Before I start, I welcome the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) to his new role, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) to his new position as Minister for Europe.
I want to update the House on what we are doing to tackle Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. In December I set out how, together with our allies, we will build a network of liberty to ensure that democracy does not just survive but thrives. Of course, as a free, democratic country in Europe, Ukraine is a crucial priority. Thirty years ago, Britain was one of the first countries to recognise Ukraine’s independence, and today our commitment to Ukraine is unwavering. We stand with our friend against hostile actors. We will defend democracy at the frontier of freedom in Eastern Europe and around the world. Britain and its allies made this clear at NATO in November and at the G7, which I hosted in Liverpool last month. Any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake and would come at a severe cost.
We will not accept the campaign Russia is waging to subvert its democratic neighbours. It is accompanied by baseless rhetoric and disinformation. The Russians have falsely cast Ukraine as a threat to justify their aggressive stance, and they falsely accuse NATO of provocation. This could not be further from the truth. Ukraine’s restraint has been commendable, and NATO has always been a defensive alliance. Russia is the aggressor here. It has amassed a huge number of troops along the Ukrainian border and in illegally annexed Crimea.
There is no justification whatsoever for Russia’s bellicose stance towards Ukraine. It is unprovoked, and it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour by the Kremlin, reliant on disinformation and mistrust to seek to gain the upper hand. Moscow has long run a campaign to subvert freedom and democracy in Ukraine, from the invasion of 2014 to cyberattacks, disinformation and the weaponisation of energy supplies. At the same time, Moscow is backing the repressive actions of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, sowing the seeds of discord in the western Balkans and threatening our friends in the Baltics.
I urge Russia to end its malign activity and stick to what has been agreed. That means the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, in which Russia signed up to dispute resolution by dialogue rather than force. It means the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances, in which Russia agreed to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for this security guarantee. And it means the 2014 Minsk protocol, in which all parties agreed to a ceasefire in the Donbass region. These agreements, based on the principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, must be upheld.
The free world must rise to meet this moment. Britain is stepping up and leading by example. I have spoken out against Russian aggression at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and NATO, and bilaterally with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Last month I chaired a meeting of the G7 Foreign Ministers in Liverpool. We called on Russia to de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels and abide by its commitments on the transparency of military activities. We made it clear that any further military incursion into Ukraine would bring massive consequences, including co-ordinated sanctions to impose a severe cost on Russia’s interests and economy. The UK is working with our partners on these sanctions, including high-impact measures targeting the Russian financial sector and individuals.
We are also providing crucial economic and security support to Ukraine. I am working closely with Foreign Minister Kuleba. I spoke to him on Tuesday, and last month I welcomed him to London for high-level talks. We are helping Ukraine to strengthen its defences with joint exercises and maritime support and by training over 20,000 members of its army, with more to come. We are ramping up support for trade in priority areas such as technology and clean energy to £3.5 billion. This includes £1.7 billion to boost Ukraine’s naval capability. I look forward to visiting Kiev later this month. We are also supporting stability in the western Balkans, where the Prime Minister has appointed Sir Stuart Peach as special envoy. In Belarus, we were the first European country to put sanctions on the Lukashenko regime, and we were also the first to send in engineers to assist Poland.
This next week will be absolutely critical for peace and security in Europe. Tomorrow I will join an extraordinary meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers. The US-Russia dialogue begins on Sunday, followed by the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday and the OSCE Permanent Council on Thursday. We will be in talks on the basis of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It is vital that NATO is united in pushing back against Russia’s threatening behaviour. Together we must hold Russia to its longstanding obligations. There can be no rewards for aggression.
Finally, Europe must reduce its dependence on Russian gas. Britain remains opposed to Nord Stream 2, and I am working with allies and partners to highlight the strategic risks of this project. We are reaching a crucial moment. The only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate and pursue a path of diplomacy. We will continue to stand together with our allies, steadfast in support of Ukraine and its future as a free and sovereign democracy. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for her warm words as I take up this post. I am also grateful for advance sight of her statement and for the briefing that she has given me on Privy Council terms.
