I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to develop separate but aligned cross-Government strategies for both Russia and China; and further calls on the Government to support the international order, working with allies across the globe to develop an approach to Russia and China that, whilst recognising their separate legitimate interests, ensures a robust defence of both UK interests and democratic values.
I will speak for 15 minutes, if I get that far, as I am mindful of others.
As of this morning, offensive war has once again broken out in eastern Europe, as Russian artillery and armour rain down on a peaceful neighbour. We have all seen the reports of columns moving from Crimea, of Kharkiv and Kyiv potentially being under threat and of bridges being blown up in Chernobyl as Ukrainians defend hearth and home.
This is arguably the first conventional war in Europe since 1945. The intentions of Vladimir Putin have long been clear: to control or destroy Ukraine, to shatter western unity, to build a new sphere of influence on the foundations of the USSR and to present the west as a decadent, mortal enemy of the Russian people and Russian identity. It is an agenda that is both febrile and dangerous, but sadly it is also very real. We have needed to understand it for some time, and we urgently need to get our heads around what is happening.
According to polling, the majority of Russians see war—and nuclear war—with the west as now more likely than not, which should be a sobering realisation for all of us. Russian state propaganda has prepared the population for conflict for years. The immediate news is clearly shocking, but I will still try to look more broadly, to talk about tactics rather than strategy and, where possible, to bring in China as much as Russia. People will forgive me if I do not always succeed.
Russia in the west and China in the east present differing but overlapping and increasingly significant threats. However imperfect our current global system, we have avoided major conflict, but that order is now under threat: in Ukraine today; potentially in Taiwan and the South China sea; and potentially in the Baltic and the Black sea in the weeks, months and years to come.
I lived and worked in Ukraine and the former USSR from 1990 to 1994, and I was fortunate enough to travel through the country for much of that time. I lived in Kyiv, but I well remember many of the places we are talking about now. I went down coal mines in Donbas, I visited Soviet dachas in Sevastopol, and in Moldova and Georgia I witnessed the first of the proxy wars engineered, probably, by the KGB. Many of my formative experiences as a young man were spent there, and I am deeply fond of the place and its people. What is happening pains me, because a KGB placeman will now pit Slavs against other Slavs to fulfil a fantasy about the Soviet Union and the world. The cold war was not a good world. It died 30 years ago and should remain dead. Tens of thousands are likely to die.
I would like to argue the following: the risk of direct conflict with Russia and China is growing and, in some senses, we are already in indirect conflict with both, in different ways—importantly, I am not directly comparing Russia and China. We are midway through a 20-year crisis with Russia that we are woefully ill-prepared for and have done our best to ignore. Frankly, this is now returning with a vengeance. We are at the beginning of a significant and potentially damaging change in our relationship with China—there may be greater opportunity there, but there may also be greater threat. Therefore, for the next 20 years the primary foreign policy goal for this country must be in old-school state relationships and the avoidance of direct conflict, and the establishment of working relationships with both, where we can, that are as productive as possible, while resolutely defending our values and our allies. I do not believe we are there yet by any means; and the coherence and integration of our foreign policy, and our policy in both cases, is not there.
Secondly, we need to understand the new world and the new styles of conflict being practised against us, and the new forms of covert and overt influence. Thirdly, as a result, we need to move to an era of “smart” containment, which is not only geographically based, but is a protection of our values, and of our IT property, our universities and law firms, and our City institutions and others. That includes things such as a national strategy council to complement the National Security Council, because frankly—the more I speak to people, the more I feel this—we need to relearn the arts of strategy and deterrence. We need to relearn how to use power properly—I believe we have forgotten that.
We also need to make provision for laws that we should have put in place years ago: a foreign lobbying Bill—my God, how many more scandals do we have to put up with before we realise we need one?; an updated espionage Bill; an economic crimes Bill; and changes to the libel and data protection rules to protect freedom of speech and to protect journalists from becoming peripheral victims of Russian oligarch intimidation to our freedom of speech.
I wish to add to this list, although I share in everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is very intelligent and foresighted on these issues. Should we not also be looking at those who have dual nationality—Russian and UK, or Chinese and UK—reassessing and making them choose a nationality? Secondly, should we not be looking at everyone from China or from Russia who has a tier 1 visa and reassessing whether those should not be withdrawn?
The hon. Gentleman make sensible points. I look forward to working with him on them and I thank him for his intervention.
Both the Russia and China leaderships see themselves as being in conflict or intense competition with the west. That may sound “hawkish”, but it is not designed to be so. It is designed to avoid conflict in the future by being clear about the times we live in. Let us face it: who of us today will claim that deterrence has worked in Europe? Let me remind the House that the best wars are not those that are won, but those that are unfought. Our greatest victory in world war three was that it did not take place, not that we destroyed our civilisation in order to destroy another.
In Russia, the security elites have believed for the past 20 years that they are in conflict with us—in a conflict of values and of information, with spheres of interest. President Putin alludes to a “western plot” that destroyed the Soviet Union and he sees “colour revolutions” in the same light. Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev regularly warns that the west wants to destroy Russia because we fear it and are jealous of it. The Kremlin’s confrontational strategy to change the post-cold war order began with a reassessment of military art in the early 2000s, which was played out somewhat in national publications such as Voennaya Mysl, or Military Thought, and Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er—or Military-Industrial Courier. The result of that debate was a strategy that has, in effect, aligned Russia’s two ways of war, the conventional and the non-conventional, and seen the west as a psychological, spiritual and physical threat. It is not fundamentally a military doctrine—the Gerasimov doctrine—as some people falsely claim; it is actually a strategic art, not simply a military one. These ideas have formed in Russia’s military and national security doctrines, written by those around Putin, where the west is the existential threat, spiritual and physical. Swedish academic Maria Engström has discovered that at its worst there is a disturbing narrative among Russian ideologues that links Russia’s nuclear arsenal and Russian Orthodoxy, known as “Atomic Orthodoxy”, as the “sword and shield” against the Antichrist—the US and NATO. We are the Antichrist. The sword and the shield are also the symbols of Putin’s old KGB and now the FSB. We made the mistake of dismissing fringe Russian philosophers as neo-fascist nutjobs in the 1990s. Given what has happened since, it is unwise that we do the same again. In China, party document No. 9 lays out quite clearly that the Communist party seeks a dominant position of its socialism over western capitalism. The language of win-win is for an external audience, for us. The language domestically is to win and to dominate, and again we should be under no illusion about that.
Whereas Russia is a declining power, China is rising one. They present different but related threats, and both, to a greater or lesser extent, use the tools of hybrid conflict. The principle behind this is not just war plus information ops; it is much more. It is to see state competition as Darwinian, with war as an extension of politics—as set out by von Clausewitz—and politics as an extension of conflict. The latter idea was peddled by German world war General Erich Ludendorff in his book, “The Total War”. China believes in something similar, as readers of “Unrestricted Warfare”, published in the late 1990s, will know. Our opponents are harsh, harsh realists. Their secret police disappear people. They are not liberal internationalists. Although they share legitimate interests, and we need to work on those legitimate interests, their mindset is different from ours.
Putin is a product of the KGB; an organisation involved in some of the greatest crimes in human history, but one that, unlike the SS, has never had to collectively accept responsibility. He is both deeply rational and highly irrational. Russian integrated strategic decision making is years ahead of the west. Its general staff is probably the last Prussian organisation on earth. This war has been planned for years. He knows that EU dependency on energy is worsening and he has built up tens of billions in reserves. I suspect he laughs at the ad hoc tactics of the west, where we ask, “Do we do a no-fly zone? Do we do this? Do we do that?” From him, this is, as Sun Tzu would say, “tactics before strategy”—it is “noise before defeat”.
Putin is also fuelled by a bitter and cold anger at the loss of the USSR—at the loss of Ukraine—which he cannot abide and refuses to accept. This is the third stage of the Ukrainian conflict. The first, between 2004 and 2014, involved economic and political tools. The second stage, between 2014 and 2022, involved those as well as paramilitary violence. In their hybrid tools, both Russia and China seek elite capture in this country. We know about Huawei and about the academics and the universities. Twice in this House I have heard the claim that Huawei is a private company. Anyone who knows anything about one-party states and about communism knows that that is an incredible and bad claim for a Minister, or for an official putting words into a Minister’s mouth, to be saying. Both countries use covert military force. Both use an intimidating conventional military presence. Both use culture. Both use covert control of the media.
So what is our response? First, it is to understand our adversaries and potential enemies, because they spent a great deal of time understanding us. We need to keep reaching out to their leaders, however futile that now is in the case of Russia, and to their people. We also need to have a conversation in our own house about how we clean up our own house—about the Bills we need to bring in, which I have mentioned: the foreign lobbying law; the data protection law; and the laws on economic crimes.
