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Ukraine

Volume 756: debated on Monday 13 October 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they took to encourage negotiations between the two sides at the start of the conflict in Ukraine.

My Lords, we have been encouraging dialogue and pushing for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine from the very outset, both bilaterally and through the EU, the OSCE and the United Nations. President Poroshenko attended the Wales NATO summit where allies agreed to support Ukraine with a range of non-military measures, including technical assistance. We fully support the efforts of the OSCE in helping to facilitate the Minsk protocol of 5 September, which must be implemented fully.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on her new job. Can she give us the latest position concerning relations between Russia and Ukraine? For instance, is it true that President Putin is planning to withdraw his troops from the border of Ukraine, as announced in today’s Daily Mirrorwhich I concede is not exactly a paper of record?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, and I have of course read his contributions earlier this year to the debate on the crisis in Ukraine. In direct answer to his question, I understand that the Russians are now pulling back some of their troops from the border with Ukraine. There have been some thousands of Russian troops on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, and we are of course aware that there are hundreds of Russian troops within Ukraine. Unfortunately the Russians are seeking to do a bit of smoke and mirrors and will not admit that they are there, but they are there. My understanding is that those on the Russian side of the border have been told that they will be pulling back, and some have moved; let us see how many. Is this really the end of a summer exercise or are they there just waiting for a return?

My Lords, senior Russians have said that Ukraine is not a real country and have been very ambivalent about the democratically elected President. If that is so, and if there had been negotiations at the outset, what would have been the purpose? Is it the Government’s view that, from the outset, Russia had the intention to annex Crimea and to destabilise those parts of eastern Ukraine that have a Russophone majority?

My Lords, the position of Ukraine is clear, it is a sovereign state, and Russia has sought to undermine that by its illegal annexation of the Crimea. The noble Lord tempts me to try to go into the mind of Mr Putin as regards his ultimate plans not only for Ukraine but for all the other countries that were once within the USSR. Clearly, from the very beginning, we entered into negotiations in good faith to try to ensure that the sovereignty of Ukraine was maintained. It is Russia that has broken the UN declaration. It is in breach of the UN; it is also in breach of international law. In all the discussions that we have carried forward, what we have tried to achieve is to give the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Government space within which, in a ceasefire, they can work to have elections. President Poroshenko said that those parliamentary elections will be on 26 October.

My Lords, we all welcome the withdrawal of the 17,000 troops that was announced yesterday, but we also look forward to seeing the evidence of it. Does the Minister agree that the greater danger is the number of Russian troops who are operating within the Donbas region in unidentifiable combat gear? This is a new dimension to European warfare. Even when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 its troops were identifiable, and therefore the UN Geneva conventions covered them. We now have a new framework for conducting warfare and Mr Putin should not be let off the hook for doing this. We look forward to a good meeting on Friday between President Poroshenko and President Putin, but we must be extremely cynical about his motives in everything that he does.

My noble friend is absolutely right to be so concerned about the presence of unidentified persons—those who are not saying who they really are—in combat positions in Ukraine. It is the same kind of approach that Russia carried out when it brought a convoy of alleged humanitarian aid into Ukraine in unmarked lorries with young drivers who were, I understand, very much combat ready. We have to be watchful.

My Lords, as well as seeking a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk, it is vital that we do not forget those Ukrainians who remained in Crimea and now find themselves under the Russian state. Can the Minister tell us what representations have been made on their behalf, and what progress, if any, has been made by the OSCE monitors in gaining access to Crimea?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate points to a very difficult area indeed from the point of view of the security of those Ukrainians who remain within Crimea. I am certainly aware of discussions that have taken place about trying to ensure that their humanitarian needs may be met. When I was in Geneva I had discussions with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and with the Ukrainian permanent representative to the Human Rights Council about the difficulties faced. However, I do not in any way seek to encourage the right reverend Prelate to believe that the position of the Ukrainians there is anything other than extremely dangerous. I am sure that all efforts are being made to continue to negotiate about their position.