of Argentina. He had troubles at home. What did he do? He went on a foreign excursion—he went for the Falkland Islands. We must bear in mind that, with the falling economy in Russia, there is a real risk that a policy of puffing up Russia’s status in the world through military action is enhancing Mr Putin’s standing with the Russian people.
Are sanctions a substitute for more robust action? Are we, by imposing these sanctions, helping to suppress the Russian economy? Perhaps we should be engaging in a little bit more gunboat diplomacy of the kind I have advocated a number of times in this House. I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, but I say to him that we cannot deal with a man with such an attitude and such behaviour, whose personal advertisements consist of him in martial positions, bare from the waste up with a bandolier around his shoulder and carrying a gun, or standing over some vanquished animal—you couldn’t make it up! That is what this guy is doing, and somehow we have to appeal to the Russian people and some of the younger politicians in Russia to get them to understand that this is not the way to behave. If we want security in Europe, we have to find a way forward, and invading other people’s sovereign territory is not the way to do it.
I did not intend to speak in the debate, but I was listening to it from afar and was stirred to come, hot foot, to the Chamber by the opening speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). I therefore apologise if my speech, which will be short, is a bit disjointed.
I am clear on Russia’s strategic military aim. My good and hon. Friends have alluded to it already and we are all talking along the same lines. In military terms, it is at the very least to secure a land corridor to Crimea. Some Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), have suggested that the aim is to go as far as Odessa, but I think that the immediate strategic aim is to get to Crimea. The Black sea is crucial as it is a warm water entry and exit point. In the 1950s, as everyone in the Chamber knows, Khrushchev and other Soviet leaders never believed for a moment that Ukraine would not be a part of the Soviet Union or Russia. Khrushchev gave it away because of that assumption.
As I mentioned in an intervention, 20 years ago, when I was chief of policy at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, I argued that we have to be very careful as we move eastwards. I was concerned at that time about the idea that the Baltic republics would become part of NATO, because militarily I find it very difficult to think of how to defend that situation, particularly when there is a Russian enclave to the west. That is a scenario we have already rehearsed in this debate.
I know time is limited, but I wanted to point out that the only way we can defend NATO countries that are out on a limb is by having tripwire forces. That would show a potential aggressor that, while they might occupy those countries, they would let themselves in for a very long war with other countries that would be able, eventually, to liberate them.
I thank my hon. Friend.
I slightly disagree with those who say that Putin alone is the problem. Putin is Russian, and he represents a Russian point of view, and the Russian attitude towards Ukraine comes from history. I totally take the point about how Stalin dealt with Ukraine, but fundamentally Ukraine is a sort of glacis plate—to use the old term—to protect mother Russia. I also understand that a lot of Russians feel antagonism towards NATO, because sometimes, looking at it from their point of view, it appears to have been quite aggressive.
Over the past few years, Russian anxieties have been well stoked by western actions. As we have discussed, there has been talk of Ukraine joining NATO. I remember reading carefully through the EU negotiations with Ukraine, and there, in one of the sub-paragraphs, I saw a couple of lines about the EU sending troops to start exercises in that country. Nothing could have been a bigger red rag to the Russians. I got it from the House of Commons Library, and I am sure it was publicly obtainable.
I totally support our policy of trying to stop Russian expansion, but despite the sanctions, which, as we have demonstrated, are biting, I suspect that de facto Russia will gain its land corridor, either by negotiation or by agreement, to Sevastopol. That link from Russia to Sevastopol and the Black sea fleet will be on dry land at some point. We will have to recognise that as a fact of life.
I echo the congratulations to the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) on securing this debate. He talked about the EU association agreement, Euromaidan, the shooting down of flight MH17, the sanctions and the response. I am pleased that he also raised the potential influence of the John Smith fellowship programme on the current generation of Ukrainian politicians. I say that as a former trustee of the John Smith Trust. It is an organisation I have had an association with since its foundation.
During this debate, broadly speaking we have heard two views. We have heard the view represented by the hon. Members for Maldon and for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) that this has been an outrageous breach of territorial integrity that requires a strong response and which we cannot allow to stand. We have also heard the alternative view, put most forcefully by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), that we should see this from the Russian point of view. Others perhaps fell somewhere between those two views.
I always hesitate to differ from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), but I do not agree with this metaphor about poking the bear with a stick. The problem with the metaphor is that countries are not bears, but knowledgeable institutions; they know the rules and they know about borders and histories, but the bear does not. I do not think the analogy sticks, therefore, and so I do not think we can absolve Russia of its responsibilities by using that analogy.
