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Russia and Ukraine: Settlement

Volume 822: debated on Thursday 26 May 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the circumstances in which they would endorse the terms of a settlement between the government of Russia and the government of Ukraine regarding the current conflict.

My Lords, we applaud Ukraine’s efforts to engage in dialogue in the face of continued Russian aggression. The United Kingdom and our allies support Ukraine’s efforts to secure a settlement that delivers a sustainable peace in line with established principles of European security. Any outcome needs to ensure Russian withdrawal and a ceasefire, and to strengthen Ukraine so it is able to deter future Russian aggression and, if necessary, defend itself.

My Lords, why, prior to a war now riddled with Russian atrocities, did we reject the December 2021 Russian-proposed talks on a draft treaty covering security guarantees, arms control, self-government within Ukraine for Donetsk and the maintenance of the existing corridor of non-nuclear barrier states from Finland to the Black Sea? Jens Stoltenberg agreed to the talks; why did we not? Russia’s proposed treaty was only in draft. Why did we not use it—indeed, why do we not use it—and build on it as the basis for negotiation and at least try to end this proxy war? There is a copy of the draft treaty in our Library.

My Lords, there is a simple answer to that. Any partner to a negotiation needs to uphold the rule of law. Russia has repeatedly failed, including in 2008 through its aggression in Georgia and in 2014 through its annexation of Crimea. Those were illegal acts of aggression, as is the current war in Ukraine.

My Lords, has my noble friend read the speech of Henry Kissinger in Davos, where he advised attendees at the conference not to get swept up in the mood of the moment and suggested that negotiations to end the war had to begin in the next two months

“before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily”

contained? He suggested that the starting point for negotiations should be the pre-invasion de facto borders. Does my noble friend agree that Dr Kissinger is no woolly idealist but a hard-headed diplomat with a very distinguished record? However inconvenient it may be, should not his advice be carefully studied?

My Lords, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Kissinger a couple of years ago. When we look at any conflict, all wise words need to be listened to, of course. What is equally important, however, is that the sovereignty and integrity of every nation are protected.

My Lords, I completely agree with the Minister. If there is to be a negotiated settlement, as President Zelensky says there must be, Ukraine must be in the driving seat. But what can we do to support President Zelensky’s objective? When I met Barbara Woodward this week, she stressed that the Secretary-General is now much more proactive in trying to bring the parties together. There are also opportunities for bilateral support. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to support those objectives?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. He and I have been speaking about this consistently throughout. I am glad that he met Ambassador Woodward. We continue to engage through all multilateral channels, particularly on humanitarian issues. We were first in line; indeed, I spoke with the Secretary-General in New York about the importance of engaging with all sides. Even at that time, as the noble Lord knows, Russia would not entertain a visit from him. Later today, I will meet the Ukrainian prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova, who is in town, to discuss our support for her work on the ground. We will continue to work with Ukraine, particularly on the current situation around food security, to which my noble friend Lord Lamont alluded. That issue is not just about Ukraine and Russia; it is about the whole world.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to emphasise the importance of holding to account those who are responsible for war crimes in places such as Mariupol and Bucha, as well as for the illegal invasion of Ukraine. There is no moral equivalence between Ukraine and Russia here. Will the Minister report back to the House on what action is being taken to bring to justice those responsible for these terrible events? Also, will he say more about the opening up of grain supplies? This issue is now jeopardising people living in places such as east Africa and the Horn of Africa, where 20 million people already facing chronic drought and famine-like conditions will now be denied grain as a result of the blockade of Odessa.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that, as I have already mentioned, I have a meeting later today with the prosecutor-general, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary. The work we are doing through the ICC will also be a point of discussion. Yesterday, along with the United States and the EU, we announced an advisory group to look at aggression. We welcome the first prosecution that has taken place on the ground. On the noble Lord’s wider point, we have put additional funding and support into the Horn of Africa, primarily on this very issue of food security. I have visited north Africa and will do so again later next month.