Let me begin by saying that on this side of the House there is absolutely no doubt about the threat posed by the current Russian regime to our own national security and to that of our allies and other countries in the region. It is Russia’s actions that are driving this dangerous escalation of tensions. We face a moment of acute danger, with more than 100,000 troops massed on the border and alarming rhetoric and unreasonable demands emerging from the Kremlin. We know that Putin is not afraid to act to undermine Ukraine’s integrity, overtly or covertly.
The situation remains fraught with risk. It is right that this whole House should send a clear and unified message today that we fully support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that Russian action to further undermine this will be met with severe consequences. We must be crystal clear in our commitment to NATO and to the security of our allies. That commitment must be unshakeable. It is also right that we support dialogue to achieve de-escalation consistent with the security of our NATO allies and the integrity of Ukraine. We welcome the crucial ongoing diplomatic efforts from President Biden, Secretary General Stoltenberg and others. It is important that Ukraine is fully engaged in the diplomatic processes, and I understand that the Foreign Secretary has spoken to her counterpart. Has the Prime Minister spoken to President Zelensky? Does the right hon. Lady agree that Russia’s proposed treaties make unreasonable demands and are completely incompatible with the sovereignty of NATO allies and the independence of Ukraine?
These developments remind us of the importance of security in our own backyard in Europe. What consultations has the Foreign Secretary had with European partners and with the European Union, which will be crucial to the strength of any sanctions regime and to ending dependence on Russian gas?
The Foreign Secretary spoke about severe economic consequences for Russia should it act against Ukraine, but we all know that the ongoing role that the UK plays in international money laundering and illicit finance is important in that regard. For too long, our country has been a soft touch for corrupt elites that help to sustain the Putin regime. Will she commit to a renewed effort to tackle that threat and finally implement the Russia report?
Finally, may I ask for the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of developments in Kazakhstan, not least because we have seen reports of deaths in the past two hours? For too long, Kazakhstan’s Government have been unaccountable to its people. Does she agree that the people of Kazakhstan have the right to choose their own Government without interference or intimidation from their Government or from outside forces, and that it would be deeply troubling to see another example of Russian-backed forces overtly or covertly seeking to quell democratic movements in other independent countries, with scant regard for human rights?
I welcome the support of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Opposition for Ukraine and for the importance of maintaining its sovereignty, territorial integrity and democracy. I look forward to working with him and his colleagues to show the strong support of the United Kingdom House of Commons at this important time. That support is very welcome.
I can confirm that the Prime Minister has spoken to President Zelensky. I am in regular touch with Minister Kuleba, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine; in fact, I met him at the NATO summit last year, as well as when he visited in December. I will shortly be travelling to Ukraine as well.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of Moscow’s completely unreasonable demands. I am absolutely clear that in the face of this aggression we should not see any concessions made. The important thing is that we make sure that Moscow is following the commitments that it has made in agreements. In the 1994 Budapest agreement, in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, it was agreed that Russia would stand behind Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. That must be upheld and Moscow must be held to account.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about working with the EU and other partners. I had a call with Josep Borrell over the Christmas period; he was at the G7, and the UK co-ordinated a G7 statement making it very clear that all the G7 back the stance that is being taken. I have also had a number of calls with other European counterparts, including Ann Linde, who was then chairing the OSCE; the role has now passed to Minister Rau, and I will shortly be visiting Poland. The UK is very engaged, and all our allies stand together in repudiating the disinformation that we are seeing coming from Moscow. We stand together in backing Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about Kazakhstan. We are concerned by the violent clashes in Kazakhstan, and we are following developments very closely. Our thoughts are with those who have lost their lives in what has happened, and we condemn the acts of violence and destruction of property in Almaty. We will co-ordinate further with our allies on what further steps we should take.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement—her clear statement that this country and this Government stand against the Russian aggression that we see not just in Ukraine but in Georgia; against some of the Baltic nations; and, via Belarus, against countries such as Poland, Latvia and Lithuania through the use of migration as a weapon against free people.
Among the conversations that my right hon. Friend has had—I welcome those she listed—has she spoken to our German and French colleagues about training teams in Ukraine? Has she spoken to those who are part of the Normandy process about involving a British representative in that process? Has she spoken to Secretary-General Stoltenberg about the fact, which we all recognise but needs to be stated more clearly, that NATO is a free association of free people to defend freedom? It is not an aggressive alliance; it is a defensive alliance. There was no agreement by any party or any nation to prevent any free people from joining the NATO defensive pact in 1991 or, indeed, at any time. Let me be clear: President Putin is lying when he says that there was. It is not true.
Will my right hon. Friend please work with NATO partners to make sure that free countries and free peoples who wish to guarantee that freedom through a defensive alliance can do so as part of NATO, whether they are threatened by Russia today or, like Sweden and Finland, have been threatened in the past?
I thank my hon. Friend for his points. I have been working closely with my French and German counterparts to tackle this issue. Tomorrow, we have a virtual meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers at which, again, we will be co-ordinating ahead of the meetings next week—namely, the meetings between Russia and the United States, but also the Russia-NATO meeting.
We are all very clear that NATO is a defensive alliance. Joining NATO is a sovereign decision for NATO and relevant applicant states; it is not a decision for Russia, which has no auspices over it whatsoever. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the disinformation that has been coming from the Kremlin on this subject. Jens Stoltenberg, with whom I have also been co-ordinating, will make a very strong statement about NATO and its purpose and reaffirm the fact that it is a defensive alliance to support the countries within it.
Happy new year to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to colleagues throughout the House.
I am grateful for advance sight of the Foreign Secretary’s statement, which I welcome, as far as it goes. I have to say, in a constructive spirit, that I do not find much new in the statement, but I do welcome the fact that we are having this discussion, because the Russian Government’s actions are concerning. There is a pattern of behaviour in the Baltic states, the Balkans, central Asia and Belarus; the manipulation of energy markets; and disinformation. On Ukraine especially, the SNP will be part of the coalition to defend Ukraine and international law—the Foreign Secretary has our support on that.
I urge the Foreign Secretary to go a bit further. She mentioned financial consequences to the continued incursion into Ukraine; will she confirm today that the suspension of Russia from the SWIFT payment system is on the table and will be a consequence? That would be a top-level sanction that would take effect and have an influence.
In a constructive spirit—I have already said that the SNP supports the Foreign Secretary’s efforts—I urge her to heed seriously what the Labour spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), said about the implementation of the Russia report. Her own credibility in the eyes of Moscow is surely weakened by the fact that so many members of her own party are in hock to dirty Russian money. There are Members of the House of Lords who simply should not be there, having bought their places in the legislature of these islands. The Intelligence and Security Committee raised serious concerns about the extent to which dirty money is influencing UK politics. Integrity starts at home and there are a lot of things that we should be doing to strengthen the Foreign Secretary’s credibility. She will have the SNP’s support in that respect as well.
I have been clear that Russian military aggression will be met with strength, including massive economic consequences through co-ordinated economic sanctions by allies and partners that target Russian financial transactions and individuals, but I cannot speculate on future sanctions.
In July 2020, the UK used its global human rights sanction regime to impose sanctions on 25 Russian nationals who were responsible for appalling human rights violations. We have shown that we are absolutely ready to use those types of sanctions where it is appropriate. On the ISC report, we published our response immediately on its publication. Since then, we have introduced a new autonomous cyber-sanctions regime, set out a national cyber-security strategy, and announced new legislation to provide security services and law enforcement with additional tools to tackle evolving state threats.
I certainly welcome the statement, but on the bigger picture I do not believe the west has a coherent strategy to deal with Russia’s increasing aggression. Sanctions will not deter Russia and Ukraine remains hugely exposed. With the west looking ever timid, ever divided and ever risk-averse, and with the United States looking ever distracted because of domestic issues and NATO bruised after its retreat from Afghanistan, has there ever been a better time for Russia to invade Ukraine than the forthcoming new year of the Orthodox calendar?
We have been united with our partners not just in the west, but in the free world. The G7 put out a very strong statement after Liverpool, being clear that there would be severe costs and massive consequences in the event of military aggression against Ukraine. That was followed by an announcement at the December European Council meeting which also made the same points, so we have seen a united front from allies around the free world. Freedom, democracy and security within Europe is vital, but my right hon. Friend makes the right point that this situation will be watched by aggressors around the world. This is about not just Europe, important though that is, but the signal we send to the rest of the world about what we do in the face of aggression. That is why partners such as Japan have also signed up to that statement, and why we are working more broadly with partners across the world to challenge this aggression and to ensure there are no rewards for this type of aggressive behaviour.
