The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 25 January.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement about the United Kingdom’s response to the situation in Ukraine. This winter, we have witnessed a spectacle that we hoped had been banished from our continent: a large and powerful country massing troops and tanks on the border of a neighbour with the obvious threat of invading. Russia has, of course, already attacked Ukraine, illegally annexing 10,000 square miles of her territory in 2014 and igniting a war in the Donbass region. Ukraine has scarcely known a day of peace ever since. Now, Ukraine faces the danger of a renewed invasion and, this time, the force arrayed on Ukraine’s frontier comprises over 100,000 troops—far bigger than anything that Russia has deployed against her before. If the worst happens and the destructive firepower of the Russian army were to engulf Ukraine’s towns and cities, I shudder to contemplate the tragedy that would ensue.
Ukrainians have every moral and legal right to defend their country, and I believe that their resistance would be dogged and tenacious and the bloodshed comparable to the first war in Chechnya, or Bosnia, or any other conflict that Europe has endured since 1945. No one would gain from such a catastrophe. Russia would create a wasteland in a country that, as she continuously reminds us, is composed of fellow Slavs, and Russia would never be able to call it peace.
For months, Britain has worked in lockstep with the United States and our allies across Europe to avoid such a disaster. We have sought to combine dialogue with deterrence, emphasising how a united western alliance would exact a forbidding price for any Russian incursion into Ukraine, including by imposing heavy economic sanctions. At the same time we stand ready, as we always have, to address any legitimate Russian concerns through honest diplomacy.
On 13 December, I spoke to President Putin, and I stressed that NATO had no thought of encircling or otherwise threatening his country, and that Russia enjoyed as much right as any other state to live in peace and security. But, as I said to him, Ukraine also enjoys an equal and symmetrical right to that of Russia, and I said that any attack on his neighbour would be followed by tougher sanctions against Russia, further steps to help Ukraine defend herself and an increased NATO presence to protect our allies on NATO’s eastern flank. The truth is that Russia’s goal is to keep NATO forces away from her borders, and if that is Russia’s goal, then invading Ukraine could scarcely be more counterproductive.
My right honourable friends the Foreign and Defence Secretaries have both conveyed the same message to President Putin, and I am of course prepared and ready to speak to him again. Meanwhile, the American deputy Secretary of State met her Russian counterpart in Geneva on 10 January, and the NATO-Russia Council gathered two days later, as the House knows. The American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, met the Russian Foreign Minister last Friday, and the US Administration have confirmed President Biden’s willingness to have another meeting with President Putin, continuing the bilateral dialogue they began last year.
But credible deterrence is the other side of the coin. Last night, I held a virtual meeting with President Biden, President Macron, Chancellor Scholz, President Duda, Prime Minister Draghi, Secretary-General Stoltenberg, President Michel and President von der Leyen. We agreed that we would respond in unison to any Russian attack on Ukraine—in unison—by imposing co-ordinated and severe economic sanctions heavier than anything we have done before against Russia, and we agreed on the necessity of finalising these measures as swiftly as possible in order to maximise their deterrent effect.
We in the UK will not hesitate to toughen our national sanctions against Russia in response to whatever President Putin may do, and the House will soon hear more on this from my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. We have already declassified compelling intelligence exposing Russian intent to install a puppet regime in Ukraine, and we will continue to disclose any Russian use of cyberattacks, false flag operations or disinformation.
Amid all these pressures, Ukraine asks for nothing except to be allowed to live in peace and to seek her own alliances, as every sovereign country has a right to do. Last week, the UK acted to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend her soil by supplying anti-armour missiles and deploying a small training team of British personnel, in addition to the work of Operation Orbital, which, as the House will know, has trained 21,000 Ukrainian troops since 2015. Yesterday, we took the responsible precaution of temporarily withdrawing some staff and dependants from the British embassy in Kiev, although I emphasise that the embassy remains open and will continue to provide consular assistance for British nationals in Ukraine, and I am particularly grateful for the dedication of our ambassador in Kiev, Melinda Simmons.