My Lords, the element of futility in Putin’s human rights atrocities and slaughter of the people of Ukraine is that the current bombardments are purely within the buffer area of the Minsk agreements. Some of us do not take our foreign policy lead from Henry Kissinger. There have been calls from the Republican right to negotiate on that ceded territory. The Foreign Secretary is on the record as saying that the UK’s sanctions will be in place until all Russian troops have left Ukrainian territory. The very thing that Putin wants at this time, in what will be a long-term, protracted conflict, is western division. What mechanisms are in place for the UK to use to ensure that such division does not arise?

My Lords, it has been very important to show unity of purpose and unity of action. The noble Lord mentions the role of sanctions. As he said—I believe this passionately—the sanctions have worked because, where one country or region has led in front of others, we have co-ordinated and worked together. Those sanctions are hurting Russia, Mr Putin, the Russian Government and all those who support them. It is important that we retain them. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said—I am in total agreement with him—any negotiation must be led by Ukraine and it is the job of any ally, partner or friend to be firmly behind Ukraine.

Your Lordships will know that, in 1938, France and the United Kingdom imposed on Czechoslovakia a deal that they had come to with the Third Reich. This is not a good precedent. The Government have rightly been praised from both sides for their actions on Ukraine. Can my noble friend assure me that we are talking to our allies, in particular France and Germany, to ensure that they do not try to impose their own settlement on Ukraine? It must be the Ukrainians who lead; we support them.

My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend. The Government are engaging at the top level. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister engages regularly with President Zelensky on the principles that he has articulated. Let us be clear: President Zelensky has said “Let’s meet” directly to Mr Putin. It is important that we get behind his efforts.

Does the Minister recall that the Foreign Secretary spoke of reclaiming all the lands lost by Ukraine, which would presumably include Crimea and be a recipe for continued and long-term conflict? That was at a time when President Zelensky was speaking of returning to the borders of 24 February, although I concede that he has hardened his line a little. Essentially, he has been pragmatic. Was it not unwise of the Foreign Secretary to be more hard-line than the President?

My Lords, what my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary articulated was on the basis of international borders and recognising the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine. The 2014 annexation of Crimea was illegal.

My Lords, in relation to the impending food crisis and the 20 million tonnes of grain that are being held hostage by Russia in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Rudenko offered yesterday to provide a corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, but only if some sanctions are lifted. What is the Government’s position on this?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that food security is very much at the forefront of not just our thinking but our policy. Over the next three years, we will direct more than £3 billion of support to the most vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa. Yesterday, in engaging with G7 partners, Foreign Minister Kuleba said, I believe, that this agricultural crisis will not be for just one cycle but will be repeated.

There is grain in Ukraine currently. The issue is that Odessa and the Black Sea are blocked and mined. This requires Russia not just to show full co-operation but to pull back. It could demine certain parts where the Ukrainians themselves have provided mines—they know where they are—as part of the support. Equally, however, what guarantees do we have once we get into the Black Sea? That is where Crimea comes in. The Black Sea allows Russia to embargo any ship going through. Of course, mines remain a constant challenge.

My Lords, it is quite clear that the early euphoria about how Ukraine is doing must now be tempered. There is no doubt that the Russians have twigged what a shambles they have made of this and are now focusing on much smaller areas; for example, in the Donbass. This war will grind on and Putin shows no desire to have some form of agreement. We know that he behaves appallingly and that Russia lies about these things. That means that this war will continue because he will not come to the table until he finds that it is causing real pain and the sanctions start to hit. It is therefore important that we keep supplying weapons to Ukraine and keep up that flow.

Can I ask a precise question? A lot of the weapons we have been providing and sending to Ukraine are from orders that were for people in western Europe. We have not let contracts to enable our arms manufacturers to produce these weapons for our own stocks and to replace the weapons being used in Ukraine. Can the Minister confirm that these orders will be let because this has gone on and on and that has not happened?

My Lords, without getting into the specifics of each contract—of course, that is a Ministry of Defence lead—I will look through the noble Lord’s question and answer appropriately.