I beg to move,
That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.
I thank you, Mrs Gillan, and Mr Speaker for this opportunity to debate the situation in Ukraine. I also thank the Minister for Europe and the Americas for coming to respond to the debate, and my colleagues from the all-party parliamentary group.
Some people might ask, “Why should we be interested in what is happening in Ukraine?” Some might draw a comparison to what Chamberlain said about Czechoslovakia, that it is a “far away country” about which we know little. If they do, they make the same mistake Chamberlain made. Ukraine matters to us. It is a country in mainland Europe whose territory has been violated by an aggressive neighbour, and one that is on the frontline of what is becoming a new cold war.
I first visited Ukraine in 2008 with the all-party group, including, I think, the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan). At that time, Ukraine was under the leadership of President Yanukovych, a corrupt leader who was inclined toward Russia, but who nevertheless, at the time, was committed to Ukraine signing an association agreement with the European Union as an eastern partnership country. As is well known, in November 2013, President Yanukovych was instructed by Putin to reverse that position and drop the policy. Within a few weeks, Independence Square in Kiev was filled with thousands of protesters, the beginning of what was known as Euromaidan. Two months later, the shooting began. Over 100 people were killed, and they are known as the heavenly heroes.
The Revolution of Dignity led to the overthrow of Yanukovych and the installation of a new Government, but it also provided the pretext for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its stepping up of support for separatist movements in Donbass. Doing so was a clear violation of the Budapest memorandum, signed by America, Russia and this country in December 1994, which guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for its agreement to give up its nuclear arsenal, at that time the third largest in the world. For that reason alone, I believe that we in the UK have a responsibility to Ukraine.
What my right hon. Friend is saying makes perfect sense, particularly his description of the Russians’ involvement. Those of us who serve on the Council of Europe are determined that Russia’s bid to come back to the Council should be accompanied by concessions. The biggest concession I want to see is its removal from Donbass. Does he agree with that?
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. I want to see the entire territorial integrity of Ukraine restored, including not just Donbass but Crimea. In the immediate future, I believe he is right and I am delighted to hear of his work on this question in the Council of Europe. We need to put maximum pressure on Russia to withdraw its support from the terrorists in east Ukraine, and I will say more about that.
As well as our obligation through our signature on the Budapest memorandum, we also have a strong interest in supporting a country in mainland Europe that, as I have said, has had part of its territory occupied, in which a conflict continues between the Government and pro-Russian separatist groups, armed, supplied, led and reinforced by Russia. The evidence of Russian involvement is overwhelming. We have seen the so-called humanitarian convoys coming from Russia into east Ukraine: white lorries that appear to contain no humanitarian assistance, but which mysteriously lead to a sudden increase in the amount of shelling and gunfire shortly after their arrival. Of course, we also saw an outrageous act, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner MH17, in which 298 people died. The latest evidence of the telephone intercepts between the separatist leader and a character called “Dolphin” suggest that he was indeed a Russian general.
Just over two weeks ago, I visited Donbass with my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely). I particularly thank my opposite numbers, the co-chairmen of the UK friendship group in the Ukrainian Parliament, Svitlana Zalishchuk and Alex Ryabchyn, who organised the visit and accompanied us throughout it. I also thank the Ukrainian ambassador, Her Excellency Natalia Galibarenko, and Denys Sienik from the Ukrainian embassy, who helped us.
It was an extremely valuable, informative and often moving visit. We went to Avdiivka, the biggest coke-producing plant in Europe, built by the Soviets to supply the Mariupol steelworks. It was subject to heavy shelling during the conflict and still sees occasional shelling, but despite that, it is operating at something like one third of its original capacity. I pay tribute to the people there who continue to work under such pressure.
We also met students from a language school, who had had to move out of their homes—mainly in Donetsk—which are now under occupation. They are attending the language school in Bakhmut, outside the occupied area, but most of them have relatives left in Donetsk. We heard from one young girl whose grandmother is still living in Donetsk, and whose mother felt she could not leave her and so stays in Donetsk. The girl goes to visit them, but in doing so she has to go through checkpoints, and she described the intimidatory nature of that experience. We went to visit the rehabilitation unit for soldiers who had been injured or wounded in the conflict, and we saw the work done by a small team of dedicated doctors to help them with both mental and physical wounds incurred as a result of participating.
Unlike some of the frozen conflicts across Europe for which Russia is responsible such as those in South Ossetia, Abkhazia or Transnistria, this conflict is not frozen but ongoing. Since its outbreak, over 10,000 people have died and about 1.5 million people have been displaced. Two days ago, Russian troops fired Grad multiple launch rocket systems on Novoluhansk. Over the last week, four Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and nine have been wounded. The UN has said that the humanitarian crisis in east Ukraine is
“worse than it’s ever been”,
and has called for support for the humanitarian response plan, which amounts to $187 million, to help 2.3 million people in east Ukraine.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He has mentioned young people and humanitarian matters. Could he give us insight into the circumstances surrounding health and hospital provision for the people of Ukraine?
The military hospital we visited is one of the main ones in Dnipro, and it is under tremendous stress. The people living in occupied east Ukraine are struggling to survive, in terms of both basic necessities like healthcare, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and things such as pension payments. The Ukrainian Government are attempting still to provide support to those people, but in terribly difficult circumstances, which is contributing to the humanitarian crisis.
The UK gives support to Ukraine; I understand it is in the order of £42 million, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, but to be honest it is not enough. I hope that we look again at increasing our financial aid, particularly for humanitarian purposes.
We also need to step up the diplomatic effort; the Foreign Secretary is going to Moscow this weekend, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister has only recently returned from Moscow. We first need to urge Russia to abide by the terms of the Minsk II agreement; I very much echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said about that. We need to allow proper monitoring by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the removal of all foreign-armed formations, military equipment and mercenaries, as set out in Minsk II.
In particular, I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will condemn Russia’s recent decision to withdraw from the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination, which is a direct violation of Minsk II and will also increase the risk to the OSCE monitors there. I hope my right hon. Friend will raise that, or will ask the Foreign Secretary to raise it during his visit. As I said, I believe that Ukraine deserves our support, but that support has to be accompanied by further reform. It is a sad truth that, as in most post-Soviet countries, corruption is still endemic in Ukraine, although I recognise that Ukraine is only a 25-year-old state.
My right hon. Friend is right to say that corruption in Ukraine is endemic. However, to give that some context, it is also true that corruption has been a deliberate policy of the Russian state, in order to hollow out the Ukrainian state and to undermine and subvert Ukrainian statehood. Does he agree that that is an important point to understand?
That is a very important point and I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He is more knowledgeable than I on Russian hybrid warfare, and this is undoubtedly a component. I am sure he will say a little more about that in his contribution.
While there are still big problems, we should recognise that progress has been made. In the last three or four years, the Ukrainian Government have set up three institutions to tackle corruption—the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption—which have brought something like 319 proceedings.
