“With permission, I will make a Statement on the situation in Ukraine. The House will recall from my Statement last Monday that, on
Last Wednesday, President Putin ordered military exercises involving a stated 38,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, which they now appear to have concluded. By Friday, unidentified armed men had appeared outside airports and government buildings in Crimea. On Saturday, President Putin sought and received the approval of the upper House of the Russian Parliament to use Russian armed forces anywhere on the territory of Ukraine without the consent of the Ukrainian Government, citing a,
‘threat to the lives of Russian citizens’.
Russian forces in Crimea went on to take control of Ukrainian military sites, including in Belbek, Balaclava and Kerch, and to establish full operational control in the Crimea. Helicopters and planes have been deployed. The Russian Government have not ruled out military action in other parts of Ukraine. Indeed, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has reported Russian fighters infringing Ukrainian airspace over the Black Sea.
Her Majesty’s Government condemn any violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which contravenes Russia’s obligations under the UN charter, the OSCE Helsinki Final Act and the 1997 partition treaty on the status and conditions of the Black Sea fleet with Ukraine. Under that agreement, Russia is entitled to station troops and naval personnel on its bases in Crimea, but not to deploy troops outside those bases without the permission of the Ukrainian Government.
Moreover, Russia’s actions are in breach of the Budapest memorandum, signed in 1994. In return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, Russia joined the UK and US in reaffirming their obligation to,
‘refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations’.
The Russian Government have argued that there is no legitimate Government in Kiev, but the incumbent Ukrainian President abandoned his post and the subsequent decisions of the Ukrainian Parliament have been carried by large majorities, required under the constitution, including from members of the former President’s party, the Party of Regions. The suggestion that a President who has fled his country has any authority whatever to invite the forces of a neighbouring country into that country is baseless.
Russia has also argued that Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine are in danger, but no evidence of that threat has been presented. Furthermore, international diplomatic mechanisms exist to provide assurance on the situations of national minorities, including within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe. These mechanisms are the way to secure assurances of protection of the rights of minorities, not the breaking of international agreements and the use of armed force.
I commend the Ukrainian Government for responding to this extreme situation with a refusal to be provoked. The Ukrainian armed forces have been placed on full combat readiness, but the Government have affirmed that they will not use force, and I have urged them to maintain this position. However, there is clearly a grave risk of escalation or miscalculation, and a threat to hard-won peace and security in Europe.
The Government have been in constant contact with the Government of Ukraine, with the United States, with our partners in the European Union and our allies in NATO and the G7, and indeed with the Russian Government themselves. Our objectives are, first, to avoid any further military escalation, and instead to see Russia return its forces to their bases and respect Ukrainian sovereignty; secondly, for any concerns about Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine to be addressed by means of negotiations, not force; and, thirdly, for the international community to provide Ukraine, provided it is ready to carry out vital reforms, with urgent economic assistance. I will take each of these areas in turn.
First, we and our allies have condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and warned against any further escalation. The Prime Minister has spoken twice to President Obama, and I have been in daily contact with my counterparts in the European Union, NATO and the G7. We have made firm representations to Russia. The Prime Minister spoke to President Putin on Friday and I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov on Saturday, when the Russian ambassador to London was also summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have urged Russia to meet its international commitments and choose a path out of confrontation and military action.
At our request, the UN Security Council held an urgent meeting on Sunday. Members of the council called for international monitors to be sent to Ukraine to observe the situation and stressed the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the need to lower tensions. NATO’s North Atlantic Council met on Sunday and called for Russia to withdraw its troops to bases and to refrain from any further provocative actions in Ukraine, in line with its international commitments. The NATO-Ukraine Commission was also convened.