I wholeheartedly agree that we have to stand foursquare with Ukraine. We also have to see off every kind of aggression—there are many different kinds—that comes from the Putin regime in Russia. What I do not understand is why the Government have spent so long trying to bring in the cleaning-up of the banking system in this country through a fully public register of beneficial ownership—one exists, but it is still not public—not just of companies but of property and trusts; why we still have not made all the overseas territories, where lots of Russian money is presently hidden, have public registers of beneficial ownership of all three categories; and why Ministers still allow exemptions for some Russian oligarchs in the register of beneficial ownership of companies. It seems entirely hypocritical.
On the question of the recommendations made by the ISC, may I welcome the steps taken by the House of Lords to clean up its act in relation to the registration of work undertaken for foreign Governments? On the NATO guarantee, does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is a solemn commitment by each member of NATO to, if necessary, go to war if any other member of NATO is attacked? Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Does she agree that it is important that we do not elide from the situation in Ukraine to the next step, which will be the Baltic states that are members of NATO. We have to be very clear about what our commitments really are.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the NATO guarantee and its importance for NATO members, including the Baltic states. In December, I visited British troops forming part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence at Tapa in Estonia, where allies are helping to protect the border with Russia. We are working with our NATO partners to ensure that that protection remains in place and is enhanced so that we can fulfil our commitments.
With Ukraine, we are ensuring that it has the capability to defend itself. That involves training, and the UK has trained more than 20,000 troops in Ukraine. We are also supplying extra capability for naval defences as well as support in areas such as cyber-security and other services.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for her statement. She comes to the Dispatch Box and talks tough, which I agree with, but it is now two years since the ISC report. The Putin regime did not come to power by accident; it did so through the use of corruption and, as the ISC report spells out, enablers in this country and the west. The only recommendation that has been implemented is the one for the House of Lords of a register of interests of Lords with Russian companies. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I ask the Foreign Secretary: when will the Government get tough and real and implement the Russia report recommendations? I also urge her, before she has lunch again with a Russian donor to the Conservative party, to think and ask where that money came from originally.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I lead the UK delegation to the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a member, and where we have to deal with Russia on an almost daily basis. Will she join me in getting the Council of Europe, which is responsible for democracy and the rule of law across Europe, to take a firm stand against Russia?
While Russia’s actions undoubtedly represent a threat to its neighbours, as the Foreign Secretary said, President Putin attempts to justify his unacceptable demands by claiming that his country is somehow threatened by NATO’s defensive presence in countries including the Baltic states and Poland. In standing in solidary with Ukraine—the whole House does that—does the Foreign Secretary think that any steps can be taken in the forthcoming talks to try to show Russia that it faces no offensive strategic threat from NATO?
It is very important that we do not buy into the false narrative that Putin has been peddling that somehow there is a security threat. NATO has always been clear that it is a defensive alliance, responsible for defending the sovereignty and interests of its states, and Vladimir Putin is well aware of that. It is important that we do not buy into that false narrative. I do want to see progress made in talks, but that must be on the basis of freedom and democracy and of what Russia has committed to in the past. It simply has not fulfilled its commitments, whether those made in the Budapest agreement or the Minsk agreements. I see next week, when there will be a series of crucial meetings, as making sure that Russia is holding firm to the commitments that it has made.
It is great to hear a Foreign Secretary speaking with such clarity, so I thank my right hon. Friend. When it comes to our two allies, France and Germany, may I ask the following: is she worried that Germany’s appalling dependence on Russian energy undermines a clear and united western approach? When it comes to the Minsk and Normandy processes, is she worried that if we give in to Russia’s demand for a highly federalised Ukrainian state, that will allow Russia to carve up and collapse the Ukrainian state over time, and it will simply have been allowed to achieve its end slowly, rather than quickly?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Europe needs to reduce its strategic dependence on Russian gas. It is a broader issue about the dependence of freedom-loving democracies on economic support from autocracies, which then makes it very difficult to make the political progress that we need to make to challenge Russian aggression. I have been very clear about our position on Nord Stream 2. More broadly, we need to reduce dependence on Russian gas. On the discussions taking place in various formats, we cannot have a situation in which Russian aggression is rewarded in any way. It has no auspices over Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we are very clear on that. What we are working on, and what tomorrow’s meeting of Foreign Ministers is about, is making sure that we are co-ordinating our positions across NATO, and we are very clear on those red lines.