The Ukrainian Government have also brought in an advanced electronic system for the disclosure of assets, income and expenditure of public officials and politicians, which has led to 910,000 declarations from top officials. I have to say that I have seen the declaration requirements on Ukrainian MPs, and they go considerably further than the declaration requirements on Members of this House. There have also been reforms to public procurement.
However, while progress is being made, there are worrying signs that it is now stalling. While proceedings have been brought against public officials, none have really come to a conclusion; indeed, most are stuck somewhere in the judicial system. An anti-corruption court, which is an essential part of the reform package, has yet to be put in place. We heard on our visit to a non-governmental organisation, Reanimation Package of Reforms, that something like 25% of the recent appointments to the Supreme Court, which has been newly established with a fresh set of judges, failed the integrity test.
There is huge frustration among the people of Ukraine that no one has really been brought to justice, either for the crimes committed during the Maidan or for the massive theft of public assets that has been going on for many years. Most recently, and perhaps most worryingly, Reanimation Package of Reforms has identified the fact that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau has been attacked in Parliament, with attempts to curtail its operation through legislation. Its operations have also been disrupted by the Ukrainian security services, which are probably acting on behalf of the Government.
Those are worrying signs, and we must press the Ukrainian Government to continue with their reform package. That is essential if the Government are to re-establish confidence in Ukraine, which will unlock the investment that will give it an economically viable future.
I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman’s flow; he speaks with such authority that he commands the respect of the Chamber. In terms of our bilateral relationship on anti-corruption and good governance, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a great deal of the UK’s credibility at the moment comes from our being a member of the EU? If, possibly, we withdraw from the EU, how will we be able to maintain that relationship? What does he think a post-Brexit bilateral relationship between Ukraine and the UK might look like?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not share his views about our membership of the EU. The requirement is on all the western nations. The truth is that the biggest contributor to the future stability of Ukraine in both military and financial assistance is likely to be the United States of America. Canada, too, is playing an extremely important role. Yes, the EU is involved, but a country does not have to be a member of the EU to want to help Ukraine. I hope we will put together assistance packages in order to do that, and that is almost bound to be led by America. That should apply during our remaining time in the EU and also when we have left.
There is an interesting proposal from the Lithuanian Parliament, and I met Mr Andrius Kubilius, the former Prime Minister of Lithuania, to discuss it. It proposes what is essentially a new Marshall plan—a massive investment package—but it can only be contemplated if it is accompanied by the kind of reforms that I think everybody who looks at Ukraine, and its people, most of all, want to see.
As the right hon. Gentleman is discussing a new Marshall plan for the region, does he agree that anti-corruption measures must take priority and precedence before significant and hopefully worthwhile investment takes place? We need a climate of which we are reasonably assured, in so far as anyone can be, that the anti-corruption measures have been successful.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. If we are to expect the international community, particularly the business community, to invest in Ukraine, it has to have guarantees that the system is fair, that it will secure a return on its investments, that it will not be suddenly be hit by mysterious taxes that have been invented overnight or that it will have to bribe public officials to get contracts. Those things have to be put right, and that is widely recognised.
The only other issue on which my right hon. Friend the Minister, who I know is aware of this, can help is the particular concern expressed by Ukrainians about the difficulty they experience obtaining visas to visit this country. I have just sent my right hon. Friend a letter signed by 21 Members of the Ukrainian Parliament that sets out their concern that the refusal rate for visa applications to come to the UK has risen over the last three years from 9% to 25% with no real explanation. Not only are a lot of visas refused, in cases where they have been granted they have actually been issued after the flight to bring the applicant to this country has left, requiring them to rebook at considerable expense.
The Ukrainians believe that part of the reason for that is that Ukrainian visa applications are dealt with in Warsaw. Something is clearly going wrong. I recognise that this is not the direct responsibility of my right hon. Friend, and I know that he has talked to the Ukrainian Parliament and Government about this, but I urge him to talk to his and my colleague in the Home Office who is responsible. Ukraine is worth supporting.
For the record, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, during the Russian onslaught in eastern Ukraine, many Christian churches have been destroyed, Baptist pastors have gone missing, never to be seen again, and people have been displaced? When it comes to human rights, does he accept and agree that we need to see a softening of Russian attitudes towards those with religious beliefs, who have been persecuted specifically because they speak out on social issues on behalf of people and are very vocal in their areas? People are going missing and disappearing. That is wrong.
I agree. The role of all the Churches in Ukraine is very important. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church plays a leading role. I was due to meet the Chief Rabbi of Kiev the other day, since there is a Jewish community there that is also important. Clearly the Churches have a role and can assist in the humanitarian effort in east Ukraine—I very much agree.
I want to finish by saying to the Minister that Ukraine is worth supporting, first because it is a country of huge economic potential. It has a population of 45 million, with 99.7% literacy, and it has the biggest reserves of black soil in the world. If that could be exploited, it could feed most of Europe. We should support Ukraine because it is our frontline against Russian aggression. We are facing an expansionist, resurgent Russia that is using military, economic, information and cyber attacks in an attempt to steer Ukraine away from the pro-western path of development. If Russia succeeds in Ukraine, we should be in no doubt that its ambitions will not stop there. It is very much in our interests to give Ukraine our support.
Order. About five Members have put in a request to speak, and others are now indicating that they want to speak. I am not proposing to put a time limit on speeches, but I ask you all to keep an eye on the clock as you speak. I call Douglas Chapman.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I sincerely thank the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for bringing such an important issue to the Chamber.
As we all know, Ukraine has been an independent nation since 1991, following the break-up of the USSR. Like other former Soviet states, starting a new state has been difficult and far from a pain-free process for Ukraine. The fledgling state has also had to deal with living in the shadow of a powerful near neighbour, the Russian Federation, which in 2014 annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine in a clear violation of international law.
The situation is at best tense and fractious, and at worst violent and murderous. Some of the headlines from just the past week outline the severe difficulties that Ukraine faces and the almost impossible and violent situation that has developed in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. For example, Reuters reported this week that the OSCE says that fighting in eastern Ukraine is the worst since February. It also reports clashes in Kiev as protestors demand Poroshenko’s impeachment. The TASS news agency says, “Russia warns US and Canada against weapons supplies to Ukraine.” The BBC reports, “Ukraine Crisis: Russian truce monitors to leave,” and yesterday the Financial Times reported, “Reforms to root out corruption must continue if the independent state is to flourish”. There are a range of headlines from various news sources. From just one week of headlines, the situation seems solution-free and the problems intractable.
Our driving force to create peace and find solutions must take account of the fact that since 2014, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives in eastern Ukraine, 1.5 million people have been driven out of their homes and an estimated 800,000 people remain under threat in the area affected by fighting, including 100,000 civilians who live in the “grey zone” that sits between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists. From a UK perspective, the relationship with the Russian Federation must be improved. Although its disregard for Ukraine’s borders and international norms makes progress difficult, refusing to engage with Moscow is not a feasible foreign policy option given both that the UK and Russia are nuclear powers, have a place on the UN Security Council and have a hand in the security of Europe. One good thing that the current Foreign Secretary has done is to thaw some of the relations between London and Moscow; the previous incumbent made a point of not speaking to his equivalent number in Moscow or even the Russian ambassador in London for months on end.
The real pain is being felt by Ukraine and its citizens. I have fairly regular and good contact with the Ukrainian ambassador and her staff in London and have sought regular updates on the political situation in Kiev and especially in what is effectively a warzone in eastern Ukraine. During my time on the Defence Committee, we considered the issue of hybrid warfare, which is designed to confuse, create misunderstanding and blur lines of responsibility.
There is no doubt in my mind and in that of the international community that those are the tactics employed by the Russian Federation in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine. They allow the aggressor to simply shrug their shoulders and say, “But they’re not our troops. It’s not our fault. They’re nothing to do with us.” In reality, we all know that they are. The Scottish word for that kind of behaviour is “sleekit”, but where thousands of people have lost their lives, sleekit is not quite strong enough a description of Russia’s behaviour, and its actions should be condemned.
We need to work harder in three areas. The first is with Russia on its abuses of human rights, freedom of expression and the rules-based order. Secondly, the Government should exert influence by utilising civil recovery powers to seize UK-based assets of Russians. In those circumstances, the London housing market may take a hit, but that price is worth paying to make Russia wake up to its international responsibilities. Thirdly, imposing on Russia tougher sanctions than are currently agreed to and applied by EU member states would be another way of ensuring that Russia understands how seriously the west is taking the situation in Ukraine. An issue for another day might be to see how the UK would impose such sanctions post-Brexit, what changes would ensue and how much it would cost to apply UK-administered sanctions in those circumstances.
Ukraine, as an independent country, must be allowed to build its own future. Internal problems such as political corruption are being tackled positively, but it is more difficult in an unstable political environment to see through the required changes. The west needs to provide more support to develop resilience to further Russian encroachment and focus on creating social, economic and political infrastructure to enhance engagement with the west and allow Ukraine to engage on a level playing field with Russia. We must also maintain the level of UK and EU funding to support that infrastructure and offer closer links to Europe.
Finally, Ukraine and Scotland have trade links; we could do more, especially in agriculture imports and exports and agribusiness research. The Scottish Government have established a good working relationship at an official level with the Russian Federation through the consul general in Edinburgh, and we raise such issues as human rights concerns and the annexation of Crimea, which we see as illegal. We support the European Council’s firm commitment to the full implementation of the Minsk agreement.
Today we ask the Government to be more influential in working towards a lasting agreement between the parties in the Ukraine conflict as a member of the Council of Europe. We must protect minorities in eastern Europe and Crimea who remain unprotected. We need to do much more. We must work with our European partners on holding Russia to account and on the maintenance of existing sanctions.
More generally, the Government should suspend all arms sales where it is thought or suspected that violations of human rights exist or where violations are contrary to international humanitarian law. The UK is well aware that creating power vacuums allows instability to fester, and we all have to work towards a meaningful and lasting political solution in Ukraine, even if that task appears to be mission impossible at the moment.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) on securing the debate and on leading the recent delegation to eastern Ukraine, which I had the privilege of joining. That was not my first visit to Ukraine, but it was my first visit to the Donetsk region. To see the challenges posed in places such as Kramatorsk and Avdiivka next to the Donetsk airport, where so much blood was recently spilled, was an eye-opening experience.
This is still a hot war, and Ukrainians are being killed on a weekly basis, with shelling happening more days than not. We visited a coke coal plant near the separatist lines, which had half its water tanks blown up, severely impacting production. The people who work there just get on with running the plant. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend that they are very brave people indeed, not least given that they are living under the threat of invasion, death and displacement—we are talking about some 1.5 million internally displaced persons who, if they are permitted or dare to go back to the occupied zone at all—say, to visit relatives—suffer the humiliation of rough border searches and poor treatment from separatist militia, many of whom are criminals or mercenaries.
Much humanitarian and foreign aid is getting to free east Ukraine, but that is a very poor area and its economic and infrastructure needs are extremely pressing. Like my right hon. Friend, I was very moved by the dedication of the students and staff of the Gorlovka institute of foreign languages at the Donbass State Technical University, which has been re-established in unoccupied Bakhmut. Those displaced young students were making the best of a very basic building and facilities. We had a meeting and question-and-answer session with about 100 of them, and I found moving and inspiring their desire to educate themselves, to develop their country and to look westwards to the values of EU countries. It was also a reminder that although media interest may have moved on from Donetsk, the underlying issues have not.
I appreciate that the UK is giving Ukraine a lot of assistance, not least in terms of non-lethal military help and training, and also on governance issues, but I ask whether more of our Department for International Development resources could be spent helping those on our own continent who are clearly in real need.
As my right hon. Friend said, it may be that for many of our citizens, Ukraine, let alone east Ukraine, is a distant place that they have little thought for or, if they do think of it, there is little feeling of common cause. At this point, I need to refer to the elephant in the room: Russia and its vicious warmongering and anti-humanitarian actions along its borders. Ukraine has 20% of its territory occupied, and so does the republic of Georgia.
Many other neighbouring states, not least the Baltics, have the same fear of Russian aggression. It is not for no cause that British troops, planes and ships have been moved east of Germany for the first time in more than a century. Of course, Estonia is in NATO and Ukraine is not yet a member, although I hope that one day it will become so. What is clear, however, is that Russia is using Ukraine as a test case for trying out its latest hybrid warfare techniques. That has involved the use of everything from agents provocateurs or little green men and the mass use of propaganda and cyber-warfare, right through to drone technology and the development of conventional military tactics.
To those who are still wondering what this matter has to do with the UK, I say this. It is unlikely, although by no means impossible, that Russia will wish to invade more of the lands to the west. That is because garrisoning and paying for the failing economies in the lands that it has already occupied have badly stretched Russia’s already weak economy. However, it also seems increasingly clear that what Russia really wants is a series of weak and corrupt vassal states surrounding it that it can control and bully and that it believes will act as a buffer against western European economic and cultural advancement.
Sadly, however, that is not where it stops, because Russia also seems intent on using the skills that it picks up while abusing its neighbours in order to disseminate destabilisation, hatred, corruption, criminality and fear among NATO countries. I am talking about things such as the mass use of false accounts on Twitter and Facebook to polarise society through the spreading of fake news—for instance, by propagating anti-Islamic messages after recent atrocities or by trying to affect campaigns such as that for the EU referendum. I am sure that that will be the subject of another debate, but I mention it here because UK citizens need to realise that Ukraine’s fight for its right to live as an independent sovereign nation is also our fight. Ukraine is our ally in dealing with that threat, and we should be helping it more. In my view, that should be help in rebuilding its society and infrastructure and in building up its defences. It should also include providing Ukraine with defensive military equipment, not least Javelin anti-tank missiles capable of dealing with the huge Russian tank build-up in occupied Ukraine.