That is just a start. If Confucius Institutes wish to remain in this country, they must stop spying on Chinese students, and be willing to discuss Hong Kong and Tiananmen Square. If not, they should be shut down. Military dual-use work should be banned. Work for Chinese military universities should be banned. Recruiters for the Chinese secret agencies need to be exposed and prosecuted. Front organisations such as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association should be banned. [Interruption.] I am aware of the time, Mr Deputy Speaker. We need to become significantly less strategically dependent on industry and manufacturing from China, not least because of the environmental damage they do to our state. Globalisation has in many ways been a force for good, but we need to have a conversation with ourselves about whether offshoring so much of our industry is a good thing.
The military dividend—the peace dividend—is over. Spending 2% on defence is not acceptable. To put it crudely, we need a bigger Navy and a bigger Air Force. We need to rebuild our alliances throughout the world. If there is one thing unique about British strategic culture—one of the greatest things this country has done in 200 years, arguably more than any other—it is our ability to build alliances throughout the world. We need to be at the heart of the building of new alliances. Potentially, our second carrier should be part of the CANZUK—Canada, Australia, New Zealand and UK—fleet. Potentially, we should put a physical NATO base in the Suwalki gap between Kaliningrad on one side and Belarus on the other.
I could go on but I am mindful of the time, so let me sum up. There are two courses for humanity in the 21st century. The first is the western model of a law-governed society with politicians under the control of the people. It is incredibly imperfect, as we all know, but it is the best hope for mankind. The second is the new militarism of high-tech authoritarianism that is championed by Russia, and a little bit by China. It promises the data-inspired, artificial-intelligence control of populations. We need foresight, strategy and resolve to fight to defend our values and the future of humanity. We should not underestimate the scale of the task nor shy away from it. The defence of human freedom, wherever it is in the world—in Taiwan, Ukraine, the Baltic or the Black sea—is the struggle for our age.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this important debate. His timing could not have been better.
It is clear from today’s events that we live no longer in an era of change but in a change of era. That has three significant implications for our strategy on Russia and China, which is why the hon. Gentleman’s timing today is so fortunate. The three shifts entail a worldview different from that of UK policy makers, and they require a shift in our defensive strategy and a renaissance in creative diplomatic strategy whereby, quite simply, we in this country need to build a new rules-based order for the new silk road.
Let me start with the new worldview that is going to be needed. I generally try to avoid a Manichean view of the world as divided into black and white, because the world is more complicated than that, but the truth is that, from Kaliningrad through to Kamchatka, we are now witness to the creation of an enormous kleptosphere. Inside the borders of that kleptosphere, the merciless logic is that might is right: in the old phrase, the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. We have to be the guardians of what we might call the “canon-osphere”—the space around the world where there are rules, there is the rule of law and there is justice.
Just as we once rid the world of piracy and slave trading, we now have to be the place that leads the charge against economic crime, no matter where that crime is perpetrated. We have to be the guardians of the new rules-based order for this simple reason: if we think the scale of global corruption today is bad, we must think for a moment about the world that is to come. The World Bank estimates that the value of natural resources in countries with bad corruption scores is $65 trillion. Imagine the world of the future, in which those natural resources are extracted and the profits go to some of the worst people on earth. That is why there is now an urgency for a very different kind of philosophy to guide our foreign policy. We have to be the place, the country, the leader that seeks a world of not simply free trade but clean trade. That must be one of the defining features of our foreign policy for the years to come.
The second dimension is that we obviously need new defences. We in this House have to confront the reality that our strategy of deterrence has failed. Most of us who spoke in the debate on the economic sanctions were profoundly disappointed with the weakness of the package proposed. Frankly, many of us feel that the Prime Minister was a little late to the party. “Too little, too late” will be written on his political gravestone, I fear. None the less, we must now accept that the threat of sanctions has failed and we must now offer President Putin the iron fist. That has to take aim at Russia’s key strategic weakness, which is its 20 km border.
We must now envisage a different security environment along the Russian border. That means that we should have proactive talks with Finland and Sweden about how they partner with NATO; it means further reinforcing our presence in the Baltics; it means new kinds of conversations at the other end of the border, in Georgia; it means thinking about how we take on and equip those fighting the insurgencies in places such as South Ossetia and Transnistria; and it means that we have to take a completely different approach to the Balkans, and step up and accelerate the path towards NATO membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We now have to start to roll NATO forward in strength across the border, so that President Putin’s tactical advance results in what is ultimately a strategic defeat. I am afraid part and parcel of that is that we will have to consider the deployment of intermediate ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe. The truth is that the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty broke down because President Putin was breaking the rules and deploying SSC-8 missiles, which were prohibited by that treaty. Russia has built very effective anti-access and area-denial systems that safeguard it against air and naval attack. A defence against ground-launched cruise missiles is much more difficult. The Secretary-General of NATO has been right to rule out arming those missiles with nuclear warheads, but we must now think more aggressively about our defence posture, given the security threat President Putin now poses to this great homeland of Europe.
The final point I wish to make clear is that it is time for British grand strategy to go through something of a renaissance. This is not an original point of mine but something that people such as Lord Ricketts have been writing about for some time. If we look back over history, we see so many examples of how, when Russian and Chinese leaders feel strong at home, they advance into the periphery—into the borderland. That was true under Tsar Nicholas and under the Qing empire, and it is true today. That means that a corridor of chaos is potentially going to stretch from the Baltic to Ukraine, down through Syria and Iran, through Kashmir, into Myanmar, into North Korea and into the South China sea.
We have not only to think creatively and imaginatively about how we provide a security environment for that space but to think anew about creating a Marshall plan for that space, just as we did in Europe after world war two. Then, we created the OECD to foster Europe’s economic development; we now need to do the same for the silk road. The passage to India, the Pacific and beyond now needs a British-led institution that looks imaginatively at how we create new infrastructure. China will be spending something like $1.5 trillion on infrastructure across this great border zone. What are we spending? We do not know, but we could be using our skills to identify the infrastructure priorities in places such as Pakistan. We could be thinking imaginatively about how we mobilise infrastructure finance. London has been the home of infrastructure finance since we defeated Napoleon and Nathan Rothschild created the international bond market in London.
We have the wherewithal to mobilise sovereign wealth funds, which are growing radically and quickly in places such as the Gulf, and deploying that money in good strong contracts, with good strong standards, that avoid the kind of mistakes that we saw in the early days of the Qatari world cup stadium-building programme. We could be a force for good in building infrastructure, in financing infrastructure, and in making sure that there are good rules around that.
We could be thinking imaginatively about how we create free trade across this zone. We could be thinking imaginatively about how we settle disputes. We could be thinking imaginatively about the legal services and the consulting services that we offer out of London into this space. The reality is that, by 2050, the economies of the new silk road will be worth two and a half times the value of the economies on the Atlantic seaboard. The economic centre of gravity is moving east. This is possibly where I differ from the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. In my view, we need to think imaginatively about offering the welcoming hand of trade as well as offering a strong shield and a strong sword.
I will finish with a quote from Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State after world war two, who famously boasted that he was present at the creation. He warned us that
“the future comes one day at a time.”
We now do not have a single day to waste. That is why this debate is so very important.
I am very pleased to be here. I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for his prescience and timing in securing this debate. He is absolutely right: this is something that we have needed to discuss for a long time. The fact that he has got the House together to do so today is important.
This is really a debate about the future—a debate that challenges us all to think about the world in which we wish to live. We have already heard cited the kleptocracies that govern so much of our world and the threats to independent sovereign communities, such as Ukraine, that are being so violently and vilely challenged today. We have already heard about the ways in which that affects the very lives that we have here: the price of heating gas going through the roof; the price of petrol going up and up; and now, sadly, the price of wheat and therefore of basic food commodities rising higher and higher, hitting the families, the communities and the homes that we here are so privileged to represent. This is a debate not about a foreign country, not about foreign relations, but, fundamentally, about the British people and how we live our lives.
That is why I want to start by saying very clearly that this is not a time to live in fear. This is not a time to think that arrayed against us are some enormous armies against which we can do nothing, or that we should bow down, scrape and grovel, as I see some people doing today, praising Putin’s intellect, worshipping Xi’s ability to influence others through force. This is not the time, as others say, to compromise and accept the instructions of evil dictators and say, “No! Free people in Ukraine are expendable. They can suffer because they don’t matter.” That is cowardice. Worse than that, it is betrayal. It is betrayal not just of the people who are fighting for their freedom, but of the British people whose security depends fundamentally on freedoms around the world. We should call this what it is; it is treason and it is wrong.
