Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the role of Russia and the states of the former Soviet Union in upholding international law and democratic principles.
My Lords, I start by welcoming the Minister to her first substantive debate in our House. I know that she will bring the wisdom, good judgment and élan to this role that she has brought to all her other appearances in the House.
I also thank her for facilitating a visa for me to go to Moscow last weekend—a visa which, I discovered for the first time in about 15 visits, was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Had it not been for her good offices, I would not have obtained it.
Francis Fukuyama wrote his seminal tract, The End of History and the Last Man, 25 years ago in response to the demise of the Soviet bloc, whose collapse was final in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Fukuyama’s perspective was that of a political philosopher grounded in liberal democratic western thinking. We were at the end of the 20th century, which was dominated by ideology —totalitarianism, communism and fascism, with conflict and massive loss of life—so, now that millions had risen up for personal liberty, political freedom and market economics, there would be little attraction for ideology, would there?
That was not an unreasonable proposition at the time and, as the western world reacted swiftly to embrace the peoples of that part of Europe who had lain behind the iron curtain, so too did we change our institutional structures to consolidate and reassure those millions that their freedom would not be ephemeral. EU and NATO membership signalled that it would be tangible, sustained and durable. This spirit of co-operation extended to Russia as well, with partnership forums, the opening of markets and of course its accession to the WTO.
However, we were wrong in our assessment that the division of Europe was over and that we would operate in a spirit of co-operation. Ultranationalism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, predatory capitalism, gross human rights violations and a stealthy expansion of the state at home are there for all of us to see in Russia—a European country. One can add to that list belligerent action against neighbouring states, annexation, the use of hybrid warfare, cyberwarfare, targeted assassinations abroad and disappearances of people—that is the new normal as the projection of Russian power.
This miscalculation on the part of the West was not just revealed in the morning mist in Crimea this February; for the 140 million ordinary Russians, it has been coming for some time. In fact, it has been building up since 2000, when Vladimir Putin first came to power. It is the people of Russia who have paid the price for their country’s misrule, which looks set to continue well into the 2020s as elections are fixed again and musical chairs reflect choice between President and Prime Minister.
But now Ukrainians are also paying for Putin’s imperialism. The invasion and occupation of Crimea is already rendering Crimeans poorer as their economy has collapsed along with the region’s tourism. Crimean Tatars are once again dispossessed in their own land. Non-ethnic Russian Ukrainians are displaced or consigned to being non-citizens in their own country. It is an occupation carried out by subterfuge using Taliban tactics, where the combatants are not allowed the protection of the Geneva conventions by displaying their insignia on their uniforms. An occupying army of a United Nations Security Council permanent member, which has sworn to protect international peace and security, now tears up its obligations to the charter. However, in doing so, it also tears up its own treaties with Ukraine. What is any country to make of Russian bona fides?
And what of authoritarianism at home? In Russia, independent media have been crushed under new laws specifically designed to suppress media freedom. Under media control laws approved by the Duma last month, more than a 20% stake in media outlets will be banned. This will affect the precious few print and TV outlets that are financed by foreign media groups so as to make them unviable—unviable because it would take a Russian backer enormous courage to keep them independent. Who will put their heads above the parapet to take on Mr Putin’s repressive security apparatus. Recall how many brave journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya have gone unremembered.
In July, President Putin signed a law banning commercial advertising on paid cable and satellite television channels from January next year. He also abolished the limit of 35% of the advertising market for any one company. The aim is to bring down the independent networks which are mainly advertising-funded. It is a tried-and-tested trick designed to kill independent voices through manipulating their revenue streams. It is always more effective than simply arresting the journalists, as they can be replaced, but if the money dries up the suppression is more effective.
What of civil society groups? In June, we saw the already repressive foreign agents law given wider reach, so that eight more Russian NGOs have been listed in the foreign agents register including Russia’s oldest human rights organisation, Memorial. The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers highlighted the simple fact that their sons who were soldiers were dying in Ukraine and were being secretly buried at home. Their crime was to expose the fact that Russian soldiers were in combat in Ukraine. They are now on the foreign agents register. The LGBT organisation, Coming Out, is on the register and a gay dance teacher was found murdered in St Petersburg recently.
But the Leviathan that is Russia today does not suppress only the weak. It is an authentic predator using its power against all who are not on its side. The courts are fixed to support predatory capitalism. Noble Lords will recall the treatment of the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his company Yukos, who were brought down only when he challenged Putin politically. The lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s folly was to allege that Russian officials, presumably to the benefit of those higher up, had stolen large amounts from the state. He was held without charge and beaten to death just seven days before he would have been released.
We know that the President's magic circle, as it is known, is shrinking. Apparently, he used to consult with all political sides before taking decisions. Now he relies on hardliners committed to authoritarianism at home and confrontation with the West. Even the oligarchs are no longer safe. In a policy of “you are either with us or against us”, they are being peeled away with court indictments. The list is growing, with the addition of Yevtushenko. The list of former friends of Putin continues. This is Russia today—imperialism abroad, predatory capitalism at home, monopolised by the magic circle.
So what is the West to do? Pragmatically, we know that we cannot take on the world’s second largest military machine for the sake of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. That is shaming because we were the guarantors of Ukraine’s security through the Budapest memorandum. But we are democracies which have to weigh our options. The EU is not yet the foreign policy player that its size and position merits. The US, increasingly isolationist, has along with us,
“swallowed the annexation of Crimea”,
as it was put in the Financial Times recently by Lilia Shevtsova.
Belatedly we have come together in uniting behind sanctions and they are beginning to bite. The rouble has devalued considerably, capital flight out of Russia is reputed to have reached $120 billion and investment is drying up. Even cash-rich China is wary of lending to Russia on the basis that its banks have strategic investments elsewhere which might be jeopardised if they are exposed in Russia. China’s solidarity in this case is subject to its bottom line.
The war that was recently launched is now being accounted for on the debit side. It is slow. The facts on the ground will probably not change in Crimea, but it may forestall further adventurism. For the Syrian people, there may be a small ray of hope. If Russia can see that it cannot stoke conflict all the time, everywhere, it might become more constructive in seeking a solution to the Assad impasse so that we can turn our attention to ISIS, which even Russia abhors, not least as it fears for its own backyard.
The lesson we have learnt from the new Crimean crisis is that we have to be ever vigilant. Our peace dividend was cashed in much too quickly and now we will need to reconsolidate its ability to defend its members. But while we do what we can, the real challenge for Putin’s adventurism will come from his own people. In launching this occupation in Ukraine, he too has miscalculated. A state’s propaganda machine is not invincible in today’s world of social media. The truth of the war and soldiers’ sacrifice is permeating Russian consciousness. The economic situation is deteriorating and civil society cannot be suppressed for ever. Our task is to hold our nerve and continue to highlight our solidarity with the Russian people, despite their rulers.
We in the West also pay too little attention to the Eurasian Economic Union, comprising the central Asian republics and the caucuses of Belarus among others, which is to be launched next January. This is Russia’s attempt to recreate a new bloc to leverage its influence against the EU. I wonder if, in her closing remarks, the Minister can say what relations we have with the individual countries to build better relations, as we cannot leave them to the Russian sphere of influence alone.
In closing, last weekend I had the privilege to meet the party of Grigory Yavlinsky and Sergei Mitrokhin, my Liberal counterparts, in Moscow. Yabloko is one of the few forces opposing Putin’s authoritarianism and one of the few domestic voices against the annexation of Crimea. It is standing up for human rights and for the rule of law. The party’s message to the West is that we must not turn away, but engage with the Russians because the country will change one day. Of course we must, but with resolve, keeping our eyes wide open.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Falkner on bringing forward this Motion and on her excellent overview of the situation. She is absolutely right to say that this is a matter of enormous concern. The flouting of international law is always of concern and doing nothing is not an option. I think that the UK has a role in addressing the situation, but not a central role. Indeed, I do not even think that the United States has a central role to play. This is a global issue that requires the attention of all organised and responsible states that want the global order to be reasonably maintained and not undermined. Just as we think the caliphate issue, with the smashing of borders and the violation of all human rights norms, is a global matter, so this is a global matter as well. I do not even think that there is a central role for the military side, as my noble friend said, nor even is there really a central role for tit-for-tat trade wars of the kind that are going on now, nor, I fear, for western sanctions as long as other countries, including China, carry on tending to ignore them.
The real central role in this situation is going to be played by the world crude oil markets and by gas availabilities. The Russian economy today—and the power of Mr Putin and his friends—floats on a gigantic sea of oil and gas revenues. At the moment a huge surplus of oil and gas is building up throughout the world and, as one can see in the newspapers every morning, the prices of these commodities are falling very fast in some areas. That is less the case for gas because it is regional, and the big fall has been mostly in the United States—outside Europe and outside the OECD. However, the price of oil everywhere is falling fast, and I suspect will fall a great deal further. A weaker oil price will devastate the Russian economy. When Japan ceases to drink enormous volumes of oil and gas daily and gets its nuclear industry going again, which Shinzo Abe intends to do, that will mean a further dramatic weakening in demand and a further dramatic fall in oil prices. What this means is that “General Oil” and “General Gas” are the decisive players in this situation.
It also means, from the point of view of statesmanship and policy-making in the western capitals and certainly here in London, that we have to play that most difficult role of all for statesmen: a waiting game. There is not an instant solution or instant line of action which can make much difference. This is a most difficult thing of which to persuade people, because they of course want action when there is a hideous situation and when horrors such as the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner occur. This situation is not going to be settled by big battalions; it is not a Cold War confrontation, as some Cold War warriors have suggested; and, not least for reasons of oil but for other reasons which I will briefly enumerate, it requires great patience and allowing greater forces to work, which they will.
There are three other reasons. First, it is not a straightforward war but a hybrid war—it is one of those obscure, new patterns of conflict which are spread across the globe, where it is very hard to identify who the enemy is, where cyberactivity undermines activity on the ground, where soldiers who are not soldiers and not wearing uniform appear but whose involvement is denied, and where propaganda and communication begin to blur the whole situation. Secondly, the Russians have always used such techniques—they call it “maskirovka”, which is the traditional Russian way of proceeding when they are anxious to pursue their interests and it is almost impossible to pin down or categorise in terms of war, action, policies and solutions. Thirdly, there are arguments on both sides. The Russian-speaking people in the Donbass region perhaps should be allowed to have more regional autonomy. We have had these sorts of arguments here in our own affairs and we are having one now about Scotland. The home rule case for Donbass may have something in it.