I commend our NATO allies for the steps they have taken and are taking to protect the eastern flank of the alliance. Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic and deploying four F16s to Lithuania to join NATO’s long-standing air policing mission; France has expressed its readiness to send troops to Romania under NATO command; and the United States has raised the alert level of 8,500 combat troops, preparing to deploy them in Europe at short notice. The British Army leads the NATO battlegroup in Estonia, and if Russia invades Ukraine we would look to contribute to any new NATO deployments to protect our allies in Europe.
In every contact with Russia, the UK and our allies have stressed our unity and our adherence to vital points of principle. We cannot bargain away the vision of a Europe whole and free that emerged in those amazing years from 1989 to 1991, healing the division of our continent by the Iron Curtain. We will not reopen that divide by agreeing to overturn the European security order because Russia has placed a gun to Ukraine’s head, nor can we accept the doctrine implicit in Russian proposals that all states are sovereign but some are more sovereign than others.
The draft treaty published by Russia in December would divide our continent once again between free nations and countries whose foreign and defence policies are explicitly constrained by the Kremlin in ways that Russia would never accept for herself. More than half of Europe, including a dozen or more members of NATO and of the European Union, would be only partially sovereign and required to seek the Kremlin’s approval before inviting any military personnel from NATO countries on to their soil. The Czech Republic—at the very heart of Europe, hundreds of miles from Russia—would have to ask the Kremlin for permission if she wanted to invite a company of German infantry to join an exercise or even to help with flood defences.
There is nothing new about large and powerful nations using the threat of brute force to terrify reasonable people into giving way to otherwise completely unacceptable demands, but if President Putin were to choose the path of bloodshed and destruction, he must realise that it would be both tragic and futile. Nor should we allow him to believe that he could easily take some smaller portion of Ukraine to salami-slice, because the resistance will be ferocious.
Anyone who has been to Kiev, as I have, and has stood by the wall of remembrance and studied the portraits of nearly 4,500 Ukrainians who have died in defence of their country since 2014—the total death toll stands in excess of 14,000—will know that the Ukrainians are determined to fight and have become steadily more skilled at guerrilla warfare. If Russia pursues this path, many Russian mothers’ sons will not be coming home. The response in the international community would be the same and the pain that will be inflicted on the Russian economy will be the same.
When I spoke to President Putin, I reminded him that at crucial moments in history, Britain and Russia have stood together. The only reason why both our countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council is the heroism of Soviet soldiers in the struggle against fascism, side by side with ourselves. I believe that all Russia’s fears could yet be allayed and we could find a path to mutual security through patient and principled diplomacy, provided that President Putin avoids the trap of starting a terrible war—a war that I believe would earn and deserve the condemnation of history. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, this is one of those occasions where we start with questions because the Statement is not being repeated. I am sorry not to have the Statement repeated today because it is perhaps one of the very few occasions these days where there is, rightly, a very high degree of agreement between the Government and the Opposition, so the noble Baroness may have enjoyed repeating it on this occasion.
It is also significant that this issue was one of the questions when I was a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s “Any Questions?” programme last Friday. The audience response, first in putting forward that question and then their response to the answers, really highlighted what I think is genuine public concern on this issue.
Earlier today, I watched one of those live video film cams from Odessa. All of us have heard and seen interviews with those in Odessa, Kiev and other areas of Ukraine. People are trying to go about their daily lives and their work, but at the same time, they are living in fear of a Russian invasion as 100,000 troops with tanks and missiles hover at the borders.
Observing all this reminds me, and may remind others, just a little of reading George Orwell’s 1939 novel Coming Up for Air, where there is a pending war clearly in the atmosphere of everyday life. For those now living in Ukraine, it is more immediate and very much at their door. The Russian presence on the borders is unacceptable and unjustified aggression, and we have to be resolute in our total solidarity with Ukraine, with unreserved support for the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. As the risk of conflict escalates, we support attempts at negotiation to de-escalate the current situation.