This country can organise itself. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight described it exactly. Collecting alliances, building up partnerships, is exactly what we do. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Middle East has been doing a huge amount of work in getting us in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. She has been building up alliances in Asia—with free countries that want to be part of the rule of law, not the rule of force. This country can do it. We can build the infrastructure that keeps us safe, that protects the weak, that ensures that small countries are not just steamrollered by larger ones, and that large countries trade freely and on the basis of equality with each other and do not succumb to the bullying ways of evil tyrants. All this is possible. Not only is it possible, it is exactly what we are doing.
Failure to do that would be a betrayal of the legacy of those heroes who fought, defended and won our freedoms, who landed at Anzio and Normandy, and who fought through Belgium into Germany. It would also be a betrayal of those Soviet armies who, in 1946, handed over criminals to the trials at Nuremberg and charged them with the crime of waging aggressive war. What an irony it is that the last time Kyiv was under attack by a foreign army it was a Nazi force doing it, and the Soviets were there to help and protect. What an irony it is to watch what is happening today.
We have in this place, in this country and with our partners the courage to do this if we choose. We can make the commitment. We can build up the partnerships and the alliances that keep us strong. Today though the question is not just about alliances, but about ourselves. We need to call out the corruption in our own city. We need to evict those who have done so much to undermine the rights and liberties of the British people. We need to seize their assets, freeze their goods and expel them.
What Russia has done today is an act of war. There is no question about it, no equivocation, and no possible excuse. The naked aggression that we have seen—the paratroopers landing, the helicopters launching, the tanks rolling—is the beginning of the first war in Europe that we have seen since 1945. [Interruption.] Yes, the first state-on-state war in Europe perhaps. We have a choice. We can turn a blind eye; we can pretend that incremental sanctions make a difference—they do not. President Medvedev laughed at them three days ago, saying that we know how this play goes: they sanction us, we ignore them and then they come crawling back for business, which, sadly, is true from 2014 and 2008. Alternatively, we can take clear action. Given that a hostile state has launched an act of war, we can act now. We can freeze Russian assets in this country—all of them. We can expel Russian citizens—all of them. We can make a choice to defend our interests, to defend the British people and to defend our international partners, or we can do what, sadly, we have done too often in the past, which is to watch until it is too late and the British people have to pay a much higher price.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for securing this important debate. The eyes of the world may be focused elsewhere at present, but it is vital that we do not lose sight of other nations where people face abuses. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ukraine today as they face aggression. Military aggression in Ukraine is not acceptable, and the House stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
I thank the Office of Tibet, Tibet Action and Free Tibet for their briefings ahead of this debate. I thank, too, the all-party group for Tibet for all the work that it does. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the said all-party group. I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet the Office of Tibet in London last year at the Labour party conference where I heard about the experiences of the Tibetan people.
Since it was annexed more than 70 years ago, occupied Tibet has been closed off to much of the rest of the world, preventing us from witnessing the repression against the people that live in the region. According to the Free Tibet campaign, the Chinese Government have been orchestrating a deliberate and systematic elimination of Tibet’s distinct and unique cultural, religious and linguistic identity through a sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism, its culture and its language.
Worryingly, those sinicization measures are reported to have increased in intensity over the past decade, reflecting the Chinese Government’s further attempts to subdue the Tibetans, who continue to resist the occupation. This process includes the Chinese Government’s bilingual education policy of replacing the Tibetan language—the common language of all Tibetans—with Mandarin. In the words of the Free Tibet campaign, this
“strikes at the very root of the Tibetan identity”.
It was reported late last year that two teenage Tibetan students were detained for opposing Chinese-only instruction in their school. A Tibetan teacher was also arrested after her Tibetan-language school was forced to close. According to research by the Tibet Action Institute, as many as 900,000 Tibetan children are estimated to have been separated from their families, while the teaching of the Tibetan language has faced further restrictions, with limitations on monasteries that wish to provide language classes.
Last month, I asked our Government whether they had raised that exact issue, specifically regarding Chinese-run boarding schools in Tibet, with their counterparts in China. I must say that the response to my written parliamentary question was disappointing. Although I am encouraged to hear that measures are being taken to urge the Chinese Government to respect the rights of all its citizens, including those in Tibet, I appeal to the Minister today to push specifically on this issue to ensure that families do not continue to be coerced into sending their children to residential boarding schools.
Nor has religion emerged unscathed from this process, with the Chinese Government imposing a raft of restrictions that are almost certainly designed to make Tibetan Buddhism compatible with President Xi’s vision of “religion with Chinese characteristics”, as he has described it. In reality, that has meant limitations on the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in community life and monasteries repeatedly being placed under Government control and surveillance. In practice, that means all monasteries being forced to fly Chinese flags and hang portraits of political figures on their premises.
The Government are also accused of proactively coercing Tibetans into renouncing any allegiance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a process that also extends to outlawing the portraits of His Holiness and arresting Tibetans who carry out seemingly small acts of resistance such as calling for his return to Tibet or singing songs that wish him a happy birthday. In the past three years alone, authorities have ordered Tibetans to place shrines to President Xi and other Government leaders inside their homes in place of religious figures. The Free Tibet campaign also reports that in some counties, authorities have gone to such lengths as physically inspecting households to ensure that that order has been carried out.
Finally, I will focus briefly on Drago county in eastern Tibet. Since last October the county, which is in Sichuan province, has been the site of a series of demolitions of sites of religious and cultural significance, accompanied by arbitrary arrests and alleged torture. One such example is reports of Government officials tearing down a Tibetan Buddhist monastic school that once housed more than 100 young Tibetan students. That was followed soon afterwards by the destruction of two Lord Buddha statues, including one that stood almost 100 feet tall, the construction of which was only completed in 2015 with funds donated by Tibetans and Buddhist disciples.
Further evidence of Government aggression and destruction includes the demolition of several monks’ residences, in addition to monastery prayer flags being removed and burned. It is clear to those who witnessed those incidents that, as well as lacking any free or informed consultation with the locals, the demolitions were carried out very deliberately to cause maximum distress, with members of the community in some cases ordered to assist in tearing down schools and statues, and others forced to watch. I hope the Minister will make a note of those ongoing events, given that the forced inspections continue to take place on an almost daily basis, which has led to the lives of all those involved rapidly deteriorating.
I want to highlight that 10 March is observed annually as Tibet Uprising Day. In 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans banded together to revolt, in defiance of the Chinese invasion a decade earlier. That peaceful protest was violently crushed by the Chinese Government.
In closing, I urge the Minister to heed the concerns of hon. Members on both sides and push the Governments of China and Russia to ensure that all rights are respected, and that a way of life is not imposed on people that leads to the destruction and desecration of everything from the heritage to the culture, language and even the very identity of the Tibetan people. Their voices must continue to be heard.
The world order is at a pivotal point in history. From Moscow to Tehran to Beijing, autocratic rulers are attempting to enforce their undemocratic models not only on their own people, but on those beyond their borders. What we are witnessing in Ukraine today is the starkest example of that frightful and frightening phenomenon.
Almost unbelievably, in the 21st century we are witnessing the invasion of a peaceful European state by an armed aggressor—something we have not seen since the actions of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Yet, in a warped and perverted view of history, Putin last night compared Ukraine to Nazi Germany, painting it as a genocidal state that poses a threat to the Russian people. That can only be true in the deranged analysis of Putin’s mind as he unleashes a tsunami of violence against the people of Ukraine.
How could Ukraine be a threat to Russia? Russia has 4,100 aircraft; Ukraine has 318. Russia has 772 fighters; Ukraine has 69. Russia has 1,543 helicopters; Ukraine has 112. Russia has 12,400 tanks; Ukraine has 2,600. Let us also remember that Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal at the end of the Soviet era on the basis of a guarantee that it would not be invaded by Russia. One wonders whether, if Ukraine had maintained its nuclear deterrent, those tanks would be rolling across Ukrainian territory today.
Make no mistake: Putin will continue to challenge the international order and advance his imperial agenda until he is decisively confronted. He seeks to reverse the democratic result of the 1991 Ukraine referendum and resurrect the Soviet empire. With increased security control in Eurasia over recent years, the Baltic states and Ukraine stand as outliers—those states that have stayed beyond Moscow’s malignant grip.
The implications are clear. We must now increase the NATO presence in the Baltic states, as well as in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, which will now be on the frontline. NATO countries must be willing now not only to raise the proportion of their GDP that they give to defence, but to give that money to NATO rather than making paper promises.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions that Russia has 12,400 tanks. He will know that the Prime Minister mentioned that we had sent 2,000 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Does he think we are doing enough to provide assets to Ukraine to defend itself?
No, we have not been doing enough. Since we saw the occupation of Crimea in 2014, many of us, including some who are in the House today, have been arguing that the west should be giving Ukraine the proper capabilities to defend itself. It is clear today that we did not do so—something that I will come to in a moment.
