Ukraine, Syria and Iran — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 5:55 pm on 24th February 2014.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:55 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, with permission I will repeat a Statement that the Foreign Secretary is making to the House of Commons.

“Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a Statement on the situation in Ukraine and Syria and relations with Iran.

Last week more than 80 people were killed and 600 injured during the worst bloodshed in Ukraine since the fall of communism. It was the culmination of unrest that began in November when President Yanukovych announced that the Government would not sign an EU association agreement. The House will join me in sending condolences to the families of those who died or were injured.

On Thursday I attended the emergency meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which agreed sanctions on those responsible for the violence, as well as assistance to promote political dialogue and help for the injured.

On Friday President Yanukovych and the opposition signed an agreement, also supported by the whole European Union, and I pay tribute to my French, Polish and German colleagues for their efforts to bring this about. But events have moved rapidly since then, including the departure of President Yanukovych from Kyiv and the removal of guards from government buildings.

On Saturday the Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada, voted to restore the 2004 constitution, to release Yulia Tymoshenko, and to impeach the President. He has said that he will not step down, but it is clear that his authority is no longer widely accepted. A number of members of the previous Government have been dismissed and appointments made in a new unity Government. Rada Speaker Turchynov has been appointed acting President until early elections on 25 May.

Ukraine now has a pressing need for constitutional reform, improvements to its political culture, free elections, an end to pervasive corruption and the building of a stable political structure. We look to the new Government to create the conditions for such change and, in a spirit of reconciliation, to ensure accountability for human rights violations.

For our part, the international community must work with the new Government to discourage further violence and agree international financial support. Ukraine’s financial situation is very serious and, without outside assistance, may not be sustainable. An economic crisis in Ukraine would be a grave threat to the country’s stability and have damaging wider consequences.

I discussed this work with the German and Polish Foreign Ministers over the weekend and spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia earlier this afternoon. The Prime Minister has spoken to President Putin, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Tusk, and the Chancellor discussed Ukraine with G20 Finance Ministers in Australia. Later today I will go to Washington to discuss this and other issues with Secretary Kerry.

While in Washington I will hold talks with the International Monetary Fund, which is best placed to provide financial support and technical advice in Ukraine. Such support could be provided quickly once requested by the new Government. It requires a stable and legitimate Government to be in place and a commitment to the reforms necessary to produce economic stability. International financial support cannot be provided without conditions and clarity that it will be put to proper use.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is visiting Kyiv today and I will visit shortly. Our fundamental interest is democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine. This is not about a choice for Ukraine between Russia and the EU; it is about setting the country on a democratic path for the future. We want the people of Ukraine to be free to determine their own future, which is what we also seek for the people of Syria.

On Saturday the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2139 on Syrian humanitarian assistance, which the United Kingdom called for and co-sponsored. This is the first resolution adopted by the Security Council on the humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict three years ago and it was agreed unanimously. It demands an immediate end to the violence, the lifting of the sieges of besieged areas and the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid including, importantly, across borders where necessary. It authorises the UN to work with civil society to deliver aid to the whole of Syria. It condemns terrorist attacks, demands the implementation of the Geneva Communiqué leading to a political transition, and says that this transition should include the full participation of women.

The passing of this resolution is an important achievement, but it will make a practical difference only if it is implemented in full. We will now work with the United Nations and our partners to try to ensure that the regime’s stranglehold on starving people is broken.

The UK continues to set an example to the world on humanitarian assistance. Our contribution to the Syrian people now stands at £600 million: £241 million allocated for humanitarian assistance inside Syria; £265 million to support refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt; and £94 million of allocations that are currently being finalised. We have pressed for other countries to do more, including at the Kuwait conference on 15 January that resulted in more than $2.2 billion in new pledges.

The Security Council Resolution is a chink of light in an otherwise bleak and deteriorating situation. An estimated 5,000 Syrians are dying every month. Nearly 250,000 people remain trapped in areas under siege. The bombardment of civilian areas with barrel bombs continues unabated and there are reports of attacks with cluster munitions as well. An inquiry led by distinguished British experts reported on the photos of the bodies of around 11,000 tortured and executed Syrian detainees. Some 2.5 million Syrians are refugees in the region, 75% of them women and children. The UN expects 4 million refugees or more by the end of this year.