Yesterday, at the Foreign Affairs Council, European nations strongly condemned Russia’s act of aggression, called on Russia immediately to withdraw its forces to the areas of their permanent stationing, and without delay to agree to the request by Ukraine for direct consultations with Russia as well as under the Budapest memorandum. The council stated that, in the absence of de-escalating steps by Russia, the EU will decide about consequences for relations between the EU and Russia, such as suspending bilateral talks with Russia on visa matters and considering targeted measures. Heads of Government will now meet at a European Council on Thursday. As the Prime Minister and President Obama have said, there must be a significant cost to Russia if it does not change course on Ukraine.
EU member states have reconfirmed the offer of an association agreement with Ukraine, including a deep and comprehensive free trade area, and confirmed our commitment to support an international assistance package to support Ukraine, based on a clear commitment to reforms. The council also agreed to work on the adoption of restrictive measures for the freezing and recovery of misappropriated Ukrainian assets.
In terms of immediate steps to respond to Russia’s actions and acting in concert with the G7, we have withdrawn the UK from preparations this week for the G8 summit in June in Sochi. We will also not send any UK government representatives to the Paralympic Games beginning this week, while maintaining our full support for the British athletes taking part.
Secondly, we are urging direct contact between the Ukrainian and Russian Governments. We are willing to pursue any diplomatic avenue that could help to reduce tensions, so we have called for urgent consultations under the Budapest memorandum, or the creation of a contact group including Russia and Ukraine. We urge Russia to accept the invitation to attend talks under the Budapest memorandum in Paris tomorrow, which I will attend. The UK supports the powerful case for the deployment of UN and OSCE monitors to Crimea and other areas of concern in Ukraine given the grave risk of clashes and escalation on the ground. We are taking part in urgent consultations in Vienna. We welcome the Ukrainian Government’s support for such deployments and call on Russia to follow suit. The Prime Minister and I have both spoken to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to urge him to use the authority of the UN to bring about direct contact between Russia and Ukraine, and to urge the peaceful resolution of this issue. I welcome the fact that the Deputy Secretary-General is in Ukraine today.
Thirdly, we are working to support the Ukraine Government, who are facing immense political and economic challenges on top of the invasion of their territory. I returned from Kiev yesterday, where I encouraged Ukraine’s leaders to make a decisive break with the country’s past history of pervasive corruption, failed IMF programmes and poor governance. I urged acting President Turchynov and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to continue to take measures which unify the country and protect the rights of all Ukraine’s citizens, including its minority groups. I welcome the steps that have been taken, including the appointment of new regional governors in Russian-speaking regions, and the veto of recent proposed legislation affecting the status of the Russian language.
In return for urgent commitments and reform, it is vital that Ukraine receives international financial and technical assistance. The IMF should be front and centre of any programme of assistance, an approach I discussed with the IMF in Washington last week. The IMF sent key officials to Kiev yesterday. G7 Finance Ministers have issued a statement declaring our readiness to mobilise rapid technical assistance to support Ukraine in addressing its macroeconomic, regulatory and anti-corruption challenges.
The EU has also previously committed €610 million in loans to Ukraine, which could be made available once an IMF programme has been agreed. In the longer term, through the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and neighbourhood funding, the EU will continue to provide significant support to Ukraine, including investment in infrastructure projects as well as intermediate loans to SMEs.
For our part, as I informed the Ukrainian Government yesterday, we will provide immediate technical assistance to Ukraine to support elections and assist with reforms on public financial management, debt management, and energy pricing. We are exploring the possibility of providing further UK expertise to assist with programmes to tackle corruption, reform the labour market and improve the investment climate in Ukraine, and a British team is already in Kiev to co-ordinate these efforts. We have also offered assistance on asset recovery, and I agreed with the Prime Minister of Ukraine yesterday to send a team to assist in providing the information we need to recover stolen assets, and to address this problem more widely.
Over the past four years, the Government have sought and secured an improved relationship with Russia, and we continue to work with Russia on immense global issues such as the nuclear negotiations with Iran and our efforts to make progress towards peace in Syria.
