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Volume 831: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to a multilateral approach involving a coalition of both Eastern and Western powers in resolving the crisis in the Ukraine.

My Lords, in February, at the UN General Assembly, 141 countries called on President Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine. This is the quickest way to end the war and deliver a just and lasting peace. The United Kingdom welcomes President Zelensky’s peace formula, which reflects principles of the UN charter. On Monday, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary chaired a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine, and we will work with the Ukrainian Government to follow up on June’s discussions in Copenhagen between the G7 and several G20 countries on the principles for sustainable peace in Ukraine.

My Lords, notwithstanding any difficulties we have with China, but recognising that China, like us, needs a peace process that stabilises its world markets while safeguarding as much as possible the sovereignty of Ukraine, could we not initiate a dialogue with China, drawing on its special relationship with Russia, that seeks an end to the conflict—a dialogue that promotes international protectorate status for Donetsk and Luhansk, and limited restoration of Russian oil supplies, substantially top-sliced to fund the cost of Ukraine’s reconstruction? Someone, somewhere, from a position of strength, must make the first move, as a policy of “last man standing” suits nobody. Can China open that door?

My Lords, the first thing I would say is that there is someone who can stop this war. That is Mr Putin, and he can stop it right now. We welcome the role China has played in engagement with President Zelensky, but these discussions about Ukraine must be led by Ukraine. As I said in my original Answer, we are working with key partners, including an extended engagement with the G20, including the likes of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India. This war can stop today: if President Putin withdraws from the occupied territories then peace can prevail. Let us not forget what he did yesterday: he bombed the very grain depots where he stopped that grain from leaving Ukraine. This is not a sign of peace; it is a sign of furthering war.

My Lords, I agree with the Minister 100%, but there is no case for the West telling Ukraine what to do in a settlement. It must be up to Ukraine’s elected Government, because after all it is their country that has been desecrated by this evil force that has invaded and committed war crimes. Surely we should reject the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That is why my right honourable friend convened a meeting of the UN Security Council. The UN, as an organisation, is set up for exactly these purposes. It negotiated the Black Sea grain initiative. It is Russia that stopped the Black Sea grain initiative. It is Russia that not only stopped it but then went and bombed the very same grain supplies. When we talk about food insecurity in the world, it is not Ukraine’s fault—it is Russia’s.

My Lords, I intervene early to completely associate the Opposition with the words of the Minister. We are at one with the Government on this: any peace process must be initiated and led by the Ukrainians. We fully support that. I also associate myself with the Minister’s comments on the outrageous bombing of the grain stores. I hope the noble Lord will convey to the African Union just what impact that will have on African nations and food security. On the International Fund for Ukraine, is the Minister satisfied that the £770 million is delivering what it set out to do? Ukraine needs arms and it needs them now.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and reiterate what I said in the Moses Room yesterday in thanking the lead shadow spokesmen on foreign affairs for both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. We are very much at one on this. The noble Lord will know that the United Kingdom has stood firm in its humanitarian, military and economic support. That is why we convened the Ukraine Recovery Conference. On the wider point that the noble Lord raised about peace, we are again very much on the same page. We are working very closely with Ukraine to ensure that all avenues can be explored, but any decision on the peace process must be led by Ukraine.

My Lords, these Benches also agree with the Minister in that regard. He referred to the egregious war crime of attacking the grain supplies; the hungriest and the poorest people on earth will be the victims of Putin’s aggression on this. Does the Minister agree that this provides an opportunity to say to those countries in Africa that are currently neutral that we can do two things with them? First, we can proscribe the Wagner Group, active in Africa, as I have called for since February last year; and, secondly, we can immediately restore humanitarian assistance for those suffering from acute hunger and malnutrition in the Horn of Africa. Restoring that, plus an active view on Wagner, will send very strong signals to the Horn of Africa and the African continent.

My Lords, both the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, referred to the important role of Africa. I will be travelling to Kenya at the start of next week, and that will be an opportunity once again to emphasise the importance of the Black Sea grain initiative—unfortunately and tragically these humanitarian supply lines have been brought to an end. Tragically, this is not the only action Russia has taken. We have also seen it reject humanitarian corridors to Syria; we sought to restore the current pathways, as well as those at al-Rai and Bab al-Salam. Russia rejected these. It is very clear that it is not Ukraine, western support for Ukraine or the 141 countries that have backed Ukraine that have blocked this and caused food insecurity; it is Russia, supported by a small number of countries. Of course I will take that back. On the issue of the Wagner Group, the noble Lord knows that I cannot go further. We have proscribed a number of key individuals, through sanctions, but on proscription overall I cannot comment any further.

My Lords, Mr Putin likes to depict himself as a strongman defending Mother Russia against perceived threats from the NATO alliance. Does the Minister agree that it would totally destroy Putin’s credibility, help end the suffering of the Ukrainian people and further the cause of world peace if the West were to openly offer Russia the bait of membership of NATO in return for its total withdrawal from Ukraine?

My Lords, I refer to Indian supply and the breaking of sanctions. There is no doubt that a large amount of oil is going to India, and is then being mixed up and sold on the open market as oil not from Russia. Are we doing anything to focus on this, not least because there is something like 40 or 50 tankers, which are actually very dangerous—they are not well fanned—being used to supply this oil around the world?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are working bilaterally with other partners and directly with India in raising the bar on the importance of sanctions to be sustained. Of course, the deals that have been done—what has been referred to as the “rouble-rupee” deal—have not actually leveraged anything beyond one particular deal that was done in December last year. I take on board what the noble Lord has said, but that is why we are engaging through the Copenhagen process, where we opened up to other G20 countries.

My Lords, can my noble friend bring the House up to date on the latest figures on the number of Ukrainian children kidnapped by the Russian authorities and resettled in Russia? Is he in touch with our allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are reported to be trying to broker a deal to return these children to their parents? Regardless of the success that our allies may have, does he agree that President Putin, and his many crimes against humanity, must be brought to justice for the dreadful business of tearing children away from their parents?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend we are doing just that. We are working with key partners in this respect, including the International Criminal Court and Karim Khan. The numbers run into hundreds, but I will update my noble friend when I have exact numbers that I can share with him.

My Lords, has the noble Lord seen reports this week that children are also being sent to Belarus? Will he ensure that the International Criminal Court investigates that, along with the previous reports of abductions to Russia? In answering the substantive Question that was asked this afternoon, will he also refer to those countries that have aided and abetted Putin, including China and including Iran, which has provided weapons to the Russians?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are working with the International Criminal Court on all elements. The taking of children from Ukraine, be it to Russian territory or Belarus, is abhorrent, and we are very focused on and seized of this. This is part of the conversations we are having with the chief prosecutor at the ICC. On the wider question of the malign influence of Iran, we are well-versed in that. It supplies drones. The issue of China I have covered. We have seen China at least not block action at the UN Security Council, and that action is welcome.