Since sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2014, it has paid down state debt, had significant import substitution to make it less dependent on outside producers, and made large investments in European metallurgy, energy and critical infrastructure. In 2020, the inward stock of foreign direct investment in the UK from Russia was £681 million, and the equivalent EU figure was £112 billion. Sanctions must include restrictions on all Russian investment if we are to stop Russia from wriggling out of any new sanctions that are applied because of what it has done today.
To go back to the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), I hope the House will forgive me for quoting an article I wrote on 22 February 2015, which said that an option would be
“to give the Ukrainians the capabilities they most require in order to defend themselves against the military superiority of the pro-Russian separatists and their Kremlin allies.
Primarily, this would involve properly encrypted communications, UAVs for surveillance and targeting and anti-tank capabilities to deal with the massive deficit which the Ukrainians currently have on this front.
There is increasing scepticism in Washington that any diplomatic solution reached with the Putin government will be as worthless as that achieved in Minsk last September.”
What was true at that time about NATO is true today:
“Everybody wants the insurance policy, but too few want to pay the premiums.
Western nations are too afraid to reallocate funds from their welfare addicted domestic populations to their national security budget and Russia knows it.”
National security is the first duty of all Governments. Today’s shocking events should be a clear reminder of that to all of us.
The challenge of Ukraine is likely to be faced elsewhere, as despots start to believe that the west is weaker than it has been for many a long year. It will be a challenge to our values, our democratic way of life and our security. All of us in politics, at whatever level, should remember this: politics is essentially binary. Either we shape the world around us, or we will be shaped by the world around us.
I believe that the values we hold and the history and culture that we defend are worth not only protecting for ourselves, but extending to those in the rest of the world who should have a right to enjoy the same freedoms and benefits we have. The gauntlet was picked up by previous generations. The question is whether we will have the courage to do so today.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox). I was reflecting as he spoke that it is now almost 40 years since our paths first crossed at the University of Glasgow. It is fair to say that our shared history has not always been characterised by broad agreement, but there was very little that he said today with which I would disagree.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this debate. As others have said, it is timely in a way that I suspect even he would not have imagined when he made the application to the Backbench Business Committee.
The House knows of my interest in our relations with China—I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary groups on Hong Kong and on the Uyghur population—but today I want to focus my remarks on our relationship with Russia. Before I do so, I pose a fairly basic question to the House: if we acquiesce in Putin invading and occupying Ukraine on the basis that it is ethnically and linguistically Russian, which is his purported basis, what would we say to China if it were then to take the same action in relation to Taiwan? Consistency matters.
That is exactly the case. We know that this is how Putin works. He will take so much, consolidate, bank it and let time pass, trade continues and then he asks for more. It is not just Putin; it is despots throughout history. The parallels with other despots in European history are there for all to see and I fear that we cannot ignore them for much longer.
I have to place on record my frustration that this debate is now the only opportunity that we will have to discuss this—as distinct from the Prime Minister’s statement, because a statement is not a debate—until a week on Monday. If nothing else, the opportunity for this House to debate specifically what is happening in Ukraine would be a very important signal for us to send to fellow parliamentarians in Ukraine that we stand with them in defending their democracy.
We may be shocked by what we have seen happen today, but we should not be in any way surprised. It has been obvious for weeks and months—some might even say years—that this day was always going to come. It grieves me more than anything else that our Government’s response to this challenge so far has been, bluntly, pusillanimous. The scale and nature of the sanctions that have been brought forward is wholly inadequate. We also have to get real about the opportunities that economic sanctions will bring us. Because of the way in which we have pursued our trade policy in the past decade or so, Putin has built up a reported reserve in the region of $640 billion, so it is clear that he will be able to withstand economic sanctions for some time, and we should not overestimate the opportunities that they bring.
With Putin, and others like him, it is always important to see that we have sent the right signals. What signals have we sent—by “we” I mean western Europeans—since 2014? We allowed Germany to go ahead and negotiate the construction of Nord Stream 2, a project that was designed specifically to take Ukraine out of the equation and allow a continued supply of gas from Russia to Europe.
I, like many people, find myself in a difficult contest between what my head and my heart tell me. My head tells me that we have seen all this before. My head tells me that despots using foreign policy to distract attention from problems at home is nothing new and only ends in one way. My head tells me that the proposition that national boundaries should be defined on ethnic or linguistic grounds is a dangerous road for any country to be going down. My head tells me that history tells us that appeasement never works. But at the same time my heart says that this risks taking us to a place where we have armed conflict on continental Europe. As somebody who was born in 1965 and brought up through the ’70s and ’80s, I believed that that was impossible and unthinkable, but now we need to confront that very real possibility.
I said that the Government’s response has been inadequate. That has been illustrated to me today by calls and emails I have received from constituents who tell me that at Sullum Voe oil terminal in Shetland, the oil tanker NS Challenger—which is owned and operated by Sovcomflot, a company wholly owned by the Russian Government—is, as we speak, loading oil for export out of Shetland. What does that tell us? It tells us that everything that the Government have said this week has been heard in Russia and has been understood, in simple terms, as saying that it is business as usual. “Why on earth”, my constituents ask me, “are we currently exporting as strategically important a commodity as oil out of Shetland in Russian-owned and operated tankers?” I do not know what answer I can give them other than that we have continued, even at the 11th hour and 59th minute, to send the wrong signals. We need to return to this in the days and weeks to come, but for now the challenge that we have is to the post-war rules-based international order. If we acquiesce in the face of that challenge, frankly, we do not end anywhere that is a good place.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who stands out as the only Scottish Member of Parliament who voted for the renewal of Trident in 2016. That is a great credit to him and to his prescience, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, if there was ever a demonstration of the futility of nuclear disarmament, it is the position that Ukraine finds itself in now. Yet that is the policy of the SNP and of a great number of Labour MPs, and they are a threat to our national security.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this debate. As the dark shadow of war once again falls across our entire continent, I reflect on the adage attributed to Leon Trotsky:
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
Everyone who loathes war and wants peace should reflect on that. If other people are determined to foment war, we have to take an interest.
The question in this debate is how we should now see Russia and China and the relationship between them. In the UK, we see Russia as an immediate threat, but China as perhaps the much greater long-term challenge. In the US, it is different. All US presidents since Obama have seen China as the existential threat and today’s Russia as yesterday’s problem, Europe’s problem, and a regional rather than a global threat. There are, to be sure, specialists in the US who understand that, like China, Russia is a long-term opponent, but their voices must compete with those who are effectively advocating appeasement for Russia—resets, normalisation, and the overlooking of previous illegal incursions, overseas assassinations, cyber-attacks on NATO allies and so on.
In Europe, Germany understands the existential nature of the Russian threat, but has until very recently pursued a policy of engagement with Russia. This now looks to have been deeply unwise. It has created serious vulnerability for Germany and for Europe as a whole. France, historically anti-American, must now accept that Russia presents the threat. Even this week, the French were, understandably, trying to use this to their advantage to prove their global influence and to try to secure peace. But all of Europe must now be united.
Nor is the United Kingdom beyond criticism. We have a firm understanding of the Russia problem in our analytical community, and of China, but until recently successive Prime Ministers chose to turn a blind eye to both problems. This is now changing, but the UK finds itself without the necessary tools to tackle the Russia threat and the China challenge. Our military has lost its ability to fight a peer enemy. Our legal system allows Russians and Chinese agents to exploit the vulnerabilities inherent in democracy. Our own blind reliance on spot markets to obtain cheaper gas has undermined our energy security. I have spoken before about how the UK Government lack the capacity for deep continuous strategic thinking to match the strategy and planning of our enemies, and I will return to that point.
Putin and President Xi have observed years of western failure to react to Russian encroachments and Chinese anti-democratic influence. We have encouraged them to join together in thinking that, despite our bluster, Putin’s taking Ukraine and China’s expanding influence are in their mutual interests and will remain largely unchallenged. That must now change, and it is changing. Until recently, it seemed that Putin might succeed, as he did in Georgia and Crimea, but Putin has miscalculated. His bullying has mobilised Ukraine’s resistance, is galvanizing support for NATO in previously neutral nations such as Sweden and Finland, and is rekindling Washington’s concern about Russia’s threat to global peace.
The hon. Gentleman will have seen a map drawn by Putin of Ukraine, where a lump is given to Ukraine by Stalin, another lump by Lenin and another lump by Brezhnev. Does he agree that the implicit plan is to take all that bit, to leave a little bit, like a doughnut, for the Ukrainians to be corralled in, to have them like the Uyghur population, to Russify the rest, to finish off Ukraine and to take the large majority of it?
What is completely clear is that President Putin has repudiated his own words and security guarantees that were given to Ukraine on its existing borders.