However, this Russian intimidation has not occurred in a vacuum. The annexation of Crimea and support for separatist conflict in Donbass illustrates why we should be so concerned at this further Russian aggression. We welcome all steps, as outlined in the Statement, to bolster Ukraine’s defence capabilities alongside those global efforts to find a diplomatic solution. International solidarity with Ukraine is crucial. Putin will seize on and exploit any division. Russia must be aware that its actions provoke unity that will have consequences both for its economy and its place in the world.
Ministers must prepare for all potential next steps, and that means working with targeted sanctions with allies to confront Russia’s access to the international financial system. Globally agreed sanctions are one of the most effective tools at our disposal, but they have to be agreed and implemented multilaterally. On that specific point, can the noble Baroness the Leader outline how the UK is working with our NATO and European allies to ensure these sanctions are readily drafted and able to be implemented?
On energy, the UK and Europe must also consider our overreliance on Russian energy supplies, including the proposals for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which could fuel—bit of a pun there—even further dependency. On that point, can the noble Baroness the Leader confirm what recent steps the Government have taken to press for the cancellation of Nord Stream 2? Given recent reports that the United States is in talks with gas-producing Gulf states to increase supplies in the event of Russian invasion—however viable that may be or otherwise—can the noble Baroness confirm whether Ministers are currently engaging with European allies which are particularly reliant on Russian gas? While the impact on our supply may be less, it could well put further upward pressure on prices.
I want to turn to the issue of finance. I think we also have to address the long-term failure of the Government to rid our economic and political systems of the ill-gotten gains used to support the Putin regime. If we take our obligations to global security seriously, we cannot go on allowing ourselves to be the world’s Laundromat for illicit finance. It is astonishing that, more than 18 months after the Russia report was published, none of its recommendations has been fully implemented. We have put forward four proposals, and I hope the noble Baroness can respond on this.
First, we need to reform Companies House, because we need to crack down on shell companies. As a matter of urgency, we should be introducing a register of overseas entities. In your Lordships’ House, we have had debates—I can see the noble Lord, Lord Alton, nodding, as he has raised this issue on a number of occasions—about the origin and extent of Russian money buying up property and assets in the UK. Despite the Government’s Elections Bill that would make foreign donations to political parties easier, we need tougher regulations on overseas political donations. The Russia report was cross-party and at its core was our national security. It has to be implemented in full.
While we hope that all diplomatic efforts and threats of sanctions will lead to Russia changing course, the reality is that, whatever the outcome, we should have long ago addressed these issues. To be clear, we cannot stand up to Russian aggression abroad while facilitating Russian corruption at home. The Government need to get a grip and implement these measures. It would be helpful tonight if the noble Baroness could confirm that the Government will do that or explain why not.
As I said at the very beginning, at the heart of this are real people trying to live their lives, to go to work and to raise their families. They are having to stockpile food. They do not know what tomorrow brings. Ukraine should be free to determine its own future without fear or interference from Russia. It is up to the UK and our democratic allies to support that. However, we cannot escape the fact that, in recent years, Russia has produced a clear pattern of aggression which should have meant that we were better prepared for this moment and our ability to respond. As much as our immediate focus should be on deterring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and acting accordingly if it does so, the recent actions of the Putin regime must represent a wake-up call for the UK, Europe and NATO.
My Lords, as the Statement makes clear, the situation in Ukraine is now extremely perilous. The precise intentions of Russia are unclear, but if it were to launch a major invasion, as the Statement makes clear, the consequences would be horrendous. The Prime Minister set out the three strands of action which any attack would provoke from the UK and our allies: first, tougher sanctions on Russia; secondly, further steps to help Ukraine defend itself; and, thirdly, an increased NATO presence to protect our allies on the eastern front. These are all sensible and necessary, but I would like to concentrate on the issue of sanctions.
The Statement talks about imposing co-ordinated and severe sanctions against Russia should an attack take place. Clearly, economic sanctions are one area where we can really impact on the ability of the Russian regime to continue business as usual. It is, of course, unfortunate that sanctions are being discussed by the EU and the US with the UK often not being in the room. This means in reality that we will have no option but simply to follow what they decide. In practice, this may be of relatively little consequence, but it demonstrates how being outside the EU reduces Britain’s influence. More generally, it has been notable how small a diplomatic role the UK has played compared to France, Germany and the US. Having a Prime Minister who is spending several hours a day attempting to persuade his own Back-Benchers not to end his own political career does not help, nor does the Foreign Secretary’s peculiar sense of priorities, which puts a visit to Australia ahead of being involved in European and broader international discussions on Ukraine.
Whatever common sanctions are adopted, the UK has an ability to take unilateral action that can have a major impact on the kleptocratic Russian regime. This is by moving against Russians and their money in the UK, particularly in London. A number of measures need to be taken, but three could be instituted immediately. First, the Conservative Party is a major beneficiary of Russian money. This includes 14 members of the current Government, of whom six are in the Cabinet, including the Chancellor. The Conservative Party could decide today to stop taking donations from wealthy Russians, many of whom have links to the Putin regime. Will it do so? Secondly, one of the reasons so much Russian money is laundered in London is that it can done secretly. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has already alluded to this. For six years, the Government have promised to introduce a register of beneficial interests in overseas companies. Indeed, yesterday the Prime Minister stated—incorrectly, incidentally—that the Government were already doing so, but they are not. My colleague Layla Moran MP has just introduced a Bill to this effect in another place. Will the Government now fast-track this Bill, given that it enacts government policy, so that it can be in place before the end of the Session? Thirdly, Russian oligarchs benefit from “golden” visas which enable them to buy the right to live in the UK. Will the Government now stop this practice?
The Government are going to be faced with some extremely difficult judgment calls in the weeks ahead, as events on the Ukrainian border unfold. The measures I have just proposed are simple, easy to effect and would hit the Russian elite where it hurts most—in their pockets. The measures are all long overdue in any event, but the current emergency makes them even more necessary.
President Putin’s understandable desire to keep any vestige of democracy at bay in Russia means that he is willing to threaten, bully and, if he thinks he can get away with it, act illegally to preserve the regime. However, he acts only having weighed the costs. By the range of actions which we now take, or signal that we will take, if he crosses the Ukrainian border, I hope we can persuade him that the game is not worth the candle. Sanctions form a key part of those costs, and the Government should start acting on them without delay.
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. They are both absolutely right that Russia’s pattern of military build-ups on the border of Ukraine and in illegally annexed Crimea are unacceptable and an attempt to destabilise Russia’s democratic neighbours and exert control over them.
Russia’s deployment is not routine. It is equipped with tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, rocket artillery and short-range ballistic missiles. As we have made very clear—I am very grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their support on this—a Russian incursion would be a terrible strategic mistake and subject to severe consequences, including, as both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned, co-ordinated sanctions to impose a severe cost on Russians’ interests and the Russian economy.
I can reassure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that earlier this week, the Prime Minister agreed with the leaders of the US, Italy, Poland, France, Germany, the European Council, the European Commission and NATO that allies would enact a swift retributive response should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen, including an unprecedented package of sanctions.
I am afraid I do not recognise the noble Lord’s assertion that we are not central to these discussions; we are. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary was at NATO today talking to the Secretary-General and, as noble Lords will know, the Prime Minister has been in regular contact with colleagues across Europe and the United States on this. We are working together and we are unified, and we continue to have these ongoing discussions. The Secretary of State for Defence also has an agreement with his Russian counterpart to meet. Details of those conversations and their timing are being discussed; obviously, we will make noble Lords aware once that has been confirmed.
We are looking at a package of broad and high-impact sanctions to raise the cost of further aggressive actions. We are working very closely with our allies, and sanctions have been central to our deterrence posture. The preparation of the package of sanctions, which is going on, by the UK and our allies is a clear signal to Russia of the significant economic cost it could and would bear if it invaded Ukraine.
Just to broaden on sanctions for a second, the noble Lord rightly said that we can take action ourselves, and we have done so. As he will be aware, last April we launched the new global anti-corruption sanctions regime, which enables us to impose asset freezes and travel bans on those involved in serious corruption around the world. We made immediate use of these powers and announced sanctions on 22 individuals who have been involved in serious corruption from six countries, including 14 individuals from Russia, and we have imposed sanctions under our autonomous global human rights sanctions regime on 25 Russian nationals who are responsible for appalling human rights violations in the case of Sergei Magnitsky. Therefore, across the board we have taken action and we will continue to do so.
