Skip to main content


Volume 758: debated on Thursday 8 January 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their most recent assessment of the position in Ukraine.

My Lords, we remain very concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine. While the verbal ceasefire agreed on 9 December has led to a decrease in shelling and casualties, Russia continues to supply the separatists with weapons and personnel. We welcome recent diplomatic activity and we hope that the talks scheduled for mid-January in Astana will result in all parties fulfilling the commitments that they made in Minsk in September.

My Lords, is not the stark reality that so far diplomacy has failed, that economic sanctions have made Mr Putin more aggressive rather than less and that the West will have to be prepared to engage in a Cold War with Russia and to rearm accordingly?

My Lords, I do not adopt my noble friend’s route to rearming and I am not as pessimistic. Perhaps that is because I am ever hopeful and because I am impressed by the level of diplomacy delivered through our Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as through our colleagues throughout the European Union, the United Nations and the Commonwealth, all of whom have a common view. Yesterday the Prime Minister met Chancellor Angela Merkel and in his press release he made it clear that we continue to stand by Ukraine and that, although he and Chancellor Merkel regretted the fact that this was a second G7 summit without Russia,

“We both want to find a solution to this crisis ... Russia is rightly feeling the cost of its illegal actions … And … we’ll be discussing how we try and keep up the pressure”.

The Normandy format talks that are expected to take place next week, on 15 January, in Astana are promising and deserve to be given a chance.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the huge increase in Russian defence expenditure, particularly on its whole nuclear triad, with brand new ballistic missile submarines, a brand new ballistic missile and a brand new attack submarine with a new cruise nuclear weapon, while it is also running its nuclear trains again—all the indicators that during the Cold War would have had me terrified as Chief of Defence Intelligence. There is also the articulation of Putin’s policy of de-escalation, which in fact, when you read it, is talking about nuclear escalation. Is it not time to inject a sense of urgency into these talks? We are constantly getting near misses over the Baltic. Things are very risky indeed and we need to have proper talks, fully involving the Russians, who I believe have a real and proper interest in the Ukraine. We also need to give a sense of realism to some of the Ukrainian expectations. We need to get this going quickly with everyone involved, including the Russians, otherwise we might move towards a scenario that none of us would like.

My Lords, I entirely sympathise with the noble Lord’s views. The talks that are expected to take place next week will indeed involve the Russians with Mr Poroshenko, Monsieur Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, and those talks deserve to be given a chance. The Russians are feeling the brunt of sanctions, as they should for their illegal occupation of Crimea and for what they are doing in sending their troops into eastern Ukraine and making the humanitarian situation there worse. Diplomacy can be a strong tool—let us ensure that it is.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that an absolute precondition for any change in sanctions has to be that Russia observes the commitments that it entered into in Minsk and that those commitments are verified by international organisations such as the OSCE? Could she perhaps say how she would characterise the proposition that if we had not been so beastly to Mr Putin, he would be behaving a lot better?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord’s proposition with regard to the fact that the Minsk protocol must be adhered to by Russia; it must have oversight by the OSCE. It is absolutely clear that being beastly to Mr Putin has been no part of this country’s activity. We have sought to make sure that Russia keeps within its international commitments and international law, to which it has signed up. Nobody is to blame for what is happening to Russia now except Mr Putin.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that a political collapse in Ukraine will have not only profound security but also economic consequences for the entire West? Will she therefore tell the House why the international and multilateral institutions are being so very cautious in putting in place a Marshall plan for Ukraine? If the Ukrainian Government collapse, it will be too little, too late if this caution continues to prevail.

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is aware that the IMF has been carrying out a study within Ukraine. It was clear when the Ukrainian Government put forward their first budget, which was adopted by the Rada, that there was a shortfall—it did not properly reflect the need for international activity. We are now waiting for the IMF to report on its findings before we can make further estimates about what action to take. I understand entirely why my noble friend is so concerned.

My Lords, I declare an interest as reflected in the register. Will the Minister agree with me that the winner of this argument will be the party that brings economic development in particular to western Ukraine rather than picking fights with the Russians and their friends in the east?

My Lords, we are not picking fights with the Russians; it was the Russians who invaded and took Crimea. We are simply making sure that we hold them to their international obligations. The noble Lord is right to point to the importance of the development of Ukraine, but first, of course, they have a lot to do in addressing reform in their country, in particular corruption.

My Lords, is the Minister confident that the West and the international financial institutions are geared to prevent an imminent collapse of the economy of Ukraine? The conventional figure being bandied around is $27 billion, but she may have noticed in this morning’s Financial Times that George Soros was talking about $50 billion and saying that the defence of the economy of the Ukraine is effectively the defence of the West. Are we geared to respond adequately?

My Lords, we are watching very carefully what will happen when the IMF reports. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is absolutely right to draw attention to what could be a very severe development and I am aware of Mr Soros’s article this morning. However, until we see the assessment by the IMF, it would be improper of me to make a guess as to what action we should take. It is clear, however, that we and our allies across Europe and in the United States are determined that Ukraine should be able to continue to receive proper support.

My Lords, just as “General Winter” did for Napoleon in Russia, is there not a good chance that “General Oil Price” will do the same for Vladimir Putin?

My noble friend is far more expert in matters of energy and oil prices, but we have all noticed the drop in the oil price to below $50 a barrel, which is having a severe effect on the Russian economy. However, certainly as far as Mr Putin is concerned, with regard to Ukraine there is a straightforward answer to achieving the relaxation of sanctions, which is to abide by the Minsk protocol and to remove his troops from a sovereign state.

Does my noble friend heed the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord West, earlier on in these exchanges about no excessive overreaction in the West, bearing in mind that Russia—not only Putin, but many people in Russia—feel very resentful about American triumphalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with overreaction, threats of new missiles and so on? The whole long litany of mistakes made by the West has caused Russia to find excuses for bad behaviour.

My Lords, given that Mr Putin invaded a sovereign state and has seized part of that sovereign state, where the humanitarian situation, in particular for Crimean Tatars, is deteriorating, our response has been moderate and proportionate.

My Lords, we must not forget those Ukrainians living in Crimea who now find themselves under the Russian state. Could the Minister update us on what representations have been made on their behalf and, in particular, whether the OSCE monitors have made any progress in gaining access and finding out what is going on?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to raise these issues. We are still trying to ensure that the OSCE monitors gain access to Crimea, as they should be permitted to, but there have been many obstacles in their way. We are aware that conditions for the Crimean Tatars have deteriorated. That is a matter of great concern, which is discussed by us and our allies across Europe with the ICRC and other humanitarian organisations.