There are few more urgent issues facing us than what has been unfolding in Ukraine over the past year. The hon. Member for Maldon reminded us in the most stark way that here on the continent of Europe, a state’s territorial integrity has been systematically undermined by the fomenting, arming and backing of Russian separatists. Crimea has been annexed and parts of eastern Ukraine are effectively beyond the reach of the Ukrainian state. This destabilisation has continued, despite the Minsk agreement reached a short time ago. All of that is taking place against a deepening economic crisis for Ukraine, with a newly elected Government struggling to grip these twin security and economic crises. Beyond Ukraine, as has been referenced several times in the debate, there have been a number of incidents, such as transgressions of airspace, that remind us of how things were in the past. Of course, this situation dominated the recent G20 summit.
What is happening in Ukraine poses major challenges for us relating to security, stability and values. We cannot simply hope that it goes away. The first challenge relates to foreign policy itself. No one wants further to inflame a conflict with Russia, yet its actions in Ukraine cannot go unanswered. That is why it is right that both the European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions. Unity on those sanctions is essential, and we had a debate about them at the beginning of their imposition. It is important that states set aside short-term economic interests in order to communicate to Russia that it cannot do what it would wish, which is to divide and rule and pick off one state after another. Unity is key, and we must resolve to maintain the sanctions and to increase them, if necessary. In his response, I hope the Minister will clarify what further options on sanctions are under consideration at EU level, and what talks have taken place with the United States about differences between the sanctions regimes agreed at EU level and those operated by the United States.
The unified European response has been important, and it serves as a reminder, if one were needed, that there is a security dimension to EU membership and that by standing together we can be stronger in the face of what Russia is doing in the Ukraine. Of course NATO serves as the main alliance for our defence, and recent statements from a number of leaders reiterating their support for article 5 are welcome. However, it is also the case that the EU as well as NATO can use its collective leverage and its adherence to democratic values to resist land grabs and aggression. If this dimension is not always clear in our domestic debates here in the United Kingdom, it is certainly clear to many former Warsaw Pact countries, which regard EU membership, at least in part, as important in protecting them.
Now we know that there are politicians in this country who admire Mr Putin and what he has done. The UKIP leader has said that Putin is the politician he most admires. He has attacked some for their stance on Ukraine, but not Mr Putin. In fact, he has accused the west of “playing war games” in Ukraine. He is not the only nationalist leader who has expressed admiration for Mr Putin. We have also had Mr Salmond saying he admires “certain aspects” of Mr Putin’s policies. The state-owned “Russia Today” channel has written of the hopes it has invested in Mr Farage and his desire to see Britain leave the EU. Let me quote:
“In such a scenario, there are possibilities for Russian-British rapprochement on many levels”.
It also said:
“A UK exit from the EU could mean a dilution of the famed Trans-Atlantic alliance between Washington and London.”
Perhaps it is incumbent on all of us, particularly those who desire such a scenario, to take account of who will be cheering if they get what they wish for.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the recent £7 million loan to the French National Front party, and to return us to the question of who would cheer if the European Union were to fall apart at the hands of nationalist movements and parties. For the rest of us, such comments and actions are a reminder that we should not be cavalier in dismissing the importance of the security side of a strong and united European Union which believes in democracy and freedom, and stands opposed to Russian aggression. That is well understood by Angela Merkel, who, a few days ago, told Welt am Sonntag:
“Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are three countries in our eastern neighbourhood that have taken sovereign decisions to sign an association agreement with the EU”.
“Russia is creating problems for all three of these countries”.
We cannot regard those countries’ actions as poking the bear with a stick. They have a right to sign such agreements if they wish.
I want to ask a very simple question, namely whether and to what extent the right hon. Gentleman agrees that it is necessary to take action along the lines of that suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). Does he think that the European Union will actually decide that it will regain Crimea, and if so, how? Does he also think that we will effectively back up the threats that are being made with real action?
I think that the unified European Union response on sanctions has been helpful in that context, but, as I have said, NATO is our principal source of collective defence. Let me also say to my hon. Friend that if he secures the policy for which he has worked for many years, he should bear in mind who will be cheering most in the context that we are currently discussing.
I need to make some progress, and allow the Minister to wind up.
The issue between Ukraine and Russia is not the only relevant factor. We should also consider the economic health and the strength of democracy in Ukraine itself. Of course those issues are related, because as long as Russia backs the separatists in the east, it will be all the more difficult for Ukraine to recover and stabilise economically. Indeed, as well as the geopolitical aim that was referred to by the hon. Member for Beckenham, it may be a Russian aim never to allow Kiev to have full economic control of the east.
Ukraine has a new President and a new Parliament, and they have the urgent task of not only defending the country’s territorial integrity, but stabilising the economy and delivering honest government. There has been a 7% contraction in Ukraine’s GDP this year, and inflation is running at around 22%. The IMF now believes that, on top of the $17 billion aid package that was announced in April this year, a further $15 billion is needed. The Ukrainian economy is in deep trouble, and in urgent need of stabilisation.