The noble Baroness asked about energy. As she knows and said, we are not dependent on Russian gas supply; in fact, less than 3% of our gas was sourced from Russia in 2020. We meet around half of our supply from within British territorial waters and the vast majority of imports comes from reliable suppliers such as Norway. She is absolutely right: in our view, Nord Stream 2 is not compatible with Russia’s aggressive actions and we remain opposed to it. We regularly raise our concerns about Nord Stream 2 with our European colleagues and will continue to do so.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness both mentioned the ISC Russia report. As they will be aware, we published our response immediately on publication of the report. Many of the recommendations are already in train and we are continuing work on further implementation. For instance, we have already implemented the NSC-endorsed Russia strategy and established a cross-government Russia unit. We have repeatedly exposed the reckless and dangerous activity of the Russian intelligence services, called out Russian malicious cyberactivity, and introduced a new power to stop individuals at the UK border to determine whether they are or have been involved in hostile state activity.
We have set out our plans to establish a register of beneficial owners for overseas entities that own UK property to combat money laundering and achieve greater transparency in the property market, and we have been clear about our intentions to significantly reform Companies House to strengthen our ability to combat economic crime.
The noble Lord asked about visas. The NCA has increased investigations into corrupt elites and we are currently reviewing all tier 1 investor visas granted before 5 April 2015, so action is going on there.
The noble Baroness asked about the registration of overseas entities. We are planning a Bill that will ensure transparency for foreign-owned land in the UK; currently it is easily disguised through offshore companies.
We are taking action on multiple fronts to crack down on economic crime. In recent years we have established a new National Economic Crime Centre to co-ordinate the law enforcement response, we have introduced new powers, including unexplained wealth orders and account freezing orders, and we have published a fraud strategy. I accept that there is more to do, but we have certainly been taking action in this area and will continue to do so.
More importantly, however, on the broader issue we are working closely with our allies and partners to make sure that we support Ukraine at this incredibly difficult time.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House share my concern that some western negotiators may view eastern parts of Ukraine as bargaining chips that could be included in a negotiation? Does she share my feeling that that would be a terrible precedent to set and that the Government of Ukraine would certainly view it as a betrayal?
My Lords, instead of dwelling on Russian aggression, why do Ministers not read the recently released declassified material in the National Security Archive at George Washington University? It reveals the security assurances given to the Soviets against NATO expansion in the names of Baker, Bush, Genscher, Kohl, Gates, Mitterand, Thatcher, Hurd, Major and Wörner. The Russians, ever conscious of the 20 million lost in the last war, and with external threat in mind, nevertheless believed the undertakings and compromised. Talk now of the abrogation is causing today’s crisis. Before issuing irresponsible threats, should everyone not read the archive material, which is available in our Library?
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s Statement ends with some important words:
“I believe that all Russia’s fears could yet be allayed and we could find a path to mutual security through patient and principled diplomacy.”
That is the way. I do not associate myself with all the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, but one has to remember that 26 million Russians were killed in the last war. One has to remember that many Russians have folk memories and folk fears, and it is therefore very important that patient diplomacy, showing, as the Prime Minister says, that we understand those fears, provides the only real, sensible way forward.
Certainly, I agree. In fact, NATO stands absolutely ready to engage in constructive dialogue with Russia to discuss mutual security concerns and has invited Russia to further sessions of the NATO-Russia council—it had its first meeting in two years recently—to discuss arms control, risk reduction and transparency measures.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the issue of NATO is, as the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, recently said, a straw man and that the invasions of Crimea and eastern Ukraine had nothing whatever to do with membership of NATO? Given the number of Statements and Questions—I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her remarks this evening, not least for what she said about economic crime—is there not a case for a full-scale parliamentary debate in your Lordships’ House? There was general indignation on Monday that it had taken a year for a report on Afghanistan finally to be debated when many of its prescient recommendations and points might have averted some of the catastrophe that occurred in August, which has so emboldened so many aggressors around the world.