Of course, the UK will not solve this issue working alone or just militarily. In that context, I congratulate the EU on deciding last week to maintain sanctions against Russia for a further six months. We must remain united with the EU and robust on sanctions post Brexit.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine have more tanks than the British and French armies, and has he any idea where they may have got those tanks from?
I was aware, but that fact needs to be well publicised; it is not known widely enough.
We must also be welcoming here to Ukrainians. The Schengen area has just awarded visa liberalisation to Ukraine. I accept that that is unlikely in the UK until we know where we stand post Brexit, but the bitter complaints that I heard from Ukrainians about the lack of efficiency in the existing process demand a review now.
The other key issue that came up during our visit related to the development of Ukrainian civil society. At this point, let me recognise that that is a different society from our own. Ukraine suffered greatly under communism; and, with its early-stage capitalist, oligarch-controlled economy, it is prone to corruption and political stagnation, in a way that can be unnerving and sometimes shocking to many of us in the west.
Reforms are being made, not least to liberalise and regulate the economy, and that has sometimes led to hardship for people—for instance, in relation to energy prices. However, it was made clear to us by many whom we met that although the Ukrainian Government keep saying that change must be gradual, large numbers of Ukrainians are getting impatient with the slow state of reform. I did not get the feeling that that will result in another Maidan-scale revolt at the current time, but it will be important that we do what we can to encourage accelerated reform.
By the way, I was very impressed by our embassy’s resolve and action to do exactly that. Let me recognise also that there are a number of excellent, reform-minded new and younger Ukrainian MPs, who see a better future for their country and are determined to fight for that future. We also saw some very impressive reforms, not least the local government and police permit one-stop shops, where permits can be applied for under one roof: because the issuing department does not directly interface with the applicant, corruption is largely stopped. So credit where credit is due.
It does sometimes seem, however, that it is one step forward and then one step back. The appointment of new Supreme Court judges was for the most part seen by civil society activists whom we met as a win against corruption, but reports came through a few days ago concerning the attempted suppression of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and its head Artem Sytnyk, which points badly. Given the problems with corruption, I would say that establishing a system of anti-corruption courts and ensuring clean judges for them should be a priority for Ukraine next year. Those concerns are shared by the EU, the US, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If we are to help Ukraine, we must also insist that Ukraine help itself. Of one thing I am convinced, however: this is our continent, and Ukraine’s battles are our battles and part of the UK’s future. We should not be neglecting them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I welcome this debate initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) on the situation in Ukraine, but I wish to go back in time a little and speak about the tragic legacy of the Ukrainian holodomor, from 1932 to 1933, which continues to have an enormous impact on the Ukrainian people today.
The holodomor was a forced famine orchestrated by Joseph Stalin’s communist regime and it resulted in the deaths of millions of Ukrainian people. It was a crime fuelled by a repugnant political ideology. Stalin wanted to starve the so-called rebellious Ukrainian peasantry into submission and force them into collective farms. Subsequently, the Ukrainian countryside, once home to the “black earth”—some of the most fertile land in the world—was reduced to a wasteland. The holodomor stole away between 7 million and 10 million people. Entire villages were wiped out, and in some regions the death rate reached one third of the population.
Inevitably, the events of the Ukrainian holodomor undermined national confidence. It continues to have an impact on the consciousness of current generations, as it will future generations. Indeed, the many descendants of Ukrainian people in this country are still very concerned about what happened. Last month, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the issue, in which I called for the Government to recognise the holodomor as a genocide. As the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said so pertinently in that debate:
“No one can visit Ukraine today without seeing that it is still a live wound, a bruise and a source of pain.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 551WH.]
My hon. Friend mentions the word “genocide”. Does she recognise that without Ukraine, we would not have the term “genocide” or, indeed, “crimes against humanity”? As Philippe Sands pointed out in his book, it was the invention of those at the time of the second world war that has prompted all our subsequent activity in this area.
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I will come on to that. It seems ironic that that is where the term “genocide” came from, yet this country does not recognise it.
On 7 December it was the 85th anniversary of this atrocity. I was pleased to see that the UK was represented by the British embassy’s chargé d’affaires during the commemoration service held by President Poroshenko on 25 November. The Ukrainian people have suffered for so long. Following the 85th anniversary, now is an appropriate time to officially accept that the holodomor was a genocide. Acknowledging that would be in accordance with the Ukrainian people’s wishes.
In 2006, the Government of Ukraine passed a law recognising the disaster as genocide against the Ukrainian people and have sought for the international community to follow suit. Many countries have recognised this, including the US, Canada, Australia and many others. Since the formation of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, which was adopted by the UN Assembly in 1948, it has been possible to designate events. This has strengthened the hand of the international community, if it wants to take action in those cases.
The Government’s current position is that international law cannot be applied retrospectively unless subject to a legal decision. I understand that the holocaust, although it took place before 1948, has an exclusive status, since it was the basis for the legal determination of genocide by the convention. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, it was actually the holodomor that started it. It should be noted that the holodomor was directly referred to by Raphael Lemkin, the author of the convention, as a classic example of genocide. We recognise the Jewish holocaust retrospectively, so why do we not recognise the holodomor, which started before the second world war, nearly two or three years before the holocaust?
If the Government maintain their position, I ask again: will they consider initiating an inquiry or judicial process to help ensure the Ukrainian holodomor is given its rightful status as a genocide? I understand that the 1994 killings in Rwanda and the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica were both recognised as genocides as a result of legal proceedings. It is only right that the UK accepts the definition of the Ukrainian holodomor as a genocide. It would be a mark of our respect and our friendship with the Ukrainian people today. We must expose violations of human rights, preserve historical records and help to restore the dignity of victims through the acknowledgment of their suffering.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for calling this debate. To give a bit of background, I lived in the former Soviet Union and then Ukraine from 1990 to 1994. I have been conducting academic research into Russian warfare on and off since, and in the last couple of years I have made four or five trips to Kiev and to the east of the country to interview academics, soldiers and other people involved in the current conflict.
My right hon. Friend is correct to ask why we should care about Ukraine. It has had only a modest impact on our imagination and for much of the modern era it has been part of the Russian empire, although Ukrainians point to earlier periods in their history as proof of historic statehood, such as Kievan Rus’ and the republican, egalitarian Zaporizhian Cossack Host, the Hetmanate.
I think we should care about Ukraine for the following reasons. The creation of an independent Ukrainian state was probably the single most important thing that happened after—or accompanied—the collapse of the USSR. It removed from the Russian state a population of approximately 50 million people, its main agricultural base and one of its industrial and defence heartlands. It completed the journey towards statehood begun by the Ukrainians in the 19th century.