The price of oil will not eventually decide the matter, because lower oil prices means—I do not want to sound controversial—higher oil prices. The lower oil price, if it lasts, will incidentally knock out the whole fracking situation in the United States, where they need at least $80 to make most of their investments worth while. Eventually, therefore, it will go wrong, but in the mean time there is a real chance that it will bring the Russian economy to its knees.
When this phase is over and when Russia comes to its senses, we will need Russia. It cannot be isolated and we cannot isolate it. The Russians say that they want a united front against terrorism and so do we all. We need the commitment and involvement of Russia, as we need that of China, India and the great new powers of Asia, in dealing with all the issues: the caliphate, the upholding of international law and so on. These matters threaten Russia, particularly that of the caliphate, just as much as they do us in the West with the danger of being penetrated by jihadism.
In the end, Russia is an inextricable part of the new global network and the new order, and there is no escape. In the end, it will have to rejoin the global system and realise that its policies are deeply self-defeating, but it requires patience, great skill and all kinds of new intelligence techniques, and it requires us waiting for the greater forces which lie above Governments and nations, such as the international oil price, to do their work.
My Lords, I broadly agree with the noble Baroness’s analysis and congratulate her, and I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we are not back in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and we do not foresee a Cold War of the scale of the last. However, perhaps we were optimistic following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as indeed we were over the Arab spring. Hopes were raised at that time that we would be dealing with a new Russia, a democratic Russia with rule of law, and a more co-operative Russia abroad. We have speedily moved from that, as we saw at the NATO summit in Newport, where Russia, the problem country, was the main focus of the debate.
We contrast the position post 1989 in Russia with that of eastern and central Europe. We have to ask ourselves why there is a difference in Russia and perhaps less of a difference in the Caucasus republics. I would follow the analysis of Putnam when he examined the difference between north and south Italy. There is a lack of a mature and civil society in Russia, an equating of opposition with treason and a centralisation with very limited checks and balances in Russian history.
Perhaps we need to turn to Russian history to obtain an accurate analysis of Russia today. The 19th century saw tsarist autocracy. Yes, serfs were then liberated but it is interesting that the former so-called “Kremlin’s banker”, Pugachev, has stated that businesses in Russia are serfs to the state, with none beyond the reach of the President. After the brief opening under Kerensky, the Bolsheviks took power and we had democratic centralism, which was harsher than the 19th century autocracy. We saw in the 1930s the purges and climate of intense fear, followed by, yes, the great patriotic war and the heroism of the Soviet people. Then there was Kruschev, then Yeltsin’s anarchy, followed by Putin in 2000. This was helped by—as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said—great oil and gas resources, to the extent that some US critics talk of Russia today as a gas station with nuclear weapons. Abroad, we have heard the traditional fear of encirclement which continued through the Brezhnev doctrine. We could read the position well: we were warned in the speech of President Putin at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. Nevertheless, we should remind ourselves that promises were made to the Russians in the early 1990s that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO. There is a danger that those promises may be forgotten.
The noble Baroness detailed the issues of human rights in Russia. There is no need for me to follow her over that trail. One sees it equally in the reports on human rights by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the State Department and Congress, and Human Rights Watch. All have common themes, with perhaps the only bright light being that of a better treatment of the disabled. Of course, we return to the old themes in Putin’s Russia: the triumphs of the Second World War on the lines of Yaroslavsky, the glory of the tsarist empire allied with the Orthodox Church, Slavophilia and, perhaps most of all, the cult of personality—which we saw in spades during the birthday celebrations of the President and the 12 labours of Hercules. I invite noble Lords to look at the case of Magnitsky, who was killed in 2009 having exposed tax evasion. None of those responsible for his death has been punished. That is a tragic commentary on the state of Russia today.
Outside the borders, we have been ready to give Russia the benefit of every doubt as it flagrantly ignores international law. It still occupies parts of Georgia; Crimea has been annexed and is a new frozen conflict in Europe; eastern Ukraine is invaded by Russian troops. That is all in spite of Russia’s international obligations. However, perhaps there is a good side. Do I detect a new realism as the western response slowly is mobilised? Certainly, there is much less trust in Russia. Particularly now, we are much more wary than we were prior to events in Ukraine. The old naivety may have evaporated but nevertheless there will be common mutual interests such as counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation and ISIL. We will perhaps just have to sup with a longer spoon.
One brief postscript: if we are to make valid criticism of Russia, we must come with clean hands. Our own commitment to human rights is in peril because the Conservative Party has pledged to walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights, in effect to make it only advisory. Dominic Grieve, who was sacked as Attorney-General, said of this plan:
“It’s incoherent, it’s a bit anarchic, it breaches our international legal obligations. It’s a complete breach of precedent”.
I end on this point: those in the Kremlin must be rubbing their hands with glee—I repeat, with glee—at this because we have a very clean record with the European Convention but the Russians have had far more breaches. If we are to sully our hands in this way, we can hardly expect to be taken seriously either by the Russians or our allies and those concerned with human rights in the world.
My Lords, I join my noble friend Lady Falkner in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on being about to reply to this international debate, which I am perfectly certain that she will do with the eloquence, common sense and competence that she has shown throughout her career. I am delighted to see her on the Front Bench on this issue.
I have been involved in trying to teach democracy in Russia for the past 12 years. My memory goes back to the days of glasnost and perestroika, when it was possible to have open discussion about the problems that Russia had: the problems of establishing proper local government, issues of corruption and all the rest of it. Those were the years of trust between our country and Russia. Among the many things that were achieved during those years of trust, perhaps the most remarkable was the securing of all nuclear materials in the whole of what had previously been the Soviet Union over a period of only three or four years in collaboration with the United States. That was one reason why, after the fall of the Soviet Union, we did not encounter the terrifying terrorist outbreaks that one might have seen, given that there was a great deal of nuclear material loosely distributed all over what had been the Soviet Union. That shows what trust can achieve.
Trust has steadily eroded ever since in a way that, as my noble friend Lady Falkner pointed out forcefully in her speech, has affected our relations with Russia. I can bear that out to some extent from my experience, because in running seminars about democracy throughout Russia, from Siberia to Ukraine, we have run into more and more difficulties and less and less approval from central government in the Kremlin. I could give details, but there is not time. However, there has been a slow decline, and distrust between Russia and the western alliance is now so great that it is very hard to get co-operation on almost anything. One of the most disturbing aspects of that is the decline of discussions within NATO of the best possible ways to try to deal with some of the threats that confront us. That does no one any good. The fact the NATO-Russian Council does not meet now, at a time of great tension, tells us a great deal about the perils that we run in the world.
Secondly, as a result of that deterioration of trust, we have seen a steady change in the attitudes and behaviour of the Russians. That has culminated in what has happened in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said: the Ukrainians did not start very sensibly by trying to rule out Russian as the second language of Ukraine. The blame is not entirely distributed on one side. The noble Lord was also absolutely right to say that we do not sufficiently consider the history of Russia. The history of Russia is a history of one invasion after another, one occupation after another, and growing fear within Russia herself which has led to security being the overwhelming consideration for those who vote. Mr Putin has very strong support within Russia at present. That does not flow from a lack of love for democracy; it flows directly from fears about the security of the country which are deeply rooted in history.
Thirdly, although I agree with my noble friend Lady Falkner’s statements about what has happened to human rights, and the wise remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on the subject of trying to go back to national human rights when we desperately need to protect international human rights, we are underestimating the consequences on Russian politics of the steady eastward drift of NATO. I consider that to be very serious. Of course we should accept the independence of Georgia and Ukraine, but it is unwise to talk as widely as we do about the possibility of both joining NATO. Ukraine has long been the buffer for Russia against the attacks of other countries. The thought that she might roll NATO’s power right up to the border of Russia itself is not timely. I hope very much that Her Majesty’s Government will consider carefully, as to their credit they have done up to now, the idea of strongly backing some forces in the United States that want to see Ukraine and Georgia become members of NATO as quickly as possible. They should be independent countries and supporters of the European Union, yes. But should they be members of NATO? Not yet, I suggest, as it is much too soon to walk in that direction.
Finally, we desperately need Russian co-operation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out the particular dependence of the former parts of the Soviet Union in the Baltic, which are on up to 100% Russian gas and oil. These countries could very easily be brought down industrially within a matter of weeks unless we can re-establish some sort of co-operation—not just about oil but in two other fields. One is terrorism, to which the noble Lord also referred; the other, strangely enough, are crises such as the infectious disease crisis represented by Ebola, where we have to have international co-operation to deal with those challenges. We have to recognise that fact.
In conclusion, I say simply that we need Russia, as Russia needs us, but that should not stop us being critical of the massive attacks on human rights that have been experienced. We also need to recognise the absolutely essential need for co-operation on the challenges now facing the world. That means that we have to take into account the special Russian sensitivity towards the onward eastward movement of NATO and ask ourselves whether that should not perhaps be paused for the time being until we are able to get co-operation and trust back on track.
My Lords, I have been involved in business in Russia since 1995—mainly with a steel firm in Stary Oskol, some 600 kilometres south of Moscow—because I believed then and believe now that through business relations we will best establish good relations between the United Kingdom and Russia. I have also been a very strong believer in the Budapest memorandum, which relates to the subject of this debate, feeling it absolutely essential that countries which give up nuclear weapons should be strongly supported and feel that they have some form of military guarantee. It is of course nowhere near as strong as an Article 5 NATO agreement. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said just now: it is a great mistake to expand NATO to either Georgia or Ukraine. We were advised about this many years ago by George Kennan; he was completely correct.
Although I disapproved of the way that the former President of the Ukraine was removed from power, I strongly condemned the annexation of Crimea. It might be possible—I said so publicly very soon after it happened—for an eventual agreement, on the lines of the Cuba-US agreement, between Ukraine and Russia over the military base of Sebastopol. I still think that that is one of the routes through. There has to be a resolution between those two countries about Crimea. The world cannot accept that annexation without there being a negotiated settlement between President Putin and President Poroshenko. They are meeting, probably as we speak, in Milan and there is a real possibility of concluding a serious negotiation.