The Foreign Secretary referred in her statement to her opposition to Nord Stream 2, but we know that as Putin turns off the gas taps in Moscow, there is an impact here in the UK, where families are facing a potentially crippling 50% increase in their energy bills. Gazprom is owned by the Russian state and has its international trading arm based in London. It is cashing in—it announced a £179 million dividend earlier this week. Today, the Liberal Democrats have proposed a Robin Hood tax on the super-profits of those oil and gas barons, with the money raised being used to support the poorest households. Having talked about not rewarding Russia for aggression, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the tax will not only help British families, but send a powerful message to Moscow that we can and will counteract Russian interference in our energy market?
It is clear that we need to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. In fact, I think that 3% of our gas is from Russia, but I agree with the hon. Lady that it is desirable to reduce that. The way that we need to reduce that dependency is with more investment in areas such as nuclear energy, which we are doing with small modular nuclear reactors, as well as more investment in areas such as renewables and ensuring that we are using alternative gas sources to supply our domestic energy needs.
Some of us are sadly old enough to be able to remember Hungary in 1953, the subsequent removal of Alexander Dubček in Czechoslovakia, more recently the annexation of parts of Georgia, and then the invasion and annexation of Crimea. All were with impunity, so far as the Soviet Union and the neo-Soviet Union are concerned; the free world simply failed to act. Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), Russia and Ukraine are members of the Council of Europe. Will my right hon. Friend use the platforms available to her within the Committee of Ministers and in person within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to make it plain that the United Kingdom will no longer stand by and simply talk, but that we will act?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about using all platforms available, and also about the fact that the free world needs to stand up against aggressors. The UK has played a leading role in bringing together the G7 to make a very strong statement, as well as working with our NATO allies to make clear the basis of the talks taking place next week. We are very ready and willing to use our position to make the case for severe consequences, should Russia seek to stage an incursion into Ukraine.
The pressure on Ukraine is immediate, but it is part of a pattern of behaviour towards former Soviet satellites and Warsaw pact countries, many of which are now members of NATO or the EU—most of them are members of both. Many of these countries have post-war experience of Soviet tanks rolling in to crush protests, as we are seeing again in Kazakhstan. It is slightly concerning that, although the shadow Defence Secretary was here for this statement, I cannot see anyone from the Ministry of Defence, unless I am wrong. Will the UK not only argue for tough talk in next week’s discussions, but be prepared to provide material support to Ukraine in order to prevent an invasion or subversion?
We are working very closely with the Ministry of Defence. In fact, the Defence Secretary recently visited Ukraine. We have been providing support, including training troops, providing intelligence and security assistance, and helping Ukraine to build its naval capability.
My right hon. Friend has talked about massive consequences, including co-ordinated sanctions, should there be further Russian military incursions into Ukraine. Will she listen to the call of the Ukrainian ambassador that the behaviour of Russia, which she outlined in her statement, merits taking further measures now? Will she consider that during her meetings next week?
My right hon. Friend makes a fair point about the appalling behaviour of Russia, including with respect to Ukraine. Russia is also stirring up problems in the Balkans, as well as helping the Belarusian regime to use migration as an offensive weapon. As I said earlier, we need to make sure that we reduce economic dependence on Russia. We are also strengthening our security ties with like-minded allies, including the Baltic states, so that we are able to repel these types of aggressive activities over the longer term. We are working on that as well as making sure that Russia understands the severe consequences of any action it might take.
I will not ask the Foreign Secretary to go into the detail of our co-ordinated sanctions plans, because quite rightly she would not reveal them, but does she agree that there is very little point in using economic sanctions to apply pain and suffering to the broader economy of states such as Russia, because I think we can agree that a direct link between broader society and the ruling elite does not really exist? That being the case, will she confirm that it would be much more apt to apply sanctions to the Russian elites around the world—in Manhattan, London and Paris—that have a direct link to the Kremlin? Their pain will cause problems for the Russian ruling elite.