Last night’s strikes by Russia on Ukraine’s military infrastructure and border guard units, and the incursions of military vehicles, show that there can be no compromise with Putin. We will only find peace through strength. What is there to negotiate? Putin is now seized by an irrational obsession to crush Ukraine by one means or another. His performance on Russian TV addressing his security council underlined how Putin is now acting out his emotions—his frustration, wounded pride and lust for revenge. According to him, only great powers count, and if you cannot bully your smaller neighbours into submission, you are not really a great power.
President Xi is very different from the usurper Putin. While Russia represents great culture and history, Putin’s rogue regime is fundamentally weak, trying to prove its power despite Russia’s internal dysfunctionality and economic failure. China, however, represents a far older, more consistent and altogether more considered philosophical tradition. Putin acts impetuously; President Xi demonstrates strategic patience. Russia is trying to distract from its failures; China is building upon its success. The task of the west is not only to deal effectively with Putin, but to give a clear message to China and to other countries that might consider endorsing or imitating Putin’s aggression.
To his credit, President Xi has now backed off from his earlier strong support for Putin, as he came to realise that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine will mobilise the west and enable the west to strengthen its defences and have a more competitive stance, against not only Russia, but China. China should reflect on the questions now being asked in Washington and Europe, as raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset. Why should we not formally recognise Taiwan’s sovereignty and its right to self-determination, if China is to co-operate so easily with Putin in Ukraine? China can use this moment to build trust with the west. The west will continue to have great differences with China, but we want to work together with China for global peace and security and for a sustainable planet. We cannot begin to do so if China aligns itself with the now rogue regime in Moscow.
I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, in this important debate. I will concentrate my remarks solely on the west and Russia today, although I have a great deal of experience in China.
By invading Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin is imposing misery on the Ukrainian people and his own people, and economic hardship on the rest of the world. Using military aggression to annex sovereign countries is a 19th-century grand power concept in the 21st-century world, where we should be able to settle our differences in a more sophisticated way. Putin wants to go down in history as the leader who restored the Soviet Union. He is tough, he appears not to respect the west or its leaders, and he will not back down easily now that he has invaded Ukraine. We all know what is going on even at this very minute, and how the whole of Ukraine is coming under pressure, and I think it will probably not be long before Kyiv falls.
It is completely false for Putin to claim that Ukraine, or at least parts of Ukraine, belong to Russia due to historical ties. Following such tenuous logic, other well-established European sovereign states that were former members of the Soviet Union would also “belong” to Russia, including the Baltics, or even those countries that have historically fallen under the Russian sphere of influence, such as Finland and Romania. I imagine many of the countries that have borders with Russia feel very nervous at this moment.
The fact is that Ukraine has gained independence and has had democratic elections for 30 years this month. Indeed, as several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), have said, Ukraine gave up its atomic weapons following an agreement in 1994, which was backed by a peace agreement by Russia, America, ourselves and other nations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, it would be interesting to postulate what would have happened if Ukraine still had nuclear weapons.
While the west has responded with solidarity so far, it is very much a first step. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 was a first test by Putin of how the west would respond to his design on rebuilding Russia’s soviet legacy, and we know that responding weakly and ending sanctions as soon as we could has led to the situation we find ourselves in today. The decisive western leadership at the end of the cold war could not have been more different. The strong alliance between Thatcher and Reagan was crucial in the diplomacy that took place with Gorbachev, and their combined policy led to the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
What should our response now be? The two main elements are military and economic. Regarding military support, I am pleased that for a number of years the UK has been supporting the defence and security of Ukraine, helping to train more than 22,000 members of the Ukrainian army, as well as helping to expand the Ukraine’s naval facilities and capability. There is plenty more military support that we can provide without sending British troops. I welcome the Defence Secretary’s recent announcements about the defensive weapons we have been supplying, including light anti-tank armour and defensive weapons systems, but there is plenty more we could be doing, and I look forward to the announcement that the Prime Minister will make at 5 o’clock this evening. We could, for example, supply anti-aircraft missiles and satellite communication intelligence on Russian troop movements, which would help Ukraine plan its defence. We must continue to re-supply the Ukraine military with anything it needs. We must commit to do that until Russia leaves the sovereign country of Ukraine, so that Russia knows it will not have an easy task in attacking Ukraine.
What concerns me and many of my constituents in the Cotswolds is the somewhat limited economic action we have taken so far. As I have said, it is very much a first step, and we must look to further economic sanctions. We should, for example, examine the fact that Putin is one of the world’s richest men, with his wealth estimated at £200 billion, largely distributed about the world in dollars. We should go after that money and freeze it, and we should go after the people who have helped him make that money.
Furthermore, we should go after the oligarchs who surround Putin. If we start to make them really uncomfortable in their pocket, perhaps sooner or later they will start to influence Putin. We need to do that rapidly, because people have the ability to move money around the world very quickly these days. We should have already passed an Act in this Parliament about how we can freeze the sovereign debt of the Soviet Union, how we can get into the SWIFT—Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication—system and stop money getting in and out of the Soviet Union and how we can stop them dealing in dollars. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said that Putin has an arsenal of £650 billion, but that will soon run down if we take effective economic measures.
The west must stand together, impose a full set of economic sanctions and resupply Ukraine in any military way possible without leading to full-scale troop insertions from the west. Above all, we must continue to give Ukraine hope. We must keep morale up. The Prime Minister was dead right to ring the President of Ukraine this morning at 4 o’clock to keep that morale up, and we must keep doing that.
It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). As he was talking, I was thinking about 1215, King John and his advisers and the necessity to curtail power. President Putin needs to be put back in his box. We need to support our Government in everything that they are doing in the weeks and months ahead. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for securing the debate in the Chamber today, even though it is a sober one. My thoughts are very much with my Ukrainian community in Bolton, where I have a Ukrainian social club and cultural centre, led by Yaroslaw, in the heart of my constituency.
Essentially, I will say three things to three different groups of people. I will make a first point to the Minister, a second to those with slightly more hawkish tendencies and a third to China—although I do not think it necessarily watches our debates that often. [Interruption.] Via the embassy, perhaps.
To the Minister, I say do not push China and Russia closer together. To speak to the motion, that should be the case if the Government are seeking to align their policy and strategy when it comes to Russia and China.
To those who are more sceptical and see the threats in the world at the moment, I say that we should choose strategy over ideology, because ideology on its own is not a strategy. As has been mentioned throughout the debate, one of our great advantages in this country is the alliances that we have built over many years and decades. We should be proud of them.
To China, I say that it has a chance to show leadership during this crisis and to show that it can be more sophisticated on the international stage. It is often the case that Chinese friends or contacts of mine will say that they ai heping—love peace. When they refer to Russia on social media, they will often refer to Russians as a zhandou minzu—more of a fighting people. My call to the Chinese in the midst of the biggest crisis that we have had in Europe is that China does not play the game that Russia is playing. It has a fantastic opportunity to show leadership.
On diplomacy and strategy, this week is 50 years since Nixon’s detente with Mao Zedong. It is awfully striking that we see the tectonic plates suddenly shifting again. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) spoke articulately about a changing world order. I do not fear the world order changing, because the only constant is change, but how it is happening is completely wrong. How Russia acted in 2014 over Crimea, and how it is acting in Ukraine today, is completely wrong. There should be processes involved—a democratic process—and that has not happened. That is why, in this country, we have to stand by our values in the face of that regime.
To continue thinking about western policy with Nixon, that week was all about Kissinger’s foreign policy. Over the last few years, the United States has had a reverse Kissinger approach to develop the relationship with Russia as opposed to with China, but that has failed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) alluded to earlier. Who will be the British Kissinger? Who will be the honest broker who brings China on side?
The United Kingdom has a fantastic opportunity. We were a superpower not that long ago and people in our society still remember that time. We had a very peaceful transition of power to the United States. We also have one of the most historical bilateral relationships with China, which predates the United States’ relationship and goes back to the Macartney mission in 1793 and touches on Lord Palmerston during the opium wars, which was a sombre time in that relationship. The Chinese respect the United Kingdom. They have a huge admiration for our culture and civilisation. The British Council’s statistics on the perception of the United Kingdom show that we are always among the most favoured nations in the world.
I have only a minute left to speak, but I note that we should be careful about conflating the issue of Taiwan with that of Ukraine. It was mentioned earlier that the Chinese are savvy when it comes to strategy. Indeed, Sunzi bingfa talks about shang bin fa mo, or buzhan ersheng—to win without fighting—as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight earlier.
In our Government, our country and our society, we need to be careful about the short-termism that has come over us. Six months ago, when we invited the Ukrainian ambassador to speak to the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, three MPs turned up, but we could see it coming down the line. Everything is too last-minute and we are spending too much time in this Chamber and in other parts of this place talking about things that are not as important as the issue that is at hand now.