More broadly, in the east Slavic world there are three states: Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine. Russia is now an authoritarian state and its population is fed a daily diet of illiberal and anti-western propaganda. Belorussia, sadly, is an external colony of Russia and Russia’s recent troop movements into that state are likely to reinforce that. Then we have Ukraine. Out of the three, only Ukraine makes any real pretence at being anything approaching a functioning democracy. Ukraine is the only country in the east Slavic world that seeks a role as a European state within a European fraternity of nations. Ukraine is the only country in the east Slavic states with a civic society that is neither being actively oppressed nor co-opted by the state. In my mind, much depends on the future of that civic society.
There are undoubtedly problems. Post-Soviet corruption has been as endemic there as anywhere else. We under- estimate the appalling impact of socialist totalitarianism on the destruction of human societies; my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) spoke about holodomor, the genocide of the Ukrainian peasantry, which is only one example.
However, it is worth pointing out that corruption has been fostered, in part, as a means of Russian subversion and control. The purpose and the intent of Russian activity in Ukraine, sadly, is to undermine Ukrainian statehood, and, indeed, a Ukrainian identity that exists separately from Russia. For many people in senior positions in the Kremlin, Ukrainian statehood and a Ukrainian identity separate from Russia is the cause of something approaching apoplexy, and touches significant raw nerves within the Russian psyche.
We see some of that Russian subversion in our own state, and I suspect we will be discussing it tomorrow, but in Ukraine—as various speakers have pointed out, including my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who spoke with great eloquence on this—they are subjected to a much greater degree of that pressure. That includes the compromising of individuals and classes, and the diet of media control and messaging, which is not just up-market PR, but a kind of violence against the mind, designed to demoralise and disorientate.
In Soviet days, such disinformation, espionage, sabotage and occasional assassination were known as “active measures.” We are still reaching for a new name; some of us are calling it “full-spectrum effects”. It is the combining of these active measures, which used to be run by the KGB and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with other forms of violence, including conventional military work. Under President Yanukovych, for example, NATO assistance programs were halted, and the Ukrainian defence establishment hollowed out, which explains why the Ukrainians did so badly at the beginning of the war. Attempts were made to rewrite Ukrainian identity in new historical textbooks. Oil and gas were used as a means of control and bribery. Russian businesses were used to exert indirect control over the Ukrainian state.
On top of that, in the past few years since the Maidan revolution, we have had direct violence via proxies, some of which were local, but many of which have been controlled by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation and the Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye—the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate. Pro-Russian demonstrators as well as violent thugs, the so-called Titushky, were used or bused in.
It is worth remembering that Russia’s plans at the time were ambitious and it was co-ordinating a series of uprisings in almost all the Russian speaking countries: Odessa, Nikolayev, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Zaporizhia. In many of these places the uprisings failed and were put down by the Ukrainians—not always particularly well, but they were. One should remember that outside Donetsk and Luhansk, the Russian attempts to subvert and undermine Ukrainian statehood largely failed. Crimea was clearly an exception to that as well.
There are some people who say, “Let’s understand Russia,” which I think is too often a code for appeasing Russia. I think one should always understand Russia, talk to Russians as much possible and engage with them, but I do think it is important to stand up to them and not appease them. If we appease them and effectively give them a sphere of influence within eastern Europe, there will be years and decades of instability, which will threaten us and cost us a great deal in time, effort and money. The peoples of countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon pointed out, are not just pliable entities. They do not aspire to be under the thumb of the Russians. There is a direct link between democratising and the desire to move out of Russia’s orbit, to be part of the west, to be part of a global society, to be wealthy and to be free.
Russia’s response is too often to blame the west, fascism or the CIA, which runs the internet, blah, blah, blah; it is never to examine the reason why people would want to be out of the Russian yoke or to move away from what has historically been seen as brutal and somewhat arbitrary control. Russia’s response to this, as we have seen in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, is to increase the levels of destabilisation and violence to force countries back to accepting Russian suzerainty. However, there is hope. Many Ukrainians now see their future in the west. Vladimir Putin’s greatest achievement in the east Slavic world may be the creation of a single, Ukrainian political identity.
There is a grand bargain here. I very much encourage the Minister to consider it, although I suspect that the Government will not make it. That grand bargain is as follows. We spend vast sums in war zones and they have produced little; I have lost count of the number of ridiculous and failed DFID projects that I have patrolled past in Afghanistan and Iraq, which stand like monuments to the vanity liberal imperialism. There is an opportunity as part of this Marshall plan to offer significant funding and support for a country that is near us and the stability and prosperity which would yield not some generalised warm and fuzzy feeling, but significant geostrategic dividends in terms of peace, locking in the post-cold-war world and extending the EU’s influence.
I am a Brexiteer, but I accept that many people in eastern Europe look to Britain and the EU as models—I do not doubt that at all. We spend billions on Africa and ridiculous sums on the EU. Can we please spend some bilateral aid to do something that will significantly encourage stability in eastern Europe and specifically in Ukraine?
I will wind up in the next minute or two, as I am aware that others wish to speak. The quicker that Ukraine reforms, and it has been pitifully slow, the stronger it and its people will be, and the better able to resist Russian active measures Ukraine and eastern Europe will be. The Ukrainians need to help themselves, but I believe that as part of a grand bargain with that important strategic country there is much more that we could be doing.
I recommend greater involvement, including greater DFID involvement, and working with the EU, the US and our Canadian allies, who are very influential in Ukraine because of the Ukrainian diaspora—it is not only in Derby, but in many parts of the Canadian plains—to increase our leverage and to offer a grand bargain to the Ukrainians as part of a significant geopolitical victory in eastern Europe.
Before I call Luke Graham, I must say that I will try to get colleagues on the Opposition side of the House in.
It is a pleasure to speak under your stewardship, Mrs Gillan. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) on securing this debate. I will keep my comments short this morning for fear of repeating something that other hon. Members have raised.
As hon. Members across the Chamber have recognised, Ukraine has been a proud and independent country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before the uprising in 2014 there was little evidence of widespread support for separation in either Crimea or Donbass. As we have heard, in February 2014 a pro-Russian militia, later confirmed to be Russian troops, seized control of state institutions in Crimea and installed a pro-Russian Government. That was followed in March 2014 by another pro-Russian militia seizing control of the Donbass region.
Since then, a number of developments have taken place. One of the most significant is that more than 10,000 people have died in the Donbass region alone. Russia has been accused of providing the militias with equipment, training and intelligence support. We have heard about the number of tanks that have mysteriously appeared throughout the territories—Russia claims that it is a humanitarian convoy—and retired Russian servicemen and volunteers have bolstered the ranks of the separatist forces. Meanwhile, the international community, including the United Kingdom, still recognises Crimea as part of Ukraine.
The international community is right to be deeply concerned by these developments. At a time of globalisation we must respect the integrity of sovereign states and international law, and the sovereignty of Ukraine must be respected. That is why I support the actions of the United Kingdom Government with others since 2014 to impose sanctions on individuals, businesses and officials from Russia and other associated separatists.
What we are seeing in Ukraine is an example of some of the worst excesses of strident nationalism. I am not comparing one country’s nationalism with another, as no two nationalist causes are exactly alike, but I have spoken before about the rise of nationalism throughout the world and how it is a negative force—nothing we witness in Ukraine demonstrates otherwise.
Sanctions are only one tool that we have to support Ukraine. We must also encourage and strengthen cultural and diplomatic ties so that we can provide the hope and help that the people of Ukraine truly desire. As has been mentioned, we must also engage with Russia—less through RT, and more through diplomatic means—and Ukraine, so that we work together as one country, through this place, to enforce sanctions and provide constructive options as well. I hope that this crisis will be ended soon by the full implementation of the Minsk II protocol and that there will be a full ceasefire and the reintegration of separatist-ruled territories so that they return to Ukraine and peace and international law reign supreme.
It is obviously a pleasure to serve under you, Mrs Gillan.
The right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) asked at the beginning why we are concerned about Ukraine and why it is an issue. Well, we have heard many reasons why Ukraine is important. The fact that it is significant in this Parliament is very much to his credit, that of the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and her holodomor debate, and—if I am allowed to mention him—the noble Lord Risby, who has been a consistent voice for Ukraine in both Houses.
During the holodomor debate I referred to my chairmanship of St Michael Mission Trust, which renews and rebuilds churches mostly in western Ukraine, around Fastiv and in that general area. I was asked whether I should have declared that. May I just point out, for the sake of the record, that I received absolutely no financial remuneration whatsoever from it? In fact, if anything, it cost me quite a bit of money, but I am absolutely delighted to do that. I am proud of the work that we do in Lviv and the Kiev oblast, and we work through the Dominican fathers.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) referred to the elephant in the room. I see a more ursine creature. I see a vast bear in the room—a bear with sharp claws that is looking westwards at the moment. He and I have been in the region and have seen the influence. That is why it is all the more important that with the influence that this country has and, please God, will continue to have even after Brexit, we place on record our concern about what is happening there. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, we have to shine the sunlight through the mist of battle and this current murky war.
I have a couple of questions that I specifically want to put to the Minister. May I say that I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is in his place? There could be no better Minister to respond to this debate than a man who has shown his knowledge, expertise and humanity in this area, and that is very much to his credit.
We heard earlier about the fact that the Russian Federation has withdrawn its military officers from the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination. That happened this week; it happened only yesterday. This is a shifting situation. What possible signal does it send, in particular to the Minsk process, if the Russian Federation unilaterally, without any discussion or negotiation, withdraws its military officers from that? That sends a very obvious signal. I sincerely hope that it is not so that they have denied any opportunity to participate in the peace process, but it looks to me as a neutral observer as though they are simply walking away from a war that they are contributing to, funding, stimulating and facilitating.
This was the first time I have heard the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) speak. I was massively impressed by the depth of his knowledge and his passion and commitment, and it was a real privilege to hear that. We have heard about the projects that the United Kingdom is involved in by giving assistance through the FCO and DFID. I think that we have actually given about £42 million in the last two years. I would like to hear some commitment from the Minister to a continuation of that financial support, because that money is multiplied by a factor of 10 at the least when it comes to its effectiveness within Ukraine.
The Foreign Secretary is heading for Russia. I think all hon. Members feel a certain trepidation when they hear about the Foreign Secretary heading out to countries—who knows what may happen? I profoundly hope that, as the first Foreign Secretary to visit Russia in about five years, he will not forsake this opportunity. He is a man of great generosity of spirit—of great breadth and depth of learning—but he needs to speak truth to power on this occasion and to make some of the points that we have heard today. The FCO has not yet made a public statement on Russia’s withdrawal from the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination; this would be an ideal opportunity for one.
A draft Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill is wending its way through the upper House. It would be interesting to see whether, in the light of the Russian Federation’s current aggression—not just the military aggression but the human rights violations in Crimea—that Bill might include additional sanctions.
We heard that nothing stirs the bear into an apoplectic fit more than the expression of Ukrainian nationalism. There is a hope in some dark quarters of the Kremlin that Ukraine will go away and be quiet—that it will be absorbed into greater Russia. The extraordinary success of Ukrainian athletes at the last Olympics and their achievement of rising so high up the medal table inspired passion throughout the world, not just in the Ukrainian diaspora, although they were dancing in the streets of Sheffield. I mention Sheffield because it is the home of Marina Lewycka, one of our more famous members of the Ukrainian diaspora, who wrote the magnificent and very serious book, “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”, which I recommend to everybody.
Anyone who saw that Olympic success will know that Ukrainian nationality, pride and recognition of its own identity is absolutely unbreakable and irrefragable. It will never be destroyed. People can do their best—or their worst—but Ukraine will be Ukraine. Debates such as this are so important for putting those markers down. I look forward to hearing from the Minister. In the words that the right hon. Member for Maldon and I heard in the Euromaidan, “Slava Ukraini!”.
I would like to call the Front Benchers at 10.35 am.
I will make four points in about two and a half minutes. I have heard every word of this debate, Mrs Gillan. I would not miss the introductory oration of the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale); one of the best things I have done in Parliament was to introduce him to Ukraine some years ago.
We heard about the diaspora and the Ukrainian athletes. As the grandson of an Irish migrant in Yorkshire, my first contact with Ukraine was on the football fields with the grandsons of Ukrainian migrants. I remember that they tackled hard. The next contact was in the 2005 Orange revolution, when I thought that there was only one side to be on—that of freedom and of democracy. That is why I got involved.
We heard about the withdrawal of the truce monitors. The Foreign Secretary is going to Russia at a fortuitous time because even more than my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), I worry that that will precede additional violence at Christmas. That has happened before when the world’s eyes were looking elsewhere. Over the next few days, we have to be careful that the world’s eyes are on Donbass. It may be time to revive the idea of peacekeeping forces, which the Ukrainian Government have argued for in the past. It would not be acceptable to have Russians as part of that force, of course, because as Ukraine has argued it would have to be stationed across the whole of Donbass and at the border. That needs to be looked at.
On corruption and the economy, the Ukrainian Parliament has an important decision to make on Thursday. I hope that it will confirm the new central bank governor. That decision is on a par with the publication of assets, which recently meant that about a third of judges resigned immediately. That sort of bold measure is needed to tackle corruption.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) who argued that Ukraine should join NATO. I think that would divide the Ukrainian nation. Even now, opinion polls do not suggest huge majorities for that; they suggest divisions.
On language, it is important that the Russian language is cherished in Ukraine; someone can be a proud Ukrainian with Russian as their first language. In recent years, one of the great symbols was when Shakhtar Donetsk played at Lviv. Obviously, they could not play at their home ground, so they played in west Ukraine. There was a recognition that although the teams came from different parts of Ukraine, they shared that Ukrainian identity. Long may that continue.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mrs Gillan. I thank the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for bringing this important debate to the House and congratulate him on reminding us about the progress that the Republic of Ukraine has made in taking its place as one of the world’s modern liberal democracies. That progress may sometimes seem painful and slow, but liberal democracies are not built in a day. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who again mentioned a Marshall plan for Ukraine. If that proposal were brought to the Floor of the House, I might agree with him about it, although not about leaving the European Union.