I have visited Bosnia twice in the past eight months, and I have a deep and long-standing personal interest in what happens there. I am very concerned about reports of Russian involvement with Republika Srpska to encourage the break-up of Bosnia. In particular, there are some reports of the Russians providing weapons to Republika Srpska. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that possibility?
It is vitally important that the hard-won peace and security that my right hon. Friend did so much to help to achieve in the western Balkans is not lost. That is why I met High Representative Christian Schmidt and we are giving him our full support. We have also appointed Sir Stuart Peach as our special envoy to the western Balkans. Recently I hosted the western Balkan Foreign Ministers at Lancaster House to discuss peace and stability in the region. I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about malign Russian involvement in the western Balkans. We need to do more to bring the western Balkans into our circle, including by expanding trade and security relationships so that those countries have alternatives to dealing with Russia.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned in her statement that the next week will be absolutely crucial for peace and security in Europe. As I am sure she will hear from Members across this House, strong statements and signals will not work with Russia if we are to ensure that the conflict does not escalate. Does she agree that Russia’s actions against Ukraine show a pattern of recent hostile activity, and that she needs to work to bring forward a co-ordinated response with our European partners on a deal to ensure that Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Bosnia come to an end—co-ordinated action that this House should have sight of once agreed?
That is absolutely the work the UK is doing. That is why we had a very extensive discussion on this subject at the G7. We announced that there would be severe consequences, and we are absolutely working on co-ordination. That is vital. It is very important that the United States is involved. It is very important that the EU is involved. It is very important that the wider world is involved, because this is not just a threat to peace and stability in Europe; it is a global issue about whether we are clear that aggressors will not benefit from aggressive behaviour.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for her statement, which will inform the debate that we are having later about Russia’s grand strategy. We keep saying that Russia’s aggression must not be rewarded, but the past decade and a half has seen Russia’s aggression effectively rewarded and go unpunished again and again. To that extent, how can she ensure that the meetings taking place on 9 and 10 January in Geneva will actually mark a significant departure in past practice from the west so that from now on we will act much more decisively and be completely united? We cannot succumb to the divisive way in which Russia is attempting to separate the United States from its NATO allies.
I agree with my hon. Friend: we do need to step up our efforts as the free world. In fact, in a speech I made before Christmas I said that there had not been enough action, and that peace and security in Europe and beyond had been taken for granted not just by the western alliance but more broadly by the free world. That is why we are stepping up in the work we are doing to challenge Russia and encourage our allies. We are encouraging the United States and the EU and working with them to develop the very clear consequences of any Russian action.
The Foreign Secretary claims that we have the toughest regime, but if we follow the money, it seems that the Russian oligarchs see the UK and its dependencies as the preferred safe deposit box for their investments. Will she outline what military involvement she and the Defence Secretary have considered might be put into play from the UK? Will she update the House on her Department’s advice to UK nationals who either live in Ukraine or are considering travelling to Ukraine?
As I have said, the Defence Secretary visited Ukraine in the autumn. We are providing all the support we can to Ukraine in terms of both economic resilience and security—namely, helping with training troops, providing intelligence services, and providing support for its naval vessels. We continue to work to do that and I am co-ordinating very closely with the Defence Secretary.
I welcome the robust tone of the Foreign Secretary’s statement, and the evident absolute unanimity on both sides of the House, in support of the Ukrainian Government and their people. If something were to go horribly wrong in Ukraine, however, the next domino in the chain would be the Baltic states, with which we have an article 5 guarantee. When she meets other NATO Foreign Ministers tomorrow, can she absolutely assure those from the Baltic states that they have our complete support and that Estonia will never become a far-away country of which we know nothing?
I welcomed the Baltic states to the UK last autumn and I was very clear about the UK’s complete support for them and our complete commitment to our article 5 obligations. That is why we have the enhanced border presence, which I visited in Tapa in Estonia. Alongside the discussions that are taking place about Ukraine through the NATO Foreign Ministers, we are of course also talking about how we strengthen our defensive capability to support our members, including the Baltic states, which really are on the frontier of freedom.