Those are the three messages. In closing, I say to the Minister that she should not allow China and Russia to become too close—
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I very much regret having to do this. I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the House and to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), because I misconstrued his record. It was in fact my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) who was the only Scottish MP who voted for the renewal of Trident in 2016. To the right hon. Gentleman’s credit, however, he is not actually a unilateral disarmer.
The International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance is just two years old this month. It is a growing group of 35 countries; I am pleased to say that two more have just joined. Each country has a Government-appointed representative, such as me, the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. The UK has the privilege of chairing the alliance in 2022. It is an active network of like-minded countries that are committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief around the world.
In 2020, Ukraine was a country that early committed to the principles and membership of the alliance—a commitment that cannot be lightly given or automatically accepted. Our principles are on the IRFBA website. It has been my privilege as chair of the alliance to work with alliance country representatives, and I put on record my appreciation of Ukraine’s active commitment to the work of the alliance, which so often includes working for the freedom of others in countries around the world.
As our Prime Minister said to Ukrainians today, as Russia invades their borders,
“we are with you, we are praying for you and your families, and we are on your side.”
Indeed, we are on their side in their passionate belief that the people of Ukraine should be just as free to live by the principles of IRFBA, which Ukraine as a country is committed to championing for others across the world.
I believe that IRFBA is one of the alliances referred to by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, whom I thank for his interest in the alliance, as having greater potential to work for the common good across the world. As the Prime Minister has said in this place:
“We all know that wherever freedom of belief is under attack, other human rights are under attack as well.”—[Official Report, 11 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 898.]
Sadly, violations against freedom of religion or belief are increasing across the world, not least due to the unwarranted abuse of state power.
In that regard, I turn now from Russia to China. The Sino-British joint declaration was registered in 1985 with the UN as a legally binding international treaty intended to remain in force for 50 years. Yet as we all know—we have become all too familiar with the overt restrictions on rights and the encroachment on human rights on mainland China—over the past three years, Hong Kong’s freedoms, democracy, human rights and autonomy have been rapidly and dramatically dismantled and the rule of law increasingly undermined. One by one, we have seen basic freedoms destroyed, with the imprisonment of protesters, legislators and journalists, the closure of almost all independent or pro-democracy media outlets and threats to academic freedom.
Until recently, arguably one of the few remaining freedoms not overtly affected was freedom of religion or belief, but there are now increasing reasons to be concerned. Over the past two years, since the imposition of the draconian national security law, there have been numerous examples of freedom of religion or belief in Hong Kong coming under pressure. In 2020, the Hong Kong Catholic diocese discouraged lay Catholics from organising a public prayer campaign for the city, and the apostolic administrator at the time, Cardinal John Tong, issued a letter to all Catholic clergy urging them to be careful in their sermons. His exact phrase was “Watch your language”. Also that year, Hong Kong police raided the premises of Good Neighbour North District church, and HSBC froze the bank accounts of the church and its pastor.
More recently, just at the end of last month, the pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao carried four articles attacking the Church. They contained a specific critique of Hong Kong’s bishop emeritus, Cardinal Joseph Zen; alleged that many of the protesters in 2019 were educated in Christian schools and accused churches of being behind the protests; and called for fresh Government regulations to control religious institutions. As experts have noted, when the Chinese Communist party regime intends to launch a new campaign or crackdown, it often trails it in pro-Beijing media first, so these articles in Ta Kung Pao are ominous.
Let us also remember that many of those currently in prison, including several whom I have had the privilege of meeting, are people of faith—jailed not directly because of their faith, but because of their courageous struggle for democracy, freedom and human rights, and often motivated by their faith. While the threats to freedom of religion or belief in Hong Kong currently may be much more subtle than those in some other countries and not today in the same fierce spotlight, that is no reason to be complacent. Indeed, it is all the more reason to call out these early warning signs and monitor the situation ever more closely.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate. As much as anybody in the House of Commons, having been chairman of the all-party group on Russia and being married to someone who is half-Russian, I have sought to understand Russia and the mindset of its leaders. What I am going to say in no way amounts to my approval of what is going through the mind of Vladimir Putin; I heartily condemn what has happened this morning. However, in this country and in the west, we think of the relationship of Russia and Ukraine in a rather similar vein to how we thought of the relationship between Germany and Poland before the second world war. Russian nationalists such as Mr Putin have a completely different mindset.
In his speech a couple of days ago, Mr Putin said that the Soviet Union “created” Ukraine, and in a way that is partly true. What happened was that there was a brief upsurge of Ukrainian nationalism in 1918 and 1919, following the collapse of the tsarist empire, but Lenin quickly snuffed out Ukrainian independence and in effect made Ukraine a vassal state. When Putin says that Ukraine has always been part of Russia, in a sense he is right because, following the partitions of Poland in the 1770s and the 1790s, Ukraine was an integral part of Russia for nearly 200 years. When we look inside the mind of a Russian nationalist such as Mr Putin, we can see that he does not recognise Ukraine as an independent state.
I have heard a lot of criticism of the responses of our Government and of NATO generally, but I think that nothing we could have done differently would have changed that mindset or probably avoided what has happened today. I personally think that the response of western Governments and of NATO up to now has been right and proportionate. What we have avoided doing, and must continue to avoid doing, is playing to the victimhood mindset of many Russian nationalists. They believe that they were humiliated by the west following the fall of the Soviet Union, particularly by President Clinton. They believe that Secretary of State Baker gave a solemn promise that NATO would not expand eastwards. Whether or not that is right is not important; they believe it.
President Putin has claimed, completely wrongly, that we are trying to make a vassal state of Ukraine, and he has used the issue of NATO membership to justify his actions. We could not have said to an independent country such as Ukraine that it could never join NATO, but the reality is that NATO has never made any effort to actually move this application forward. Indeed, the German Chancellor said only in the last week that Ukraine’s membership of NATO was “not on the agenda”, so when Putin claims that we are trying to make Ukraine a vassal state, he is lying.
What do we do now? I know that what I am going to say may not be very popular with some, but I think we have to continue with the strategy we have pursued so far. The Government have been attacked for the so-called weakness of their sanctions, but the sanctions they imposed earlier this week were only part of the story. What I am sure we will hear tonight is much stricter sanctions that will really hurt the Russian state. People will say that this is weak and that there should be some warlike response, and people will say that we should have allowed Ukraine to keep nuclear weapons, that we should arm the Ukrainians and that Ukraine should join NATO, but this is the path to war.
It is sometimes difficult to speak of a path to peace, but if we escalate issues and go into a tit-for-tat situation, then war can result. At the height of the first world war, the German Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg was asked how the war started, and he said that he had no idea how it started and no idea how it escalated.
As ever, my right hon. Friend is making some very sensible points. I do not think NATO should be asking Ukraine for membership, which is a 20-year path, because it simply enrages Putin, and it gives him a chance to respond and to claim that NATO membership is imminent. However, there is a difference between NATO membership, which is a red rag to a bull, and ensuring that Ukraine is too bitter a pill for Russia to swallow. Arming and training an independent, separate or Finland-like Ukrainian army is different from getting into a position where we are in direct conflict with the Russians.
Well, I suspect that is what we have done. However, the German state simply sending helmets or a field hospital to Ukraine or our sending a few anti-tank handheld missiles will make no difference at all. I am not criticising the Government: we have gone through the motions, but the fact is that nothing we could have done would have been sufficient to arm the Ukrainian state well enough to be able to resist Russian aggression.
I want to say to the Government that they have to pursue the path of peace, and I do not think we should decry sanctions. Putin has now moved into the dark side of history, but if we cut off Russia entirely from the rest of the world economically, we can make a difference. I am sure what is going to be announced tonight will start the process of proving that the west can be resolute and determined that we are not playing to Putin’s war game and have never sought to make Ukraine in any sense a vassal state of the west. There was no intention—this is a complete lie—that nuclear weapons or a dirty bomb could have been restored to Ukraine. The Government have to pursue the path of peace, impose the most rigorous economic sanctions and not escalate to war.
My last point is that the Government should not hold the Russian people responsible for this. Most Russian people I know, and Ukrainian people, are not interested in this warped view of history and sense of victimhood. All they want is to get on with their lives in peace. They just do not want war: they do not want war between Russia and Ukraine, and they do not want war between the west and Russia.
As chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the all-party China group, it is a great pleasure to speak last—I think—from the Back Benches in this debate, which has been brilliantly timed by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely).
