Ukraine (UK Relations with Russia)

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 11th December 2014.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe 4:46 pm, 11th December 2014

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale on securing the debate and, indeed, on the commitment he has shown in this House for some time—and well before the current crisis arose—to understanding Ukraine, its people and its political priorities. I also thank all hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate.

I want to start the substance of my remarks with Ukraine, because it seems to me that any fair appraisal of the diplomatic crisis we face needs to start with the truth that Ukraine today is an independent sovereign state with a democratically elected president and Parliament and internationally recognised borders, and is entitled, not only morally but in terms of international law, to take its own decisions about its national future.

Furthermore, that sovereignty, that independence and those borders were recognised by Russia itself in treaties that both accompanied and followed the break-up of the USSR. Those borders included Crimea within Ukraine, and until the armed intervention by Russia at the beginning of this year—an intervention, we should remind ourselves, that the Russians persistently denied almost to the day when they announced the award of medals to the soldiers who had served in Crimea—no territorial claim was made over the years since the independence of Ukraine.

The irony of the Russian intervention is that it has reinforced a sense of Ukrainian identity and Ukrainian nationalism not only, and most obviously, in the west of the country, but also in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine where those feelings were more muted. I saw something of that myself when I was in Dnipropetrovsk earlier this year.

Nor am I persuaded by the argument that Russia has somehow reacted to provocation by either the European Union or NATO. President Poroshenko has made it clear that he has no intention of even applying for membership of NATO, and his Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin made it clear at the most recent meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council that, while Ukraine wished to move towards NATO standards in terms of the effectiveness of its armed forces, this was going to take Ukraine many, many years to accomplish.

As for the idea that there has somehow been EU provocation, let us remind ourselves that the negotiations for an association agreement started as far back as 2007, during the term of President Yushchenko. They were carried through by President Yanukovych, who is never normally accused of being a foe of Russia. When I was in Ukraine in October 2013, I talked to very senior members of the Yanukovych Administration who assured me that the President had decided that that association agreement was what he wanted to conclude.

We need to be clear about what Russia is attempting to do. It is now attempting to prevent Ukraine from successfully building a unified, democratic society based on the rule of law. Rather, its intention—to judge from its actions—appears to be to try to keep Ukraine weak, divided, corrupt and dependent on Russia to determine what its international alignments and mode of internal self-government should be.

Under successive British Governments, we have encouraged and supported Russia to move closer to the values that have underpinned peace and prosperity since the end of the cold war. That is why the United Kingdom has supported the admission of Russia to the G8 and the World Trade Organisation and looked forward to its admission to the OECD. But now, under President Putin, we have witnessed a severe decline in support for those values, a crackdown on civil society and other voices of freedom and independence inside Russia, and a rejection of that offer of partnership. There are clear signs, too, that Russia is not prepared to see its neighbours move in that direction either—and not just Ukraine.

Reference has been made during the debate to the events in Georgia in 2008, but in 2014 alone we have seen increased Russian meddling in the internal affairs of Moldova, the description by President Putin of Kazakhstan as “not a proper state”, the abduction by Russians of an Estonian official from inside Estonian territory—the man is still being detained in prison in Moscow—and the seizure on the high seas by Russia of a Lithuanian fishing vessel, which remains in Murmansk and has not been returned to its Lithuanian owners. We have also seen the interruption of gas supplies to Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. That has been attributed to technical problems, but I think it is a political signal that the Russian Government were unhappy with the reverse flow of gas supplies to—