Ukraine Border: Russian Forces

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons on 20th April 2021.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of increases in numbers of Russian forces at the border with Ukraine on peace and security in that region.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

We have significant concerns about the recent Russian military build-up of forces on Ukraine’s border. We are working with our allies—I was at a NATO meeting of Foreign and Defence Ministers last week—and our objective is to deter Russia, reassure Ukraine and de-escalate the situation.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

I am glad to hear that, but, in 1994, the UK, Russia and the United States of America signed the Budapest memorandum, which issued not exactly guarantees but assurances that we would respect the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine, in return for which Kiev surrendered 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads, which was vital to secure peace in the region. Is it not now all the more incumbent on us to make it very clear that we will continue to provide political, diplomatic, scientific, financial and, if necessary, military support to Kiev?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has long-standing experience of this issue; I agree with his level of concern. There are three things that we are doing right now that matter. The first is holding Russia to its international commitments, including not just the ones that he mentioned, but the OSCE principles of accountability for the build-up of troops. Russia has not responded to the calls for an explanation within the OSCE. We will continue our robust approach to sanctions. He is right that we will continue to provide diplomatic support, but we will also continue to provide military support: since 2015, through Operation Orbital, we have trained more than 20,000 Ukrainian armed forces personnel.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I very much welcome the words of the Foreign Secretary, but has he done an assessment in his Department about how Russia is reading the troop reductions in the British Army and the withdrawal from Afghanistan? Both will be seen from Moscow as a sign that, perhaps, NATO is not quite as serious as we are making out. What is he able to do diplomatically about that? While we do still carry a big stick, some elements seem to be looking a little weaker. Perhaps he can reinforce them by encouraging his partner in Cabinet to put more resources into the Army.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee, but I am afraid that he is wrong. It is vital that, as well as increasing the defence and security budget in the ground-breaking way that the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary have done, we make sure that it is agile and fit to face the challenges of the future, including from not just conventional armed forces, but cyber and the other hostile state activity. I was in Brussels on 14 April and spoke to the US Defence Secretary and the Secretary of State along with other Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers from NATO. We are absolutely clear in condemning the build-up of troops. We are assuring Ukraine, as I have said, and we are working overall to de-escalate the situation.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Foreign Secretary

Russia has amassed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, Alexei Navalny lies deteriorating in a prison hospital, and a NATO ally has come under attack from the same hands as those who used chemical weapons on the streets of the UK. Yet in the 18 months since the Foreign Secretary was handed the Russia report, the UK has remained a safe haven for the dark money that helps to sustain the Putin regime, the Conservative party has taken £1 million in donations from Russian-linked sources, and oligarchs are welcomed with open arms. Seriously—I have asked him this before—what accounts for the delay in implementing the Russia report? Is it repercussions from Russia that he is worried about, or is it repercussions from his own party?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I thank the hon. Lady, but I have to say that that is a pretty weak attempt to weave in partisan political considerations in what is a very serious international issue. On the Intelligence and Security Committee report: we have already taken multiple actions against the Russian threat, exposing the reckless cyber activity—we have done that and she is aware of that; we have introduced a new power to stop individuals at UK ports to see whether they represent a threat as part of the hostile state activity; we are introducing new legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with additional tools to tackle the evolving threat from hostile states; and, as she knows, I will shortly be introducing an extension of the Magnitsky sanctions in relation to corruption.

Just in relation to Salisbury, it was not that long ago that the hon. Lady was campaigning for the leader of her party at the time to be Prime Minister—someone who backed the Russians against this Prime Minister who, as Foreign Secretary, galvanised the international response to the appalling attacks on the streets of Salisbury.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Foreign Secretary

The difference between the right hon. Gentleman and me is that I stood up to my former party leadership when they got it wrong on this issue. It is pathetic that he cannot do the same given the gravity of the situation that this country currently faces. He has had 18 months since the publication of a report that his own Prime Minister tried to block. We have had no action on golden visas, no powers to sanction corrupt officials. Up to half of all the money that is laundered out of Russia comes through the United Kingdom and, in three years since the Salisbury attacks, it is still not illegal to be a foreign agent in this country. Meanwhile we have seen the oligarchs and kleptocrats who have profited from the Putin regime funnelling money to the Conservative party. [Interruption.] He shakes his head, but it is £5 million since David Cameron became leader. His own Minister, the Minister for Asia, has had multiple donations from a former Russian arms dealer who described himself as “untouchable” because of his links with the Kremlin. If the Foreign Secretary wants to clear this up, he can clear it up once and for all: implement those recommendations from the Russia report; defend the security, the democracy and the integrity of this country; stop the gross negligence; and give us a date by which all 23 recommendations will be implemented in full.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

In relation to the registration of agents, all the hon. Lady has done is pick up on the action that the Home Secretary has already announced and proposed, and called for it; it is a classic action from the shadow Foreign Secretary. [Interruption.] She is talking over me because she does not like the response. The reality is that she did campaign for the former leader of the Labour party to be Prime Minister—a man who, in fact, backed Russia at the time when this Prime Minister, as Foreign Secretary, galvanised the international community in an unprecedented diplomatic reaction to President Putin. We will continue to stand up for the British national interest; the shadow Foreign Secretary will make her political points.