I thank the Secretary of State for her fulsome statement. I am mindful of the early morning reports of Russia sending armed troops to Kazakhstan, which has led to death and destruction. As we watch Russian imperial aggression towards Ukraine, the voice of the west needs to be heard—it must be heard. What discussions has she had with the United States of America and key NATO allies to respond to what could be a powder keg, the fuse of which is in Russian hands?
I have had regular conversations with my counterparts, such as Tony Blinken in the United States. I have talked to many of our NATO allies directly and to all of them at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting. We are all very much aligned in being clear that there will be severe consequences for Russia should it stage an incursion into Ukraine. It is important to maintain that unanimity as we face further Russian rhetoric and aggression.
Unlike in Soviet times, Russia is no longer a viable candidate for world domination. Indeed, recently declassified documents from the United States make it clear that in February 1990, Secretary of State James Baker gave President Gorbachev a categoric assurance that NATO would not, and had no plans to, move east. Given that the reality of the situation, despite everything that has been said today, is that we are not prepared for a single British soldier to die in a war to defend Ukraine, will the Secretary of State confirm that there are no plans to admit Ukraine to NATO? Indeed, to do that would be a needless and dangerous provocation.
I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. The UK remains supportive of Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations, in line with the 2008 Bucharest summit declaration. As I have already pointed out, NATO is a defensive alliance, as the Russians know perfectly well. We should not buy into the narrative that somehow NATO is the problem. The problem is the troops that are being amassed on the Ukrainian border. We have to be absolutely clear that those troops are being amassed by Russia, not by NATO.
I very much welcome the statement, but I encourage my right hon. Friend to be far more robust in defence of pro-democracy forces in Kazakhstan and to condemn unequivocally the collective security treaty organisation intervention there in support of a highly questionable regime. What discussions has she had with players in the wider region about the instability that may be caused by Russia’s intervention in mid-Asia, in particular Azerbaijan, in which we have significant interests? What are the implications of what is going on in the region for the recently concluded ceasefire in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh?
On the subject of the violent clashes in Kazakhstan, as I have said, we condemn those acts of violence, but I think it important to remember that Kazakhstan has a sovereign choice when it comes to whom it chooses as its allies. Any forces deployed must have a clear mission and must act proportionately in any use of force to defend the legitimate security interests in Kazakhstan. It is important that, while regretting these acts and ensuring that our thoughts are with those who have lost their lives, we respect the fact that Kazakhstan has that sovereign choice.
I thank my right hon. Friend for a strong and clear statement. I agree with her that we should not accept the suggestion that NATO is, in any sense, anything other than a defensive alliance. Neither, indeed, should we accept the suggestion—and I do not expect her to say this today—that there is any imminent prospect of Ukraine’s becoming a NATO member. The Kremlin does not believe these things; they are merely pretexts to undermine a democratic and free society.
The immediate concern is altering the cost-benefit analysis currently being undertaken by the Kremlin, and that is why the conversations that my right hon. Friend will have in the coming days are so important with respect to sanctions and other actions. Will she confirm that she has had a direct conversation with the new German Government about Nord Stream 2 and that she will ask them to halt its operationalisation, given that that is the single most important bargaining chip in the hands of Europe and NATO today?
My right hon. Friend is completely right about the pretext. That is exactly what is happening. Disinformation is being used and pretexts are being claimed that simply do not exist, because NATO is indeed a defensive alliance. I did meet my German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, on the margins of G7, and both the Prime Minister and I have made it very clear that we do not believe that Nord Stream 2 should go ahead.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her robust and very clear statement on Russian aggression. It is fairly clear that Putin is peddling a particular narrative to the Russian people, trying to explain that the west is anti-Russia. The Kremlin’s publication of its extraordinary demands regarding Ukraine last month was a clear move to attempt to split the west. We must not bow to such pressure. We cannot show the Kremlin an ounce of weakness. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must stand firmly with our allies such as Ukraine and Bosnia, and with any other ally that is under the threat of Russian aggression?
My hon. Friend is right. We have to defend the hard-won freedoms in the Balkans, in Ukraine and in the Baltic states. She is also right to point out that the issue here is not the Russian people. I am a great admirer of Russia and the Russian people. The issue is the Putin regime, and what is happening and what he is saying, and the false pretexts that he is trying to create. We must be resolute to defend democracy and freedom in Europe, and that is why we are taking this strong stance on Ukraine and working with our allies around the world to challenge Russian aggression.