There has been progress made over gas supplies, which is the first essential. The second essential is to get a real ceasefire, which has not yet materialised. The third essential is devolution to east Ukraine. It will never be content without some serious measures of devolution. It is something which we in this country ought not to be standing in the way of but encouraging. The fourth element is getting back into the international community on things like international air conventions. It is still a terrible tragedy that we have not achieved that resolution in the light of those appalling casualties from the shooting down of the Malaysian plane, and we need to know the full facts of that.
However, the essential issue seems to be that the people of Ukraine and the people of Russia have to understand that a peace negotiation and continued and increasing business relations are in both countries’ interests. It is very hard to see Ukraine, with all the financial difficulties that it has had and its considerable and long record of corruption, achieving the economic growth and prosperity that it deserves without co-operation, first, heading towards membership of the European Union, and secondly, retaining good, strong working relations with the Russian Federation. There is no escape from that, and some of the language that we have heard in the past few months, seeming to think that a solid division between Ukraine and Russia is in the interests of Europe, let alone the world, is a great mistake. We need to say that constantly to our Ukrainian friends on this issue. I have always supported the decision by Boris Yeltsin and President Kravchuk to separate out the Russian Federation and Ukraine, but no one could believe that this could be done without full cognisance of the history of those two countries at every stage. Sometimes in our debates we seem to have been blind to that factor.
So I think that a negotiation can be achieved between these two countries. They may make agreements that we in the West would not necessarily make—for example, there is another border dispute involving Russia, and that lies between Moldavia and the Ukrainian frontier. This is an area ripe for negotiation and solution, and might be one of the ways of easing the problem for the Ukrainians of the loss of Crimea. It is in this pragmatic way that I would like to see negotiations.
I say this to the Government: only four countries are signatories to the Budapest memorandum: the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United States and Great Britain. Quite frankly, we ought to have been involved in the negotiations right from the start. When the crisis blew up on the streets of Ukraine and the President was in the process of being toppled, an EU initiative was taken, with three Foreign Ministers—German, French and Polish—going in and negotiating on our behalf. The Russians were there with an observer, after strong pleas from President Obama. They made an agreement. While the ink was still not dry, that agreement was broken, which did terrible harm to relations. We have to find a better way of dealing diplomatically with the Ukraine and Russia problem.
My Lords, on two occasions in my career I have been involved in British foreign policy, as a political adviser in 1982 to the then Foreign Secretary Francis Pym, and then as foreign affairs spokesman in your Lordships’ House—prior to the outstanding work undertaken by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, with whom I am in strong agreement today—where for years the noble Baronesses, Lady Symons and Lady Williams, and I sparred and reflected on the need to offer sound advice and effective stewardship to those in Russia seeking to undertake an economic revolution; prevent the lurching to and fro between revanchist politics; and alleviate the threat of civil war in 1993 and the chaos of monetary, military and economic relations among the successor states of the Soviet empire. As Professor Sachs reflected on the early years after the ending of the Soviet era,
“the West did almost nothing to affect the outcomes for democracy and market reforms in Russia, despite all the high-minded rhetoric to the contrary”.
From the power vacuum that Vladimir Putin experienced as an insider at the early stages of his political career, the Russian people have sought political resurrection through strong leadership, “a strong hand”, always aware that deeply embedded in the Russian DNA was a growing link between a yearning for nationalism and an awareness of what they perceived as the historical injustice to the sizeable Russian-speaking minorities in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, especially in the other major Slav state, Ukraine, and in Crimea.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I believe that it is only by wiping the fog off the history lens that we can identify the building blocks to design a foreign policy towards Russia to counter perceived Russian aggression to the outside world and resurgent domestic nationalism. This pragmatic foreign policy should be equally beneficial to Russia and the successor states of the Soviet empire. On the one hand, such a policy should consistently reflect our belief in human rights, the rule of law, parliamentary democracy and democratic institutions. In so doing, we should never lose sight of recognising that, despite the Russia/Ukraine history, where the borders frequently changed in the 20th century, this House today rightly believes that international law should never be ignored, borders must not be changed by force and countries under the rule of law must be entitled to make their own choices.
So, the questions that we need to answer are as follows. Are the steps that we are taking now likely to achieve the goal of a new Ukraine that is acceptable equally to its people and to the interests of Russia and of the West? Is there a direct correlation between strengthening sanctions and the likelihood that Russia will withdraw support from eastern Ukraine? I am unconvinced that the current approach will necessarily succeed. If I am right, we need to be absolutely sure that our actions will not succumb to the law of unintended consequences. What is important is the need to explore a foreign policy based on compartmentalisation.
Let me briefly explain what I mean by compartmentalising our approach to Russia. Russia should be, and is, critical to the overall success of the war against ISIS. Russia is a key conduit to Iran and Assad. I am sure that Russia should and would welcome our approach for a joint policy towards ISIS, especially so since Russia itself is not immune to fanatical and murderous extremism. That was amply demonstrated only a few days ago when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Chechen capital, Grozny, killing five police officers and wounding at least 12 civilians. It is therefore essential that we seek to separate out a row we have with Russia on the key issue of Ukraine while designing a framework of engagement on strategic, political and economic matters that are relevant to us both. That is not to say that we should not maintain strong pressure on the Russian Federation about Ukraine and Crimea using a range of measures, but we should compartmentalise that approach in order to pursue areas of mutual interest.
The key date woven into this growing tapestry of cross-border interests was 30 August 2013, when the vote about taking concerted action with the United States against Assad was lost in the House of Commons, with a corresponding collapse of momentum in Washington. Once the West backed down from taking action in the face of the blatant use of chemical weapons, the pendulum had swung. A new era—sadly but correctly interpreted by President Putin as an age of reluctance—was born in which American power remains dominant but no longer determinant. Months later, the timing of Crimean annexation could wait until President Putin had returned to Moscow after the closing ceremony of the winter Olympic Games, while public support continued to climb across Russia as the troops moved in, dismissive of the United Kingdom in particular. We risk failing to grasp the importance of Russian influence in achieving our foreign policy goals.
Martin Wolf, writing on the conflict, concluded that,
“there is no greater foreign policy question than how to deal with today’s Russia”.
I add that there is no greater foreign policy question than how we see ourselves and, from that perspective, how we win the peace as well as wars, and how we define our role in foreign policy in the 21st century. If we do not follow a policy of compartmentalisation towards Russia and the successor states of the Soviet Union then, as you move east through Europe, starting in France and Germany, you can rest assured that Governments on mainland Europe, through either the front or back doors, will deliver on this agenda. In the mean time, as my noble friend Lord Howell said, the global oil price is most likely to prove the most potent foreign policy factor for a change in Russian policy direction towards both Ukraine and the West.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I thank my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine for tabling this debate. I will also say a word of appreciation for the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She and I came into this House on the same day, 5 November 1996—an auspicious day to come into such a place. I have always found her contribution to your Lordships’ House something to be admired and appreciated. I know that, in her new position, that will not change.
It would be perfectly possible for me, as in previous debates on Russia, to speak about the human rights abuses, the lack of democracy and the totalitarianism of Mr Putin’s approach, and to criticise—indeed, condemn—it. However, those issues have already been aired in the debate, perhaps most notably by my noble friend Lady Falkner in her excellent introductory remarks. I am not sure that for me simply to repeat that would take us very much further forward. Nor would it give us very much guidance as to what we might do—not in our tactical approach to this dilemma but in our strategic approach to these large questions.
My noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Howell have pointed up some strategic dilemmas for this country which we must face, however unappetising they may be. Since the end of the Cold War, much of our strategy has been dependent upon maintaining our relationship with the United States of America and playing as full a role as possible in the developing European Union. The dilemma is that as the United States maintains a posture that is still to some extent informed by the Cold War and its increasing focus upon Asia—but also, sadly, by an increased retrenchment as it is decreasingly able to impose its authority upon many areas of the world for economic, political and military reasons—the European Union has signally failed to develop a common foreign or security policy. With the frankly naive notion that the extension of democracy would be welcomed everywhere it went, the European Union has extended into the east and has brought with it the cover not of a European security policy but of NATO. We all know that, were it not for the United States, there would be no NATO. The European Union countries have no capacity to project force or protect themselves without the United States of America. So far as Russia is concerned, as far as the European Union extends itself, NATO comes behind as the only realistic defender.
Ukraine is not just a buffer state to Russia. An extension of European Union relationships, treaties and involvement is seen as an extension of NATO. Ukraine also has many of the manufacturing units of Russia’s military capacity. Many Ukrainian factories still produce the materials that the old Soviets used. For that to become part of the orbit not just of the European Union but of NATO is wholly unacceptable not just to Mr Putin but much more widely in Russia.
We need to appreciate that notions that the extension of democracy, the European Union and all that we hold dear will be welcome is foolish and naive. Naiveté in these matters is often dangerous. While we are right to hold our critique, we must realise that we have miscalculated and misunderstood what the Russian reaction was likely to be, not only on Crimea and Ukraine but also on Syria. The result has already been nothing short of catastrophic for the whole of the Middle East, where the structures of stability have dissolved completely. We would do well to listen to the wise words of my noble friend Lord Howell, and take time to reflect rather than feel that we can jump to an immediate resolution to a vexing problem, which will be faced not only by us and our children but by our grandchildren, too.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on her escape from the hurly-burly of the red Benches to the deep peace of the Foreign Office marriage bed, where she will be quite at home in these Elysian fields—the land of lost content—where all officials are uniquely brilliant, and all advice uniformly perceptive.
I will start by quoting from President Putin’s article in this morning’s Politika in Belgrade:
“Unfortunately, the vaccine against the Nazi virus, developed at the Nuremberg trials, is losing its effectiveness in some European countries. A clear sign of this trend is open manifestations of neo-Nazism, which have become common in Latvia and other Baltic states … We are especially concerned in this respect about the situation in Ukraine, where an unconstitutional state coup in February was driven by nationalists and other radical groups”.
That is the message pumped out daily inside Russia by the controlled state media. The annexation of Crimea produced a huge boost in President Putin’s popularity, and the propaganda is very widely believed in Russia today. They believe that military action in the Donbass was necessary in response to attacks on ethnic Russian minorities by fascist thugs and paramilitaries abetted by the regime in Kiev, which was installed by NATO.
I do not know whether President Putin believes any of that himself, but I do not know whether the Government are taking action to disabuse him. The official reaction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the NATO summit in Wales was that it proved that the alliance was unable to change its “genetic code” and was still determined to dominate the military sphere in Europe in breach of all previously agreed security arrangements. I do not know whether the regime believes that, and the little decision made about rapid reaction forces—a few hundred men—is hardly likely to convince the Russian Defence Ministry and Foreign Ministry that NATO poses a very serious threat to Europe.