I shall begin with a quick precis of my position, which is also that of my party and of the Scottish Government, on the situation in Ukraine. The illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea by the Government of the Russian Federation—I say that deliberately; it is not by the Russian nation but by the Government who lead it—has been the biggest challenge to European security since the Balkan conflicts. The current destabilisation of eastern Ukraine must be similarly condemned and we must be robust in our defence of international norms. As such, the Scottish National party and Scottish Government support the European Council’s firm commitment to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. Although we may not always agree, we firmly support the UK Government’s efforts in tackling Russian disinformation and propaganda.
Despite the Minsk agreements and various ceasefires, eastern Ukraine is certainly not a place of peace today. This week, I was sorry, as I am sure other hon. Members were, to see evidence of some of 2017’s worst violence: the settlement of Novoluhanske was shelled, which caused the death of at least eight civilians. It seems clear that the shells were of a type prohibited under the Minsk agreements and were fired from around the town of Horlivka, which is under non-governmental control. It is indescribable that almost 1 million people are approaching their fourth Christmas with the spectre of this conflict hanging over them. We must make it clear that the Government of the Russian Federation and their proxies must respect those agreements and stop the violence.
Although that which I describe is a reminder that we may not have left the horrors of 20th-century Europe behind, I am more worried by the developments in modern warfare that have resulted in the Government of the Russian Federation using Ukraine, as it has Syria, as a testing ground for a very 21st-century version of electronic and cyber warfare. We have heard reports of jamming and spoofing of devices used by Ukrainian forces in Donbass and Luhansk. Attacks have targeted the cyber infrastructure of energy networks and other businesses in the rest of the country that some people have described as a “digital blitzkrieg”—as the Member for West Dunbartonshire, I would not use the word “blitzkrieg” lightly.
I will try to be quick, as I am aware we are cutting it fine for time. That is most worrying because those attackers are doing that almost at will. Their controlled, heuristic manner suggests that they are testing the limits of their technical capabilities and seeing how much the international community will tolerate without responding. That worry was echoed in my conversations with state officials all along the Russian periphery. The SNP believes that we must stand up fully for the sovereignty not only of the Ukraine, but of other Baltic and eastern European states that are on the receiving end of those unattributable hybrid attacks.
Last month, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and I met the Ukrainian ambassador, whom I am glad to see in the Public Gallery. We agree that there is much work to do and that Ukraine must be given all the support it can be given to become a full member of the European family of democracies. Although such discussions are difficult, we cannot discuss the sacrifices of the Ukrainian people to bring their country towards the goal of European Union membership, which I agree with, whether at the 2014 Maidan or in eastern Ukraine now, without reflecting on the disaster of Brexit.
I have some specific questions for the Minister. Most pertinently, will he provide some clarity on how the United Kingdom will continue to support sanctions against the Russian Federation after we leave the European Union? I make a plea to him to consider changing the UK’s position on refusing to engage with the Russian Government. I do not excuse the Russian Government for one minute; as a gay man, asking for engagement with Ukraine or the Russian Federation does not come easy. [Interruption.] I am talking about myself; I would never make assumptions about anyone else.
It was sadly overlooked, but 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the Harmel doctrine. I may be showing my bias when I point out that it was a policy that was promoted by a smaller European state and that mixed hard deterrence with the opening of a diplomatic track that offered a way out of strategic impasse. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Maldon mentioned it in his speech.
The United Kingdom has serious obligations, because it was a signatory—along with the former Soviet Union and the United States—to the Budapest memorandum, which has been conveniently forgotten by many. I ask the Minister to be very clear about how we take forward our role as a signatory and ensure that, having worked with the European Union on sanctions, we continue to hold the Russian Federation to account after we leave.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Gillan. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) on securing this debate. Its importance has been demonstrated by the number of speakers and the quality of contributions.
The current crisis has its roots in the so-called Maidan revolution, which began in late 2013 when crowds gathered in central Kiev’s Maidan Square, or Independence Square, in protest against the decision of then President Viktor Yanukovych not to sign an association agreement with the EU, reneging on an earlier commitment to do so. The focus of the protests shifted, however, after riot police began a violent crackdown on the protests. Early scenes of brutal treatment prompted the crowds to swell in size to more than 500,000, with protesters demanding Yanukovych’s resignation. The turning point came in February 2014 when dozens of protesters were killed by the security forces. Despite the last-minute efforts of the Polish, German and French Foreign Ministers to hammer out a diplomatic solution with the Russians, Yanukovych buckled under pressure as police throughout Kiev abandoned their posts. It became clear that the President’s authority had crumbled. He subsequently fled to Russia.
The Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada, promptly voted to remove Yanukovych from office and appointed an interim Government ahead of elections for a new President and Parliament, which were held in May and October 2014 respectively. Moscow cried foul, declaring the new Government to be the result of an illegitimate coup d’état and withdrawing the Russian ambassador. Within a few days of Yanukovych’s Government being toppled, Russian troops began arriving in Crimea to bolster the military presence there. Removing their insignia, they spread across the peninsula and started to take over other military sites as well as Government buildings, including the Crimean Parliament. As hon. Members have mentioned, the Tatar community, a Muslim community with its own legislative structure, has had a long history as an integral part of Crimea. That community seems to have been completely forgotten in this process; there has been no consideration of what we need to do to support them. The agreements have neglected to mention their rights or how we should further engage them in discussions and negotiations.
Amid the chaos, Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and began fomenting an uprising by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, an area collectively known as Donbass. Following months of fighting between heavily armed separatists and Ukrainian armed forces, supplemented by private militias and Russian troops, a truce was brokered by France and Germany and agreed in Minsk on 5 September 2014. Fighting nevertheless continued largely unabated. Following a major separatist offensive in January 2015, a second ceasefire agreement, known as Minsk II, was reached in Minsk on 12 February 2015. The February agreement continues to provide a framework for international diplomacy on the situation in Ukraine.
According to the UN, as of 12 March 2017, at least 9,940 people had been killed since the fighting in eastern Ukraine began three years ago. That figure, which the UN describes as a
“conservative estimate based on available data”,
includes more than 2,000 civilians. A new ceasefire was announced on 18 February 2017, following talks between the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany at the Munich security conference. The German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said that the agreement aimed
“to do what has long been agreed but never implemented: to withdraw the heavy weapons from the region, to secure them and enable the OSCE monitors to control where they are kept.”
A number of hon. Members raised the significant issue of corruption in Ukraine. We need to consider how best to support democratic institutions to overcome that problem. We should consider carefully the comments of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who brings phenomenal expertise to the debate; I do not necessarily agree with everything he said about Brexit, but I commend the rest of his speech. The structure is really important. The international Ukrainian diaspora seeks to work with Ukrainians to establish a better anti-corruption structure and restore the status of the Ukrainian community. We are trying to help and support that work, and we will see how it goes.