Against this horrifying backdrop we continue to seek a negotiated settlement to end the conflict. But there is no sign of the Assad regime having any willingness whatever to negotiate the political transition demanded by the United Nations Security Council.

The second round of Geneva II negotiations ended on 15 February without agreement on future talks. UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had proposed an agenda for a third round of talks focusing on violence and terrorism—the regime’s stated priority—and a transitional governing body, in parallel. The regime refused this. As a result the talks were suspended, with Mr Brahimi clearly laying responsibility for this at the regime’s door.

The National Coalition, by contrast, approached the negotiations constructively and in good faith. It published a statement of principles for the transitional governing body, stating that it would enable the Syrian people to decide their own future and protect the rights and freedoms of all Syrians. Those supporting the regime side, including the Russian and Iranian Governments, need to do far more to press the regime to take the process seriously and to reach a political settlement, as we have done with the opposition.

We will continue our support for the National Coalition and for civil society within Syria. We are providing £2.1 million for Syrian civil defence teams to help local communities deal with attacks, and improve the capability of local councils to save the lives of those injured and alleviate humanitarian suffering. This includes training, which is now under way, a communications campaign, and £700,000 of civil defence equipment. This includes personal radios, rescue tools, protective firefighting clothing, fire extinguishers, stretchers and individual medical kits.

The UK is also proposing a £2 million package of training, technical assistance and equipment support to build the capacity of the Free Syrian Police, working with the United States and Denmark. I have laid before Parliament a minute to approve £910,000-worth of equipment, including communications equipment, uniforms and vehicles for the Free Syrian Police. We also intend to make a contribution to the Syria Recovery Trust Fund, established by the UAE and Germany, which will focus on healthcare, water supply, energy supply and food security; and we are working with the Supreme Military Council to agree the best way of restarting our non-lethal support, which we halted temporarily in December.

The regime’s foot-dragging is also clear on the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. According to the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, only 11% of Syria’s declared chemical stockpile has so far been removed, and the regime has missed the 5 February deadline for removing all chemicals. This has delayed the destruction operation by months and puts the 30 June final destruction deadline in jeopardy. This slow rate of progress is clearly unacceptable. The UN Secretary-General and the OPCW have made it clear that Syria has all the necessary equipment to enable the movement of the chemicals. The OPCW’s Director-General is pressing the Syrians to accept a plan that would see the removal of all Syrian chemicals in a considerably shorter period, enabling the 30 June deadline to be met.

Turning to Iran, the first step agreement with Iran came into force on 20 January and continues to be implemented. The E3+3 and Iran met last week to start negotiations on a comprehensive agreement aimed at ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is, and always will be, exclusively peaceful. The talks were constructive. The E3+3 and Iran agreed on the issues that need to be resolved as part of a comprehensive agreement; and in broad terms on the approach to negotiations for the coming months. The next round of talks will be in mid-March in Vienna. The E3+3 and Iran plan to meet monthly in order to make swift progress on the issues that need to be resolved in the ambitious timeframe we agreed under the November Geneva deal of implementation starting within a year.

The House should be under no illusion that the challenges here remain very considerable. A comprehensive solution must address all proliferation concerns related to Iran’s nuclear programme. To that end, existing sanctions remain intact and we will continue to enforce them robustly.

We continue to expand our bilateral engagement with Iran. Indeed, Iran’s non-resident chargé d’affaires is visiting the UK today. Last Thursday, we and Iran brought the protecting power arrangements to an end. This is a sign of increasing confidence that we can conduct bilateral business directly between capitals rather than through intermediaries. I thank the Governments of Sweden and Oman for acting as protecting powers since the closure of our embassy, and for their strong friendship and support for the UK. We will continue step by step with these improvements in our bilateral relations providing they remain reciprocal. We are, for example, working together on ways to make it easier for Iranians and British citizens to obtain consular and visa services.

On all these issues we will maintain intensive diplomatic activity in the days ahead and I will continue to keep the House informed on our work with other nations—whether it be in Europe, the Middle East or the prevention of nuclear proliferation—to ensure a more peaceful and stable world”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:08 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for repeating the Statement made in the other place, and the Foreign Secretary for providing an advance copy of it to the shadow Foreign Secretary, which I have read and which was of great assistance in preparing for our discussion this afternoon.

The events in the Ukraine demonstrate just how dangerous a moment this is. The deaths of more than 80 people and injuries to many hundreds more is ample demonstration of the personal cost to the population of a country eager for democratic change. I join the Government in expressing our condolences to the families of those who have been killed and our profound hopes for the recovery of those who have been injured.

It is far from clear what will happen next. I can see that there are deep differences in the Ukraine between those who want a modern European identity and those turning back towards a Russian, indeed, even, I think it is fair to say, Soviet-style identity. I do not accept, and fear the consequences of, the pejorative name-calling that we have seen in recent weeks. There may be a small number of nationalist extremists in the group who overthrew Mr Yanukovych, but I see no evidence at all that warrants the denunciation of the opposition by Yanukovych’s supporters or, indeed, by the Russian state media, in terms of an uprising of fascism in the country, as they have described it. Using the language of 1941 may be useful to opponents of change but bears no relationship to the real events of today.

What is needed today is systematic constitutional reform. What are needed are democratic institutions supported by popular elections to those institutions. What is needed is a willingness to determine democratically the balances between the different peoples in different parts of the country and the platform for reconciliation that only they can construct. What is decidedly not needed is any Russian statement about the potential need for what it has called “fraternal intervention”. That very phrase has a history, not least from the Czechoslovakian intervention of 1968. It is fundamentally unhelpful to hear that language because it leaves serious ambiguities as to what might happen next. No military intervention would be tolerable, and President Obama is surely right: Ukraine is not a piece on a Cold War chessboard. I assume that Her Majesty’s Government agree with this when they say that this is not a matter of choices between the European Union and Russia for the people of the Ukraine. It is essential that Mr Lavrov understands the goals of greater democracy in that country and a new generation potentially taking up the mantle. The global consequences of any military intervention are unthinkable. Ukraine is, whatever its financial difficulties—to which I must return in a moment—after the European part of Russia, the largest nation in Europe. It is rich in agriculture and many other resources, and in its culture. It stands at a key strategic frontier. Nothing could make a fraught situation worse than if there were to be some form of military intervention.

I make one other observation after talking with Ukrainian diplomats in the past couple of days. For the most part, they have said that they want to turn towards Europe and the EU. These are matters of choice for them, not me, but that is what they have expressed. They see it as a great economic opportunity, which sadly they need greatly, but just as much as a bulwark against corruption and a foundation for a reliable system of rule of law. However, you will find that if you speak to them they also think that the United Kingdom has far too little or possibly even nothing to add to the argument that they want to advance. They will tell you, without much diplomatic small talk, that the United Kingdom’s attitude to Europe is, at best, one of weak co-operation with that body that they aspire to join. At worst, the attitude is one of somewhat bloody-minded hostility likely to be seized on by those who are hostile, for nationalistic reasons, to a Ukrainian future that is more closely bound with Europe. Those diplomats take this matter seriously. Least of all can they understand—and they made this point to me with some strength—how the main party of government here in the United Kingdom left the centre-right Christian democrat bloc, to which many Ukrainians see themselves as fairly naturally aligned, to gravitate towards a more extreme right alignment that they abhor and think is a risk to their country. That risk is being seized upon by the Russians.

Today the House will want to know what the United Kingdom can contribute to a peaceful outcome. I suggest that it could start by appointing a dedicated special envoy. This is a problem that is not going to go away overnight and will need to be addressed over a period of time. Ukraine’s economy is, as we have heard in the Statement, despite the fundamentals that should augur well, close to being wrecked. Is Russia still willing to contribute the financial support that it has hitherto offered to the Yanukovyck regime, or has that offer been withdrawn? I hope that the Minister will be in a position to tell us.

What contribution does the Foreign Secretary believe the IMF could provide? Two months ago he dismissed the idea advanced by my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander. Yesterday the Foreign Secretary agreed with the idea. Do the Government regret that the past months have drifted by, with the Ukraine drifting towards calamity? Of course conditions would have been needed at all stages, but how is the work on the conditions to be conducted in good time in order to have the impact that we now need it to have—it is plainly needed—yet avoid the mistakes, because the conditions are also about those, made by the Orange Revolution in 2004?

Will the Foreign Secretary call for the renewal of negotiations on the EU association agreement? In doing so, will he emphasise, as he will need to, the United Kingdom’s continuing support for the European Union, so that it is understood to be, in our view, a positive benefit? The Foreign Secretary has been talking to Mr Lavrov, as was said in the Statement, and I sincerely welcome it. Will he make these kinds of proposals to Foreign Minister Lavrov? Will he seek Mr Lavrov’s guarantee that Russia will not encourage south-eastern Ukraine to break away from Ukraine as a whole?

On Syria, we, too, welcome United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139. The position in that country, as the Foreign Secretary says, is grotesque and horrifying. He is quite right. Nevertheless, the humanitarian appeal is in desperate straits. We have called for a new donor conference to build funds that are desperately needed. Will the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, back this call this afternoon? What proposals do the Government have to encourage the regime’s supporters, especially Russia and Iran, to press Syria for a political settlement? There is every reason to think, as the Statement says, that the Syrian regime is not addressing the negotiations with any degree of seriousness. Assad is not serious. What are the Government’s objections to establishing a Syria contact group to encourage negotiations? As the Statement says, the current position is—I use the word used by the Foreign Secretary—“unacceptable”, whether we are talking about the use of chemical weapons or their decommissioning, or indeed anything else that the Syrians were expected to do as a result of the discussions that had begun.

On Iran, I repeat the congratulations offered to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. She probably feels burdened by congratulations these days but, goodness knows, nobody deserves them more. We welcome the framework agreement in Vienna last week. It is helpful and, I suspect, constructive in a limited way. Progress, however, is dependent on Iran sticking to the agreements it made last November. The number of centrifuges is reportedly still in excess of 10,000. A far lower limit was set in November. What steps do Her Majesty’s Government advocate to bring Iran into line with the deal that it itself has agreed? How will the Government here review the sanctions regime? I make none of these final points in order to be negative about what can be achieved or, indeed, about what has been achieved, but I know that these are conditions in which, if pressure is not continued in the right direction, the opportunities for backsliding are profound, and the dangers that come with them are still more profound.

I ask these questions out of sympathy, not hostility, for the objectives that have been expressed in the Statement, but the House will want to know the answers.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:18 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support for the Government’s approach. Perhaps I may simply say that the British Government do not presume that they do anything on their own in any of these circumstances. On Iran, we are working as part of the E3+3, which, as the noble Lord said, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, chairs so well. We are working on Syria with the Syrian core group, which consists of European countries, the United States and a number of Arab countries. The group continues to meet regularly as a means of pulling together those most concerned about the future of Syria. As the noble Lord said, the Foreign Secretary talks to his opposite number in Russia on a very regular basis. On Ukraine, we gave active support to the Polish, German and French Foreign Ministers in their efforts to help in Kiev. The Poles, after all, have a common border with Ukraine—and, to some extent, a common history—and we are part of a group of European countries that are of course actively engaged. However, in none of these, whatever Ukrainian diplomats may think, do we think that we operate separately from our partners and allies in Europe, across the Atlantic and across the Middle East.

In terms of asking the Russians not to do anything to encourage parts of Ukraine to split off, Crimea may in some ways be more of an immediate danger than south-east Ukraine. It may be one of the impacts of what has been shown on Ukrainian television in the past two or three days—in terms of the depths of personal corruption of the Yanukovych regime—that eastern Ukraine will be less prepared to resist the changes than it might otherwise have been. The Yanukovych regime, which was most strongly supported in the Donetsk region, as the noble Lord knows, has been more thoroughly discredited that we anticipated three or four days ago. Of course, what is happening in Ukraine is moving very rapidly and it is unclear what will emerge. We are working with others; I take the noble Lord’s point about whether we intend to appoint a special UK envoy, but I suspect that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary would say that we are working with others—we are part of the international community on this—and we intend to go on working with them.

In terms of the compliment made to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, we should also recognise that, of the women doing extremely valuable work in international diplomacy at present, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, is also doing a certain amount of very valuable and quite dangerous work in humanitarian assistance to Syria. We should be proud of the extent to which British women—Members of this House—are attempting to assist in these very difficult and, to a considerable extent, interconnected conflicts.

Certainly, a number of Governments, including our own, have said that the Vilnius association agreement remains on the table for Ukraine, but I again stress that we are not trying to make Ukrainians make a definitive choice between joining the European Union and leaving the Russians behind or the reverse. Clearly we have to find a solution through which Ukraine can adopt a more open form of government and a much stronger sense of the rule of law, begin to rebuild its very battered economy and restructure its enormous debts to a range of other countries. That, however, requires a new Government to emerge and we and others will do all we can, as we move towards the presidential elections now set for May, to assist the interim Government in moving in those directions.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat 6:22 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I say to my noble friend that I am extremely relieved to hear that the Foreign Secretary is travelling to Washington to have discussions with the US Administration but, more importantly, to have discussions with the International Monetary Fund. Can he tell the House how much leverage we have with the IMF? We know, of course, of its exasperation that €300 billion was expended on very necessary eurozone bailouts but that only €610 million was pledged to Ukraine before the crisis started in November. Perhaps there has been a lack of urgency on the part of the IMF-EU relationship with Ukraine that has led us to where we are now.

I also congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the very measured tone that he has taken in terms of Russia. We need to co-operate with Russia and Ukraine and we also need Russia on Syria. However, on Syria—I do not wish to detain the House, I will be brief—surely we need to be tougher with Russia because we have wasted, some might say, two opportunities now in Geneva without seeing any progress whatever. To what extent might we help the Free Syrian Army to gain access to weapons so that it can defend wives and children?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

On Russia and Syria, I remind the noble Baroness that the resolution passed on Saturday in the UN Security Council was passed unanimously. This demonstrates, to an extent, that the Russians are beginning to lose patience with the regime, which is bombing, starving and besieging its own people throughout much of the country. That is at least some step forward. Of course we engage with the Russians as actively as we can on these and a number of other subjects.

On the question of help to the Syrian National Council and the moderate opposition in terms of weapons, the Government take the position that the House of Commons showed its unwillingness to provide military support in Syria and that we will not change our policy on that until we have brought that issue back to the Commons. That may happen at some time but, at present, we are providing non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition and will continue to do so.

Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Crossbench

My Lords, first, I welcome what the Minister has said about the moves to re-establish normal diplomatic relations with Iran. The more difficult and more complex our relationships are with countries, the more important it is to have a well plugged-in embassy in place and I hope very much that we will have normal diplomatic relations with Iran as soon as may be.

Secondly, and this echoes what the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, was saying, it seems that the link between these three countries—Ukraine, Syria and Iran—is the role of Russia. I was glad to hear that the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Mr Lavrov this morning. Will the Minister confirm that the strengthening of our engagement with Russia, both bilaterally and through the EU and other international organisations to which we belong, should now be a real priority for our foreign policy?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am well aware from many conversations with the Foreign Secretary that he has been working extremely hard over the past months and more to engage the Russians on a wide range of issues; as the noble Lord will know from long experience, this is not always easy. It has been something that we have needed to do. Whether one calls the negotiating group on Iran the E3+3 or the P5+1, some of the members of that group are easier to work with than others but we do try to hold them all together.

On the current question, and as I said in the Statement, we are moving forward gradually and proportionately and looking for reciprocal gestures and, so far, so relatively good. As the noble Lord will know, the current regime in Iran is complex and one always has to be aware that there are other aspects of the regime from the ones to whom we are talking.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

I wish to say only a few words and to concentrate on Ukraine in this context, because it is an unusual subject for us to be considering and it is in a very serious condition. I am glad also to be here in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, as very shortly after Ukraine began emerging from the regional history the two of us were invited to form part of a multinational advisory group in Ukraine, helping it to develop its nationhood. At different stages we had the privilege of meeting both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko. It is very important to hear that our Government are supporting Ukraine with its problems at present; it certainly needs it.

I remember that when the two of us went down for the first time into Independence Square it was full of people, and we could not help noticing the statue of Stalin covered over with posters on behalf of the Pope. I remember that it was Stalin who said:

The Pope! How many divisions has he got?”.

