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With permission I will make a statement on the situation in Ukraine. The House will recall from my statement last Monday that, on
Last Wednesday, President Putin ordered military exercises involving a stated 38,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine. By Friday, unidentified armed men had appeared outside airports and Government buildings in Crimea. On Saturday, President Putin sought and received the approval of the upper House of the Russian Parliament to use Russian armed forces anywhere on the territory of Ukraine, without the consent of the Ukrainian Government, citing a
“threat to the lives of Russian citizens”.
Russian forces in Crimea went on to take control of Ukrainian military sites, including in Belbek, Balaclava and Kerch, and to establish full operational control in Crimea. Helicopters and planes have been deployed. The Russian Government have not ruled out military action in other parts of Ukraine—indeed, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has reported Russian fighters infringing Ukrainian airspace over the Black sea.
Her Majesty’s Government condemn any violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which contravene Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Helsinki Final Act and the 1997 partition treaty on the status and conditions of the Black sea fleet with Ukraine. Under that agreement, Russia is entitled to station troops and naval personnel on its bases in Crimea, but not to deploy troops outside those bases without the permission of the Ukrainian Government.
Moreover, Russia’s actions are in breach of the Budapest memorandum, signed in 1994. In return for Ukraine’s giving up its nuclear weapons, Russia joined the United Kingdom and the United States in reaffirming its obligation to
“refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Russian Government have argued that there is no legitimate Government in Kiev, but the incumbent Ukrainian President abandoned his post, and the subsequent decisions of the Ukrainian Parliament have been carried by large majorities, required under the constitution—including from members of the former President’s party, the Party of Regions. The suggestion that a President who has fled his country then has any authority whatever to invite the forces of a neighbouring country into that country is baseless.
Russia has also argued that Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine are in danger, but no evidence of that threat has been presented. Furthermore, international diplomatic mechanisms exist to provide assurance on the situations of national minorities, including within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe. These mechanisms, not the breaking of international agreements and the use of armed force, are the way to secure assurances of protection of the rights of minorities.
I commend the Ukrainian Government for responding to this extreme situation with a refusal to be provoked. The Ukrainian armed forces have been placed on full combat readiness, but the Ukrainian Government have affirmed that they will not use force, and I have urged them to maintain this position. However, there is clearly a grave risk of escalation or miscalculation and a threat to hard-won peace and security in Europe.
This Government have been in constant contact with the Government of Ukraine, with the United States, with our partners in the European Union and with our allies in NATO and the G7—and, indeed, with the Russian Government themselves. Our objectives are, first, to avoid any further military escalation, and instead to see Russia return its forces to their bases and respect Ukrainian sovereignty; secondly, for any concerns about Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine to be addressed by means of negotiations, not force; and thirdly, for the international community to provide Ukraine with urgent economic assistance, provided that it is ready to carry out vital reforms. I will briefly take each of these areas in turn.
First, we and our allies have condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and warned against any further escalation. The Prime Minister has spoken twice to President Obama, and I have been in daily contact with my counterparts in the European Union, NATO and the G7. We have made firm representations to Russia. The Prime Minister spoke to President Putin on Friday, and I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov on Saturday, when the Russian ambassador to London was summoned to the Foreign Office. We have urged Russia to meet its international commitments and to choose a path out of confrontation and military action.
At our request, the UN Security Council held an urgent meeting on Sunday. Members of the council called for international monitors to be sent to Ukraine to observe the situation and stressed the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the need to lower tensions. NATO’s North Atlantic Council met on Sunday, and called for Russia to withdraw its troops to bases and to refrain from further provocative actions in Ukraine, in line with its international commitments. The NATO-Ukraine Commission was also convened.
Yesterday, at the Foreign Affairs Council, European nations strongly condemned Russia’s acts of aggression, called on Russia immediately to withdraw its forces to the areas of their permanent stationing, and without delay to agree to the request by Ukraine for direct consultations with Russia as well as under the Budapest memorandum. The council stated that in the absence of de-escalating steps by Russia, the European Union will decide about consequences for relations between the EU and Russia, such as suspending bilateral talks with Russia on visa matters, and considering targeted measures. Heads of Government will meet at a European Council on Thursday. As the Prime Minister and President Obama have said, there must be significant costs to Russia if it does not change course on Ukraine.
EU member states have reconfirmed the offer of an association agreement with Ukraine, including a deep and comprehensive free trade area, and confirmed our commitment to support an international assistance package to support Ukraine, based on a clear commitment to reforms. The Council also agreed to work on the adoption of restrictive measures for the freezing and recovery of misappropriated Ukrainian assets.
In terms of immediate steps to respond to Russia’s actions and acting in concert with the G7, we have withdrawn the UK from preparations this week for the G8 summit in Sochi in June. We will not send any UK Government representatives to the Paralympic games beginning this week, while maintaining our full support for the British athletes taking part.
Secondly, we are urging direct contact between the Ukrainian and Russian Governments. We are willing to pursue any diplomatic avenue that could help to reduce tensions, so we have called for urgent consultations under the Budapest memorandum, or the creation of a contact group including Russia and Ukraine. We urge Russia to accept the invitation to attend talks under the Budapest memorandum in Paris tomorrow, which I will attend.
The UK supports the powerful case for the deployment of UN and OSCE monitors to Crimea and other areas of concern in Ukraine given the grave risk of clashes and escalation on the ground. We are taking part in urgent consultations in Vienna. We welcome the Ukrainian Government’s support for such deployments and we call on Russia to follow suit.
The Prime Minister and I have both spoken to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to urge him to use the UN’s authority to bring about direct contact between Russia and Ukraine, and to urge the peaceful resolution of this issue. I welcome the fact that the deputy Secretary-General is in Ukraine today.
Thirdly, we are working to support the Ukrainian Government, who are facing immense political and economic challenges on top of the invasion of their territory. Yesterday, I returned from Kiev, where I encouraged Ukraine’s leaders to make a decisive break with the country’s history of pervasive corruption, failed IMF programmes and poor governance. I urged acting President Turchynov and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to continue to take measures that unify the country and protect the rights of all Ukraine’s citizens, including minority groups. I welcome the steps they have taken, including the appointment of new regional governors in Russian-speaking regions, and the veto of recent proposed legislation affecting the status of the Russian language.
In return for urgent commitments and reforms, it is vital that Ukraine receives international financial and technical assistance. The International Monetary Fund should be front and centre of any programme of assistance, an approach I discussed with the IMF in Washington last week, and it sent officials to Kiev yesterday. G7 Finance Ministers have issued a statement declaring our readiness to mobilise rapid technical assistance to support Ukraine in addressing its macro-economic, regulatory, and anti-corruption challenges.
