Salisbury Incident

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:27 pm on 12th September 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Labour, Aberavon 3:27 pm, 12th September 2018

Yes, I do share that concern. I think it is clear that, at the very least, a pause is necessary, and I think that the European Union needs to take the required action to make that happen. We need to pause and review how it will work, but Europe needs a plan B for its energy, and the key must be to reduce its dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. That must be the strategic objective.

When oil is selling at over $100 a barrel there are rich pickings, and the nexus of Government officials and mafia bosses who run modern Russia are able to co-exist in relative peace and harmony, but a few years ago the price dropped to nearly $40 a barrel, and although it has risen recently, it is still struggling to reach $70 a barrel. The pie has therefore shrunk, which has constrained the Kremlin’s ability to incentivise and buy loyalty. What do you do if you are a Russian President who is no longer able to offer the carrot to your henchmen and cronies? You must then deploy the stick. You must send a message, loud and clear, to all those who may know your secrets and may be thinking about betraying you that retribution will be brutal, cruel and swift.

While assassinations on the streets of Britain are Putin’s specific weapon of choice when it comes to securing the loyalty of the various clans and cabals that run Russia, he also knows that he must retain the broader support of the Russian people, which he has done through a series of cynical and ruthless foreign policy initiatives and military interventions. He knows that he needs to compensate for the abject failure of his Government to place the Russian economy on a sustainable growth footing, and he does so by seeking to unite his people against a range of common enemies. It is the oldest trick in the book. Thus the Russian threat to our security is not only through the Salisbury attack, or through the murder of Litvinenko; we see it in the invasion of Ukraine, and we see it in the indiscriminate bombing of Syria. From 24 to 28 February, Russia conducted 20 bombing missions every day in eastern Ghouta. The month-long assault on eastern Ghouta alone is estimated to have killed over 1,600 people, most of them thanks to Russian bombs, bringing the death toll in Syria to over half a million people, with 5 million refugees and over 6 million displaced people.

As we have seen with the refugee crisis and the threat from IS, the effects of the Russian intervention have rippled on to our shores. President Putin deploys state-sponsored murder in order to retain the loyalty and discipline of his immediate entourage, and he uses military aggression in order to secure the broader support of the Russian people. Both of these strategies represent a grave threat to our national security and the security of our partners and allies, and both must therefore be tackled and defeated.

Russia’s geopolitical influence and substantial military clout stand in stark contrast to the small size and fragile state of its economy. In 2013 Russia’s economy was roughly the size of Italy’s and considerably smaller than Germany’s. Russia is grossly over-reliant on hydrocarbons, with approximately 70% of its GDP linked to the oil and gas industries. With the price of a barrel of oil plummeting, the value of the rouble tumbling, the demographic time-bomb ticking, sanctions biting and poor economic policy decisions compounding these problems, the Russian economy is facing a perfect storm. It is against this backdrop that sanctions as a foreign policy tool are ultimately likely to have real effect. The sectoral sanctions imposed by the EU in the wake of the shooting down of flight MH17 by Russian-made missiles in July 2014 certainly led Russia to tread more carefully in terms of incursions into eastern Ukraine, and there is some evidence to suggest that President Putin is not actively seeking to up the ante there.

The Government must now build on the success of those measures by committing to the following. First, we must ensure that the Magnitsky amendment to the sanctions Act is implemented effectively. It needs to be implemented effectively without excuses about our membership of the EU being an impediment; that clearly is not the case because Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all implemented their Magnitsky legislation.