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Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Volume 757: debated on Wednesday 10 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for strengthening the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

My Lords, the Government are committed to strengthening the capacities of the OSCE, particularly in relation to its crucial role in the Ukraine crisis. In 2014, the UK has been among the largest contributors to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, providing more than £3 million-worth of funding and equipment and seconding more than 20 UK nationals. Additionally, more than 170 UK election observers joined the two OSCE observation missions in Ukraine this year.

I thank the noble Lord for concentrating his reply on Ukraine. Would he agree that violations of the ceasefire and the presence of Russian military equipment and personnel, as well as the devastation of civilian areas and the onset of winter and diseases, all make the case for strengthening the OSCE’s mandate and personnel in the field?

My Lords, at the Basel ministerial meeting of the OSCE last week, Russia was supported only by Belarus in resisting precisely the proposals that the noble Lord has just made.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that one of the great problems at the moment with the monitoring mission in Ukraine is that it also comprises Russian observers. He will also know that the border by which Russia enters Ukraine is about 100 kilometres long, but only 1 kilometre of that is actually monitored by the OSCE. Would he be able to tell us whether he believes that it is possible to resolve a conflict when one side to a dispute is engaged in assessing whether the other side is playing by the rules or not? That does not seem entirely fair.

My Lords, Russia is a member of the OSCE, which is one of the advantages of the OSCE. We wish that Russia were a more constructive member of the OSCE and we are very conscious of the heavy constraints under which the Special Monitoring Mission is now being forced to operate.

My Lords, one of the OSCE’s main purposes is to provide an inclusive regional instrument for early warning conflict prevention and crisis management. With this in mind, what more could the OSCE have done to prevent the conflict in Ukraine from developing?

It would be easier if we had all anticipated quite how the conflict might develop. Ukraine has many problems and its last Government were in some ways structurally corrupt. There is a great deal that Ukraine needs to change to recover its economy and provide a much better quality of governance. I have to say that the number of new Ministers in the new Government who have experience outside Ukraine and who are not part of this corrupt network is very encouraging.

My Lords, have the Government given some thought to the IMF announcement yesterday that Ukraine is going to need some billions unless it is going to collapse into bankruptcy? Russia will have won by default if that happens. Have we given some thought to that?

My Lords, we are acutely aware that Ukraine needs extensive and continuing financial support and the IMF is engaged in that—and we are talking about billions of pounds over the next two years. The IMF is leading on this and the European Union is a major player. We are conscious of the energy problems of Ukraine. People in Donetsk and Luhansk may possibly even freeze to death this winter if we are not careful. We are also providing assistance in energy sector reform.

My Lords, can we be clear that this is not just about Ukraine? There are other countries where Russia is doing something very similar: I, for one, would be worried about Moldova, given the electoral split in last week’s election. Are we raising at the OSCE the whole activity of Russia in neighbouring states by promoting dissent and, most importantly, providing support for it from outside, often with disguised troops?

My Lords, we have continuing, active and widespread dialogues with as many of those in positions of authority in Russia as we can. Those dialogues include Moldova and other frozen conflicts: in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

My Lords, may I press my noble friend a little bit on his last reply to me? Given that Russia is a party to the conflict—in other words, it is conflicted in being part of the monitoring mission—have there been any discussions with the leader of the OSCE mission to ask whether the Russians might stand down from this particular mission while remaining members of the OSCE?

My Lords, I very much doubt that. Russia is one of the major partners in the OSCE. We wish to retain Russia as a member of the OSCE and therefore we have to work within the very difficult constraints of 57-state membership.

My Lords, 25 years ago the Berlin Wall and the iron curtain were torn down by the bare hands of eastern Europeans, because they respected the moral authority and values that we express in the West. After yesterday’s report about the violations of the CIA in pursuit of other wars, where does the Minister think that that moral authority stands today?

My Lords, that is a very broad question, on which we might possibly have a full debate. Clearly, the report on CIA violations does damage the reputation of the West, but I stress that on Ukraine, the EU is leading. In answer to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has not raised on this occasion, it is not the case that the EU or NATO has tempted Ukraine to join. I was at a conference in Kiev in December 1991, when Ukraine had been independent for less than a month. The Foreign Minister declared as his opening statement that Ukraine had two strategic objectives for the next three years; the first was to join NATO and the second was to join the EU. I was asked to reply and explained that it was a little more difficult than he thought.

My Lords, since the noble Lord has mentioned me at such length, is it not true that President Putin offered a free trade agreement from Lisbon to Vladivostok in 2010 and that the EU responded with the offers that we all know about? Is it not true that Russia always made clear that it could not tolerate the Crimea going under the sphere of influence of Brussels and, eventually, NATO?

My Lords, the noble Lord obviously watches “RussiaToday” rather more than he watches the BBC. We are quite willing to discuss broader issues with the Russians. There are severe problems about negotiating a free trade agreement with a country in which the rule of law is so extremely weak.