The EU has also previously committed €610 million in financial assistance to Ukraine, which could be made available once an IMF programme has been agreed. In the longer term, through the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and neighbourhood funding, the EU will continue to provide significant support to Ukraine.
For our part, as I informed the Ukrainian Government yesterday, we will provide immediate technical assistance to Ukraine to support elections and assist with reforms on public financial management, debt management, and energy pricing. We are exploring further UK expertise to assist with programmes to tackle corruption, reform the labour market, and improve the investment climate in Ukraine, and a British team is already in Kiev to co-ordinate these efforts. We have also offered assistance on asset recovery. I agreed with the President of Ukraine yesterday to send a team to assist Ukraine to provide the information we need to recover stolen assets, and to address this problem more widely.
Over the past four years, the Government have sought and secured an improved relationship with Russia, and we continue to work with Russia on immense global issues such as the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and to try to make progress towards peace in Syria.
The UK’s national interest lies in a free, democratic, unified, stable and peaceful Ukraine able to make its own decisions about its future. We will continue to do everything we can to support the diplomatic resolution of all the issues I have described, exercising our responsibilities as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and working closely with the nations of NATO and the European Union. We will continue to discuss the situation directly with Russia’s leaders.
But we also have a direct national interest in the maintenance of international law, the upholding of treaty obligations, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nations, and the diplomatic resolution of conflicts that affect the peace and security of us all. For that reason, it is important that there is a clear response to these events, and that they are not repeated, and that is what we will pursue with determination in the days and weeks ahead.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it this morning.
This crisis represents the most serious threat to European security in decades. Russia’s actions are a clear and unambiguous violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. There can be no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion. None the less, the Ukrainian Government are indeed to be commended, as the Foreign Secretary has done, for their calm response to this severe provocation.
The immediate priority must now be diplomatic action to secure a de-escalation of the crisis. Achieving this requires the international community to show both unity and resolve in pursuit of a twin-track approach aimed at stabilising the current situation. First, the international community needs to alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by developing a graduated hierarchy of diplomatic and economic measures that make clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression. At the same time, the international community must make it clear to Kiev that the new Ukrainian Government must be inclusive, protect the rights of Russian-speaking populations within Ukraine, and make it clear to Russia that strengthening ties between Ukraine and the European Union should not be seen as a zero-sum game that will necessarily prejudice its own bilateral relations.
The obligations on Russia are clear, but so too must be the consequences of inaction. Yesterday’s decision at the EU Foreign Affairs Council to suspend further talks on the EU-Russia visa liberalisation programme was an important initial step, but will the Foreign Secretary inform the House whether the UK was advocating further diplomatic measures beyond that?
It is right that the EU Council has called an emergency session for Thursday, but given yesterday’s events in Downing street, it is also right that there is more clarity from the British Government, ahead of that meeting, about the types of costs and consequences that they are willing to impose on Russia. So will the Foreign Secretary reaffirm specifically that for the United Kingdom not only all diplomatic but all economic options do indeed remain on the table going into the talks on Thursday? I am afraid that the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead.
The House should understand that the costs and consequences to the European Union of not achieving unity and resolve at this time are clear: a Russia emboldened in its ambitions towards Ukraine; a central Europe fearful of future military intervention; and a United States increasingly concerned about Europe’s willingness to act, even diplomatically and economically, in the face of such threats. Therefore, as well as pulling out of the Sochi G8 preparatory meetings, will the Foreign Secretary specifically confirm whether the UK remains open to withdrawing from that June summit?
Alongside diplomatic pressure, it is also right that the international community gives appropriate assurances to both sides about the potential dividends of avoiding a descent into further violence. Recent estimates suggest that the Ukrainian Finance Ministry needs $35 billion of support over the next two years in order to avoid economic collapse. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcement today of technical assistance for economic and political reform in Ukraine and, of course, he has previously highlighted the very serious and real concerns about ongoing corruption in Ukraine. However, given the acknowledged weakness of the present Ukrainian Government, will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether, in his judgment, the IMF will be able to respond in a timescale that avoids the present security crisis being rapidly followed by a financing crisis in Kiev?
Russia’s incursion into Ukraine was, of course, unjustified and illegal, but the Ukrainian Government none the less have a key role to play in helping to diffuse the situation by providing the appropriate assurances to Russia about their conduct, intentions and priorities. That includes being clear about the status of minorities in the country, the attitude to the Russian language and the conduct of fresh elections in the months ahead.
Will the Foreign Secretary set out what specific assurances he sought from the Ukrainian Government during his welcome visit to Kiev yesterday regarding the status of minorities and in particular the Russian language, given the steps previously passed and then vetoed by the Ukrainian President? It is vital, as the Foreign Secretary has indicated, that these assurances are given as part of an open and direct dialogue between Kiev and Moscow. Indeed, a contact group may certainly have a constructive role to play.
The inviolability of Ukraine’s borders and territorial integrity reflects deeply held principles of the international system. The situation on the ground certainly remains tense, uncertain and, indeed, vulnerable to misunderstanding or misjudgment. That is why this is a time for cool heads and considered words.
As upholders of that international order, the United Kingdom and our allies have responsibilities that extend beyond regard for each individual country’s bilateral relations with Russia. The Ukraine crisis is surely a moment of real geopolitical significance, so the United Kingdom must not now retreat into a new isolationism and should instead keep all diplomatic and economic measures open to us and our partners as we work to achieve unity and resolve in the international community’s diplomatic response, and so contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis.
The right hon. Gentleman called for all diplomatic measures to be used, which, as he and the House will have gathered from my statement, is absolutely what we are doing. Indeed, I think from his questions that there is very strong agreement about the gravity of the threat and the principles that should guide us in responding to it.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke, as I have done frequently over the past few days, about the violation of Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty. Like me, he commended the Ukrainian Government on their restraint. I certainly urge them to continue with that and to continue to do everything they can to show that they are being inclusive within Ukraine and that there is no threat to Russian-speaking or other minorities. Indeed, I put it to them yesterday that they could consider positively additional changes to language laws to give an extra assurance. I very much welcome the decision of the acting President not to allow any laws that infringe in any way on the Russian language to go ahead.