In endorsing what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said about sanctions, I refer the noble Baroness to the remarks of President Biden overnight. He said that this
“would be the largest invasion since World War II”
and would carry “enormous consequences”, including sanctioning personally Mr Putin. Is that also the position of Her Majesty’s Government?
I have said that we are working closely with our allies to co-ordinate sanctions to maximise their deterrent impact and to limit as far as possible any negative impact on the UK or our partners. I am grateful that the noble Lord recognises the number of opportunities that the House has had to discuss these important matters over the past few weeks—there was a Question earlier today in which noble Lords had an opportunity to be involved—and there are opportunities for Back-Benchers to raise and debate issues.
Scarcely. I have never commanded a ship.
First, I associate myself with, particularly, the wise comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. Having listened to the questions, does the noble Baroness the Leader agree that mediation and diplomacy should be pursued until the last moment, seeking to find ways to give both sides the opportunity to withdraw—particularly the Russians from their completely unjustified threats? The one thing we can be sure of is that, once war starts, all control of the situation will be completely lost, possibly for years, and the casualties will be terrible. Secondly, what provision are the Government making, should the worst come to the worst, to support the very large number of refugees and the huge needs for humanitarian support that will inevitably be part of fighting in the late winter in eastern Europe?
I thank the most reverend Primate. He is absolutely right: diplomacy is the only way out of the current situation, but Russia must uphold the international commitments it has freely entered into and respect the sovereignty of Ukraine. I reassure noble Lords that we remain open to efforts by Russia to reduce tensions and encourage her to engage with transparency and de-escalation mechanisms, such as the OSCE and the NATO-Russia Council, as I mentioned. Further such council meetings have been offered to discuss a whole range of issues, and that is the way forward: to de-escalate and engage in meaningful discussions. The US Administration has also confirmed President Biden’s willingness to have another meeting with President Putin, continuing the bilateral dialogue they began last week, so a lot of effort is ongoing on that side of things as well. We are providing £40 million in official development assistance and other funding to Ukraine in the coming year.
My Lords, I do not need to rehearse the unacceptable things Putin has done, but we need to be very careful that we are not making empty threats but that they are co-ordinated, because, if something goes wrong, you have to show that you have made threats that you can fulfil, otherwise these things grow and grow and get worse and worse. I must say, as an aside, that sabre-rattling is not very good when the number of sabres you have seems to be getting fewer and fewer all the time.
I believe that Putin has been boxed into a corner now. He understands the problems, and does not want to get into a quagmire in Ukraine. It is incumbent on us to try to ease his escape from the corner he is in by negotiating or renegotiating an agreement. That will, I fear, mean there must be concessions on both sides; that is the whole point of an agreement. Difficult as it is, that is what one must do, but we must not concede any fundamental principle. Who from the UK, if anyone, is helping to redraft the proposed security guarantee agreement that Russia put to NATO—it put another one to the US? Who from our side is helping to redraft that, so that we can submit a new agreement proposal to Russia?
My understanding is that there is a press conference this evening, possibly now, from NATO setting out NATO’s position. Antony Blinken did a press conference earlier, just before this Statement, on the US’s position. There is action on both those fronts that may well be public by the time we have finished this discussion.
My Lords, in a previous answer, the Leader referred to the sovereignty of Ukraine, and a passage in the Statement reads:
“nor can we accept the doctrine implicit in Russian proposals that all states are sovereign but some are more sovereign than others.”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/21; col. 863.]
In the course of our discussion in this Chamber, reference has been made to the Minsk II protocol and the suggestion that it could be used as the basis for negotiation. I urge the Government, through the Leader of House, to consider the fact that there is a school of thought that the Minsk II protocol contains two irreconcilable interpretations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and that, were it to be implemented, it would destroy Ukraine as a sovereign country. If that is a serious opinion, I hope that the Government will take it into account.
My Lords, to follow up on the question from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, two months after Stalin’s death, Churchill said in another place:
“I do not believe that the immense problem of reconciling the security of Russia with the freedom and safety of Western Europe is insoluble.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/5/1953; col. 896.]
