My Lords, at the OSCE ministerial council in Kiev on 5 December, chaired by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kozhara, the Minister for Europe, Mr Lidington, reiterated his concerns about violence being used against peaceful protestors and journalists. He stressed the importance of Ukraine, particularly as an OSCE chair in office, upholding OSCE values, including freedom of assembly and expression. While welcoming the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to a thorough investigation, he emphasised that the investigation must be rigorous and fair.
My Lords, I was in Independence Square in Kiev on the night that the demonstrators were attacked. I confirm to my noble friend that the demonstrators, who had been democratically calling for closer trade links with the European Union, had been both peaceful and good humoured and that the violence came entirely from the Government’s security police. I am not sure what will be served by an investigation to further establish that. Is it not a political fact that the Ukrainian Government have caved in to the financial blackmail of Russia while the demonstrators have rejected the bribes, are acting out of principle and very much deserve our support?
I agree, of course, with my noble friend’s comments. The demonstrators are acting within their right to freedom of expression and are expressing their views about the direction that the country is going in. I was at the Vilnius summit at the end of the November, where it was anticipated that Ukraine would sign the association agreement, which it had initialled in 2012. We were disappointed that that progress was not made. However, I stress that the door remains open and it is for the Ukrainians to walk through it.
My Lords, today, on the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU high representative, my noble friend Lady Ashton, arrives in Ukraine to assist the country to resolve its current difficulties. The House will wish our colleague all good fortune in that task. The Minister has just confirmed that the EU’s door remains open as far as the EU-UK association agreement is concerned. Beyond that, can she tell the House what steps our Government will take to try to make sure that it gets back on the table as quickly as possible?
The noble Lord will be aware that we have been acting through the Eastern Partnership, which includes the European Union as a whole and six countries of eastern Europe. I, too, pay tribute of course to our noble friend Lady Ashton, who is on her way to Kiev as we speak. There is a meeting today between President Yanukovych and three former presidents to try to find a way through the current protests. We of course wish the noble Baroness well, on behalf of the European Union, in trying to find a solution to this matter. I repeat that the door is open for Ukraine and it is for Ukrainians to decide in what direction they want to take their country.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that should—heaven forbid—force be used again against these peaceful protectors, the British Government will press the European Union to impose targeted sanctions on all those, up to the highest level, who bear responsibility for using such force?
Along with our European Union partners, we will of course keep all measures before us as to how we respond to this. We understand that at the moment there are still many thousands of protestors on the streets. It is important at this stage that the Government establish a positive dialogue to find a way through this without an escalation of violence.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that while Russia’s intervention just before the association agreement was mostly unhelpful—clearly, pressure was applied—the European Union was also at some fault for pressing Ukraine so firmly to be ready to sign in Vilnius, rather than giving Ukraine more time to prepare itself in terms of its economic engagements when it signs up to the association agreement? In light of the specific question about what the UK Government might do, have we contemplated working with the opposition groups? The opposition in Ukraine is still fairly divided and, looking forward to the 2015 elections—or any change of Government before then—it is vital that we get a united opposition to Mr Yanukovych’s Government.
My noble friend makes an important point. We are engaged with both the Government and the opposition. I stress that with regard to the association agreement, and in terms of a potential IMF programme that may happen in Ukraine in 2014, conditionality is important. Those conditions are not placed upon Ukraine—and, indeed, Georgia and Moldova, which did make progress in Vilnius—because we are trying to be awkward but because we feel that these are fundamental reforms which are in their interest and set them on the path to much more constructive engagement and a more balanced economy.
I have not been following the media inside Ukraine but I am aware that journalists have been targeted as part of the government crackdown on some of the protests. As we can see from the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets in Kiev and elsewhere, opinion in Ukraine is divided. The views of its leadership are not the views of the street.