However, I do not know whether the Government are exploring those misapprehensions with President Putin or whether they know what his strategy is, and I have to admit that I am not entirely clear what our strategy is. I am clearer about German policy. The Germans seem to be much more actively engaged and much clearer about what they are trying to achieve. We are much louder in our rhetoric but much less clear about our strategy.
I will therefore ask the Minister four questions. First, is it the Government’s policy to point out to Moscow in respect of minority rights in the Baltic states that the three countries’ accession to the European Union was made conditional on the extension and entrenchment of minority rights, and that any doubts or concerns about their performance against those undertakings in respect of such rights should be pursued by peaceful means in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights, which is an institution created at the instigation of Conservative lawyers and maintained down the years by successive law officers of this country, and which most of us feel has a very important role to play in sustaining human rights across Europe? Is that our advice to President Putin, and if, as I hope, it is, what response are we getting?
Secondly, in respect of NATO—here I echo points already made in this debate—are the Government pointing out to Moscow that while Article 5 of the Washington treaty applies to all allies, including the newest ones, President Poroshenko has not applied to join the alliance, it is not UK policy to encourage him to do so, and a Ukrainian application, if it arrived, would not be supported by the British Government? I believe that that is our position, but I would very much like to hear the Minister confirm that. If we are making that point to President Putin, what response are we getting from him?
Thirdly, in respect of the continuing conflict in the Donbass, are we telling Moscow that we believe in the territorial integrity of Ukraine and that we also have no objection whatever to further devolution from central to regional authorities but believe that that is entirely a matter for the Ukrainian people to decide for themselves, and that full OSCE monitoring in the conflict zone should be permitted forthwith, and all foreign forces withdrawn? I assume that that is what we are saying—but, again, I would be very grateful if the Minister would confirm that.
Finally, in respect of sanctions, is it the Government’s policy that if all foreign forces left the Donbass—and OSCE monitors confirmed that they had—sanctions would at once be unwound, provided only that the energy blockade of Ukraine was called off? I remind noble Lords that there has been no gas supply from Russia to Ukraine since the second week of June and that the interruptions of several EU member states in the past month can hardly have been accidental, when winter is approaching. My concern is that we should not entertain unrealistic hopes that ever tighter sanctions might secure the reversal of the illegal annexation of Crimea. Are the Government making these points, and do they envisage any multilateral process to follow up, perhaps in the context of the Budapest memorandum, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, suggested? The signatories to the Budapest memorandum were also the guarantors of its terms; we cannot do nothing—we cannot pretend that it does not exist.
While it is right to reject nonsense about Nazis and NATO, we need to talk to the Russians and not just at them—and not just because of the plight of Ukraine. The two external powers that could, if they chose, do most to bring about an end to the unfolding tragedy in Syria are Iran and Russia. I believe that we are talking to the Iranians, and I hope that we are talking to the Russians. We should be sufficiently humble and ready to acknowledge that the Russians were on to the threat of al-Qaeda long before we were, and we should be ready to accept that, because of the policy that they have followed and the policy that we have followed, their influence in the Middle East is considerably greater today than is ours—possibly in Ankara, probably in Cairo and Tehran and certainly in Damascus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, pointed out. It is in our interest to engage the Russians not just about Ukraine but across the board.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who made some extremely important and perceptive points. I begin, as others have, by thanking my noble friend Lady Falkner for introducing this debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on her new responsibilities, which I am sure that she will discharge with vigour, finesse and aplomb.
The first thing that I became really involved with when I was elected to another place in 1970 was the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. I sometimes think that we forget the enormous progress that has been made in the form of the Soviet Union since those days, when I and my colleagues were refused visas to go to Russia and we had the door of the Soviet embassy shut in our faces. Now what do we see? Only yesterday, I had to the House a young man whom I met earlier this year when I was giving a talk in Oxford, a Russian studying at one of the colleges in that great university. We talked—and, of course, he has great democratic aspirations, but he recognises, as we all should, that when the wall came down and the iron curtain ceased to exist there was no democratic infrastructure for the people of Russia to look back on. That country has never had a proper democracy. That young man recognised this—and he also recognises that Putin, for all the misgivings we may have about recent actions and pronouncements, has given the Russian people back a large measure of self-respect. He is enormously popular among Russians. Whatever the slight misgivings there may have been in the conduct of polls, there is no doubt that he won an overwhelming victory and, if there were an election tomorrow, he would win another one.
I have been greatly reassured by the realistic tone of so many of the speeches that we have heard this morning. We cannot envisage a stable Europe without good relations with Russia; that is essential. We have to recognise that every country, either implicitly or explicitly, regards itself as having a certain sphere of influence. What has happened in Ukraine this year has not been to our delight, but there are two sides—and that has been put most eloquently by a number of speakers in this debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Owen, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, made an extremely important point when he talked about the signatories to the Budapest agreement. We are one of the signatories. Therefore, we are in a position to take an initiative. These matters were not well handled earlier this year, and there is a certain amount of drift now. Let our Foreign Secretary seek to convene an international conference on the Budapest memorandum, and let us say to the Russians that we understand their worries. After all, we have to remember that the great patriotic war actually began with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and what happened thereafter, when the Germans turned on the Russians, seared their memories. We have to seek to understand and to engage, and I very much hope that there will be a real attempt to engage. Although the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and others were right to say that this is not another Cold War, nevertheless much of the rhetoric of the past six months has been reminiscent of the rhetoric of the Cold War and has not advanced the cause to which we are all in this House dedicated—human rights and the equality of peoples, with a balanced and civilised world order.
We need to recognise that Russia has its legitimate interests. It must conduct itself in accordance with international law, but in the knowledge that we understand its worries and its background. Certainly, any question of Ukraine joining NATO should be completely off the agenda. Ukraine is a free country, and must be a free country, but there has to be a measure of devolution within that country that recognises the legitimate rights and aspirations of all citizens within that country. The attitude towards the Russian language adopted earlier this year was inimical to a sensible resolution of the crisis.
I very much hope that when my noble friend comes to respond she will indicate that the British Government are not only willing and able but determined to take a role in seeking to bring the signatories to the Budapest memorandum around the table to discuss and give the sort of safeguards that were implicit in the sensible and sensitive questions asked of my noble friend by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. If we can do that, this debate, as with so many debates in your Lordships' House, will not only have been a good debate in itself but might even be of some help in resolving a problem which, if it is allowed to develop, can only play into the hands of those wicked people in ISIL, against whom we are all united.
It is a pleasure to follow that excellent speech. I join the queue of noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on having secured this debate. I apologise to her profusely for having arrived late and thank her—or the noble Baroness opposite—for not sending me packing as a consequence.
“Rise Like a Phoenix” was the title of the song with which Conchita won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The Eurovision Song Contest was set up in 1956 as a contribution to uniting a war-torn Europe. Europe in this context is not just the EU but stretches well into central Asia. Russia first entered the contest in 1994 and Ukraine several years later. For those of you in the know, Conchita was a lady in a slinky dress with full make-up, except that she was not a lady at all and she sported a beard. She is the alter ego of Tom Neuwirth, an Austrian who lives as a gay man in everyday life, who said that he created her as,
“a statement for tolerance and acceptance”.
In his winner’s speech he said:
“This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom”.
The Russian entry in the contest was booed by much of the audience. Ukraine gave a substantial proportion of its vote to Conchita. This included telephone votes from Crimea, which Russia had already seized by then. Widespread disapproval of Conchita was expressed in Russian official circles, including by Mr Putin. Dmitry Rogozin, his Deputy Prime Minister, remarked:
“Eurovision showed the eurointegrators, their europerspective—a bearded lady”.
In response, Russia is contemplating reinstating Intervision, which was set up in the 1970s as a Soviet alternative to Eurovision. It is likely to comprise participants from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, established as a counterweight to NATO, and will be held in Sochi.
In the context of Russia’s military adventurism, is this trivial stuff or just a bit of fluff? I do not think so, and I offer two reasons for this belief. First, the turn towards moral conservatism in Russia by Mr Putin is a key part of his geopolitical strategy and the effort to reposition the country as a regional superpower. The anti-gay legislation in Russia is linked to an onslaught on multiculturalism, which is seen to be decadent. Russia had the right to annex Crimea, so Mr Putin says, because it was the place,
“where Prince Vladimir was baptised”,
and Vladimir’s embrace of Orthodoxy determined,
“the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the people of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus”.
What is going on here is, to some extent, going on across the world—a battle in a cosmopolitan, open society, where principles of democracy and freedom are not just registered in the political sphere but also intrude deeply into everyday life. It is not only in Europe where we see that struggle occurring. On the other side, there is, as we see around the world, the emergence of sectional authoritarianism. Again, it is not only in Europe that this is happening, but it is important that this battle is won.
Secondly, there is also a struggle between two organising principles of power—military force versus economic interdependence in a globalising world. The economic sanctions deployed by the EU and the US have widely been seen as ineffective. After all, as has been said, Mr Putin is riding high in the polls in Russia. I do not think it is true at all that they have been ineffective. Russia is on the edge of recession and the economy is in dire trouble—even more so as oil prices start to slide, as other noble Lords have remarked. There is real trouble there.
Conchita received a lot of support from Russian bloggers and on social media. Mr Putin’s attempt to regulate the internet will fail. The democratising forces he has for the moment suppressed are still there and will return at some point, perhaps in an overwhelming way.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Falkner for securing this timely and important debate. It has been an extremely good and thoughtful debate and, if I am absolutely honest, slightly surprising in its tone. I have been surprised by quite how moderate it has been.
As several noble Lords have already remarked, next month will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is worth recalling that it was a time of tremendous optimism for democracy and international relations. At this time, Gorbachev used to promote the concept of a “common European home”, and my Russian friends in Voronezh and St Petersburg used to talk about their hopes that Russia could finally join the European family as a full and equal partner. Two years later, in 1991, the Soviet Union itself collapsed and Russia and its former Soviet republics entered a period of profound economic and political change.
My noble friend Lady Falkner has already touched on the Eurasian Economic Union in her speech. Hillary Clinton has said that she feared that this was President Putin’s attempt to recreate the old Soviet Union. It certainly is an attempt to produce an alternative to the European Union for the Soviet republics. I would be hugely grateful if my noble friend the Minister would say a few words in her concluding remarks about the Government’s assessment of the likely economic and political impact of this new organisation.
