EU Sanctions: Russia

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th May 2016.

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Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh 12:00 am, 24th May 2016

What assessment he has made of the likelihood of EU sanctions against Russia being renewed as a result of that country’s recent actions in Crimea and the Donbas.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee

What assessment he has made of the likelihood of EU sanctions against Russia being renewed as a result of that country’s recent actions in Crimea and the Donbas.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Russia is failing to fulfil its commitments under the Minsk agreements. Ceasefire violations in the Donbas continue, and these must end. Russia must stop supporting and directing the separatists. Last year, the European Council decided sanctions should be clearly linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. We strongly support the continued application of this robust approach, and we expect that the European Union will extend tier 3 sanctions for a further six months this summer. There are separate sanctions in place relating specifically to Crimea, and our strong view is that they must remain in place while Russia’s illegal annexation continues.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

More than 9,000 people have died as a result of hostilities in Ukraine. Given the recent tensions, including over the supply of electricity to Crimea, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what more can be done to reach peace in the region?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I regret that I have to say to my hon. Friend that it is a long haul of maintaining pressure on Russia—through isolation from the international community and through maintaining the EU sanctions that are in place. At the moment, we have no other tools that are likely to prove effective.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee

I very much understand the need for sanctions because of Russia’s aggression towards the Ukraine, but one problem is that milk and other dairy products are very much involved in those sanctions, and that is having a dramatic effect in terms of the downward price of dairy products. Is there any way that the food and dairy side of these sanctions can be taken away?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The sanctions my hon. Friend refers to are in fact Russian counter-sanctions that have been imposed against EU producers. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that, despite the sanctions measures Russia has taken in retaliation against EU agricultural producers, agricultural exports from the European Union in 2015 were up by 6%, showing that our producers—Europe-wide producers—are able to address the challenge of Russian sanctions and to find alternative markets elsewhere.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

On the Ukraine, does the Secretary of State accept that Russian bombing of Syrian civilians to provoke refugees and possibly to tilt the balance in favour of Brexit is part of a strategy to fragment European resolve on Ukraine? He is frowning—obviously he has not thought about that.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

There is definitely a Russian strategy to try to fragment European resolve. It is probably a step too far to suggest that Russia’s engagement in Syria is designed only to apply pressure over Ukraine. Russia has important and historical equities in Syria and is seeking to defend its interests there. But, overall, Russia’s behaviour in Syria and Ukraine gives us deep cause for concern about the established security settlement that we have been used to living with for the last 25 years.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Did the Secretary of State read the Max Hastings article in The Sunday Times this Sunday, in which he expresses deep concern about the threat from Russia and about the way Russia is now preparing to use cyber-methods against Europe and our allies? Will he take action to make sure that this country of ours is prepared to match up to those threats, and will he seek succour from the European Union in doing that?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I did not read the article in The Sunday Times that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but I am very familiar with that author’s views on this subject and very familiar with the problem. We are taking action to strengthen our cyber-defence and, as I announced three years ago when I was Defence Secretary, to create an avowed UK offensive cyber-capability. We are still the only nation that has publicly declared the fact that we are developing an offensive cyber-capability for retaliatory purposes if we are attacked.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

The Foreign Affairs Committee was in Russia last week and would certainly agree with the assessment that our relations with Russia are in the deep freeze, as reflected by my right hon. Friend’s rhetoric. Russia appears to be strategically stuck in its position in the global naughty corner of international relations. Do we not need to be thinking about ways in which we might get Russia out of this position, even if it is only a substantial investment in people-to-people links, Chevening scholarships, cultural relations and everything else?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that although our relationships with Russia are in a very difficult phase at the moment and we have suspended most business-as-usual relations, we have maintained our cultural links with Russia and cultural exchanges do continue, including at ministerial level. Russia has its own agenda, and from the point of view of the Kremlin it is not so obvious to me that it will regard its current strategy as failing and in need of revision. Russia is ensuring that the countries that it regards as its near abroad are unable to make free choices about their futures, and I judge that to be the No. 1 priority for the Kremlin.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that there is any scope for expanding the EU sanctions to include the Russians involved in the murder of Magnitsky and also the Russians involved in the expropriation of $100 billion dollars-worth of shareholders’ money in relation to Yukos?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Yukos issue is a matter that is currently before the courts, and there has been a recent decision in this case. We have looked at the options for expanding sanctions to cover other areas, but we found that the individuals who could be targeted are already either, in effect, covered by other measures or would not be affected by the kind of sanctions that we could impose. So, as a Government, we do not see any prospect of expanded sanctions.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Returning to the original question by my hon. Friend Mims Davies, does my right hon. Friend agree that there can be no question of EU sanctions or Council of Europe sanctions being lifted until Nadiya Savchenko is unconditionally released, until intervention in Donbas has ceased, and until the future of Crimea is properly and freely determined?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

That is our position. Of course, we need to maintain a consensus within the European Union on renewal of sanctions, and that is work that we are continuously engaged in. I am confident that sanctions will be rolled over this summer, but we have to make the case again every six months for continuing those sanctions.