On the subject of the Ukrainian Government, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether I thought the IMF would be able to respond. I think there is strong recognition among the Ukrainian Ministers I met that they need to do something quite different economically and that they have to tackle the deep-seated issues that I described in my statement. I think it is entirely possible that the IMF will be able to respond, although possibly in a two-stage process, with the second stage following the elections on
The right hon. Gentleman welcomed the initial step—I think that is the right way to describe it—taken at the Foreign Affairs Council. Certainly, the United Kingdom has strongly advocated that we need to be ready to take further actions. Those actions, however, must be on a united basis and, of course, be well judged and well targeted. Therefore, I do not think it would be helpful for different countries to announce ahead of the European Council what they want to see. It is important that the European Council agrees a united position and whatever measures it decides to take on Thursday.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether all diplomatic and economic options remain on the table, and the answer is yes, as we discussed during oral questions earlier. No partially photographed documents should be taken as any guide to Her Majesty’s Government’s decisions on these matters. Those options remain open.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the June summit. We have suspended the preparations for it. As I told the media yesterday, the G7 will be able to hold meetings of our own if that suspension continues and that, of course, is an option. It will be necessary not only to take well-judged measures in our response, but for there to be recognition across the European Union that Russia needs the EU economically just as much, or more, than the EU needs Russia. We need to have the common political will and to organise ourselves in a sufficiently cohesive way in order to have the political will and economic leverage in future to make that much clearer than it is today. I think that doing that may be one of the longer-term consequences of what Russia has done in Crimea.
May I put it to the Foreign Secretary that Brussels is partly to blame for this Ukrainian crisis? If the already over-enlarged European Union is going to continue to try to extend its borders towards Mongolia, we will indeed finish up with a third world war. Every Russian knows that the capture of Crimea and Sevastopol was the greatest achievement of Catherine the Great—that is why she is called “Great”—and Potemkin. No Russian Government of whatever political complexion could ever give up Crimea or Sevastopol, and we can be absolutely certain that the Russian people are passionately in support of President Putin over this issue.
I differ with my right hon. Friend a little bit on this. Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 and followed that in the 1990s with a series of specific agreements, including the Budapest memorandum and the 1997 agreement on the Black sea bases, in which it forswore the use of armed force or intrusion on to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia chose to do that and it must honour its international obligations.
I assure my right hon. Friend that it is not the ambition of the EU, or of the UK for the EU, to extend its borders to Mongolia. What we are talking about is not Ukrainian membership of the European Union, but free trade; a free trade agreement—an association agreement—between the EU and a country that freely chose to enter into negotiations about it. It should not be possible for any other country to have a veto over any nation choosing to do that.
May I commend the work of the Foreign Secretary, and the wise approach of my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary? The Foreign Secretary will be aware that there is a very different narrative in Russia to justify actions that we all regard as completely unjustified. One issue on which the Russian Government have seized is the decision of the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, to seek to change the law guaranteeing regional languages, including Russian. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commendation of the interim President’s veto of that law, but would it not be better to pressure the new interim Government into repealing the legislation altogether? As long as it remains on Ukraine’s statute book, it will be a running sore, and it will be used by the Russian Government as a means of justifying their intervention.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Just to be clear, the repeal of the law has not gone on to the statute book: the President vetoed it. However, I agree with the thrust of his question, which is that there may well be more that the Government can do to give assurances on that matter, and to make sure that they have language laws entirely satisfactory to all minorities in Ukraine. I put it to the Prime Minister yesterday that that should be one of the things they work on, and we will encourage the Government of Ukraine to do so.
Yes, I do, unfortunately. What those actions—there is a parallel with Transnistria as well—have in common is that they can be seen as attempts to impair and permanently obstruct the proper operation or the free and democratic functioning of those countries and of their co-operation with Euro-Atlantic structures. There has been a clear pattern of behaviour towards Moldova and Georgia, and it is now being repeated in Ukraine.
Poland and the Baltic states are increasingly nervous of Russia’s expansionist tendency. As the Foreign Secretary has already said, there are still Russian troops in Georgia. Is it not therefore all the more incumbent on us—the European Union as a whole—to stand up, united and calm but extremely robust, lest Crimea become a 21st-century Abyssinia or Sudetenland?
Yes, I agree. All the words that the hon. Gentleman has used are important in that respect: in this situation, the nations of the European Union and the European Council when it meets on Thursday are required to be united, robust and calm. As I have explained to the House, the options for further measures are open. As I have also said, it is important that there are costs to behaviour of this kind. I very strongly believe that.
That happened in the early stages of the Russian operation, and it was clearly designed to try to conceal the fact that it was a Russian operation. However, all pretence about that was subsequently cast aside, because many thousands of Russian troops appear to have been deployed to Crimea. It shows that this was a well-planned, perhaps a long-planned, operation, and that it was put into force in a way that tried to minimise the reaction of the international community.
The winter Olympics have happened; the Paralympics are taking place over the next couple of weeks. As I mentioned in my statement, we will not be sending UK Government representatives, but the Government do not believe in sporting boycotts of Olympic events. Our athletes will continue to go to the Paralympics, and I am sure that they will have the support and enthusiasm of this House in the great endeavours they will make.
Will my right hon. Friend first make it clear that the document, which very unfortunately was partially revealed yesterday, is not a statement of Government policy? Does he agree that Russia’s actions are in breach not just of the UN charter, decisions of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Budapest memorandum, as he said, but the agreement establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States, and that Russia’s actions have very serious implications for other former Soviet Union territories as well as for Ukraine?
My hon. Friend makes some very important points. I made it clear during questions that no one official document carried into a meeting is necessarily representative of the decisions that will be made by Her Majesty’s Government or by Ministers, but let me make that clear again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the implications for other former Soviet republics and for their independence. That is why this is not an isolated issue. It is not possible to say, “Well, this is okay. It is just about Crimea, and we don’t have to worry about it.” It has very important implications for upholding international treaties and obligations, and for respect for the independence and sovereignty of nation states.
There is an important role for the Council of Europe, and the right hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has already spoken to the secretary-general of the Council of Europe about the role that it can play. It of course has an important role to play in any issues about the protection of minorities. It is not acceptable for a member of the Council of Europe to behave in this way, and there must be consequences within the Council of Europe as well.
The Foreign Secretary will recall that when he made a statement last week, I asked whether he had received an assurance—a cast-iron commitment—from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia would not intervene in Ukraine. We have now seen it intervene, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can confirm overnight reports that I have had from a friend in Donetsk that the Russians have bussed in Russian citizens from outside Ukraine to act as agents provocateurs? Does he agree that that kind of action is wholly unacceptable and represents a return to a kind of Soviet-style foreign policy?