The fact is that Ukraine was a creation, as much as anything else, of Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, and it is a very odd country indeed. We started many of the problems that we now have when we chased Yanukovych out of office. In the Prime Minister’s Statement, he says we should
“address any legitimate Russian concerns through honest diplomacy.”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/21; col. 861.]
The problem is that what we regard as legitimate, they do not, so I should like to rephrase that and ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will seek to get together a conference, with everything on the table, to try to get some sort of agreement.
My Lords, in responding to the Front-Benchers, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said, regarding dirty money, “I accept there is more to do”. She may be aware of the report yesterday from the Center for American Progress, a think tank known for being close to the Biden Administration, suggesting what to do if Russia invades. In its recommendations, it mentions, at paragraph 1.2, the formation of a
“U.S.-U.K. counter-kleptocracy working group.”
It explains this by saying that the US should propose the working group
“in part to prod stronger action from the U.K. government.”
Will the UK Government be waiting for that prod, or will they take stronger action immediately, not in the long-term future?
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of Crown Agents, which supplies Covid vaccine to Ukraine. I think a further debate on Ukraine would be useful, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested. I am interested in the position of Germany and France, which were, of course, involved in the Minsk protocol, signed after the 2014 Ukraine crisis. How far are they aligned with UK thinking at present—especially Germany, given its particular trading interests across eastern Europe?
We are working very closely with our allies. I am sure my noble friend will be aware that, today, there is a political advisers meeting taking place in Paris of the Normandy Format—France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia. Although we were not part of that process because we are not within that group, we actively support France and Germany’s efforts, and are working very closely with them.
My Lords, President Putin might be shooting himself in his foot, because it is conceivable that any external troops might remain in the event of any cross-border activity. That is something that he particularly does not wish to have happen. That said, what are President Putin’s stated suggestions to defuse the situation, and what is his reaction to Ukraine and its allies’ responses to those suggestions? Finally, what note has been taken of the hardliners around President Putin, who are very much in play in what Russia does?
As I have said in answer to a number of questions, we stand ready to engage in constructive dialogue with Russia to discuss mutual security concerns. Last week, for the first time in two years, there was a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, and there has been an offer of further sessions to discuss arms control, risk reduction and transparency measures. There are, therefore, mechanisms by which issues can be discussed by all parties to try to defuse and de-escalate the situation.
My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the number of Russians who died in the war, but one must not forget the number of Poles killed and murdered when, together with Germany, the Soviet Union attacked Poland. To what extent do the Government really feel that, in the end, the only thing that is really important to Putin is the pipeline, and whether Germany, in due course, will give way to allowing it, because it needs that gas?
As I said in response to the noble Baroness’s question about Nord Stream 2, we do not believe that it is compatible with Russia’s aggressive actions. We remain opposed to it and we continue to raise our concerns with our allies and partners to highlight the strategic risks of this project.
My Lords, this might not be a popular question to ask, but it is a very dangerous situation. The House knows that one of the options is war if President Putin makes the fatal mistake of invading Ukraine, but just before entering the Chamber, I listened to Secretary of State Blinken make his statement that the United States has put questions to and answered questions from Russia. He made a point of saying that he will not reveal what the United States has said. The reason for that, as I understand it, is that if you are to have diplomacy and give it a chance, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, it is very difficult, and patient diplomacy takes a great deal of doing. Perhaps it is better that an element of space is given to enabling the negotiations to take place.
I remember the Cuban missile crisis from when I was a young person, and that was a terribly dangerous time but, as those who have read a little about it will remember, it was giving the other side the opportunity to withdraw and save face that stopped, in that case, a nuclear exchange. In this case, I hope it would stop a very unnecessary and deeply damaging war.
The noble Lord is right, which is why, as I said, diplomacy is the only way out of the current situation. There are a number of forums through which diplomatic channels are open, and we want to use them; we are urging Russia to use them, as are our allies. We will try to make sure that we can de-escalate the situation because, as the noble Lord says, the quagmire of a long-running conflict would be catastrophic for all sides.