The UK’s national interest lies in a free, democratic, unified, stable and peaceful Ukraine able to make its own decisions about its future. We will continue to do everything we can to support the diplomatic resolution of all the issues I have described, exercising our responsibilities as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and working closely with the nations of NATO and the European Union. We will continue to discuss the situation directly with Russia’s leaders.
However, we also have a direct national interest in the maintenance of international law, the upholding of treaty obligations, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nations, and the diplomatic resolution of conflicts that affect the peace and security of us all. For that reason, it is important that there is a clear response to these events, and that they are not repeated, and that is what we will pursue with determination in the days and weeks ahead”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Foreign Secretary’s Statement, and I appreciate the early sight that we had of it. I will say immediately that I think it is a very serious and very valuable Statement. We wholly subscribe to two of the concluding points, and to much else as well, but I will start with the two concluding points:
“The UK’s national interest lies in a free, democratic, unified, stable and peaceful Ukraine able to make its own decisions about its future”, and,
“we also have a direct national interest in the maintenance of international law”.
That is 100% common ground among us all.
Today we need, as I suspect we will need over the coming weeks and months, careful judgments and very careful words. The dangers of the position in which we find ourselves are plain to see, just as they were when we discussed this matter on
The diplomatic efforts by the Foreign Secretary and his visit to the Ukraine are to be applauded. The visit to Paris tomorrow is also important for carrying the process forward. It is helpful that Secretary Kerry has been so directly involved, as is the EU generally, and of significance that Chancellor Merkel has taken a leading role. Efforts at NATO are also of the first importance. Security co-operation is now becoming a non-credible option as far as NATO and Russia are concerned.
Plainly, Russia should step back. I think we all fear that it will not. It has no justification for its actions. The justifications it purports to provide—a letter from a fleeing and discredited President and the ever more extravagant denigration of the people and the interim Government of Ukraine, using fanciful and, on occasions, grotesque language—are raucous and synthetic. It is language that I suspect is constructed largely for a Russian domestic audience, designed to arouse popular memories of what was indeed a terrible period of Nazi invasion of Soviet territory and the unspeakable loss of lives at the hands of the Nazis. But it is not a credible description of the present and it runs the manifest risk that all such exercises do: that a belligerent state gradually comes to believe its own rhetoric. If Russia continues its current line of approach, it must be viewed as a threat to the south-east of Ukraine as a whole. Precisely this trajectory was discussed in your Lordships’ House last week.
First, this should not be allowed to drift, by accident or design, into armed conflict. The restraint of the Ukrainian people, state and forces is exceptional and commendable. I am sure that that will be felt right across the United Kingdom. It has been statesmanlike. As a result, there is no excuse for Russia to move from its current level of aggression to out-and-out violence. What we all need now is a process of de-escalation. All efforts at diplomacy must be made and the multinational institutions must step up to the mark—and quickly. It is clear that diplomacy has had little traction so far. However, appeals not to isolate Mr Putin have followed and, perhaps predictably, they have been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, nobody can be put off from making the effort.
I say the efforts have been unsuccessful. Chancellor Merkel found herself talking to a leader living, as she put it, in a parallel universe. Despite Germany’s dependence on Russian gas, the chancellor appears to have pulled no punches in what she said and I applaud that. Mr Kerry encountered a policy mindset that reminded him of the 19th century in its attitudes of large states to smaller ones—I confess that I have reached back to study Bismarck to try to find parallel language. Beyond dispute is that discussions setting out what President Obama called the consequences of continued military intervention fell on deaf ears. President Putin disregarded them, as he did proposals for an internationally mediated process to ensure the rights of Russian speakers in the Crimea and a formal special status to protect them. Indeed, President Putin talked to President Obama having already secured a unanimous vote in the Duma for military intervention. The only conclusion it is safe to draw is that this is about retrenching the Ukraine inside Russia’s sphere of influence rather than anything else. It goes further than securing
Sevastopol, which was not in any case under threat. The hurt that may be felt by a diminished global status is the target Mr Putin seeks to address. The risks of the consequences do not appear to be that great to him, and that should cause us concern.