Although I cannot confirm the reports mentioned by my hon. Friend, I have heard other reports to the same effect, including when I was in Ukraine yesterday. That is why I said at questions—when I was asked about disturbances in eastern parts of Ukraine, such as in Donetsk—that it is not clear whether disturbances have been inspired from outside. There is a serious possibility that some of the disturbances are inspired from outside the country, and we should see them in that light.
We have very important regulations in this country about politically exposed persons—banking regulations cover them—and we have strong laws on money laundering. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said about agreeing with the Ukrainian Prime Minister yesterday about the recovery of assets stolen from Ukraine. Our options are open on that.
Given our experience of applying sanctions to several parts of the world in recent years, I would only add at the moment that if we are to apply sanctions to individuals we must be very sure of our case legally and have the evidence to sustain cases through court proceedings. We have to bear that in mind.
Surely we must ensure that we cannot be accused of double standards. We were rightly prepared to violate the territorial integrity of Serbia to protect the right to self-determination of the Kosovans. Presumably, we should look equally kindly on the right to self-determination of the ethnic Russians in Crimea and Donetsk. Therefore, can we please resist the wilder talk of economic sanctions, which can only damage the fragile recovery of Europe, and instead engage in diplomatic dialogue with Russia and Ukraine?
As my hon. Friend can gather, we are engaged in every channel of diplomatic dialogue and that will continue. As I have said, I will be in Paris tomorrow at the same time as Foreign Minister Lavrov. Our diplomatic efforts with Russia will continue at all times.
However, as other Members have said, it is right to have a response that goes beyond that. That is why we have announced certain measures in respect of the G8, why the EU has made an announcement about the visa regime and why I have said that other options are on the table. Such a challenge to international order and the maintenance of the UN charter and international law cannot possibly go ahead without costs and consequences.
France is currently negotiating a €1 billion deal for two Mistral-class ships to be delivered to the Russian navy. Has the Foreign Secretary had any indication that France is considering whether it is appropriate to go ahead with that deal or whether to make it part of the sanctions negotiations?
We have had no indications from France about that matter. As the hon. Lady will have gathered, there will be further extensive meetings, including between the European Heads of Government at the European Council on Thursday. Arms export licences will, of course, be one of the issues that European nations have to consider. It is important that we consider them together and have a united approach, but we must examine that issue.
To pick up on the Foreign Secretary’s last point, the implication of what he has said is that if the Russians continue with their current strategy, there will be targeted sanctions against Russia from the EU, NATO and the US. Russia will respond by retaliating against individual countries to try to fracture the unity of that policy. Is he confident that he can maintain the unity of that policy in the long run, and what action is he taking to make sure of that?
As my right hon. Friend will have noticed, I have stressed several times the importance of unity among the western nations, including in the European Union; the importance of any measures being well judged and well targeted; and the importance of any measures being legally sustainable. That is why these matters require calm and careful consideration, rather than quick unilateral announcements by this country or any other member state of the EU.
Russia’s action is obviously to be condemned and there should be no apologies for what it has done. However, is it not the case that a large majority of people in Crimea feel a strong attachment to Russia? We all know about Khrushchev’s impulsive action of handing Crimea over to Ukraine in 1954, when both places were part of the Soviet Union. If we want to de-escalate the crisis—surely we are not talking about a second Crimean war—is it not possible to find out through the democratic process, difficult as it is, what the people of Crimea want? I think that the majority verdict would be along the lines that I have indicated. Surely the views of the people should be taken into account in this crisis.
We are not talking about a new Crimean war, although the action that Russia has taken—the use of armed force in Crimea—has risked a new Crimean war for that country. I would make one point to the hon. Gentleman. There is a Russian-speaking majority in Crimea, although it is of the order of 50% to 60%, but there are also important minorities, including the Tatar minority, and their rights need to be respected as well. It is too simplistic an approach to say that the majority in Crimea would like to be in a different situation from the current one. Any referendum that is held should be consistent with the constitution of the sovereign nation of Ukraine. That is not the current proposal.
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that part of the problem is that Ukraine is a deeply divided society, in which both sides have, at one time or another, played winner-takes-all? He talks, rightly, about the importance of maintaining a unified Ukraine. Does he agree with the conclusion of Professor Anatol Lieven that
“the only way to keep Ukraine together may be the introduction of a new federal constitution with much greater powers for the different regions”?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is for Ukrainians to decide their constitutional structure. I am simply advocating the idea that they should make their decisions in accordance with their constitution. It is a country in which there is a strong case for more decentralisation. There is also a strong case, strategically, for turning away from a winner-takes-all attitude in politics. I have gone out of my way to stress to Russia that we do not see the situation in zero-sum terms. Although we welcome close ties between Ukraine and the European Union, we recognise that Russia has entirely legitimate interests in and an entirely legitimate relationship with Ukraine. We will continue to make that argument.
I think that we need to send out a search party to find the backbones that many European Governments, including our own, appear to have misplaced. The west has never seemed more unable or unwilling to stand up for its values. That weakness has clearly emboldened Putin—a KGB thug. Surely we should be pressing the case much more robustly for sanctions and asset freezing. What I cannot understand is why Putin is still a member of the G8.
We have made an announcement about the G8. The hon. Gentleman must remember that we are working through diplomatic channels to make progress at the same time. That is the decision that we have taken. He might disagree and think that our reaction should be entirely about imposing costs. We have chosen, with other western nations, to advocate diplomatic ways forward at the same time as assessing how to ensure that there are costs and consequences. I agree with him about the importance of there being costs and consequences. I simply remind him that it is important for those to be arrived at in the united, robust and calm way that some of his hon. Friends have advocated.
I hope that a bully like President Putin will listen carefully to the strong and clear messages that the Foreign Secretary has delivered at the weekend and today. None the less, Putin will have noticed that, more importantly, the Russian stock exchange has collapsed by 10% and the rouble is under severe pressure. Does my right hon.
Friend therefore agree with me that, in contrast to what my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle said, economic sanctions against Russia will work, even if it is at some cost to businesses in the UK?
As I mentioned before, our options are open. I stress again that any measures must be well judged and well targeted, and that the European Union and the western world must be united. My hon. Friend Mr Gray is right to point to what happened on the Moscow stock exchange and to the value of the Russian currency yesterday. There are major risks for Russia economically. I expressed the view a few moments ago that, in the medium to long term, Russia needs the economic co-operation of European nations just as much as or more than they need the co-operation of Russia. That has to become part of Russia’s calculations in the coming years.