It shows, in a way, the extent of the divisions between the two groups in those early years of Ukraine’s growing independence. Having met both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, one realises that they are both figures of some substance and figures facing real problems without all that much background and without assistance. It is important that we recognise the significance of Ukraine as an independent country of some real substance in the future, and I am delighted that Her Majesty’s Government are already doing so to that effect. It deserves it and I am sure that we can give some real help.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble and learned Lord for all those comments, with which I agree.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative

My Lords, has my noble friend seen some rather disturbing press reports today about rows and ructions within the group of Syrians who are opposed to the Assad regime? This has happened before and it may happen again, but how does my noble friend assess the cohesion of the anti-Assad forces in Syria?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

That is a very difficult question to answer in some ways because, as the noble Lord well knows, there is a very large variety of fighting groups. Indeed, in north-eastern Syria in the past week or two the moderate forces in the opposition have been fighting radical jihadis to expel them from ground otherwise occupied by the opposition. However, my experience of the Geneva II talks so far is that the representatives of the Syrian National Council have been more coherent and more constructive than some had predicted in advance. We are doing all we can to support the Syrian National Council in being an inclusive body, including Kurdish and Christian representatives, women and so on, and in strengthening its links with the moderate fighting forces on the ground. Of course, the picture remains extremely unclear. It is currently very difficult to get around inside Syria for obvious reasons, but we are a little more confident than we were that there is a reasonable opposition willing to work for a transition regime, through which we and others can work.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords—

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I think that we should hear from the noble Lord, Lord Wills, because he has been trying to get in for a while.

Photo of Lord Wills Lord Wills Labour

I am very grateful and my question is brief. The Minister will be aware of reports that there has been a significant flight of capital from Ukraine in recent weeks. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that assets that have been corruptly acquired in Ukraine are not being laundered in this country?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, that is a question that I have asked myself inside government. We are concerned about the movement of funds whose origins are not entirely clear. I am assured that the Government are monitoring these movements, but of course it is a matter of concern.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, it is utterly laudable and understandable that the United Kingdom and the other countries of the European Union should commit themselves to substantial economic aid for Ukraine. However, will the Government give an unreserved commitment to abjure every temptation to try to involve Ukraine in any militaristic alliance or allegiance with western European countries, bearing in mind that the chief port of Ukraine, Sevastopol, is the base of the Russian Black Sea fleet and that such a militaristic course, though tempting on the face of it, would be utter insanity?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I have seen the base of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol with the Ukrainian Black Sea fleet, such as it is, not far away. I recall that someone for whom I used to work, Admiral Sir James Eberle, was invited in the early 1990s to advise the Russians and the Ukrainians on how the Black Sea fleet should be divided between the two. His recommendation was that the best thing was to scrap the entire fleet. Unfortunately, the advice was not taken.

Photo of The Bishop of Wakefield The Bishop of Wakefield Bishop

My Lords, perhaps I may focus my question on Ukraine. It seems to me that there are some senses—not exactly repetitions—in which we are seeing replayed some of the things that were not resolved in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I remember that at that time I was working at Lambeth as the archbishop’s foreign secretary, as it were, and on one occasion the telephone was brought to me in the bath. There was a call from the gatekeeper telling me that Mr Gorbachev was in captivity in the Crimea and he thought that I ought to know so that I could do something about it. Some very good and quite low-key, and low-cost, initiatives were taken by Her Majesty’s Government at that time to support the development of democracy in the various republics that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. Can we be reassured that, once things become a little more stable, those sorts of initiatives might be looked at again? I am suggesting not carbon copies but that sort of thing.

My other point is that only the churches never recognised the division of Europe. The Conference of European Churches always worked across Europe. There are very serious divisions in the churches in the Ukraine, often reflecting some of the fragmentations that exist in the country as a whole. Again, that is another area where Her Majesty’s Government might work with others to see how one moves towards a more democratic situation.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I continue to learn how close church links can be across national boundaries. I was in Armenia some months ago and was met by a very chatty archbishop, who seemed to know almost every bishop I had ever met in this country. However, we all know that the Orthodox Church in and across the former Soviet Union is a very complex and divided entity, and not all its branches are committed to anything that we would recognise as a liberal approach to organised religion. Sadly, the different branches of the church in Ukraine represent that rather well.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, I had the honour to be one of those who advised the Ukrainian republic at the moment of its independence from Russia, and I have kept closely in touch with it ever since. I begin by saying—I shall not be long—that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is absolutely right in indicating that the way in which Ukraine has been desperately trying to find security and, not least, to strengthen its relationships with the EU is an astonishing statement of trust in the EU. Perhaps it is time that we recognised that rather more than we sometimes do. It is a statement of belief in the future of a united Europe.