It is an extraordinary thing. No one could criticise the energy of our defence and diplomatic engagement with Ukraine and Russia in the past few weeks and even months. It is also true, however, that a united western approach, whether on defence, cyber, energy or even legislation, has been lacking, and that is what, paradoxically, President Putin may be helping to bring about. Our own analysis has been in the integrated review for a year and a half: “Global Britain in a Competitive Age” clearly outlines Russia as the most acute direct threat, and China as a systemic competitor. Nor do we lack policy goals in either direction. We aspire to be the leading European ally in NATO, and have the broadest, most integrated presence of any European partner in the Indo-Pacific, in support of mutually beneficial trade, shared security and values.
However, the best plans have to adapt to facts on the ground, so let us identify the challenge before us which, as the head of the Security Service put it the other day, is
“a contest of different worlds…between the liberal democrat model west and the more authoritarian model nations.”
In my view, that is only partly true, because we do—and should—work closely with nations and societies, whether in the middle east, Africa or Asia, that could not be described as following a liberal democrat model, but that may not wish for a change of global leadership.
In that new environment, we must think carefully about what our approach should be, and I believe the first thing is to define British interests, which include a global Britain, not a Britain decoupled from the world—as the head of the Security Service made clear, there is no need to cut ourselves off from the world. It involves understanding autocrats through engagement. In the context of China, that engagement very much includes forums such as the UK-China Leadership Forum, which brings British and Chinese leaders together to talk about issues of strong bilateral and indeed global interest. It includes the work of a Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office non-departmental body, the Great Britain-China Centre, and the all-party China group. That group has now run its first masterclass for Members of Parliament, so that we all have a better grasp of some of the issues, whether that is mainland China, the bilateral relationship, Taiwan, Hong Kong—whatever. Such courses play an important part in expanding our knowledge of the autocracies of the world. Engagement has suffered hugely from this pandemic. It has been terrible for engagement, as it is effectively impossible to travel to China or Hong Kong if one has to quarantine for three weeks, and that lack of physical contact is always dangerous in a more uncertain world.
Within that, our approach needs to consider a number of different things. First, careful scrutiny, not blanket prejudice, is incredibly important. Colleagues across the House have talked about not having any danger of prejudice against the peoples of Russia or China, as that would be contrary to everything that this House and democracies stand for. More trade and investment is a good thing; it brings countries closer together and ties us all in, while protecting our national security. Other colleagues have raised ways in which we can and should do that, and we have been too slow to do so.
We also need to define our positive interests as much as the things we dislike. There is sometimes a danger in this House that while we are good at criticising what we do not like, we do not make enough of what is positive—what is good about our own country, what we need to do more of, and how we can engage with the world more effectively.
Through his chairmanship of the all-party China group, my hon. Friend and neighbour has probably done more than anybody in this House to engage with China. One thing he has always done when engaging with China is to be absolutely frank with the Chinese where they have got it wrong, as well as where they have it right. Is that how we should go forward?
My hon. Friend and neighbour is very kind. I have always felt it incredibly important that we stand up for our values, and for the past 11 years, as chair of the all-party China group, I have never accepted mainland Chinese sponsorship of the group. That is precisely because I knew that somewhere along the line, that would be perceived as the group being obliged to a nation overseas, with whose values we do not always align. I have always felt it incredibly important to speak truth to power, whether that is our own Ministers, who may not always relish that, or foreign countries. It is all about the tone and how we engage, understanding where foreign countries, in particular autocracies, are coming from. There is no need for us to compromise on our values, but there is every need to find a way of co-existing peacefully with countries that will be here for a very long time to come. Our greatest challenge will be how we balance those two things.
I will conclude by musing on the fact that the story of the 20th century is fundamentally a story of how nationalist autocracies underestimated the resolve of the democratic west to come together in defence of what we believe in. It would be the cruellest irony and the greatest shame if the same were now to happen in our own century. For all those reasons, it is even more important that we double, triple, quadruple our engagement with those of different values in different systems, so that we understand where they are coming from and are better prepared to unite in a strategic approach together, if need be, to counter threats to our own future.
I thank the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for securing this debate which, although timely, I do not believe is the debate that he or any Member of the House would have hoped to have when he applied for it. I agree with almost everything that has been said this afternoon. I also agree with many of the solutions that have been brought forward, but I cannot help but regret the fact that it took bombs falling on civilians in Ukraine to get us to this position in the first place.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an act of naked aggression that all right-thinking people must, and do, condemn. But let me be clear: our fight is with Putin and his cronies, with oligarchs who have become billionaires by having plundered Russia’s resources and hidden their obscene wealth in the west, and with those politicians close to the Kremlin who have encouraged and enabled this appalling attack on an independent sovereign state. They are the guilty ones in all of this, not the Russian people. As the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) said, the Russian people are not our enemy, and I believe we have a duty to ensure that the language we use does not in any way convey that we believe they are. I am sure that they are just as fearful of the consequences of a war in Europe as anyone on the continent is—indeed, given their history, probably more than most.
Of course, there are close ties, friendships and bonds that were forged during the second world war between Scotland—indeed, the whole of the UK—and the then Soviet Union. I am reminded of the actions of the people of Airdrie and Coatbridge who, when Hitler laid siege to Leningrad in 1941, organised relief packages and sent an album, letters of support and cards from churches, factories, co-operative societies and schools. Somehow, that album got through the blockade, and it was greeted enthusiastically by the women of Leningrad. They were so delighted that their allies—people on the other side of the world—had not forgotten about them in their time of greatest need. Despite struggling daily with hunger, disease, death and the consequences of a siege, the people of Leningrad managed to put together their own album containing letters, watercolours and prints and somehow got it back to Scotland, arriving in Airdrie in 1943. That album has been preserved ever since in the care of the Mitchell library in Glasgow. That is an important example of the solidarity and friendship that can and must exist between our peoples.
It is so important that, when we speak today, we do not speak of the Russian people as our enemy; we must make our remarks specific to the leadership in the Kremlin and those who support him. In so doing, and at the same time, we must also point the finger at those much closer to home—those among us who have facilitated the kleptocracy and grown fabulously wealthy by hiding Russian plunder for those people behind a cloak of respectability.
It is clear that the facilitation of what has been called criminal capitalism and the emergence of London as the money laundering capital of the world has infected not just our financial institutions but our politics, too. That can be seen in the oh-so-cosy relationship that has been allowed to flourish between Russian oligarchs and the UK’s governing party. Everyone can see that, for more than a decade, in return for everything from access to Ministers to priority visas, lunch with Ruth Davidson and tennis with the Prime Minister, very wealthy Russians have been throwing money into British politics.
The whole point of the debate was to bring the country together to help to support free people who are being oppressed. While the hon. Member mentions all those things, and many of us have condemned several of them, the idea that they are in any way relevant is appalling, particularly when his former party leader—someone with whom he sat on those Benches—is a propagandist for Putin. It is really shameful.
I utterly reject what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If we cannot shine a mirror on ourselves and say where we got this spectacularly and appallingly wrong, we are bound to make those same mistakes again. Let us not gloss over those mistakes. This is not a propaganda exercise. We are complicit—the British political system is complicit—in where we are right now. He spoke on Radio 4 this morning about the weakness of the sanctions regime put together on Monday. He recognises and has gone on record as saying that it was far too little, far too late.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I give the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) a chance to withdraw the effective implication that somehow a game of tennis played by the Prime Minister was responsible for the invasion of Ukraine?
That was a nonsense assertion to make, and I utterly reject it.
We must be absolutely clear in what we do and what we say. We must be tough on Russia. There is no room for equivocation at all. It is time for the Government to get tough on those who have laundered Russia’s dirty money here in the United Kingdom. That is why the Scottish National party supports calls for an economic crime Bill to be brought in now, to unify the House. We want to see that registration of overseas interests. We want to see far more robust use of unexplained wealth orders, which have been not used at all, and a blacklisting of all dubious Russian banks. The UK Government must immediately ban Russia from the SWIFT banking system and take proper cognisance of and improve the Scottish limited partnership system before it gets further out of control.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I realise that I am running out of time. There is much more that I would like to say, but I cannot.
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing the debate and on speaking up so clearly for the defence of human freedom. It is so important and appropriate that you are in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, as somebody who was sanctioned by China.
We woke up this morning to dreadful scenes on our televisions that were reminiscent of the 1945 period, with air raid sirens sounding in a European capital and a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops accompanied by chilling references to denazification by President Putin. As parents, I am sure all of us in this Chamber will be thinking of our own children. My own are 19 and 27. If we were Russian or Ukrainian, they would be going to that terrible fate. We talk about war in far-flung places quite a lot, but let us not forget what it is. It can be the loss of limb. It can be the loss of life. It can be the loss of your mind. It can be the horror of war, where women are raped. It can be the loss of a family member or a permanent disability. Let us not forget the price tag of President Putin’s fantasy, as a Select Committee Chair called it. It is the coloniser’s fantasy that he owns another place, which is not his and does not belong to him.