Given President Putin’s increasing international and domestic malevolence, is there not a danger that the west will get caught between saying strong words and taking no action on the one hand and, on the other hand, allowing Russia’s legitimate interests, such as its interest in the port of Sevastopol and its Mediterranean port, and its economic interests, to provide some spurious legitimacy for his actions? Is there not a case, therefore, for a new more global deal that addresses the legitimate Russian interests—although not the illegitimate ones—but protects self-determination around Russia’s border? That might provide some comfort to the President, and more importantly to the people, that NATO has limited ambitions around Russia’s border, because I think that that is part of the problem.
We must be alert to the dangers to which the right hon. Gentleman correctly refers, and we must be prepared to be imaginative about long-term frameworks and solutions. We have already made the argument—I made it only a week ago to Foreign Minister Lavrov—that we recognise those Russian interests and are not seeking a zero-sum strategic game, and that there will be ways for the Russian economy, as well as the Ukrainian economy, to benefit from closer ties to the European Union. However, the response to us and other countries making that argument has been what we have seen over the past few days. That does not stop our making it, but it shows how difficult it is to construct a global deal, as the right hon. Gentleman said.
We must be alert to that danger too, which is why—I repeat—it is important that there are costs and consequences of Russia behaving in this way. I assure the hon. Gentleman that Ministers are conscious of the danger he mentions.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has a huge opportunity to make a difference on the ground and assist with de-escalation. What efforts are being supported at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna to ensure that the largest-scale monitoring mission is dispatched as soon as possible?
We are working on two things in the OSCE, and I mentioned that urgent consultations are taking place in Vienna. One is the deployment of monitors to try to avoid the flashpoint we have been talking about. So far, Russia is refusing to accept such monitors in Crimea, but perhaps we can do more in other parts of Ukraine. We are also working on the creation of a contact group to try to open a new diplomatic channel and a forum for Russia and Ukraine to discuss things together. So far, Russia has not accepted that idea either, but we are continuing to pursue both ideas.
Given what the Foreign Secretary said about his recognition of the sensibilities of Russia in this situation, does he recognise that the EU’s ambitions for the Eastern Partnership and the association agreement over the past 18 months have borne some responsibility for the relationship between Russia and Ukraine? That is especially so given, for example, the express views of an EU diplomat last November, who stated—even threatened—that the Ukrainian leadership would have to come to the EU on their knees if they did not do what the EU wanted.
We are talking about an association agreement that remains on the table between the EU and Ukraine, and a deep and comprehensive free-trade area. That is similar to something that Ukraine would willingly enter into. There is no requirement from the EU that it does that, and it is a very different thing to EU membership. It was being discussed with the Yanukovych Administration, because they wanted to discuss it with the European Union. I assure my hon. Friend that from everything I have seen in Ukraine, having been there on Sunday and Monday, there is strong political unity in that country that welcomes seeing the back of President Yanukovych, and that wants to enter into closer association with the European Union. That is its sovereign right and decision, and we should be prepared to defend its right to make those decisions.
Work is taking place on this now. The Foreign Affairs Council met yesterday and made the announcements that I referred to in my statement, and there will, of course, be further work among EU nations between now and the European Council. On Thursday the Prime Minister spoke to President Hollande, and last night to Chancellor Merkel to co-ordinate our positions, and we will keep in close co-ordination with the United States. The hon. Lady will have to wait, I am afraid, for the Council on Thursday.
I understand that broad economic sanctions would be both counter-productive and harmful to the City of London, and would require the much broader approval of all members of the EU. Surely, however, there is a case for targeted financial and travel sanctions against members of the Russian elite living in the UK and involved in the illegal invasion of Ukraine, and who are strongly suspected of human rights abuses perpetrated against Sergei Magnitsky.
There is a case for certain measures, and Members of the House, including my hon. Friend, make it well. I do not exclude the possibility of any such measures, but I simply return to what I was saying about them being well judged, well targeted and having a clear legal base. Those will be important considerations over the next few days.
Russia’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy—its military aggression in Crimea and the continued occupation of parts of Georgia—is funded by exports of its gas and oil. What can the European Union do to make countries in central and eastern Europe less dependent on oil and gas imports from Russia, and also make Ukraine less dependent?
There are many things that can be done, some of which are under way. Countries can develop alternative energy supplies—[Interruption.] Including fracking, as I hear some Members behind me say. As the United States becomes an energy exporter, there could be alternative sources of energy in the future. In December I attended the inauguration of the new pipeline project from the Caspian sea, which will be a new route for gas supplies into Europe that does not pass through or from Russia. That infrastructure will take time to develop, but it is important to do so.
The world is becoming increasingly unstable, and this latest example to world peace is a classic case. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that our Government and country must rethink the funding of our armed forces to ensure we have the ships, and the Royal Navy, the Army and the Air Force, to meet potential threats in the future? I do not hint for one minute that we should go to war in this case, but it is surely a reminder that we need to keep our defences up.
In an unstable world we need to keep up our defences. That is absolutely right and is why the country is investing in very sophisticated military projects for the future. As things stand, we maintain the spending of 2% of our GDP on defence, and I think that many NATO countries have reduced their defence spending too far. We are one of the few NATO countries that maintains spending of 2% of our GDP, and there are countries across NATO that need to re-evaluate that and increase their defence spending in the coming years.
The NATO-Ukraine Commission has met on the back of those agreements, and there will be further NATO meetings. We in the House are clear, as was said a few minutes ago, that we are not planning another Crimean war from this country’s point of view. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman advocates that NATO should do in addition to the diplomatic moves we have made through NATO. The agreements with Ukraine are important, but they do not include coming to the armed defence of Ukraine.
The UK Conservative delegation to the Council of Europe has sought the suspension of Russia from the Council of Europe and, pending a decision on that, has declined to sit on the European Democrat Group under its current Russian chairmanship. Will the Secretary of State say what more the UK delegation or the Council of Europe as a whole can do to contribute towards the restoration of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Ukraine?
The issue should be raised vigorously in the Council of Europe. I welcome the decisions made by Conservative colleagues in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. There are Russian representatives in other political groups of the Council of Europe, and all political groups from Russia are, in one way or another, approved by the Kremlin. Opposition Members may therefore wish to attend to those matters. I hope that members of all parties in the Council of Europe pursue the matter vigorously at their forthcoming part-sessions.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly welcomed the vetoing of the legislation downgrading the Russian language in Ukraine, but he will understand that the fact that the Parliament was prepared to pass and propose such legislation caused severe concern to the 20% of the population in Ukraine who are ethnically Russian. What further measures does he believe the Ukrainian Parliament should take to give reassurance to that part of the population that they are not under threat?