Perhaps I may ask one question of a practical kind. Outside the realm of governmental relations, how far does the Minister believe that in relations on a cultural level, on a religious level—indeed, with the appointment of Pope Francis possibly much more easily than in the past—and, not least, on an educational level we could establish a much stronger and more helpful relationship with Ukraine than we have done without putting at risk its relationship with Russia? I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that that relationship should not be made into a military one. I believe that there is much ground here for extensive and helpful relations between this country and what I hope will, before long, be the emerging democracy of Ukraine.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I did not answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, about military alliances. Across what the EU has called the “eastern neighbourhood”, we are aware that some countries—for example, Georgia—have a stated ambition to join NATO, and that is another delicate set of issues with which we will all have to deal. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that I think I can beat her to help the new Ukrainian Government. The John F Kennedy School of Government asked for a Wallace to go to a conference in Kiev in December 1991. I found it almost surreal talking to a newly independent Government about the attributes of statehood that they suddenly found themselves having. I know that the noble Baroness, with the rest of the Kennedy school and others, then took over a much more detailed programme.

We are, of course, entirely open to cultural and educational relations. We very much want to work with Ukraine. I have no doubt that the British Council and others will wish to be engaged in as much assistance to Ukraine as possible—in particular, helping it to develop a much clearer concept of the rule of law and of the importance of law in every aspect of the economy, society and government.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, on Syria, in discussing UNSCR 2139, the Minister made the point that it was passed unanimously, which is very much to be welcomed. However, did the British Government press for it to be a chapter 7 resolution? As the Statement rightly said, the passing of the resolution is an important achievement but it will only make a practical difference if it is implemented in full. As it is not a chapter 7 resolution, what sanctions can be invoked if the siege of the 240,000 people continues; if there continue to be 5,000 deaths every month in Syria; and if the chemical weapons are not dismantled by 30 June this year? Without a chapter 7 resolution, is there really nothing very much that the UN will be able to do?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we are doing our best to carry the P5 with us as we go. That is an important part of where we are going. It is extremely important that we got the first resolution on Syria for some time agreed unanimously by all participants. That is a significant step forward and we should not underrate it.

I agree that the situation is appalling. I am told that somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people are trapped in Aleppo at the moment. Part of the expectation of what will happen is that there may be another surge of refugees across the frontiers in the next six months if some of these sieges are lifted, as, of course, we very much hope they will be.

The fact that this is not a chapter 7 resolution does not necessarily mean that attitudes—including the Russian attitude and, perhaps with it, the Chinese attitude—will evolve. The behaviour of the regime in killing and starving its own people is losing the sympathy of the whole international community.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister answered the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, by talking about the role which the United Nations Security Council might play in the future. One of the things we should be doing is looking at the role of the International Criminal Court and the ability of the Security Council to make a referral—not least because Ban Ki-Moon only this week said that unspeakable suffering was being experienced by the children in Syria, with some 10,000 of those killed so far being children. In the Foreign Secretary’s Statement we heard about the barrel bombs that are continuing to rain down on Aleppo; the sieges being undertaken in places such as Homs, where people are being starved to death; and, in previous times, the use of Sarin gas and the fact that only 11% of chemical weapons have been removed thus far. Surely it is time for us to start thinking about collecting the evidence against those who have been responsible for these deeds, whether they come from extremist militant groups or the regime, to ensure that one day they will face their day of trial.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, a number of groups, both governmental and non-governmental, are collecting evidence of atrocities in Syria as we go forward. We are committed to a transition regime rather than a destruction regime because we are well aware of the lessons of Iraq where, under American leadership, most of the institutions of Saddam Hussein’s state were dismantled, leaving us with an ungoverned and ungovernable country. We are also very clear that in any transition there is no place for the core members of the Assad regime, and that is what we intend to negotiate through the Geneva II talks.