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Ukraine: Minsk II Protocol

Volume 818: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking (1) to ensure that all parties implement the Minsk II protocol, and (2) to defuse the tensions over Ukraine.

My Lords, the Government support the Minsk protocols to deliver peaceful resolution to the conflict in full respect of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have condemned Russia’s aggressive acts and are working closely with our allies and partners to hold Russia to the commitments it signed up to freely, including the Helsinki Final Act, the Minsk protocols and the Budapest memorandum.

I thank the Minister for that reply. The problem is that Russia does not see NATO as a defensive alliance—rather, it sees it as a group of countries, some of which are openly hostile to Russia, refusing to give any security guarantees while expanding eastwards to Russia’s borders. Unfortunately, the memories of NATO’s bombings of Tripoli and Belgrade are fresh. We are facing a very different series of global threats since the Atlantic alliance was formed in 1949. President Macron talked about a new security framework for Europe; perhaps this is something Her Majesty’s Government should think about to secure lasting peace for future generations.

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, NATO is a defensive alliance. It was interesting to hear in the recent Statement of my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary—this is relevant to what we are discussing—that only 1/16th of the Russian border is actually shared with a NATO country. NATO is a defensive alliance, and it remains so. It is serving its purpose. We are working in unity, because what is required now is not just unity of words —it is unity of purpose and, indeed, unity of action.

My Lords, I have just been to a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador, where we discussed the Budapest memorandum. These were assurances given by the Russian Federation in 1994 that it would respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, which, of course, included the borders with Crimea. Putin has reneged on this. Should the international community not come together and condemn this bad faith from Putin and now the Russian Federation, and do it both at the United Nations and elsewhere?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that what we have seen from Russia is pure aggression. We should not forget that it is an occupying power in Crimea. We have come together; we are acting together within the context of the NATO alliance. My noble friend importantly points to discussions at the UN, and I assure him that we are engaging directly with partners but also bilaterally with Russia.

My Lords, the Normandy format is still of great importance. Are there any British officials taking part in the talks in Paris today under the Normandy process? The Minister knows that part of the Minsk II agreement is over the area of disputed territorial lines. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons yesterday:

“I think what we need to do, if I may say so, is build up an instant, automatic package of western sanctions that will come in automatically in the event of a single toecap of a Russian incursion into more of Ukraine.”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/22; col. 872.]

Is there agreement among all the western powers and our allies about what qualifies as incursion? We may well be asked to legislate in haste. Therefore, it is vital to know what an incursion is.

My Lords, on sanctions, let me assure the noble Lord—I know this is of interest to all noble Lords—that we are working very closely with all our allies and partners, particularly those who have such regimes. This is not an empty threat; this is a clear sanction against Russia for any incursion it makes in terms of territorial sovereignty. On noble Lord’s first question: that is not a group the UK directly participates in. We are aware of the meeting today; it is being held at political advisers’ level, and Russia is participating. I have seen some of the detail emerging, and I would not hold out too much hope as yet.

My Lords, as a young NATO soldier, I was occasionally in charge of the nightly train from Hanover to Berlin, to establish our rights of passage, despite Russian intransigence. Will the Government, while continuing to affirm our rights, use every diplomatic means to reduce fears of any expansion of NATO that may not have much practical importance?

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord will know from his own experience, insight and expertise, it is for a country to make an application to NATO. NATO is a defensive alliance, and when an application is made, a procedure is followed for allowing entry to new members. On the wider point about engaging with Russia and ensuring that every diplomatic channel is open, we are doing exactly that: there is extensive diplomatic engagement at every level, including from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, and other Ministers.

My Lords, if you follow on a daily basis the press reporting in both France and Germany, there is a narrative developing, that if only the United Kingdom and the US were less alarmist, the tensions could be reduced. That shows that reliable information is becoming increasingly important. I urge the Minister to look at two things: whether the BBC World Service is sufficiently covering the area; and whether those within the FCDO have the required language skills to ensure they are on top of any information that is coming out?

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, the FCDO has established language skills training for diplomats, and we engage directly, through those language skills, with countries around the world. Of course, there is always room to do more. I will follow up the matter that she raises about the BBC and see whether more can be done, but, of course, that is directly a decision for the BBC.

My Lords, does the Minister not accept that the Minsk II agreement has not been implemented on either side, and that what we need is to get negotiations going on an open basis between Russia and Ukraine, with the help of the French and the Germans, so that we can dial down the tensions and not keep on inching towards conflict, which is going to do no good to anyone and end up with body bags being sent back to Britain?

My Lords, no one wants to see body bags. But it is for Russia—Russia is the aggressor here. A key point is Crimea: Russia is occupying, under international law, sovereign territory of another country. We should not lose sight of that. We are seeking to work with our alliances, including NATO. We are working with key partners, and I have assured noble Lords that we continue to engage directly with the Russians as well.

My Lords, the Minister refers to action required to stop Russia taking this aggressive act. On Tuesday, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that the Government were bringing forward a register of beneficial ownership as part of their efforts to track down Russian money in this country. However, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, who had oversight of counterfraud, revealed in his resignation letter to Boris Johnson on Monday that, in a decision apparently taken last week, the economic crime Bill has been rejected for consideration during the next parliamentary year. Who is correct? I know who I believe.

My Lords, first, I acknowledge from our side, and indeed from across the House, the valuable services of my noble friend Lord Agnew, who served this House well. I recognise the important role he has played. As someone who has great respect for my noble friend, I listened carefully to the statement he made. The issue of illicit finance is important and it is a key priority for this Government. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has committed once again to ensuring that we weed out the fact that London is still used—I fully accept this—as a base for money laundering and illicit finance by some. We need to take further action. On the specific point about the Bill, I will refer to my colleagues at the Treasury and write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, it is right that we attend to the situation in Russia, but Ukraine is a deeply divided country. The situation is not helped by, for example, Ukraine’s decision three years ago to make Ukrainian the national language, precluding the involvement of some 50% of Russians in the south and east of the country, who speak only Russian. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to bring economic development and social cohesion to try to strengthen and bolster the life of Ukraine, as it faces this threat?

The right reverend Prelate is of course correct that it is important to recognise the diversity of different communities, and indeed different people, within Ukraine. Ukraine is a partner and we are working in a very constructive way. While the focus right now is rightly on the security of Ukraine, I assure the right reverend Prelate that we have a full range of programmes, relating to both the economic empowerment of countries and communities and working with civil society. I visited Ukraine just before Christmas and saw directly, for example, how faith communities are working together. There is a lot of work still to be done, but we are working directly and constructively with Ukraine in various areas.