That is a matter for the Ukrainians. As hon. Members understand, it is for the Ukrainians to decide in their country, but I put it to Ukrainian Ministers yesterday that, in addition to consolidating the veto of the legislation, they should think about crafting a new language law that represents the consensus in their country, and the long-term protection and upholding of the rights of minority languages in Ukraine. They are in the midst of a desperate crisis—we must understand that—but I hope they take that proposal seriously.
My right hon. Friend mentioned in his statement the creation of a contact group including Russia and China as an alternative to consultations under the Budapest memorandum. What has China so far said or done to assist in this situation?
My hon. and learned Friend might have noticed that I read that out as “Russia and Ukraine”, but China’s role is important. China has spoken at the UN Security Council of the importance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. I hope that that is a statement and a position that China can develop over the coming days.
The incursion of any foreign troops into the Ukraine is wrong and can lead to further war and destabilisation, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that part of the problem is the ambition of NATO expansion further eastwards and more NATO or US-run bases in the region? Is it not time to bring about a long-term neutrality and de-escalation of NATO’s presence on the borders of Russia?
Russia’s action is hardly designed to produce less NATO presence in countries that border Russia—far from it. The countries in close proximity to Russia will be anxious to have a stronger NATO presence in future. Russia’s action is very counter-productive from that point of view. NATO membership has not been in prospect for Ukraine. In any case, as so many right hon. and hon. Members have said, there is no excuse for Russia’s actions in the past few days. The idea that Ukraine was about to join NATO is certainly no justification for them. That was not in any prospect.
Should we not look back at the lessons of the past couple of decades? The current Russian leadership is clearly not worried about its international obligations or treaties. As we have heard, it invaded and still occupies a part of Georgia; after a few diplomatic rumblings around the world, everything went back to normal. That gave the Russians the impression they can go on doing that with impunity, which is exactly what they have done. Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend to push for the toughest possible economic sanctions, particularly at Thursday’s European Council. That is the only lesson the Russians will learn. Otherwise, we will see the same happen over and over again. It is not surprising that former Soviet Union countries are worried.
My right hon. Friend makes his point well. That is why it is important that there are costs and consequences for what has occurred. I cannot add to what I said earlier on measures we can take and how they must be well judged and well targeted, but Russia’s action will lead, over the coming years, to European nations assessing their interests differently. It will have long-term consequences for Russia’s relationship with the rest of Europe. That should be of concern to the Russians, whatever measures we can take in the short term.
I come from an area with a strong Ukrainian community. Growing up in Newcastle-under-Lyme, I regularly attended our Ukrainian club with friends of Ukrainian descent. Given the troubled history of democracy in the Ukraine since independence from the Soviet Union, will the Foreign Secretary urge the Government in Kiev and all the major political parties to accept international observers in the forthcoming elections to ensure that they are as fair and free as possible to all who take part?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman can urge me to do that. We will do so. I have already stressed to the Ukrainian leaders the importance of the elections being free and fair and well conducted. They have set a rapid timetable—
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and his statesman-like handling of the situation. I urge him to work with all western allies of democracy to set out to President Putin with one voice a clear and credible position that the aggressive intimidation and annexation of the new democracies of central and eastern Europe will simply not be tolerated. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the realities of the UK’s and Europe’s dependency on Ukraine and Russia make it crucial, as we set energy policy for the next Parliament, that, in addition to hitting the EU’s green targets, we put our energy security and the geopolitical implications of it at the top of the agenda?
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. I must not stray too far into the responsibilities of my colleagues, but it is important that our energy supply is not only efficient but sufficiently diverse for our national security. That will become an even more important consideration over the next few years.
Given the dangers of any provocative misinformation by Russia, via media or social media, what discussions did the Foreign Secretary have with the Ukrainian Government on ensuring that the Ukrainian people, including those in Crimea, continue to have free and unfettered access to objective sources of information on what is happening in their country?
That is an important point and a difficult one for the Ukrainian authorities, because Russian state television is broadcast in many regions of Ukraine, where people therefore hear only one partial side of the argument. From what I could see, the Ukrainian authorities are taking every step to correct misinformation whenever they can and are giving maximum information to the world’s media. However, this is one of those occasions when it is important for people to use social media and listen to different sources of information, because they will not receive the truth from just one source.
My right hon. Friend has alluded to the danger of Crimea becoming yet another frozen conflict. When Russia occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thousands of ethnic Georgians had to flee their homes and cross the border. What steps does he believe the international community should take to protect the rights of ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars in Crimea?
That too is important. It is one of the reasons we want Ukraine and Russia to be able to talk to each other about the diplomatic settlement of these issues. The position is very complex, given the range of minorities in Crimea. It is currently impossible for people to leave, because road and air access to and from Crimea is now extremely difficult. There could also be very serious medium-term implications. This is another strong argument for Russia to engage with a contact group, or in consultations under the Budapest memorandum, rather than allowing the problem to build up over the coming weeks.
For many years the majority of the delegates to the Council of Europe from this Parliament have been members of the same group as Putin’s Russian party and Yanukovych’s Ukrainian party, and have collaborated with them closely on a number of reactionary policies. Can we take it that the breach with the European Democrat Group is permanent, and that the Conservatives in the Council of Europe will be joining their natural allies in the Christian Democratic Group?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard what was said earlier by Conservative members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who made clear their departure from the previous arrangements. However, I believe that for all this time members of the so-called Liberal Democratic party—an extremely nationalistic party from Russia—have sat in the Socialist Group, so some attention needs to be given to the issue on the other side of the House as well.
I have been visiting Crimea every year since 1992. This morning I was speaking to the parents of my godchild in Simferopol. They described the rapture with which the people of Crimea are greeting the Russian troops, but they are extremely concerned about the illegal, rough and appalling behaviour of the Cossack movement—not the Cossack people, but the Cossack movement. May I ask the Secretary of State to give full attention to this gang of unpleasant creatures, and to emphasise that their conduct must be reformed?
Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, have raised important dimensions of the situation, and have drawn attention to problems that need to be gripped. The United Kingdom’s ability to take such action is, of course, very small, and that is another reason why we are exerting pressure for a diplomatic settlement. Unless Russia and Ukraine speak directly about these matters—unless Russia is willing to do so—all these issues will become much worse in the coming days, and will become a growing problem for Russia as well as for Ukraine.
What reassurance can the Foreign Secretary give the Ukrainian community in this country who have made such a major contribution over the years, in the pits in some cases? May I also ask whether he thinks that he will be able to secure unity on sanctions, given that Germany, for example, relies on Russia for 30% of its oil and gas?
I think that members of the Ukrainian community in Britain, to whom others have referred, have played a very important role in this country, and this is a moment at which to recognise and applaud that. As the hon. Gentleman will understand from everything that I have said today, they can be assured of the importance that we attach to this issue, and the energy that we will put into assisting the achievement of a peaceful, democratic future for Ukraine.
As for the hon. Gentleman’s question about sanctions, I have already addressed it several times. It is important for there to be costs and consequences, but it is also important to change, over the long term, the balance of the economic relationship—including the energy relationship—between European nations and Russia, and we will be giving out attention to that.
We must give whatever credible support we can to the free people and Government of Ukraine. One of Russia’s greatest vulnerabilities is its desperate need for capital investment. Can the European Union specifically consider reasonable legal means of interrupting capital investment flows to Russia if Mr Putin does not step back from this illegal and unjustified aggression?
Several proposals have been made during the questions on my statement, and I have not ruled out any of the options. Economic and financial options are open to us, depending on consultations with other countries and depending on the course of events over the next few days.
If the UK Government were serious about putting pressure on Russia, they would be considering economic sanctions, including restricting the flow of money and assets from Russia to the City of London. The United States is considering such a course of action, but it would be largely ineffective without a similar European response. Does not the ruling out of such action mean that the interests of the square mile are driving UK foreign policy, and that the international response will be hindered?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has been here for the last hour and a quarter, but he did not show much sign of that in asking his question. I have not ruled out any of those options. No measure proposed by any of our allies has so far been blocked by the United Kingdom. I have explained that actions that we take—in regard to which we have not ruled out any options—will be taken with our allies, with careful consideration, and depending on the course of events over the next few days.
The Budapest memorandum marks a very substantial piece of nuclear disarmament—total on the part of Ukraine, and substantial in terms of the number of weapons that Ukraine held at that time. The Secretary of State has been clear about the obligations placed on Russia as a signatory to the memorandum, but it now seems that, as far as the Ukrainians were concerned, it was not worth a light. What obligations, either implicit or explicit, are placed on us as a signatory?
Our obligation is to support, as we do, the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The memorandum does not place on us an obligation to take armed action, but article 6 refers to consultation between the signatories, and that is what we are now seeking. Indeed, that is what we and the United States are proposing for tomorrow, when Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I, and the acting Foreign Minister of Ukraine, will all be in Paris. The memorandum gives us that opportunity, and that is the technical answer to my hon. Friend’s question.
Further to the Foreign Secretary’s comments about energy security, the United Kingdom thankfully receives only a limited supply of Russian gas, but other European countries, particularly Germany, have considerable exposure, with consequences for the rest of Europe. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with his European Union counterparts about ensuring the security of European energy supply so that this does not end up limiting our ability to take action against Russia?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue, but it is an issue for the medium to longer term. We are doing important things now to diversify energy supplies to Europe. I have already mentioned the new pipeline through Azerbaijan, whose construction we inaugurated in December. That pipeline, however, will take several years to construct.
Although this is, as I have said, a medium to long-term issue, I think that what has just happened will be a sharp reminder to everyone in Europe and in this country that it is also an important issue, and that dealing with it will become one of the important foreign policy and security considerations over the next few years.
This is a real test for the United States and, indeed, for the Obama Administration, but it is also a test for the European Union. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with his German counterpart? He has used the word “united” numerous times during his statement and in his replies. Are the Germans part of that united effort? Of course, other members of the international community are looking on to see whether there is unity and whether there is resoluteness, not least in Beijing, which has its own aspirations in different parts of the world?
My hon. Friend has made a good point about European unity and the role of Germany in that. I have very regular discussions with my German counterpart, Minister Steinmeier—indeed, I had a discussion with him at the weekend— and the Minister for Europe was with him at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday. The Prime Minister spoke to Chancellor Merkel last night, having also had discussions with her when she was here last Thursday. We will be working closely with Germany, and we will be working for a clear, united position at the European Council on Thursday.
Is not part of the explanation for the action taken that Putin and his Government are seriously concerned that the same thing might happen in Russia that has happened in Ukraine, where people power has taken over?
As with many countries, Russian foreign policy is partly determined by domestic pressures, and what happened 10 days ago in Ukraine was a major reverse for Russian foreign policy. In many ways, many would have thought it a humiliation. There are many explanations why Russia has chosen to take the action it has, and one is that it is an attempt to alleviate, including in domestic opinion, that humiliation of the flight of Yanukovych from Kiev.
This is nothing less than a land grab and the biggest strategic shock on the continent for decades. If Putin gets away with this, sooner or later more trouble will follow in central and eastern Europe. Does the Secretary of State agree that the west now needs to unify around a much more robust response than we have seen so far, and that in support of it the UK should demonstrate that it is actively considering all forms of economic sanctions?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are actively considering a wide range of options, and I have not ruled out any options in my responses to questions, as I am sure he will have noticed. Clearly, I think the response we have made so far is correct. We have emphasised the need for new diplomatic openings as well as for there to be costs and consequences from this Russian action, but in the absence of a change of policy from Russia we will, of course, have to move on to making sure those costs and consequences happen.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned arms export licences earlier. In considering what sanctions may be used against Russia, has he had any discussions with his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence about the forthcoming military and technical co-operation agreement, which I understand is due to be signed in the next few weeks?
The hon. Lady is right that we have been due to agree to sign a military and technical co-operation agreement with Russia in the near future. Clearly, in the current situation the chances of us doing that are rather reduced, to put it mildly, but we have not made a formal decision about that. We are certainly reviewing that, and we will decide about it in conjunction with any other measures we choose to adopt.
Russia may well be trying to repeat in Crimea what it has been allowed to do in Moldova. Why should the Russians fear that the international community will act differently from how it acted over Moldova?
My hon. Friend is right that, as I have said in answer to earlier questions, there are parallels with Transnistria, and, indeed, with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are part of Georgia. Russia has certainly been able to live with any consequences of those actions in the past. This is a repetition of that, but on an even greater scale, so there must be costs and consequences in response, to deter the repetition of such events in future.
But what are the other costs and consequences that the Secretary of State is actively considering? He has mentioned visa restrictions, but surely just restricting a few people from entering is not sufficient to meet the bar of significant costs given how much Russia clearly feels it has to gain from its current actions in Ukraine? Will he say what else is actively on the table?
No—to be consistent with all the answers I have given before. The European Union has referred to targeted measures and I have referred to well judged, well targeted legal measures. I have not excluded anything. Many hon. Members have made interesting proposals during the course of this statement, but I stressed before that when we take such measures it is important for there to be unity on them, as well as for them to be well judged and well targeted. That means we must work on them together in the European Union, and that is what we are doing now.