I believe that in a debate on Russia and democratic principles it is worth recalling—as the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Anderson, did so powerfully in their speeches—that, unlike the Baltic states and many of the countries of central and eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, the USSR, and the Russian empire before it, had no tradition of parliamentary democracy in the western understanding of the phrase. In effect, it has moved from one system of autocracy to another. The only real exception to this were the very brief but chaotic Yeltsin years before the economic crises that befell the country resulted in many Russians losing faith in their political system and their leadership. It is with deep regret that I believe that the European Union’s eastern dimension strategy did not live up to its rhetoric in the 1990s and that opportunities were missed in the 1990s to build a genuinely fair and democratic society in Russia, based on democracy and the rule of law. Since President Putin’s third term as President, we have witnessed a gradual drift back to many of the old ways of obsessive state media control, paranoia and lack of respect for international law. The acts of aggression by Russian armed forces in eastern Ukraine are a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and international law.
Two weeks ago, I spent a fascinating five days at a festival of languages in Astana, Kazakhstan. It is clear that the recent events in Ukraine have sent a shiver down the spine of many people in Kazakhstan. While I was in Kazakhstan, I found myself one evening watching a political programme on one of the many Putin-controlled Russian TV channels. I watched an hour-long documentary about the situation in Ukraine. To say that their interpretation of events there was a little different from ours would be an extreme understatement.
The recent media coverage in Russia of the Scottish referendum also made for fascinating viewing, where a presenter on “Russia Today” referred to the “North Korea” levels of turnout and Russia claimed that the conduct of the referendum in Scotland “did not meet international standards”.
And so, sadly, we are now very far from the “common European home” aspirations of 25 years ago. However, as many other noble Lords have said, I believe that we have not been blameless. We have failed to understand the Kremlin’s responses to NATO expansion, as many noble Lords have clearly said. We have also failed to understand even the impact of EU enlargement over the last decade, because in Russia so many Russians see the two as one and the same.
Following the war on terror, it is perhaps understandable that we have paid less attention to what was going on in Moscow, as we thought that the Cold War was at an end. As a result, we have not been sufficiently sensitive to what was a rather predictable reaction from a Kremlin filled from the ranks of the former KGB and Russian intelligence services.
In conclusion, reluctantly, I believe that we must persevere with our policy of sanctions. I say reluctantly because politically the sanctions are currently having exactly the opposite effect to what was desired and are uniting even many liberal Russians against the West. But there is very real evidence that sanctions are making a strong economic impact, and the Kremlin must be made to understand that when it breaches international law there are and must always be strong consequences. We have to remain resolute in our response to Russia’s recent actions, but we must also maintain, as so many noble Lords have said, open channels for dialogue and negotiation, because surely none of us would want a return to the world as it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow someone who is so knowledgeable and reasonable. I welcome the Minister to her complicated portfolio and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for bringing this important subject before us. As she explained, Russia has been on our minds for most of this year because of the theft of Crimea and the attempted isolation of eastern Ukraine. There is a clear case against Russia in international law, yet we do not seem to be able to do anything about it. There is the so-called precedent of our intervention in Kosovo, which still bothers some EU members, but it is irrelevant because that intervention was clearly based on the responsibility to protect against a clear case of genocide.
The Budapest agreement and the Council of Europe are all possibilities for dialogue, but I do not see them as reasons for prosecution. It seems unlikely that Russia will be taken to any court, except perhaps courts of arbitration over its many seized assets. Russia had no difficulty in fending off Georgia’s attempt in 2008 to take it to the International Court of Justice over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Why should Russia worry now?
The West’s only non-military weapon is sanctions. European Union sanctions on assets and individuals are having some measurable but limited effect, and there it is a trial of strength between the two powerful economies, with Russia holding the key energy card—although that card has been somewhat devalued. Will the Government do something to uncover Russian corruption in London, which has been the subject of other debates in this House previously? It somehow still escapes our anti-money-laundering legislation.
This debate is also about democratic principles, and this has been much discussed. We must be under no illusions about Russian democracy, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said. Democracy is an elastic concept. We can use it to express some theoretical Athenian objective, but around the world it is being stretched in many directions and can accompany even the worst tyrannies. The Russian state has always been an autocracy but can be described as a guided democracy. Mr Putin makes quite a good show of democracy. He has a popular mandate. He is genuinely interested in democratic principles as long as they serve the state and are created by it.
Although he is an ex-KGB officer and hardly a man of the people, there have been occasions when the President has directly engaged the people, especially in a crisis where the state has proved itself incompetent. There were, for example, the forest fires of the summer of 2010 in Nizhny Novgorod, when Putin ran the gauntlet of angry villagers—19 were killed, hundreds of homes were destroyed and fire engines ran out of water. There was the revolt at the alumina plant in Pikalyovo a year earlier, when the power station was shut down, and Putin took pleasure in humiliating the responsible oligarch, Deripaska, in front of hundreds of factory workers. These were farcical times in which the President appeared less like a tsar and more like Houdini, a showman or a skilled master of public relations.
The same theatre applies to the rule of law. The Yeltsin reforms of the judiciary, which did away with the KGB and led to so much expectation in the 1990s, were only paper thin. In his battles and power struggles with the oligarchs, the President has made a continual show of using the law while in reality he and his friends, using the old KGB techniques—as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said—have brazenly ignored or distorted the law in their favour. There has always been an inner circle around the throne, and today this consists of the oligarchs and shareholders who benefit directly from the vast wealth surrounding state-owned assets.
Under various European treaties, we are signed up to the Copenhagen principles, which summarise good governance, democracy, the rule of law and transparency. But we should not make too many assumptions about European influence on Russia. The attraction of enlargement is, or was, based on the obvious wealth of eastern European states that have recently joined or been associated with the EU. Yet, the vast majority that have not been in Europe do not see it that way. They have suffered steady economic decline, repression, unemployment and inequality. The magic of privatisation did not rub off in Russia, as communists could easily predict. Not surprisingly, they have also been antagonised by the EU’s gradual enlargement towards Russian territory, demonstrated by the confrontation of the two ideologies in eastern Ukraine. Enlargement is clearly coming to an end.
Even in Georgia, where there is great expectation of the new association agreement, there are hesitations about conditionality, and ordinary liberties that are familiar to us are still a long way off. There is no doubt that we should be rethinking our whole attitude to Russia. Does the noble Baroness accept that we have not given it enough attention in the Foreign Office, and is she satisfied that, even now, we have sufficient expertise in the FCO? Sub-Committee C of the European Union Committee, to which I belong, is currently looking at Russia and will soon produce a verdict on the EEAS’s perhaps overenthusiastic policy towards Ukraine. Perhaps this policy could not have been avoided, given the vast economic power and political influence of the EU, but it is certainly time to review it.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, on securing this debate. It is focused on international law and democratic principles, and of course your Lordships’ House is united in wanting to see both those fundamental principles upheld in Russia and elsewhere. However, as the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Moynihan, referred to, it is not clear what the West’s current strategy is and how it is designed to work. I welcome the Minister to her new role and post but should be grateful if, in her summing up, she could explain.
The plan seems to be that sanctions will force President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin into a volte-face, so that they relinquish Crimea and withdraw support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Yet the sanctions and Western policy are having the opposite effect. The Russian people, the cowed oligarchs and the Kremlin are united as never before behind President Vladimir Putin. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned President Putin’s popularity. His opinion poll ratings stand at 86%. He has never been more popular domestically and he is almost guaranteed re-election in 2018. Crimea is Russia’s only access to the Mediterranean, with the Black Sea fleet’s headquarters at Sevastopol, for which Russia fought several wars and lost many thousands of lives over the centuries. Russia is determined never to give up Crimea again, and President Putin knows he will go down in history as the first Russian leader since Catherine the Great to reunite the Crimea with Mother Russia.
One Russian businessman confided in me that the result of sanctions is to make Russia more authoritarian, illiberal and anti-western in outlook. The gains in trade, liberalisation and democracy of the past 23 years since the break-up of the USSR will be lost forever and will lead to a lost generation. Many young Russians have travelled extensively and have even been educated abroad. We are cutting them adrift.
Having studied and followed Russia for the last 36 years, I must admit that I am slightly puzzled by the West’s reaction to the Ukrainian conflict. Even during the Soviet Union and after the invasion of Afghanistan, trade and other links were maintained with the Soviet Union, even despite the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. The era we are embarking on will thus be worse than the Cold War: we will have geopolitical and economic instability together. In picking a fight with Russia over Ukraine I fear we are fighting the wrong war against the wrong enemy at the wrong time. A diplomatic solution to the current crisis was on the table from the beginning and accepted in principle by Moscow and Kiev: greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine’s regions; linguistic rights for ethnic Russian speakers; and maintaining Ukraine’s military neutrality.
Realistically speaking, eastern Ukraine is a political and economic burden Russia would rather do without, and no Russian I know would seriously contemplate invading the EU or a NATO member state, thus starting a third world war. Russians may be many things, but they are not stupid. Even ethnic Russian speakers in the Baltic states believe they are better off in the European Union. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, it is true that economic sanctions are hitting Russia very hard indeed, but they will also hit us in Europe too, especially since EU-Russian trade is 14 times greater than US-Russian trade. The German economy is already slowing, dragging the eurozone into recession, partly as a result of falling exports to Russia and weakening business confidence as a result.
Is this the time to pick a trade war with Russia, with global economic recovery on a knife edge? Would it not be better to solve the Ukrainian conflict diplomatically and focus on the many areas of mutual interest where Russia and the West need each other, as several noble Lords have referred to, such as trade, energy, space, the real existential fight against Islamist fundamentalism, and international co-operation on Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea? It may not be a perfect solution, but it is better than the alternative in an imperfect world.
My Lords, I add my voice to congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on her new role, which I know she will carry out with her usual wisdom, competency and courtesy. I also applaud the excellent opening speech by my noble friend Lady Falkner and thank her for moving the debate. She draws attention to some countries that are often overlooked by us in the West. The events this summer in Ukraine have given us all cause for concern.
