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Volume 753: debated on Tuesday 25 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the Government of Ukraine.

My Lords, our focus is on a strong, independent and successful Ukraine that is free to make its own choices about its future. The Government have announced a £10 million package of technical assistance for Ukraine. We are continuing work on an IMF package and we have asked the European Parliament to confirm the removal of customs duties on Ukrainian exports. On Friday, the EU took a landmark step towards closer relations with Ukraine with the signing of the political chapters of an association agreement.

I thank the Minister for that response. Presidential elections are to be held on 25 May and it is only to be expected that Putin will try to disrupt or degrade them in some way. In any event, a default by Kiev before the elections would be disastrous. Can we and our allies ensure that Ukraine will get the very substantial financial support it needs between now and those elections? I notice, incidentally, that the EU is talking about a package to be delivered over the next three years; that would be far too late. It would also be disastrous if the money being provided was stolen. I wonder what immediate practical help we could give so that corruption can be dealt with.

The international community recognises the concerns that my noble friend has referred to. It is important that money should flow into Ukraine to give it the stability it so needs, which will ensure among other things that the elections can take place in a stable environment. However, when we offer financial assistance, whether that be through the IMF, an EU assistance package or, indeed, bilaterally, it is important to ensure that it is for a specific purpose and that conditionality is properly looked at. There have been too many concerns about corruption in the past and it is for that reason that one of the areas we are working on with the Ukrainian Government is the issue of recovering assets which previous Governments have frittered away.

My Lords, will European Union or UK allocations of money to Ukraine be subject to very clear good governance criteria, in particular given that members of Svoboda, the party of the extreme right, hold a number of ministerial posts, including that of Deputy Prime Minister? It is that party which is repeatedly expressing on television, radio and elsewhere its extreme views and hatred of the Russians in the east of the country.

It is important to strike a balance. Some money is flowing into Ukraine already in order to provide technical assistance and support, for example, for the Ukrainian authorities to return stolen assets to their country. It is also important that, as the noble Lord says, appropriate conditionality is applied to any IMF or other package that may be agreed.

My Lords, Ukraine is a huge and important European country. Can my noble friend tell me—not necessarily today but perhaps she will let me know—how many UK-based staff are at present employed in Her Majesty’s embassy in Kiev? Does she think that the number reflects an adequate representation, and if not, what steps are being taken to improve it?

I cannot give my noble friend the precise number, but of course I will write to him. However, I can assure him that a DfID team is already on the ground in Ukraine looking specifically at the technical support package I have already mentioned.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the OSCE should be involved with Ukraine at every level, from the humblest military or election observer up to the chairman in office? Will the OSCE look with particular care at whether certain sections and groups within the population have genuine grievances and how they might be remedied?

There is already an OSCE presence in Ukraine, but the noble Lord will be pleased to know that a further 100 monitors will deploy with the first advance parties which left for the country at the weekend. A chief monitor will be appointed immediately, and the secretary-general of the OSCE has made it clear that he aims to increase the number of monitors up to 500, as has been agreed, at the earliest possible opportunity. These observers will be an essential element of the developments in Ukraine.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what representations are being made on behalf of Ukrainians who are still living in Crimea and find themselves living there now under the Russian state? How are their interests going to be protected?

My Lords, that is the most difficult community for us to access. The right reverend Prelate asks an important question about a community which is probably most at risk. Unfortunately, we understand that OSCE monitors will not be allowed into Crimea at this stage, but I will write to the right reverend Prelate if I have any further details.

My Lords, there is obviously going to be a significant gap between the current Government in operation and the new one being elected. There will be weak and in some cases, sadly, inexperienced acting Ministers. Will the Government consider providing technical assistance in international financial arrangements, in both internal and external security and in the development of pluralism in institutions, perhaps using the Westminster Foundation for Democracy? They are not currently in a position to do the sort of job that is needed in order to take the country safely through to the next stage.

Those are exactly the kind of areas which the £10 million package which I referred to will be covering. I think there is some Westminster Foundation for Democracy work already in play in Ukraine, but I will check and write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I acknowledge some commitment in this area, having had the privilege of spending some seven years during the last decade of the previous century as a member of the Advisory Council to the Presidium of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine. In that context, I am able to acknowledge what is certainly true: it is not a wholly qualified organisation, judged by some standards. My own assessment is that it is equipped with economic resources—although not as significant as we might like—and real political skill. They are far from being communistic, and there is real deference to the Holy Pope. The Ukrainians deserve a sympathetic and practical partnership with us, so far as we can provide it.