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Ukraine: NATO Membership

Volume 819: debated on Thursday 24 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, if any, (1) to encourage Ukraine to apply for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and (2) to build support among other members of NATO for any such application.

My Lords, the United Kingdom strongly condemns the appalling, unprovoked attack that President Putin has launched on the people of Ukraine. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The United Kingdom remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. We fully support the partnership relationship between NATO and Ukraine, and we remain committed to the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration in which all NATO allies agreed that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance. In 2020, NATO welcomed Ukraine as an enhanced opportunity partner as a means of enhancing its interoperability and co-operation with the alliance in order to support Ukraine’s continuing programme of internal reform.

My Lords, those of us who have tried to help Russia through the Council of Europe, the Russia APPG et cetera, are bitterly disappointed that the categorical denials of any intention to invade Ukraine have been torn up, and we were not told the truth. I support the work of the Minister and ask whether, as a first step, he would consider recalling our ambassador in Moscow for consultations and suggesting that the Russian ambassador in London might also return to Moscow to find out why he was ordered to lie to us.

I thank my noble friend for his remarks, and I can share that, as I was coming to your Lordships’ House, the Foreign Secretary announced that she will summon the Russian ambassador to the Court of St James today. These are fast-moving events. I cannot comment on the specifics of what my noble friend raises, but we are working with key partners in NATO and our colleagues in the European Union. I have just this morning returned from the United Nations, and I think I speak for every single member of your Lordships’ House when I say that we unequivocally condemn the actions of the Russian state and of President Putin. Even at this juncture, it is time for him to withdraw. Peace over war is always a better option.

My Lords, I am taking the unusual step of intervening straight away just to echo the comments of the Minister. He knows that the Opposition fully support the Government in all their actions to ensure that the democratic sovereignty of an independent nation is protected. We should do everything in our power to support Ukraine and to ensure that we work with all of our allies to bring this to an end. He knows that later today the Prime Minister will make a Statement, and I know that we will have an opportunity to consider that ourselves. So I am not going to pose a question to the Minister; I just wanted to express our support for the Government’s actions to ensure that Russia is defeated on this matter.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. He and I spoke earlier this morning, when I updated him on key parts of the situation as it unravels. He is of course correct; I believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be addressing the country as I speak. There will be further opportunities during the day to raise questions on elements of our response to this unwarranted, unnecessary and unprovoked aggression of the Russian state against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that this demonstrates what some of us have said all along: that the question of Ukraine’s NATO status has always been a smokescreen and a pretence by Russia, which is in fact determined to destabilise Ukraine and prevent it becoming a stable democratic country? If that is the case, I hope that we will hear tomorrow from him and other Ministers how we will respond to what is after all a war of choice and a war of aggression, and thus a war crime.

The noble Lord speaks with great insight and experience. I assure him—indeed, all in your Lordships’ House—that the whole purpose of my being at the United Nations yesterday as part of the General Assembly debate was, again, because of the brinkmanship that was being shown by President Putin. He went to the brink and has now stepped over the line. We will of course outline further action and further details during the course of today. I understand from my right honourable friend the Chief Whip that a debate on Ukraine is also scheduled for tomorrow, and I am sure that we will be discussing further details of statements that will be made during the course of today.

My Lords, we on these Benches also support the Government in their reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, but we wonder whether it would be possible to go further; obviously, we will be discussing sanctions later. For example, one of the issues that has faced Ukraine for months is the attack on its cyber system. To what extent might NATO be able to give support from its Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, which is based in Estonia?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for her support. Again, it is important that there is a single unitary voice from your Lordships’ House and across both Houses of Parliament against this unprovoked Russian aggression against a sovereign state. On the issue of cyber, I was in Estonia about 10 days ago as part of our engagement on broader issues. I met our forces on the ground there and looked at our capabilities, including cyber. We are, not just through NATO but directly, offering the Ukrainian Government and Ukrainian people our full support. However, I would add that cyber is a challenge that is being met and felt not just by the Ukrainian people; we have felt it right here in the UK as well.

Will my noble friend keep reminding his colleagues that Russia is in some senses half an Asian nation as well as a European one, and that we need not only a united NATO, which I think we are moving towards, but the strong and full financial and commercial engagement of the great powers of Asia to establish the pariah status of Russia in Mr Putin’s mind?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend and can assure him that, later today, I will host a meeting with the ambassadors of the UN Security Council members in the Court of St James. It is important that we see unity. Of course, we fully expect any resolution to be vetoed by Russia in the Security Council, but there will be further debates in the General Assembly in which we will look to show the maximum level of support across all nations.

The other thing that is often forgotten is the point made by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary: around 1/16 of Russia’s border faces countries that are members of the NATO alliance. So we need to put this into context and perspective as well.

My Lords, I join the Minister and my noble friend Lord Collins in their condemnation of what is a crime against the peaceful people of Ukraine. It ought to be condemned at every turn. Suddenly in these circumstances we are talking about and debating the issue of NATO expansion, when it was not an issue at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, this plays exactly to Putin’s playbook. It is of advantage to him only because it distracts from urgent matters—namely, Russia’s problems, which are driving his criminal behaviour. President Biden, who, over the course of two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, has grown sceptical about expanding US military commitments, has been open and honest with the Ukrainians about the unlikelihood of them meeting the current criteria for membership. Will the Minister do likewise and help to put this issue to bed now, so that we can concentrate on what is actually happening?

My Lords, I have already outlined the Government’s position on Ukraine’s NATO membership, as and whenever that might take place. Of course, there are certain criteria, which have been detailed and shared with the Ukrainians. If they meet those criteria, it is a choice for Ukraine to join NATO and for other member states to agree its membership. However, at this particular juncture, I agree with the noble Lord that our focus should be very much on the situation as it is unravelling. We offer Ukraine our full support in every respect and are working, together with our NATO allies and our partners across the European Union, in the context of the United States and others, to ensure that this message is received in Moscow very clearly: its actions were not just unprovoked but are an act of aggression against a sovereign state. Pull back, and pull back now.

My Lords, the Minister spoke of the importance of a unitary voice; of course, he is absolutely correct as far as this place is concerned. However, in his initial response he also touched on matters relating to the European Union. Is he aware that, yesterday, both Italy and Austria prevaricated in their support for sanctions? Indeed, Hungary is directly opposed to sanctions. What will the Minister do to encourage these states to come in line with what is the right thing to do?

My Lords, I can share that, among my meetings at the United Nations yesterday, I met the Foreign Minister of Germany. We welcome the decision made by the German Chancellor to pull back on Nord Stream 2. That shows the real sense of unity prevailing across Europe. It is my understanding that, later today, there will be an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting, which will discuss the very issues that the noble Lord raises.