Let me first warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s world leadership on this issue, and congratulate her on putting the UK firmly at the heart of it. She mentioned the 1994 Budapest memorandum, to which we were also a signatory. In the light of that, may I urge her to ensure that when we enter the negotiations no false lines are drawn in respect of how far we are willing to go, and that we do not explicitly say that we are not willing to go beyond a certain point? Some worrying statements that have been emerging from the Ministry of Defence might cause my right hon. Friend’s hands to be clamped in the negotiations.
The 1994 Budapest memorandum is very clear. It was done on the basis of Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons and ensuring that it maintained its territorial integrity and sovereignty. That is a very important principle that will absolutely be upheld in the negotiations and discussions taking place next week.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and strong approach. What seems like a lifetime ago, I saw at first hand a breakdown in the Balkans when I served in Bosnia and Kosovo. Even though it seems like a lifetime ago, I never want anyone to witness that again. However unlikely it may seem, can we ensure that the best statecraft and diplomacy are used to allow Russia, if it should so choose, to de-escalate and follow a route out of where this could be heading?
I thank my hon. Friend for his service in the Balkans. He is so right that that peace and security was very hard earned, and we are determined not to allow it to slide away from us. That is why we have appointed Sir Stuart Peach, and it is why we are working on closer economic and security ties with the Balkan states so that they have an alternative to working with Russia.
I believe that the best way to challenge Russia is from a position of strength. We have to be clear that there would be severe consequences if there were to be an incursion into Ukraine, and we have to reduce European strategic dependency on Russia. That is how we will succeed. There cannot be any sense in which Russian aggression is rewarded, because that would, of course, have further consequences in terms of Russia’s behaviour, but it would also encourage other aggressors around the world and damage peace and democracy globally.
The Crime and Security Research Institute has found evidence that 32 media outlets across 16 different countries have been targeted by Russia, via their reader comments section, peppering stories with anti-western and anti-NATO statements. Can my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary assure me that we are doing everything we can to tackle the Kremlin’s reliance on misinformation and online manipulation?
We have very strong cyber-security forces here in the UK, and we are doing all we can to tackle Russian disinformation, including working with allies and partners. We have recently signed a number of cyber agreements, and we are working on these issues precisely with the Baltic states, which face a lot of Russian disinformation. At the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting, we specifically talked about how we will make sure that NATO as a whole focuses more on cyber, and on areas such as hybrid attacks and the use of migration as an offensive weapon. That is to ensure that NATO operates not just in traditional spheres, but in many of the areas where modern combat is carried out.
I very much welcome the firm stance that the Foreign Secretary has outlined on the UK’s response to Russian intimidation of Ukraine. She has also set out clearly her own vision for global Britain and her aim to build a network of liberty. Does she agree that in order to ensure that freedom and democracy thrive around the world, our global partners will need to step up and join us in providing Ukraine with the support it needs; and that that involves not just words, but actions that might sometimes be difficult?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to reduce economic dependency on Russia, and we need to make sure that our words are followed up by the actions we have outlined. We also need to make sure that all our like-minded allies—whether it is the United States, the EU or, indeed, allies around the world, such as India, Australia and Japan—are part of building those closer economic and security ties so that we can deal with authoritarian regimes and make sure there are no rewards for aggression.
In 2015, I visited Ukraine and Kiev with the then Defence Secretary, when I was a special adviser, to see Operation Orbital begin. We have now trained 20,000 soldiers in Ukraine through that operation. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is now time for our partners to step up and to start to provide some of the resources that we are providing, because only by acting together in that international arena will we stop Russia’s aggression, not just in Ukraine, but across the western Balkans and in parts of central Asia?
My hon. Friend is right. We are co-ordinating closely with the United States on providing support to Ukraine, including on security and economic resilience, and making sure that Ukraine has the energy supplies it needs. I have also had a conversation with Josep Borrell of the EU about making sure that the EU is doing what it can to support Ukraine, whether by reducing economic dependency on Russian gas or by more direct support to Ukraine in areas such as trade, as well as security.