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Volume 752: debated on Thursday 27 February 2014


Asked by

My Lords, further to the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary on Monday, which was repeated in this House by my noble friend Lord Wallace, the Government have continued to follow events closely and have pursued engagement with international partners with a view to supporting Ukraine’s return to stability and sustainable reform. The Ukrainian Government should focus on reconciliation, urgent reforms and preparation for free and fair elections. All parties inside and outside Ukraine should avoid actions and rhetoric that inflame tensions.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she share my concern about the escalating tensions in the Crimea and, indeed, along the Russian-Ukrainian border? In pursuit of defusing those tensions, will Her Majesty’s Government speak to the United Nations Secretary-General and ask him to appoint a special envoy to Ukraine who might have the confidence of the new Ukrainian Government, as well as the Russians, to help mediate and de-escalate these crises?

As my noble friend will be aware, the situation on the ground is constantly changing. We are receiving almost hourly updates on what is happening. We are concerned about the situation in the Crimea, and are aware of reports of armed men seizing local government buildings. We are watching the situation closely. We are urging all parties both inside and outside Ukraine to exercise restraint, to stop further inflaming tensions and to stop any further impact on Ukraine’s sovereignty. We are in touch with a number of partners on this matter. As the situation on the ground is changing so quickly we are looking to see the best response at this stage.

Clearly, Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine and we should strive to avoid being provocative. How do the Government respond to the suggestion that we should urge the new Ukrainian Government to avoid entering into any military alliance which might be considered by Russia to be provocative?

The Government do not believe that this is a zero-sum game. We do not feel that the EU’s relationship with Ukraine is at the expense of its relationship with Russia. We fundamentally believe that it is for the people of Ukraine to choose their future, securing their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Certainly in the discussions that we have had with our Russian colleagues, we have both stressed the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Did my noble friend and her colleagues notice that Russia is having increasing difficulty in selling its gas to western Europe—it has had to lower its prices—and that 40% of Russian gas exports go out through Ukraine? Does that not suggest that the last thing Russia really wants is a Ukraine broken in two or descending into chaos? Is that not quite an important point of leverage in our discussions with Moscow on what should be done next?

My noble friend makes an important point. It supports our view that it is not in our interest or in Russia’s interest for there to be instability in Ukraine. It is for that reason that we are urging all parties to act in a way that does not further inflame tensions.

Further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, does the Minister agree that the situation is now one of extreme peril and sensitivity? Ukraine is not so much the backyard of Russia but, in a sense, the side door, bearing in mind that Sebastopol is the base of the Black Sea fleet and that anything that is done by way of any military suggestion whatever is fraught with peril.

I cannot speculate in response to the noble Lord’s question. This comes back to the fact that Ukraine is an independent country. It is a sovereign nation. It is the right of the people of Ukraine to make a decision for the future that best suits them in accordance with the reforms which are in the best interests of the Ukrainian nation. We need to make sure that we conduct ourselves in a way that means that we focus on reconciliation and stability.

My Lords, may I take the previous question a stage further? People have mentioned the Crimea. Sebastopol is in the Crimea geographically but it is Russian sovereign territory. The Russian military is in Sebastopol, which is quite different from the rest of the Crimea, with the Russian Black Sea fleet being there under treaty until 2018.

My Lords, further to the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Falkner regarding tensions in Ukraine and a UN special envoy as a way of reducing those tensions, might it not be possible for the European Union, on the suggestion of the United Kingdom, to indicate its strong support for the safety and security of residents in those areas that have substantial numbers of Russians—for example, the Sebastopol region and Crimea—and for the idea of protecting human rights wherever there is a legitimate resident person? I think that that would go some way to easing the understandable fears of Russian pensioners living in the Crimea and Sebastopol regions.

That is certainly the position that has been adopted, as evidenced by the work and the comments made earlier this week by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. In all contacts which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor have had with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov over the past seven days, as well as with other Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers across Europe, we have made clear that it is in our interest to ensure that the people of Ukraine—all the people of Ukraine, whatever background they come from—feel that they have a stake in Ukraine’s future.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until not before 1 o’clock, to enable those of us who wish to do so to make our way to the Royal Gallery to hear an address from the Chancellor of Germany. All Members of the House are welcome to attend and I encourage them to do so.

Sitting suspended.