In governance terms, too, the country needs both reform and help, and Britain could play a valuable role in that regard. In the early 2000s, this country offered help to new democracies of eastern Europe in the form of advice on and assistance in the running of Ministries, robust budgeting, and the transparency of actions. That help was valuable and important to those countries at the time. Would the Minister consider offering similar help to Ukraine at this difficult time—if it has not already been offered—so that it can improve its governance, enhance transparency, and increase confidence in the democratic process?
The situation both within Ukraine and between Ukraine and Russia poses great dangers for stability and for peace. A huge amount of commitment and vigilance has gone into developing a network of states that do not transgress one another’s borders and do not foment nationalist and separatist movements within states. We defend this settlement and realise its value.
Of course there is potentially a different future for relations between Russia and other European states. Russia could cease aggression. It could let Ukraine choose its own path. It could respect the territorial integrity of other states. That path would lead to the lifting of sanctions, it would improve conditions for the Russian people, and it would gain Russia greater respect in the world. So we should be firm, we should be resolute in helping, and we should offer our assistance to Ukraine in terms of the sanctions and the governance help I have set out, but we should also be clear that this alternative future remains open to Russia and that it is far preferable to the current direction of relations between us.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) on securing the debate and, indeed, on the commitment he has shown in this House for some time—and well before the current crisis arose—to understanding Ukraine, its people and its political priorities. I also thank all hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate.
I want to start the substance of my remarks with Ukraine, because it seems to me that any fair appraisal of the diplomatic crisis we face needs to start with the truth that Ukraine today is an independent sovereign state with a democratically elected president and Parliament and internationally recognised borders, and is entitled, not only morally but in terms of international law, to take its own decisions about its national future.
Furthermore, that sovereignty, that independence and those borders were recognised by Russia itself in treaties that both accompanied and followed the break-up of the USSR. Those borders included Crimea within Ukraine, and until the armed intervention by Russia at the beginning of this year—an intervention, we should remind ourselves, that the Russians persistently denied almost to the day when they announced the award of medals to the soldiers who had served in Crimea—no territorial claim was made over the years since the independence of Ukraine.
The irony of the Russian intervention is that it has reinforced a sense of Ukrainian identity and Ukrainian nationalism not only, and most obviously, in the west of the country, but also in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine where those feelings were more muted. I saw something of that myself when I was in Dnipropetrovsk earlier this year.
Nor am I persuaded by the argument that Russia has somehow reacted to provocation by either the European Union or NATO. President Poroshenko has made it clear that he has no intention of even applying for membership of NATO, and his Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin made it clear at the most recent meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council that, while Ukraine wished to move towards NATO standards in terms of the effectiveness of its armed forces, this was going to take Ukraine many, many years to accomplish.
As for the idea that there has somehow been EU provocation, let us remind ourselves that the negotiations for an association agreement started as far back as 2007, during the term of President Yushchenko. They were carried through by President Yanukovych, who is never normally accused of being a foe of Russia. When I was in Ukraine in October 2013, I talked to very senior members of the Yanukovych Administration who assured me that the President had decided that that association agreement was what he wanted to conclude.
We need to be clear about what Russia is attempting to do. It is now attempting to prevent Ukraine from successfully building a unified, democratic society based on the rule of law. Rather, its intention—to judge from its actions—appears to be to try to keep Ukraine weak, divided, corrupt and dependent on Russia to determine what its international alignments and mode of internal self-government should be.
Under successive British Governments, we have encouraged and supported Russia to move closer to the values that have underpinned peace and prosperity since the end of the cold war. That is why the United Kingdom has supported the admission of Russia to the G8 and the World Trade Organisation and looked forward to its admission to the OECD. But now, under President Putin, we have witnessed a severe decline in support for those values, a crackdown on civil society and other voices of freedom and independence inside Russia, and a rejection of that offer of partnership. There are clear signs, too, that Russia is not prepared to see its neighbours move in that direction either—and not just Ukraine.
Reference has been made during the debate to the events in Georgia in 2008, but in 2014 alone we have seen increased Russian meddling in the internal affairs of Moldova, the description by President Putin of Kazakhstan as “not a proper state”, the abduction by Russians of an Estonian official from inside Estonian territory—the man is still being detained in prison in Moscow—and the seizure on the high seas by Russia of a Lithuanian fishing vessel, which remains in Murmansk and has not been returned to its Lithuanian owners. We have also seen the interruption of gas supplies to Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. That has been attributed to technical problems, but I think it is a political signal that the Russian Government were unhappy with the reverse flow of gas supplies to—
I do not have time.