Hon. Members also mentioned DFID’s humanitarian support efforts, which are very important. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said, it is not just about putting money in, but about seeing how projects are implemented and delivered on site.
I would also like to raise the miners’ dispute. Miners have had no bonuses since August, and their average wages are €231. It is important that we examine that issue, particularly since 94 miners are going through the judicial process. They are being prosecuted for what they stand for. Does the Minister have any words of support for the 94 miners on trial?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) asked, what role will the Government play post Brexit in securing the influence that we need to exert to move forward? Germany and France have played a pivotal role, but our role has not been significant. We need to ensure that we continue to contribute and consider the moves we need to make. Sanctions are an important part of that, and we need to consider how to continue to reinforce them. I thank the right hon. Member for Maldon again for securing the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for initiating this debate. I congratulate him on his valuable work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group and in particular on forging links with counterparts in the Rada. I also thank him and his colleagues for briefing me yesterday on their recent visit. I am also grateful to Members of all parties who have contributed to today’s debate. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely). He has direct experience of living in Ukraine. He can list the names of people and cities in such rapid succession that we can but take pity on Hansard.
Ukraine faces two separate battles: one against internal vested interests seeking to hinder vital reforms and the other against Russian aggression and intrusion. Success in both is essential if Ukraine is to fulfil its great potential and become a stable, transparent and prosperous state. The UK Government are working hard to help it achieve that aim and are determined to persist in doing so. I can assure everyone here and the House more widely that our involvement and engagement will continue after we have left the European Union.
Putting an end to decades of corruption in Ukraine was never going to be easy. The problems Ukraine is wrestling with today are the result of the legacy it was left after the fall of communism—a system that had no concept of democratic institutions or the rule of law. Those institutions now need to be firmly established and those values ingrained in the modern Ukrainian state. It is easy to see why tackling corruption would be the No. 1 issue raised by the people of Ukraine in polls. Under the old system corrupt individuals stole millions, perhaps billions of dollars from the state.
Since independence, Ukraine’s potential has been stifled from within by vested interests and from without, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight mentioned, yet it possesses the people and resources to become a strong, vibrant economy that can attract significant foreign investment. The good news is that Ukraine has made more progress with reforms since 2014 than it perhaps did in all the preceding years since independence. However, it is deeply frustrating that the fight against corruption is still far from won, and indeed there are active attempts to undermine it. That includes attacks against the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. That body was set up with UK help and had begun to make great strides. We have made clear how seriously we view these attempts to block progress, and alongside the US, the EU, the IMF and World Bank we are pressing the Ukrainian Government to continue with the reforms their people expect.
Challenges to the reform agenda have also come from within the Ukrainian Parliament, with the dismissal of the head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee and the emergence of some very unhelpful draft laws. That is why it is so important that we as parliamentarians express our concerns to our friends in the Rada and encourage them to play a constructive role on reform. It is vital that those in positions of authority show leadership and ensure Ukraine’s fight against corruption continues. Ukraine’s leaders have a choice. Their legacy can be to take Ukraine down their chosen European path or to go backwards and take the path of their predecessors. Having come so far and achieved so much, it would be heartbreaking if Ukraine were to revert to past mistakes.
The UK is doing everything it can to prevent that. This year we are investing £30 million in helping the Ukrainian Government and their people fight corruption, improve governance and deliver critical reforms in the defence and energy sectors. We are also taking a lead internationally, so that it can be much more of a collective effort. In July, the Foreign Secretary hosted the inaugural Ukraine reform conference, which brought together Ukraine’s international partners, built political support for its reform agenda, and secured Ukraine’s commitment to reform over the next three years. At next year’s conference in Denmark, we and the wider international community will be watching. We very much hope that Ukraine will be able to demonstrate further progress.
Ukraine’s other battle is in overcoming Russia’s attempts to destabilise the country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon referred to that specifically. Even as we debate the issue today, there has been a sharp increase in ceasefire violations, reaching levels this week that were last seen in February. There has been an attack on the Novoluhanske area by Russian-led forces. Fighting has also resumed around the Donetsk filtration station. That is extremely dangerous, because it houses hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chlorine gas.
The conflict in the Donbass has killed more than 10,000 people and maimed almost 25,000. The UN estimates that almost 4 million people need humanitarian aid and around 1 million have been internally displaced. It is a sad irony that many of those affected are Russian-speaking Ukrainians, the very people whom Russia claimed they were trying to protect. Ukraine, Russia and indeed the UK are bound by the commitments we have undertaken in the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe—commitments to ensure human rights and the rights of minorities are upheld, but also to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity by Russia, including its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, continues to cause untold suffering for the population there, and it jeopardises wider European security.
The UK Government are helping to alleviate suffering by providing aid, improving access to healthcare and helping the displaced get into work. UK aid is also providing psychosocial support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and to those affected by trauma. All sides of the conflict must do more to alleviate the suffering by unblocking the delivery of humanitarian supplies. The Ukrainian authorities must also enable internally displaced people to gain access to social support and other services.
It is clear that the conflict can be resolved only through negotiation. If, as Russia claims, it truly cares about the people of the Donbass, it should end the fighting that it started, withdraw its military personnel and weapons, cease its support for the separatists, and abide by the Minsk agreement commitments it signed up to in 2015.
Will the Minister give way?
I do not have time.
I can assure the House and Members who have raised the matter that until the fighting ends, sanctions against Russia must and will remain in place. Our resolve on that is steadfast, and we continue to work with our partners in the EU and the G7 to maintain a united international position.
In direct response to the question asked by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), we will engage with Russia. I was there 10 days ago, and the Foreign Secretary will be there tomorrow. We will uphold sanctions, and in order to ensure that, we will pass the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which has already completed most of its stages in the other place. It will come to us in the Commons in the spring.
In talking about Ukraine, we should not and must not forget about the situation in Crimea, which has also deteriorated. Ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars have been particularly singled out. On behalf of the UK Government I again call for the release of all political prisoners by the de facto and Russian authorities and the immediate return of Crimea to Ukraine.
There were a few points raised that I will have to scoot over quickly because of time. On the question of the holodomor, there was an Adjournment debate on 7 November, to which I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham). In short, the issue has to be determined by the courts, rather than by us. On the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination, we very much regret the Russian withdrawal. It has done some very good work that we would like to continue. On the question of visas, I have been in vigorous correspondence with the Home Secretary. So far I have been rather disappointed by the response we have received in the Foreign Office to our detailed comments about the deficiencies of the visa system in respect of Ukraine. On that note, and leaving a mere 30 seconds to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, I hope I have answered the debate.
I thank all Members who have taken part in this debate. The fact we are squeezed short of time at the end is an indication of the strength of feeling that exists in all parts of the House. I hope we have sent a strong message today to Ukraine that we will give them support. I hope the Foreign Secretary will take the message to Russia that we expect it to abide by the Minsk agreement and to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. We will continue to press it until that happens.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).