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Volume 752: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further measures they intend to discuss with their European Union and NATO partners concerning the prospect of Russia proceeding to a formal annexation of Crimea.

My Lords, the European Council agreed on 6 March that if Russia does not co-operate in de-escalating tension in Crimea, a second phase of measures, including asset freezes and travel bans, will be implemented. If further unacceptable Russian steps are taken, there will be additional far-reaching consequences. NATO has put the entire range of NATO-Russian co-operation under review and suspended working-level meetings. NATO will continue to make strong political statements if Russian behaviour warrants it.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Clearly, the formal annexation of Crimea by Russia will require an additional western response. Otherwise, if Russia were emboldened to seek to intervene also in eastern Ukraine, that would lead to a shooting war and an uncontrollable situation. I feel sure that Members of this House will wish to see a clear warning given to Russia and effective assistance to Ukraine.

My Lords, the Government’s position, supported by the Opposition, has always been to try to de-escalate the situation and ensure that diplomatic contact is the way that this matter is resolved. The matter is continuously changing. My noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford updated the House by repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement earlier this week. I can inform the noble Lord that further meetings are planned for tomorrow and we are doing all we can to persuade Russia that the annexation of Crimea and, indeed, the referendum, which we see as illegal and illegitimate, should not go ahead.

My Lords, I ask for clarification of the Government’s approach to this crisis. The UK is a signatory to the 1994 Budapest memorandum, which protects Ukraine’s territorial integrity. What is the Government’s legal understanding of what action that commits the UK Government to in the event that another signatory, such as Russia, violates its terms? Is the UK Government’s position that the aim of talks between Ukraine and Russia, which we all hope will take place in the near future, is to reaffirm the commitment to the Budapest memorandum or to supersede it with a new agreement?

My Lords, the Budapest agreement is very clear. It basically lays out Russia’s obligations in relation to respecting the territorial integrity and independence of the state of Ukraine. We believe that Russia’s actions are in breach of that. That is why we have made it clear that it is important that we try to resolve the matter by de-escalating what military activity is happening on Ukrainian soil and through talks.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that evidence has come to light in the past 48 hours that Russia is now directly interfering in the domestic affairs of Bosnia-Herzegovina in a way that can only have the effect of encouraging Serb secessionism in that country? Given the fragility of Bosnia and its history, both recent and long past, is not an attempt to draw Bosnia-Herzegovina into the wider Ukrainian crisis an act of breathtaking irresponsibility, and what will the Government do to encourage the European Union to take the strongest moves on this matter?

My noble friend is a huge expert in this area. Part of our diplomatic efforts in the current crisis have been to avoid this spreading much wider. There have been real concerns about comparisons that the Russians have been drawing between other disputes, past and present, and Crimea. My view is that of my noble friend, which is that Europe must continue to concentrate on trying to resolve the challenges that we have in the Balkans and not allow the two issues to be mixed.

My Lords, 213 years ago today, Lord Nelson, en route to the Battle of Copenhagen, wrote to Lady Hamilton:

“I hate your pen and ink men; a fleet of British ships of war are the best negotiators in Europe”.

I am not suggesting for a moment that there should be a military solution to this, but does the Minister not agree that the abysmal spending on defence across the EU means that we have no hard power as an adjunct to soft power and that, in a world inhabited by people like President Putin, you need both?

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord has to say but the Government’s clear view, and indeed the view of the EU and the US, is that this matter needs to be resolved through political and diplomatic means.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the actions of the Russian Federation are clearly contrary to the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act? Therefore, what role does she see for the OSCE in this matter? What discussions are we having within that organisation? Are any actions proposed? I ask these questions as a member of the OSCE parliamentary delegation.

I agree with my noble friend’s assessment of the situation. He may be aware that OSCE observers are on the ground at the moment in Ukraine. They have not been given access to Crimea. They are there at the request of the Ukrainian Government. We feel that further access should be given so that we can get a better assessment of the situation on the ground.

My Lords, President Putin appears to assume that the western response will be weak, relying on the precedents of Georgia, Litvinenko and Magnitsky, and of course the clash of interests. Building on what the noble Lord said about the OSCE, does the Minister agree that there are implications for Russian membership of the Council of Europe, the senior human rights organisation in Europe? Should the Government consider taking the initiative in the Council of Ministers in response to the Russian invasion?

My Lords, there are implications for Russia’s membership of all sorts of multilateral organisations as a result of its actions. The G8 preparations and talks have been suspended and the OECD has now suspended accession negotiations, which will have a real impact on Russia’s standing regarding trade and investment. I can inform the House that there will now be a Secretary Kerry/Lavrov meeting in London tomorrow and we hope that some progress will come out of that.

My Lords, although I appreciate the call from the noble Lord, Lord West, for more frigates to meet the situation, does my noble friend recognise that in today’s world the most powerful means of persuasion lie as much in the area of electronic communication, cyber operations and financial and electronic operations as they do in the classical 20th-century ideas of more dreadnoughts and more troops on the ground?

They do, and of course trade and investment are a huge part of that. The losses suffered on MICEX a few days ago have had an impact and it has not completely recovered. There is clear evidence that this is having an impact on the Russian economy and we hope that these are factors that the Foreign Minister will bear in mind when he has discussions tomorrow.