Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 13th May 2014.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 12:45 pm, 13th May 2014

Mr Speaker, you and the Foreign Secretary will, I hope, be aware of the reasons why the shadow Foreign Secretary is regrettably not able to be here to respond to the statement. I thank the Foreign Secretary for it, and for advance sight of it.

Before turning to the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on Ukraine, may I first briefly address the recent horrific events in Nigeria? We welcome yesterday’s written statement and the steps taken by this Government, alongside allies, in support of the Nigerian-led efforts to rescue the captured girls. We note that the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s conclusions make reference to the situation in Nigeria. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that in recent days, Members on both sides of the House have been urging that the opportunity be given to debate the matter in Parliament. I expect that those requests have been noted and that the Government will respond accordingly.

Turning to Ukraine, as the Foreign Secretary stressed, the situation in eastern Ukraine is deeply troubling. The violence continues, the death toll is rising and the situation is increasingly volatile. He is right to condemn unreservedly the offence on 2 May in Odessa, where more than 40 people died. He is also right to condemn the referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk on Sunday, which were both illegal and illegitimate. The priority must now be for calm to be restored and further violence to be prevented.

The events over the weekend have created a key moment when the real resolve and intentions of Russia must now be tested. In recent days, President Putin has publicly issued words that some have seen as a sign of possible progress. The international community, however, must judge President Putin not by his words alone but by his actions. He said that the referendum should be postponed. Now, he must condemn the fact that it has taken place. He said that presidential elections might be a step forward. Now, he must help to create the conditions for them to take place peacefully. He said that he has withdrawn troops from the border. He must allow NATO to verify that. He has signed up to the Geneva accord of 17 April. Now, he must help to implement it. If President Putin fails to take the minimum steps required to demonstrate that he is willing to change course, the west must be prepared to increase pressure in the days and weeks ahead.

We welcome the steps agreed at yesterday’s EU Foreign Affairs Council to extend existing targeted measures, including against two Ukrainian companies. On the measures agreed, will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he expects the expanded criteria to result in the addition of further Russian entities to the list of companies targeted by such actions? Will he confirm whether we are taking steps to secure a further meeting between the signatories as a way of trying to make further progress on implementation? We note the Council’s conclusions in support of a further meeting, but in the light of Russian statements that no such meeting is planned, could he set out the likelihood of it taking place?

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on the EU’s preparatory work on possible wider trade and economic sanctions against Russia. Can he provide any further detail on the measures under consideration? Will he confirm that any steps taken by Russia to seek to prevent the peaceful process of presidential elections this month would be deemed a serious escalation, and further evidence of their wilful intention to destabilise the situation in Ukraine further? We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s confirmation that an association agreement is due to be signed with Georgia and Moldova next month, alongside a free trade area.

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that many countries in the region, especially those from the former Warsaw pact and former Soviet Union, but also including our Nordic allies, have a deeper concern that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are not an isolated incident but part of a developing and worrying trend—particularly in the light of claims by the Russian Government about their need to protect Russian speakers or ethnic Russians, irrespective of their nationality or the credibility of any real threat against them. It is little wonder that this has caused apprehension and even alarm. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm what discussions he has had with our EU and NATO allies on our response to these developments?