Part of Brown Hare (Protection) – in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 18th March 2014.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 12:50 pm, 18th March 2014

That gives me the cue to run through, and make clear to the House, the spurious arguments Russia has advanced for its actions, including on the Budapest memorandum.

First, Russia says that it has acted in defence of Russian compatriots who were in danger from violence and facing a humanitarian crisis. However, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has stated that there is

“no evidence of any violence or threats to the rights of Russian speakers” in Crimea. Indeed, there is no evidence of Russian compatriots being under threat anywhere in Ukraine, or of attacks on churches in eastern Ukraine, as Russia has alleged. It is not true that thousands of refugees are fleeing Ukraine into Russia, nor is there any threat to Russian military bases in Crimea, since the Ukrainian Government have pledged to abide by all existing agreements covering those bases.

Numerous international mechanisms exist to protect the rights of minorities, and Russia’s own actions are the greatest threat to stability in Ukraine. On top of evidence of gangs of thugs being bussed across the Russian border to provoke clashes with communities in eastern Ukraine, over the weekend the Ukrainian Government reported that Russian forces have seized an oil and gas facility five miles outside Crimea.

Secondly, to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, Russia claims not to be bound by any of its previous agreements with Ukraine, including the 1994 Budapest memorandum, on the grounds that the new Government in Ukraine are illegitimate. However, the interim Government, formed when former President Yanukovych fled his post, were approved by an overwhelming majority in a free vote in the Ukrainian Parliament including representatives from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. The Government have restored the 2004 constitution and scheduled presidential elections. Their legitimacy and their commitment to democracy are clear.

Moreover, treaties and international agreements are between states, not between Governments, and a change in Government does not in itself affect the binding force of those agreements. The commitments in the Budapest memorandum still stand, and Russia has flagrantly breached its pledge to, in the words of the memorandum,

“refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine”.

Thirdly, although Russia still denies that its troops are in Crimea, the Russians maintain that former President Yanukovych, whom they describe as the

“legitimate president of Ukraine”,

is entitled to request military assistance from Russia. That, too, is false, since the Ukrainian constitution is clear that only the Ukrainian Parliament has the authority to approve decisions on admitting foreign troops. The President has no such right, nor does the Crimean Parliament. In law and as a matter of logic it is clearly ludicrous to argue that a President who abandoned his post and fled has any right whatsoever to make any decisions about the future of that country, let alone to invite foreign troops into it.

Fourthly, Russia argues that the people of Crimea have a right to self-determination and that it is their basic right to choose to join Russia, citing Kosovo as an alleged precedent, but there is no equivalence whatsoever between Crimea and Kosovo and, as Chancellor Merkel has said, it is “shameful” to make the comparison. NATO intervention in Kosovo followed ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity on a large scale. An international contact group, including Russia, was brought together to discuss the future of Kosovo after the conflict. The independence of Kosovo followed nine years of work by the Kosovan authorities to satisfy the conditions of independent statehood and mediation by a UN special envoy. None of these circumstances apply to Crimea.

In all those areas, Russia is attempting to find justifications in precedent or law to excuse its actions in Ukraine and to muddy the waters of international opinion. What we are actually witnessing is the annexation of part of the sovereign territory of an independent European state through military force. The fall of President Yanukovych and the change of Government in Ukraine was a massive strategic setback for the Russian Government, who had made no secret of their desire to prevent Ukraine from moving towards closer association with the EU. Seen in that light the annexation of Crimea is a bid to regain the advantage, to restore Russian prestige and permanently to impair Ukraine’s functioning as a country, and given that Russia still maintains it has the right to intervene militarily anywhere on Ukrainian soil, there is a grave risk that we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis.