We support all diplomatic efforts that aim to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. Since the latest Minsk agreement was signed on 12 February, Russian-backed separatists have seized control of the strategically important town of Debaltseve. It is not yet clear that Russia has any intention of honouring the commitments it made in Minsk. I held talks with Secretary Kerry last weekend, and I will discuss Ukraine with EU Foreign Ministers on Friday in Riga. In all such discussions, we will continue to argue for a strong and united response to Russia’s actions until such time as we see full compliance on the ground.
I am sure that the House will want to take this opportunity to send its condolences to the friends and supporters of Boris Nemtsov, following his horrific murder last weekend.
The death toll in eastern Ukraine has reached 6,000 according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also detects an escalation in hostilities, despite the signing of the ceasefire agreement. Does the Secretary of State agree that the EU standing together on tougher sanctions is the only way we can make it clear to President Putin that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are unacceptable?
I of course share the hon. Gentleman’s view on the appalling murder of Nemtsov in Moscow.
The hon. Gentleman asked about stepping up sanctions in response to Russia’s failure to comply with Minsk. The Minsk agenda runs until the end of this year, so it will not be until the end of December that Ukraine will regain control of its border with Russia, even if all the milestones are complied with. We believe that the tier 3 sanctions should be extended to last until the end of the year, so that we have a tool with which to ensure compliance. We can always suspend or partially suspend the sanctions if the milestones are being met, but we need to have the tool in place right the way through the programme.
I do not recognise the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are playing our part. While Mrs Merkel and President Hollande have done a good job of negotiating the Minsk implementation agreement under the Normandy process, which always involved the four countries of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia, our role has been, is and will remain to stiffen the resolve of all 28 EU members to be united and aligned with the United States in deploying what has proved to be a powerful sanctions weapon.
I certainly echo the sentiment of the Foreign Secretary’s final remarks. At this difficult and dangerous moment, it is vital that Europe and NATO stand united in ensuring that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. However, may I bring him back to his remarks about tier 3 sanctions? Does he believe that new EU restrictive measures should be on the table at the next European Council meeting, as opposed simply to the roll-over and extension of existing measures that he described in his answer?
The European Commission has been tasked to look at a menu of possible additional measures that could be taken. As I have indicated, I think that we need two tools. We need an extension of the existing tier 3 measures through to the end of December. Putin has been telling oligarchs around Moscow that the sanctions will be over by the end of July: “Just hold your breath and it’ll all be fine.” We need to show him that that will not be the case. Alongside that, we need a credible set of options that we can implement immediately if there is a failure to comply with milestones in the Minsk implementation agreement or a serious further outbreak of conflict in the region.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s answer, but let me return to the appalling murder of Boris Nemtsov on Saturday in Moscow, to which he has referred. Clearly, the priority needs to be a thorough and impartial investigation into the murder. President Putin has a personal responsibility to show that the Russian authorities are willing and able to identify Mr Nemtsov’s killers and to bring them to justice. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he has raised this matter with the Russian authorities, and give his assessment of the steps that have been taken by the Russian authorities to begin investigating the case?
We have heard a lot of noise from Moscow, but we have not yet seen any serious action. The omens are not promising. I heard just this morning that some countries’ intended high-level delegations to the funeral have not been able to obtain Russian visas. That probably tells us all we need to know.
The intransigence of the Russians is exemplified by the fact that they still hold in custody two Members of the Ukrainian Parliament, both of whom are members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. When will my right hon. Friend get tough and insist on expelling Russia from the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe itself?
We do not have plans to take that step at this stage, but I assure my hon. Friend that we raise the matter regularly—indeed, the Minister for Europe raised it with the Russian ambassador only last week. I am going to Kiev later this week, and we will continue to work with the Ukrainians to try to secure the release of those two Ukrainians, as well as the Estonian border guard who was captured by the Russians six months ago.