We have had a number of excellent contributions and I recognise that there are many in this House with far greater depth of experience in these areas than me. However, last week I visited Kyrgyzstan to learn about the situation regarding human rights there, especially women’s rights. It was my first trip to that part of central Asia and I met with people from the world of journalism, NGOs, development agencies and activists running grass-roots organisations. My remarks draw on what I heard there, some of which I found more than a little concerning. In today’s globalised world, what happens even in these far-flung places has a direct effect on us here in the UK.
In Kyrgyzstan I was told that the state has a heavy hand, with much oversight from the security services. Corruption is a challenge, with political and economic power intertwined and rumours that positions have their price. Kyrgyzstan is a very poor and undeveloped country that reports chronic trade deficits. Russia holds strong economic influence there, being its main trading partner. Some 38% of its GDP comes from remittances, with 70% of its migrants working in Russia. There is great pressure for Kyrgyzstan to join the customs union—which is officially a trade zone, but is exploring economic harmonisation with an intense political component.
Although many of Kyrgyzstan’s laws are actually quite progressive, implementation is hard to achieve, with judgments being open to influence, and there are many reports of torture being used to obtain confessions. A low awareness of rights means that it is easy for people to become victims of fraud. Although in theory the law protects property ownership, apparently many high buildings are put up without the necessary documentation. Ownership problems result when corrupt officials sell land registration several times over on the same property.
I was disappointed to hear that there is a feeling that while the West needed the “Stans” to provide supply routes to Afghanistan, a blind eye was turned to what was going on there. While I was there an international human rights film festival was held—which apparently would not happen in many of the surrounding countries—but great concern was expressed by many about the space for civil society getting smaller. In May 2014, amendments to the criminal code dealing with making false communication a crime created a liability on people who disseminate information, with anecdotal reports that people handing out leaflets that are disapproved of by the state can now just be thrown into jail.
Russia is also pressurising Kyrgyzstan to adopt some of its laws. Three are of particular concern: the LGBT law banning homosexuality; the assembly law, creating concern that this might be used to disperse peaceful demonstrations; and the foreign agents law, which would prohibit foreign funding for anybody working on political issues. In effect, that might mean that bodies funded from abroad could be shut down. Apparently, Russia has stopped foreign aid for many organisations. At present in Kyrgyzstan, 65% of the funding for the 10,000 NGOs in the country comes in through foreign grants. I was told that the authorities distrust the NGOs and view them as agents of influence.
Some sections of society appear particularly disadvantaged. The very regressive laws on property rights for widows and divorced women lead to homelessness. Many women who do not understand the importance of proper marriage registration lose their rights. Domestic violence is all too prevalent and the few shelters do not take children too. Bride kidnapping is very common, even in broad daylight in the centre of Bishkek. Although sometimes staged, I was told that usually the girl had no idea that this was going to happen. Rape will follow, making the girl unmarriageable, so the families will urge their daughters to stay.
Although it is signed up to most of the UN conventions, the state has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There are no official statistics there on disabled people. There is no state care and families have to struggle to look after their disabled relatives. The booming narcotics trade in the southern town of Osh, estimated to be double the value of the country’s GDP, has created huge problems, with drug addicts and scant services.
The country is mainly Muslim. Although there is meant to be freedom of religion, some religions, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Ahmadi Muslims, are not allowed to congregate. However, one of the most concerning aspects of my trip was the reports of radicalisation. Outside Bishkek there is no infrastructure for young people, leading to huge problems in the villages and the new-build housing blocks. There are reports of many young men going to Syria to fight for gold, glory and God—even some young women are going too. In a country that has a low level of understanding of Islam generally, those returning seem more informed and have a strong influence on local norms, which further impacts negatively on women’s rights. Some I met even questioned whether the Islamic element might have state ambitions.
In talking about Kyrgyzstan I seek to illustrate how Russia is leaning on its former states. I very much hope that the UK will use all its diplomatic power to promote good governance in Kyrgyzstan and the surrounding countries; to urge them to reverse the current trend of a roll-back on civil rights and increasing authoritarianism; to encourage them to maintain their independence from Russia; and to put pressure on their Governments to stem the tide of fighters going to join ISIL.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for introducing the debate. It is a very important subject. I had at first feared that we would be heading for conflict with Russia—even a return to the Cold War—but there have recently been more favourable developments, with the prospect of discussions taking place between the two sides.
Ukraine is a much-divided country: the east does not want to be governed from the west by Kiev and Kiev is suspicious of Russian involvement. It has always been necessary to try to resolve these differences through negotiations. There have of course been many allegations about Russian involvement. But what about the West? What about the CIA? What about NATO, which has a number of states on the border with Russia?
The demonstrators who brought about the downfall of the previous President, who, incidentally, was elected, were not all nice, progressive democrats. Some were very dubious people, including members of the Svoboda party who were rather racist and probably nationalistic. However, these people were supported by the West—by the CIA and by statements from NATO leaders.
In my view, we must try to restore relations with the Russians. Culturally, they are close to us in all sorts of ways—in music, the arts, literature, scientific developments and, as we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, business. It is to our advantage to have these close links.
As for Crimea, Russia has links going back a very long way, to the days of Catherine the Great, and still has a naval base there. The people living there have had some sort of vote, the result of which was in favour of rejoining Russia. We have been told that it was not legal, which has been disputed by Russia. However, if, by any chance, the people there want to rejoin Russia, I do not see why they should be prevented from doing so if there are arrangements for the protection of minorities.
I am strongly in favour of restoring relations with Russia. I have been there on a number of occasions, not only a long time ago, during the Soviet era, but much more recently. I have great respect for the Russian people, who have suffered greatly from interventions. During the last war many millions were killed and there was the dreadful siege of St Petersburg. The transition from the Soviet era to the present capitalist one was a very difficult period for the Russian people. Before that, of course, there were the Napoleonic Wars, which gave us War and Peace. It is interesting to recall that, when he was a young man, Tolstoy served in the army, defending Crimea against interventions from Britain and France in 1854—a little remembered western intervention. There is some history here. Let us hope that the future is much better.
It is in the interests of both sides to make progress in the discussions. There has, of course, been a lot of criticism of the present President, Vladimir Putin. He appears to be popular with the Russian people at the moment, particularly following the annexation of Crimea. On the other hand, we have to come to terms with people whom we may not particularly like if we are to avoid a conflict. We need further discussion if we are to avoid the sort of problems that have arisen recently. I hope it will be possible to accept what is now on offer, which seems to be negotiations between the two sides that are currently in conflict in Ukraine. Putin seems to be willing to make some gestures in the direction of resolving the problems that exist. Of course there will be problems but they can be matters for discussion, which I hope can be reasonably arranged so that this can be brought to a close. We have far more bringing us together than separating us. I therefore hope that that is how we shall proceed to deal with the issues that have been raised in today’s debate.
My Lords, I declare a number of interests. I was an adviser to the Romanian Government when they were negotiating their membership of the European Union. I am a vice-president of the English Speaking Union and I have been involved in establishing branches of that union in Russia, particularly in St Petersburg, and eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. I am also a visiting professor at St Petersburg State University, which, as many noble Lords will know, is Vladimir Putin’s alma mater.
I must say that I am not entirely persuaded about the popularity of Mr Putin. I know what the opinion polls say and I know about his control of the media, which reflects that judgment. However, from my own conversations, particularly with people in St Petersburg, there is deep unease among many in Russia over what is happening. Also, there is occasional derision towards Putin’s position. The ludicrous assertion that the level of voting in the Scottish referendum was North Korean was greeted with embarrassment and derision by many people I know in Russia. We should be realistic.
I was somewhat shocked by the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, that we were in danger of—I think I have got the words right—picking a fight with Russia over Ukraine. May I remind the House that it is President Putin who has picked a fight with democratic principles and international law over Ukraine? It is not the West that has picked a fight with him. I hope that, in her reply to this debate, the Minister will reassert that. There is a very important issue of principle involved.
Because of ISIS and its present command of the headlines, the ambitions and, indeed, the ambiguities of Vladimir Putin are somewhat misunderstood and ignored. However, his activity, particularly in east Ukraine, is destabilising for very specific reasons. I shall focus on just two aspects of this destabilisation.
The first is the economic dimension. Reference has been made to the impact of western sanctions on Russia and we all know about the West’s dependence—which, at 40%, is still considerable—on Russian oil and gas. Let us look at the impact of western sanctions. It is a very complicated picture. The Russians have self-inflicted much of the impact of these sanctions. They have, for example, forbidden agricultural imports across a very wide range of products from the United States, the European Union and Norway. The result is that there are now shortages of important foods in the shops in many Russian cities and prices have risen dramatically. That is a self-imposed impact. The fourth tier of sanctions has also significantly impacted on access to capital and investment, particularly for smaller entrepreneurial companies in Russia.
At a lecture in St Petersburg, I was once asked: what is the basic economic relationship that Russia should look for with the West? I replied that to benefit trade you must have reciprocity. It has to be a two-way street. One of the problems is that the Putin Administration has viewed it as a one-way street. It has been about using the power of oil and gas—the so-called nuclear weapon—to gain what he wants. What will happen about that? There have been references, rightly, to the fall in the oil price. That has happened for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is the impact of shale in the United States. But let us not underestimate the almost total dependence of the Russian economy on oil and gas. If this fall continues it will, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, indicated in his speech, have a very dramatic effect on Russia.
What are we doing to lessen our dependence on oil and gas from Russia? There is a lot of infrastructure investment. In particular, the new pipeline going through Albania is going to be of considerable significance. Albania, incidentally, now has candidate status. It is hoped that its President will visit this country before the end of the year, and I think that we have to really stretch out a hand in that relationship.
I end by looking at the relationship between EU enlargement and this whole issue. When Helmut Kohl, as German Chancellor, negotiated with Mr Gorbachev, he indicated to the Russians that we would not allow a situation where NATO and the EU reached the borders of Russia. I think that that was prudent and right, and we should not entertain the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. However, that is not to say that we should allow a situation in which permanent destabilisation of eastern Ukraine is permitted. Therefore, I think that we must remain committed to EU enlargement where that is applicable but, above all, we must maintain the present levels of sanctions until there is a significant change, and we may not have to wait too long.
We used to talk about an EU-Russian agreement. That may now seem a very distant prospect, but the fact that it is distant should not in any way reduce our commitment to trying to achieve it. However, to achieve it, we have to be realistic, not optimistic, about Mr Putin and contemporary Russia.