As I said to my hon. Friend Mr Bone, there have been previous Russian actions in Georgia and Moldova which might be considered a model for this action, and Russia has not felt sharp consequences as a result of them. That is no doubt an emboldening factor, but I think Russian policy has also been driven by the imperative I referred to a few moments ago of trying to alleviate, or reverse in some way, the major setback for Russian foreign policy that took place only 10 days ago in Ukraine, and also possibly by the desire—which I referred to much earlier—permanently to impair the free and democratic operation of Ukraine and its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. There is a mixture of motives, and I entirely accept that it is important that we raise the penalties and consequences for acting on those motives.
Even if Russia will not agree at this stage to having international monitors in the areas under its control, if the Ukrainian Government agree is there not a case for a rapid deployment of international monitors to other areas of Ukraine, particularly those where there is potential conflict? That may well deter further incursion by Russia and those aligned with it, and will also allow the truth of what is happening to come out.
Yes, there is. That is a very important point and it is one of the things we are pursuing at the OSCE. We hope the United Nations representatives will also discuss it in Ukraine. We will continue to pursue that point.
Two years ago this week the House unanimously endorsed the principle of the Magnitsky sanctions, which are visa bans and asset freezes on those responsible for crimes against humanity in Russia but also beyond. In light of the situation in Ukraine, may I urge my right hon. Friend to look closely at the Magnitsky model of targeted sanctions for those responsible for ordering the military incursions into Ukraine, a clear violation of the cardinal rule of international law?
My hon. Friend has consistently pursued this matter over a long time and he has heard the previous answers of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe about it. We already have the power to refuse entry into the UK to people who we believe are guilty of serious human rights violations, but I say again that I am not excluding any options on what we might decide to do in this situation.
With all that is unfolding in Ukraine, there is great concern in nations such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland about their future. What reassurance is my right hon. Friend giving our NATO partners that we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the defence of their sovereignty and independence?
I think they know we do. Those countries are very important members of NATO. I mentioned earlier our strong commitment to NATO, including maintaining the strongest armed forces in Europe all round, but it will be important for other countries across NATO to strengthen their own military budgets and defences over the coming years. I have advocated that for a long time, and I think that would be of additional assurance to them.
President Putin has shown very clearly that under his leadership Russia will not respect the border and the sovereignty of a friendly neighbour. As a president who prides himself on advancing Russia’s self-interest, should he not be profoundly alarmed by the market reaction to that action? Regardless of what individual nation states or the European Union decide, will not many businesses across the world be looking at this and asking how, if Russia can act so cavalierly on something so big, they can invest in Russia?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I think Russia has underestimated the longer-term consequences of the action it has taken, because there is an important read-across to upholding international law on other issues. The reaction of the world over the long term will tend to diminish the influence of Russia in the world. This will also, of course, shed new light on Russia’s insistence on sovereignty in other international disputes. It will have very far-reaching consequences, and I do not think they have yet been fully appreciated in Moscow.
Huddersfield has a vibrant Ukrainian community, which I know is very concerned about family and loved ones across the whole of Ukraine. The attention in the past few days has been on Crimea, but what assessment does my right hon. Friend make of the civil unrest across the rest of the country in cities such as Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk?
The situation in those cities and areas is an important consideration, too. New governors have been appointed in some of those areas, and they have been drawn from those areas. The acting President of Ukraine has told me of the care he has taken to do that so that there is an inclusive approach to regional and local government. There have been disturbances in some of those cities, although, as other hon. Members have said, there is some evidence that those have been planned externally—we do not have any proof of that, but there is some evidence of it. I hope that calm will return to those parts of Ukraine.
I wish to pursue the question from Paul Farrelly. Should the people of Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine seek a plebiscite to determine their sovereign future, what concrete support can the
British Government give to ensure that such plebiscites are conducted freely and fairly, and not down the barrel of a Russian gun?
We cannot give much assistance in ensuring that if a plebiscite takes place in an area entirely controlled by the Russian military—clearly we will not be able to give any such guarantees. It would be far better for such plebiscites or referendums to be held under the Ukrainian constitution, with international observers, exactly in the way that my hon. Friend has described. The referendum currently planned for Crimea on
My hon. Friend puts big ifs into his question, because the situation at the moment is not at all the one he describes; the referendum proposed for Crimea is not properly and legally constituted under the Ukrainian constitution. So we are a long way from that situation but, as he knows, the UK will always try to respect democracy and the principles that we believe in of human rights, which so often include self-determination, whenever they are truly, freely and legally expressed.
I welcome the statement, but the interest, complexity and severity of this crisis justifies not only a statement, but a full debate in the House on the matter. As a soldier, I had to study the Geneva conventions and the Hague regulations, which both state that combatants must wear a
“fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance”.
Does the Secretary of State agree that Russia must abide by the Geneva conventions in order to avoid incorrect or confused targeting or engagement, with the possibility of igniting a more serious and deadly conflict?
My hon. Friend makes a crucial point; despite having one of the last questions he has managed to make a new and pertinent point. There are reasons why soldiers should wear the insignia of their country, and the most terrible misunderstandings can occur without that. So he is right about that. On the subject of a debate, the Leader of the House is not in his place but I am sure that he is always aware of such requests and he will have heard that particular one.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Russia’s provocative war mongering exposes its long-term weakness and will serve to drive more and more Ukrainians to the ineluctable conclusion that their future lies with the west? Rather than being frightened of that, should we not warmly welcome Ukraine as a potential ally within the institutions of Europe?
So far as I could see yesterday, the effect of the Russian intervention has been to solidify the determination among Ukrainians about their own independence, including among leading figures in the Party of Regions, which usually represents the east and south of Ukraine. My hon. Friend is also right to say that this action is born of weakness rather than strength. As I was arguing a few minutes ago, it is a response to a major reverse and an effort to alleviate that. The people of Ukraine will be all the more determined to pursue their own sovereign rights, including closer association with the European Union.
The prize for patience today goes to Mr Turner, who has stayed in the Chamber for an hour and a half without any indication of frustration or irascibility at hearing his colleagues. We are grateful to him.
I hope that Ukraine will be able to trade with all its neighbours, including Russia. European Union membership is not what is on offer to Ukraine—that is not what is being discussed or debated. Association with the EU and a deep and comprehensive free trade area with the EU are the things on offer. Any possibility of EU membership is too distant to be a realistic possibility in the foreseeable future.