Those actions are based on a doctrine enunciated by the Kremlin: Russia has the right to intervene wherever it chooses when it claims that it is doing so in support of Russian speakers or ethnic Russians. Like hon. Members on both sides of the argument today, I believe strongly that there is a difference in terms of a defence commitment between NATO allies, where article 5 applies, and between friendly countries that are not part of the NATO alliance. Let us be in no doubt that the enunciation of that doctrine—of that right of intervention—was calculated to sow fear in the Baltic states, and it did so very successfully. Thankfully, it also resulted in a determined response from NATO and the deployment of additional NATO forces on exercises and patrols in the Baltic region.
I am sorry, but time is very short indeed.
We know that Ukraine needs support, and the United Kingdom has already spent money on a range of technical assistance programmes to support reforms of financial and economic governance, including tackling corruption. Through our conflict pool, we are also providing a range of programmes, including support for the reform of the Ukrainian armed forces and the supply of non-lethal equipment, as well as support for the OSCE special monitoring mission.
To answer the question from the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), under the conflict security and stability fund we will improve on our record next year with a particular focus on defence and security reform and constitutional and public sector reform, and on the battle against organised crime and corruption in Ukraine. In my meetings this week with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine and with Mayor Klitschko, I made it clear that we welcomed an approach from the Ukrainian authorities in relation to other areas in which they might welcome United Kingdom know-how and technical assistance.
I want to return briefly to the subject of Ukraine’s Euro-integration aspirations and the need for reform. We have a substantial stake, as do other European countries, in Ukraine’s future, through €11 billion in the EU assistance package and a $17 billion International Monetary Fund loan. The EU-Ukraine association agreement represents a clear public commitment by both the EU and Ukraine to a deep relationship and close co-operation. It would be a great mistake for President Putin to see that agreement as a threat. A strong and prosperous Ukraine can only be in Russia’s interest, just as a strong and prosperous Poland has proved to be since the recovery of democracy in that country.
I was asked about sanctions. The answer is that our judgment about sanctions will depend upon Russia’s actions. If the Minsk agreement is implemented in full—if we see an end to the Russian reinforcements of the separatists, we start to see the withdrawal of Russian forces, we see Ukraine getting back control of its borders and the OSCE monitors able to deploy, and we see a genuine ceasefire—at that point perhaps we should consider whether any relaxation of sanctions might be appropriate. But, equally, if we see further military aggression, the EU has done a fair amount of contingency planning for the possibility of further sectoral economic sanctions. The Prime Minister personally and Ministers and officials at all levels are engaged with that work and in work to try to make sure that, despite different systems on the two sides of the Atlantic, there is coherence between the sanctions policy of the United States and that of the EU. I believe we have been able to deliver on that.
I wish to make it clear that our aim is not to cripple the Russian economy—the structural challenges that the Russian economy faces will do that. Russia needs to address those rather than focus on military intervention in its southern neighbour. Our aim is to exert a proportionate and reversible cost for Russia’s illegal actions and to persuade the Russian leadership that this crisis is better resolved through diplomatic means. I agree with those who have said that isolation is also not the answer either; we need dialogue with Russia to resolve this crisis. That is why the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have continued to engage with their counterparts in Russia, and are committed to doing so.
Going forward, we will offer our support to the new coalition Government in Ukraine, both bilaterally and multilaterally, as they need all the support they can get. We will help them with their reform programme and will monitor progress on their commitments and obligations tied to the association agreement, the related EU assistance package and the IMF loan. We will help to strengthen Ukraine’s economy, through technical assistance, to allow for better economic management and we will help Ukraine to address its energy security, through its need to modernise its systems and become more efficient and self sustainable.
We do not seek a hostile relationship with Russia. Indeed, for 23 years the United Kingdom has tried to build a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with Moscow, and we do not give up on that aim. But, equally, we have to be clear-headed about the actions that we have seen Russia take, particularly in the past 12 months, and act upon the basis of what Russia has actually done rather than upon promises that, so far, have not been implemented in practice. We will support Ukraine, we hope for a better relationship with Russia, but we must be realistic in preparing ourselves for a relationship with Moscow that, I fear, is going to be more difficult and more fractious than we had hoped. That is the choice of Russia’s leaders, who at the moment have chosen to treat Europe and the transatlantic alliance as a strategic adversary, rather than, as we had hoped, a potential partner for the future.
There is very little time left, so I will just thank all Members who have taken part in the debate. We may have come to this issue from slightly different perspectives, but there is no great disagreement between us. I did not suggest at any point that Ukraine should join NATO; indeed, I would have reservations about that at this time. Obviously, considerations for the Baltic countries that are in NATO are different from those that are not. What I do believe in is the right of the Ukrainian people to choose their own future, and they have made absolutely clear what they want. Every single party elected to the Rada in the parliamentary elections recently supports Ukraine moving closer to Europe and adopting western values and the values of a free and democratic society. We have both moral and economic obligations to help them. I was delighted to hear what the Minister said. I hope that the message will go out that this country supports the people of Ukraine and wants to help them achieve that future.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).