My Lords, I add my voice to the double congratulation to the two noble Baronesses—one on securing this debate and the other on her new role. I declare an interest as director of the British East-West Centre, a UK organisation which supplies, among other things, election monitors to the former Soviet Union countries. It currently has about 80 monitors on the ground out there.
It is impossible in the time available to cover countries as diverse as Estonia and Uzbekistan. I look forward to the day when we stop referring to these countries as “former Soviet”, in the same way as we no longer refer to Russia or France as former members of the Triple Entente from 1907, as I am sure your Lordships are all fully aware.
While the focus of this debate may be on current issues in Russia and Ukraine, the fact is that in much of the post-Soviet area both democracy and international law are widely disregarded and abused by the powerful. We remember of course Stalin’s famous comment that what really matters is not that people vote but who does the counting. Rigged elections, torture of detainees and harassment of journalists, as well as personal concentration of power, all paint a pretty bleak picture of our neighbours to the east, but, turning to Russia specifically, there is another facet to this which needs to be recognised.
Russia, in particular, has plenty of reasons to distrust and dislike the West. After the Soviet Union imploded, many in the West—and I quote a recent British ambassador writing in the Daily Telegraph—
“simply stopped taking Russia seriously”,
and rode roughshod over its concerns about, for example, NATO, Georgia and Kosovo. I have also spoken before in this House about the way that the EU and the US, in my view, got themselves into an absurd tug of war with Russia over Ukraine, which had the effect of leading directly towards the current armed conflict. The sanctions that are now being imposed are being effective but they are also playing straight to Russians’ easily triggered sense of siege mentality and they drive Russia to seek cosmetic or actual alliances elsewhere. Where that leaves us is with a quasi-cold war stand-off, characterised by antagonism that is both increasingly unpredictable and commensurately dangerous—what Angela Merkel has called a long-term confrontation.
Make no mistake, my Lords, I am no apologist for Mr Putin. In fact, I do not think that apologies are really his style. He did earn a degree of respect for his determination to restore prestige for Russia as a powerful nation in world affairs but, when he quickly began to concentrate power to himself, to strong-arm the organs of the state and, latterly, to become a militaristic adventurer, our views changed. History also shows us that the more concentrated power tends to become, the less those in power seem to be able to see when it is time to go. All the more reason, then, for the West not to give Mr Putin excuses for further forays into the surrounding countries.
What of the future? I have three points to make. First, I believe that our relationship with Russia needs a complete reboot. While Mr Putin remains in place, we can expect the same calculated disregard both for democracy and for intentional law, combined with a sharp ability to play up any western evidence of hypocrisy in these areas. Therefore, we need to be robust but the idea that we can, by force, eventually persuade Mr Putin to give up either on Ukraine or on his own position begs a question as to who or what we can expect to get next.
As for Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it was economics that finished off the Soviet Union. Crimea and a shattered eastern Ukraine will be extremely expensive for Russia. Last night I saw an estimate of $100 billion to date. Although popular initially, the cost—not to mention the young Russians who have been sent to their deaths—may make Russia come to regret this adventure. Nevertheless, as many noble Lords have commented, we need a workable relationship with Russia—for example, in relation to Syria, as has been widely quoted, but also in relation to places such as the Arctic. There are many areas where we have common concerns and we need to build on these rather than, as currently, getting stuck in fairly pointless confrontations.
Secondly, and looking more widely across the region, many people were, as has been said, very optimistic about the future, but how many stolen elections and abuses of power does it take until that fades? The fact that people like to use English law for their business dealings, the fact that thousands of people turned out on the streets in Moscow not so long ago to protest against the regime and the fact that, despite harassment, courageous individuals and organisations try to highlight injustices show us that the people of the region seek democracy and the rule of law, whatever their leaders may do. That is why I underline the need for us constantly to bear witness to the degree to which elections are falsified or otherwise and the degree to which laws are followed or otherwise.
Finally, I place my faith in the next generation. The increasing number of young people educated in the West going home with friendships in this country—and to a degree, one would expect, with our values—may prove to be the most significant factor that in the long term enables us and the countries that we still refer to as the former Soviet Union to get along with each other rather better.
I strive in these matters to be an optimist but it is going to be a very long haul indeed to get the leaders not only of those countries but of our own to understand each other rather better.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on securing this debate and on the outstanding way in which she opened it. We have heard a number of important and valuable speeches from noble Lords around the House who have enormous expertise in this subject. I confess that I do not, as I suspect will become obvious in the next few minutes. We also look forward very much to the Minister’s reply to the debate—as has been said, her first debate in an important and difficult new role.
Monday’s British newspapers had a photograph of President Putin shaking hands with Lewis Hamilton, the British Formula 1 driver, after the latter’s brilliant win at the Grand Prix at Sochi on the Black Sea. The president had celebrated his 62nd birthday a few days before—we have heard about the 12 labours of Hercules. Both he and Lewis Hamilton looked like tough, active men ready for any physical challenge—alpha males if ever you saw them. It is worth noting and certainly it was reported that this was the first Russian Grand Prix of its kind in size and international flavour since before the 1917 revolution. The photo was interesting because it seemed to indicate at one moment Russia’s seeming desire to be a major player in the modern world, part of the international circuit that includes sport along with other activities, while at the same time being prepared to offend the international order—by behaving in the way that it has in Ukraine, for example. This represents a difficult challenge, particularly for the rest of the world, whether the EU, the United States, NATO or whoever you like to choose, including, if the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, will forgive me, those states that were of the former Soviet Union, some of which of course themselves are now NATO or EU members.
That Russian behaviour towards Ukraine, whether by the annexation of Crimea or the involvement in the civil war in the east of the country, has been completely unacceptable and against international law is if not universally then widely agreed. This is not the first time that Russia has interfered in the internal affairs of independent countries that were formally states of the former Soviet Union. But this year’s involvement in Ukraine has been more obvious, more blatant and more offensive to other countries and the world order than any other action it has taken since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, it has been said that no country has seized the territory of another European country by force since 1945.
Perhaps the West was slow in responding adequately to such a shocking breach of international law and international standards of behaviour. That may be in part because of the rapidly changing political situation at that time in Ukraine. It may also have been because agreeing a course of action at EU-level took time, with countries being concerned—hardly surprisingly—for their own economic self-interest. As my colleague the shadow Foreign Secretary said in an article in the Daily Telegraph in July this year:
“The EU has the capacity to act. On Russia, it has so far lacked sufficient will. EU leaders know that tougher sanctions will likely involve costs for segments of some EU economies, but inaction will also have costs in the long term”.
The NATO summit in early September in Newport took significant steps forward in agreeing co-ordinated action that can help to ensure the alliance remains effective in responding to new and emerging threats. Now of course it is a priority to ensure that all parties uphold the ceasefire in Ukraine. The deal signed between Ukraine and Russia is a welcome step towards stability. It is clear that co-ordinated EU and US action to put pressure on President Putin has played a role in bringing the ceasefire into being. Now, as has been said in the debate, we want to see meaningful negotiations.
What is Russia up to in the long term and what strategy or tactics is she employing? Here, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who talked about this issue too. In the same way that many noble Lords have said that Russia’s recent behaviour can be seen in historic terms going back centuries—not just to the 19th century but earlier than that—so its hybrid war, to use the phrase employed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, involving the Russian art of maskirovka seems to be the method employed. Is it part of a much larger and wider Russian campaign—or perhaps I should say Putin campaign—military, political and commercial, to influence and destabilise nations right across eastern Europe? One hopes not, but it is a consideration that one has to make. Indeed, I have a slightly frightening quotation from the defence journal VPK published last year in which Russia’s chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov explains that after invading Georgia in 2008, Russia's military thinkers decided to adopt new “methods of conflict” for the 21st century:
“Open use of forces, often under the guise of peacekeeping, is resorted to only at a certain stage”,
wrote the chief of staff. He continued that instead, the bulk of the fighting should be done through,
“the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures”,
including inciting foreign populations and using “concealed” armed forces. That is a frightening idea, but it may be rather too close to reality.
If true, these tactics seem to fly in the face of the idea of an increasingly civilised rules-based world. All these factors are of huge concern to those of us who want to have dialogue and fresh relations with the great country that is Russia. It is a great country. Its sacrifices against Nazism and fascism were so great that it is sometimes hard all these years later to appreciate them. The heroism of the Russian people was immense. Where would the world be, as has already been said in this debate, without the incredible culture and art that Russia has given the world? Yet there is now thrust on us, whether we like it or not, I am afraid, the necessity not only to engage with the Russians but to stand up and resist actions that offend against the principles of international relations and international law in the way in which the Russians have done in this calendar year. It is our duty to do so. We have to use caution and remain cool, but it is our duty. We cannot escape the consequences of these actions. I hope the Minister agrees with that analysis and I look forward to her reply.
My Lords, I, too, join in congratulating my noble friend Lady Falkner on securing this important debate—even more so because she was so prescient. She put the subject down in a ballot way back in July. Sadly, of course, she was right to do that because so many difficulties have developed over the summer it is very timely that we debate the matter now. I am also grateful to her for her valuable work in highlighting the situation in Russia and across the former Soviet Union, and to other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate today.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, finished with a challenge. Was he enunciating the right approach? I think that he was. Many noble Lords around the House have reflected on our relationship with Russia. They have put it within an historical context. We have heard from academics, such as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, to whom I always listen and read. We have heard from those with experience in the area, such as the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, and others who have business interests in Russia. There was also a reflection from the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, that we should re-establish our relationship with Russia. I can tell her that the relationship has not broken down and we are working at it. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out, over this summer Russia has taken action that is in breach of the United Nations charter and in breach of international law. It cannot be business as usual, but it is right to reflect.
I was intrigued by a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, which I hope I have got right in paraphrase. He said that we need to be robust in our relationship with Russia and that we need to reboot it. I think that that was a very interesting way of looking at it because we can take account of all the developments that have taken place so far. In doing that, of course we have to have the skills to negotiate. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether we have those skills. I am confident that we have them within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I may have been there only for around 10 to 11 weeks, but I am very impressed by what I have seen so far. On the basis of the briefings I have had since my arrival, I am confident that there is real expertise on Russian matters both in London and across our diplomatic network. I am also encouraged by broader initiatives to develop greater expertise. We have reopened the FCO language centre, which I think will assist us, as well as the Diplomatic Academy. However, the noble Earl was right to say that we should guard against complacency and I am very happy to write to him with further detail about the FCO’s position and how it ensures that the expertise does exist and persist.