I am so pleased with the tone of the debate. We have been united in our response to the provocations and hostility on display by President Putin to date. It is critically important that we remain united and rise above the partisan fray to speak with one voice in complete condemnation. I am so pleased that, as we speak, outside in Parliament Square the Union Jack and the flag of Ukraine are unfurled together. There are many pictures on social media showing that strength of purpose.
We know that Ukraine is an emerging liberal democracy, democratically elected and leaning towards Europe. Putin’s attempts to alter its course down the barrel of a gun is completely unacceptable and should be resisted. By his own comments, we know that he has designs not just on Ukraine, but on other nations which, under the Soviet sphere, were under the influence of Moscow. They have chosen a different path and we in this House support their right to choose. We know it is right to bring in sanctions—we look forward to the 5 pm statement, when we will hear more from the Government on strengthening those sanctions—so there can be nowhere to hide economically from the ramifications of the decision to take a country to war.
The situation we face today has ramifications beyond Ukraine. With his invasion of Ukraine, President Putin has put Russia on a collision course with the international system that the world has relied on since the end of the second world war. Many of the speeches today touched on the possibility that we are heading into a new chapter. Not only are we seeing the battle for Ukraine, but the battle for liberal democracy itself. Earlier in the week, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) spoke of
“a wider worldwide trend of authoritarian states trying to impose their way of thinking on others”.—[Official Report, 22 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 177.]
She is right. Nations across the world will be watching events in Ukraine with a sense of foreboding and anxiety. If the international community fails to hold President Putin to account and abandons Ukraine and her people to President Putin and his warped notions of historical revisionism, then the system we rely on and treasure, and which has largely kept the peace in Europe since 1945, will fall away.
In my remaining minutes, I will briefly address the question of China. We all know that in the China picture, as the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) pointed out, there are differences. We cannot assume that all autocracies are the same. Like dysfunctional families, they all have different patterns. However, we do know that President Xi is intent on controlling Taiwan in some form, and that if President Putin can pull off his attempt to rewrite Europe’s borders without serious consequences, then President Xi will feel emboldened to do as he sees fit, particularly as he goes for a third term towards the end of this year. It is up to us to hold the line to defend our democracy and defend freedom over tyranny. I know that is a challenge the Minister recognises and is alive to. The UK’s relationships could and should be pragmatic and warm to the people of China and Russia, but we must hold their Governments to account when they challenge our values and our allies’ right to self-determination.
The immediate sanctions announced in response to President Putin’s renewed hostilities and invasion of Ukraine are welcome, as I said earlier, but obviously we seek reassurance on certain issues, such as a new computer misuse Act, a new foreign agents registration Act, a refreshed official secrets Act, the long-awaited reform of Companies House, a register of overseas entities Bill to deal with the buying up of expensive property in London and the south-east, and now across different regions, and a confident China strategy. The Minister and I have discussed that with her team. I believe that we need to flesh out the China strategy from the FCDO point of view and articulate that in a more confident way that crosses different Government sectors; for example, education in universities, our defence approach and trade and business. Is it safe? Are we ensuring that human rights are being observed? My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) gave an excellent speech about the Tibet situation, for example. All of us across the House have a commitment to opening up and understanding the allegations with regard to human rights and crimes against humanity in the Xinjiang region as well. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) Hill said, we are dealing with a kleptosphere. That is perhaps clearer in the case of Russia, but it is certainly present in the in-flows of renminbi to the UK economy.
Our issue will never be with the people of Russia and China. As parents, we think of the young people; we think of the fear of war. We sincerely hope for a peaceful future, but given the events of this week, with open conflict erupting on the continent of Europe, we must be brave and take the necessary steps that we to protect ourselves, our values and our allies. The world is watching.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for securing this timely and important debate. It has taken on a slightly different emphasis by virtue of recent developments, specifically overnight, and I will start by addressing some points on the situation in Ukraine.
The United Kingdom has stood and always will stand for democracy and freedom. The Government are clear that all nations should be held accountable for the international obligations and commitments that they freely signed up to. The UK strongly condemns the appalling, unprovoked attack that President Putin has launched on the people of Ukraine. He has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching that unprovoked attack. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a flagrant breach of international law and the Government will stand with Ukraine in the face of that attack. As the Prime Minister said earlier today,
“we are with you, we are praying for you and your families, and we are on your side”.
We will work with our allies to respond decisively. As Members are aware, the Prime Minister will come to the House later this afternoon to update them on our response.
To turn to how the Government’s strategies help us to respond to these challenges, our strategic approach to security, defence, development and foreign policy under the integrated review is a very important starting point. The integrated review is clear that we are witnessing a growing contest between international rules and norms. It sets out a foreign policy baseline that helps to ensure that there are aligned cross-Government strategies. On my hon. Friend’s point, in addition, the National Security Council continues to provide clear direction for the Government’s Russia and China policies, and in doing so, reflects the importance of consistency in our foreign policy as well as the need to take a strategic approach to each country that reflects the complexities of each state and each relationship.
Since the integrated review was published, the Foreign Secretary has set out her vision for the UK to use all our weight, as the world’s fifth largest economy, to build a network of liberty and advance the frontiers of freedom. Russia’s current challenge of the international norms and of Ukraine’s sovereignty is a stark illustration of the importance of implementing that vision with our partners, as well as responding to the immediate challenges that Russia poses.
President Putin’s attack on Ukraine demonstrates his disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty, for international law and for diplomacy. The United Kingdom and its allies and partners have responded with an immediate set of sanctions and have made it clear that more will follow. The situation in Ukraine today is an acute example of a security threat that could have disastrous consequences—in this case, for Ukraine and Russia—as well as wider global implications. These threats and tests of national resilience can take many forms, as our integrated review published last year sets out.
From the outset, let me be clear: there can be no normalisation in our relationship with Russia while it threatens the UK and our allies. I want to be clear that, as a number of hon. Members have said, while there may be tensions between our Governments, we have no quarrel with the Russian people. But while the Russian Government continue their aggressive behaviour, we will actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia.
As I say, I will leave it to the Prime Minister to update the House on our response to what happened overnight.
Through NATO, we will ensure a united western response, combining our military, diplomatic and intelligence assets in support of collective security. We will uphold international rules and norms and hold Russia to account for breaches of them, working with our international partners as we did after the Salisbury attack. In the context of Ukraine, hon. Members will be aware that the UK is working intensively with allies to ensure that Russia’s actions are met with a united international response. We are doing so through NATO, the UN, the OSCE and our partners in the G7 and across Europe. We have engaged with the Russian Government at every level, but Putin has chosen the path of destruction over diplomacy.
The integrated review identifies Russia as representing
“the most acute direct threat to the UK”,
as well as predicting that it
“will be more active around the wider European neighbourhood”.
It makes a separate assessment of China, highlighting the
“scale…of China’s economy…population, technological advancement and…ambition to project its influence”.
It emphasises China’s increasing international assertiveness and scale as one of the most significant geopolitical shifts of the 2020s. Consequently, our approach to China aims to promote a positive economic relationship, but one that avoids strategic dependency and enables us to engage where possible to tackle global challenges. It also addresses the inescapable fact that China is an authoritarian state with a different set of values from the UK’s. We cannot let China undermine freedom and democracy. We will hold it to account for human rights violations, whether they are in Xinjiang or in Tibet, and for the erosions of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.
The Government are clear that in areas of shared interest, the UK will preserve space for co-operation and continue to engage with China and Russia, which, like us, have permanent seats on the UN Security Council. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in her Chatham House speech in December, we must be
“on the front foot with our friends across the free world, because the battle for economic influence is already in full flow.”
That requires a robust diplomatic framework that allows us to manage disagreements, defend our values and co-operate where our interests align, but let me repeat that we will not accept the campaign that Russia is waging to subvert its democratic neighbours.
As a P5 Member, China has a critical role to play. The UN Secretary General has said that Russia’s action
“conflicts directly with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”.
Just as China refused to recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, we would expect China to uphold the UN charter in the face of this latest violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The UK is determined to lead the way in defending democracy and freedom. We will continue to develop an international approach that defends UK interests and promotes our values, including with Russia and China. We will uphold the founding principles of international peace and security in the United Nations, which all three of our countries are duly bound to respect and protect.
I just want to thank Members very much for taking part in the debate. This is a pretty miserable day for all of us who care about democracy in Europe, so let us hope for the best.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House calls on the Government to develop separate but aligned cross-Government strategies for both Russia and China; and further calls on the Government to support the international order, working with allies across the globe to develop an approach to Russia and China that, whilst recognising their separate legitimate interests, ensures a robust defence of both UK interests and democratic values.