Many references were made to the notion that we must not go back to the Cold War, but it appears as though we are trying to press Russia so hard that it is the direction in which we are going. That is not the case. It is Russia that has been making relationships difficult by its actions in Ukraine, not the other way round. Some 25 years after the end of the Cold War, it is clear that some of our hopes for the countries of the former Soviet Union have been dashed, at least for now. It is time for reflection and looking at the next steps. Some countries have indeed taken positive steps, including in the field of human rights, which is the core issue of today’s debate. But in general the situation of the rule of law and democratic principles in the region is a troubled one; there is no escaping that. At least part of the blame must lie with Russia, and there is no escaping that either.
We have had a range of valuable contributions from my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Moynihan, and from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, looking at the perspective of development from the time of the Cold War until now—at a time when some are calling this a “hybrid war” and asking where we should go next. I heard many Lords talk about their worries with regard to NATO expanding to take account of new countries, but I have to say clearly that NATO has to take its own decisions in the light of applications made to it. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, raised this issue, as did my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and my noble friend Lord Cormack. What I can say is that at the 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO agreed that Georgia would become a member of NATO, and we continue to stand by that decision. At the 2014 Wales summit just recently, NATO agreed a substantial package of support for Georgia. Those measures aim to strengthen Georgia’s defence and interoperability capabilities within the alliance, and help to advance its preparations towards membership. So while it is not happening tomorrow, one has to be in a position to be able to join; one has to go through the various stages to do so, but they are in train.
There was also a question about Ukrainian membership of NATO, with a lot of messages that this is a cause for deep consideration before further steps are taken. Under NATO’s open door policy, all European democracies are entitled to pursue membership. However, at this time the urgent priority for Ukraine is to find a way to bring the conflict there to an end. Our focus as the Government is therefore on the steps that will de-escalate the crisis and enable Ukraine to prosper as an independent and sovereign state. Throughout all this, I take again the message from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that Moscow needs to understand that military aggression, the destabilisation of a sovereign neighbour and the flouting of international commitments have serious consequences, and therefore it cannot be business as usual, but we can reflect and consider before taking further action.
Over the past two decades and more, we have endeavoured to build a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with Russia. We have supported its integration into the international community and the international rules-based system. But, as has been said, by Russia’s recent actions, the offer of partnership has been rejected and instead a path of confrontation has been chosen. That is something we regret. Through the peace negotiations we need to work towards making sure that the problems caused by Russia in its illegal annexation of Crimea and other activities in the area can, it is hoped, be undone to as great an extent as possible. But Russia’s actions in Ukraine demonstrate a staggering disregard for international law. Not all of Russia’s recent actions are without precedent. Looking back, we can see evidence of Russia using similar tactics to interfere in or put undue pressure on sovereign countries in the region but, as I say, its actions in Ukraine are on a different scale.
I was interested to hear the very robust response of my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond to the noble Lord, Lord Truscott. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, appeared to paint a picture whereby we picked a quarrel with Russia. No, we did not. It was not we who put pressure on Ukraine and it was not we who created the crisis. Russia made its own decisions. Through its illegal annexation, Russia violated Ukrainian sovereignty, and over the summer it has not stopped there. During this spring and summer, Russia has intensified its destabilisation activities in south-east Ukraine. They are aimed at preventing Ukraine from charting its own democratic course and making its own sovereign choices.
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, that we do not and will not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia; that is not going to happen. Those actions violated the various charters, so we will not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea.
What is the state of the UK’s bilateral relationship with Russia? We are trying to engage, although certainly the Russian leadership has rejected the path of negotiation and has chosen a path of confrontation over Ukraine. We deeply regret that, but it does not mean to say that we cannot try to work together in other areas. What we have said, together with our UK partners, is that we have always made it clear to Russia that a closer EU-Ukraine relationship need not be at the cost of a Ukraine-Russia partnership. I say this to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell. When Russia initially expressed concern about the association agreement in 2013, the EU quickly engaged in a dialogue to set out the facts and dispel the myths. We are committed to continuing that dialogue to provide a sustainable way in which to de-escalate tensions while still not allowing Russia to dictate Ukraine’s sovereign right of action.
My Lords, I wonder if the noble Baroness will recognise the difference between the European Union’s response to the Ukrainian initiatives and the initiative taken by President Putin in November 2010—he was the Prime Minister at the time—when he wrote an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung calling for a free trade area running from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Why did we not respond to that in a positive way, which might have reduced the significance of the Ukrainian view?
My Lords, I am not sure whether my noble friend was in the House when we started the debate—he may well have been—but there has been a lot of reflection throughout it on the relationship between this country and Russia. I am shortly to refer to EU sanctions and their impact on Russia.
There has been much comment during this debate to the effect that, “We’ve got it wrong. We didn’t expect Russia to change its attitude. We expected them to develop in a way that was going to be consensual throughout Europe”, but whatever could or might have been done in the past—but I suggest should not have been done—we are looking now at the situation that persists and I would not want to unpick that.
The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, asked whether we would have engagement with Russia on key international issues. Yes, indeed, we do. Regardless of what it has done, we have made it clear that we will engage on other key international issues, such as Iran, Syria and Islamic extremism—matters that other noble Lords have raised—and it is crucial that we continue those negotiating relationships.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, described so graphically, the attack on and illegal annexation of Crimea have caused severe problems to the people of Crimea and Ukraine during the summer. The Russian Federation not only stirred up a conflict that has caused suffering to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens but it has fuelled that conflict through the supply of troops, armour and sophisticated weaponry. That led to the very sad downing of civilian flight MH17 over Ukrainian soil. Russia has waged a campaign of disinformation and propaganda to mask the true cause of civilian suffering and human rights violations in Ukraine; namely, the actions of the Russian-backed separatists. It has also deployed troops and equipment directly in Ukraine. It says that it has not. Putin makes a joke about what uniforms people may wear; well, you can buy those in any shop. It is clear that Russia has provided not only materiel but troops within Ukraine. Putin plays smoke and mirrors; he is an adept.
We have noted from comments by my noble friend Lady Kishwer—I mean Lady Falkner; she is so much a friend that I use her first name—that families of Russian soldiers are not even allowed to know that their sons are fighting, and dying, in an illegal military operation against a neighbouring country. As she points out, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers found out that their sons were dying there and highlighted the fact that they were being secretly buried at home in Russia. For telling the truth, that committee is now on the foreign agents register. I find that absolutely extraordinary.
Noble Lords have spoken about how much we must encourage the ceasefire between Poroshenko and Putin to hold. They are having discussions in Milan this very week, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, referred to earlier. The plan which was set out and signed in Minsk on 5 September had several points to it. We are still waiting for Russia to complete its commitments. I know that Putin has this week reduced the number of troops on the Ukrainian border, but that commitment must transfer into a commitment to take troops out of Ukraine and to move the tens of thousands of troops away from the border not just while it is ASEM week in Milan but for good.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Cormack, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, referred to the Budapest memorandum. I say firmly that the UK is willing to engage on the basis of the Budapest memorandum; it is Russia that has refused to do so. But we do not give up. The position at the moment is that we would like to engage, but they will not.
I turn to human rights in the former Soviet Union. Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out not only how Russia has run roughshod over fundamental rules that govern relationships between states but that its actions have undermined the principles that govern the relationship between states and their peoples. It has subverted democratic principles and the rule of law both within and outside its borders and put human rights under serious pressure in a number of ways. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, used that as a lever to refer to issues around a Conservative Party announcement at the Conservative Party conference. We will have plenty of time to engage on that. Work on human rights is in my policy portfolio at the Foreign Office and I am working on it 100%. There will be no let-up in our enforcement as a Government of our duties with regard to human rights and I would expect all our duties on human rights to persist beyond an election whichever Government is in office, because it is part of our society. However, I think that a debate on the European Court of Human Rights really is for another day.
My Lords, I am aware that I am not going to be able to answer half the questions that I had hoped to do so.
Significant points were made on freedom of expression and belief by my noble friends Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Falkner and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. They spoke of the way in which human rights have been trampled on and how the media have been hindered in Russia. Indeed, we find that there is a foreign agents law, too, which prevents NGOs carrying out their proper function.
Torture remains a concern in many parts of the former Soviet Union—I have just been advised by one noble Lord that I should not say that—including states such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. My noble friend Lady Hodgson appealed for UK influence with regard to human rights and women’s rights in Kazakhstan, which she has recently visited. I will certainly take that back. She can be assured that we have put pressure wherever we possibly can.
Sanctions were referred to by many noble Lords. I shall refer to them briefly at this stage. Sanctions had to be imposed as a way of bringing home to Russia the import of its action in illegally annexing Crimea and its activity in Ukraine. They are having an impact, exacerbating negative trends in Russia’s economy, which shrank by 0.5% in the first quarter of this year. Sanctions of course are always under review—the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in particular referred to this—as to their effectiveness, but it is important that they remain.
Throughout all this, a rather bleak picture has been painted. As I finish, I simply say that we remain committed to upholding the rule of law, democratic principles and human rights in all the countries, Russia and those that surround it.
My Lords, it has been a remarkably focused debate given how wide the title was. I think that we have seen great unity around the idea that we must be clear about not threatening Russia through NATO enlargement to Ukraine, but only at this point. We have heard about the importance of diplomacy, powerfully expressed by a former Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Owen. I am sure that noble Lords were intrigued to hear about Conchita and the Eurovision Song Contest. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, is always capable of surprising us with his breadth of cultural background and understanding.
Overall, just one or two speeches seemed to suggest that we accept the current status quo as a fait accompli without reservation. However, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot turn away from law when it is breached by the mighty. I think that there was consensus on that overall in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, we have seen a shocking breach of international law and standards, and we cannot stand by.
I finish on the simple but powerful point put by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. We do not quite understand how very difficult it is for our diplomats to operate in countries that are authoritarian and have an atmosphere that lends itself to distrust when they go out and do their jobs. I want to put on record the assistance, good judgment and fortitude displayed by our current ambassador to Russia, Tim Barrow, and his deputy, Martin Harris—as well as the FCO team, who were denuded at the start of this crisis with a very small team. They have really risen to the challenge of being able to provide this country with the expertise it needs now.
We have heard today from many distinguished noble Lords. I am hugely grateful to them for having participated. The Hansard copy of the debate will surely merit further reading. On that note, I thank everyone who spoke.