What is needed now is a process of stabilisation. Russian leaders must be able to calibrate—and do so on the basis of clear statements from all the rest of us—the balance of diplomatic and economic risks they face; that is, what have been described as the consequences. Ukrainian leaders must also and clearly opt for inclusiveness. The rights of populations within the country, including those speaking Russian, must be protected and those peoples need to know they are protected. I welcome the assurances that the Foreign Secretary received about the status of Russian language legislation. That should be a very helpful step. That is a basis for both the Ukraine and Russia moving forward in some form of dialogue as soon as possible. A role in defusing the crisis must be seized with both hands. Did the Foreign Secretary raise other issues with the Ukrainians that might go in the same direction during the course of his talks this week?
As my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander said in another place, Russia needs to be clear and to understand the consequences of its actions. His main point was that the rest of us need to understand the consequences of inaction. What will the United Kingdom say at the emergency session of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Thursday? I assume that is going ahead and that we will attend it. What was said by the Foreign Secretary at yesterday’s EU Foreign Affairs Council? Is a process taking place of building from words about what the consequences may be to taking action? Are Her Majesty’s Government able to clarify what they advocate as the “costs” and “consequences”? Again, I make no apology for repeating this point. When dealing with a state leader like President Putin, it is critical that he understands precisely what everybody intends so that there can be no mistakes about what follows.
Is it right to say that all diplomatic and economic options are on the table for this Thursday? I have deliberately not included the word “military”, because I do not believe that anybody is looking in that direction; we are talking about diplomatic and economic options. Are those options on the table? If not, the Russian appetite for future military action will, in my view, have been whetted and we can expect to see more of it, to the detriment of the peoples of the region.
We are pulling out of the preparations for Sochi, and I am sure that that is right. Are the Government minded to pull out of the Sochi conference and to say so now? Is Russia now a legitimate member of the G8? Has it the status, does it meet the requirements, to take part in international bodies of that kind?
The financial support for Ukraine is obviously a matter of the first importance. We know that it needs $35 billion over the next 24 months to avoid a default. I think that the £10 million contribution from the United Kingdom is unquestionably helpful, but far more is needed and the IMF itself needs to take an important role. That role will be taken against a background, as the Statement says—again, I am glad that this is in the Statement—of dealing with poor institutions and ongoing corruption, but these are probably moments in which people will be more attentive to what is required of them than they might have been at some other points in their history when they saw less threat. The solvency issue is fundamental to any long-term prospects. If the country hollows out and falters, the prospect of ever reaching stability must be to that extent diminished.
I conclude by saying that all the direct contact that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and many of the other international diplomats have had must have been of help, and its continuation must be of help. There must be value in the formation of a contact group. It at least will set agendas, schedule meetings and try to ensure that people are around the table rather than simply working out where they can parade their troops next in somebody else’s territory.
This is difficult, and it is a time for the House and those of all parties who regard the United Kingdom’s interest as paramount to draw together.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord for his warm words of support and for his agreement on points of principle laid out in the Statement. I echo the sentiments that he expressed in his last sentence: this is a time for us to work together not just here as political parties in the United Kingdom but across the rest of Europe. Again, I echo the noble Lord when he says that this is a time for careful judgment and careful words. I hope that he will allow me to rest on those words in my answer. As I said in my answer to the Question that we had on Ukraine in this House early on Thursday of last week, it is an ever changing situation on the ground. Even at that stage, as I stood at the Dispatch Box I realised that things on the ground were changing.
I shall try to address a couple of the specific points that the noble Lord raised. I assure him that the issue of minority rights is one that we take incredibly seriously. It is right that we understand not just the rhetoric that we are hearing through some media channels in Russia but the sentiment behind some of those words. We must understand any concerns that there may be in relation to, for example, the Russian language. That was why the Foreign Secretary was quite explicit when he spoke to the interim president on his recent visit that there should not be any further measures which would be seen as an erosion of the Russian language; in fact, there should be some de-escalation around those matters.
The Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Thursday of this week is actually a heads of Government meeting, which the Prime Minister will be attending. The noble Lord asked a specific question about pulling out of the Sochi conference. These are all options which are currently being considered; unfortunately, I cannot give him a final response today.
Russia is part of the international community, and with that comes international obligations in ensuring that you adhere to treaty obligations that you have signed. Because of that, we feel that we have an interest—indeed, the whole of Europe has an interest—in making sure that those obligations are adhered to.
In relation to the IMF programme, as I said on Thursday there is of course a need for a comprehensive economic programme. There is no doubt that that is one of the biggest challenges facing Ukraine, aside from the territorial challenges that it faces right now. However, I think we would agree that, if an IMF programme is to be put in, while not forgetting that there have been two failed IMF programmes in Ukraine in the recent past, it is important to have a stable and secure political environment. It is to that end that Her Majesty’s Government continue to work, and I thank the noble Lord for his support.
My Lords, from these Benches, and though my noble friend, I thank the Foreign Secretary for this comprehensive and detailed Statement and for all the efforts that are being deployed on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government to try to stabilise and resolve this situation. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, mentioned Mr Putin’s propensity to expand his reach with what is beginning to appear as a dangerous frequency. However, the lessons for him in doing this will impact not only on international peace and security in Europe and in Ukraine but across the world. We have territorial disputes in the South China and East China seas, which will be watched extremely carefully by the parties to those disputes, and by China.
My noble friend did not mention one specific point, which I wonder whether she could respond to. It concerns the status of the referendum in Crimea at the end of the month and, should that referendum go in the direction of independence, the danger of what will happen in humanitarian terms to people who wish to be on the Ukrainian side of that argument. Can she reflect—perhaps not today but the next time we come back to this, as I am sure we will—on whether the international community, through the OSCE and the United Nations, can offer protection and safe passage for Ukrainian military personnel deployed in Crimea to get back to Ukraine, and for those citizens who for whatever reason, such as disturbances, riots or violence, may need to be evacuated and relocated? Thought and contingency planning should be given to that within the international organisations, beginning here and now.
I thank my noble friend for her words of support and for the specific issues that she raised. The Foreign Secretary made it clear in the other place earlier today that, all over the world, there are situations where individual communities in areas of a country feel that they have a right to self-determination. That is right within the parameters of the constitution of a country; indeed, this Parliament has passed legislation allowing parts of a country to have a referendum in relation to their future. However, we are talking here about a completely different situation, which to some extent takes away from what may have been planned for the future of Ukraine, and for Crimea as part of it. This is the violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation and it is therefore important that, at this stage, we keep pressing to make sure that Russia recognises and respects that. It should certainly adhere to the statements that were made in the many conversations held between the Prime Minister and President Putin only last week, and between the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
In relation to the second specific issue which my noble friend raised about safe passage, I am not sure what the particular situation is on the ground right now and what the strength of concern is in relation to the safety of those troops. However, I will certainly make sure that those words are fed back into any discussions that may take place on Thursday.
My Lords, while accepting all that, it is the case that moralising alone is not going to work in these circumstances. Will my noble friend at least consider the reality of the situation—if it is the reality—that Ukraine splits naturally into two parts, and should it not be allowed to do so? That worked in Czechoslovakia and may have to work in this country, if Scotland votes the wrong way.
I hear what my noble friend says, but I am not entirely sure that this is the kind of discussion that we should be having at the Dispatch Box at this time.
My Lords, there is a very widespread feeling in the world that Vladimir Putin’s ultimate ambition is to restore the frontiers of the Soviet empire and the Tsarist empire. If he succeeds in de facto occupying—or even, one might say, de facto annexing—the Crimea, that surely will be a great encouragement to him to proceed with that agenda a bit further; in fact, he would probably become a great hero to nationalist sentiment in Russia. Against that background, is it not important that not only do we have the right sanctions to apply if it is not possible to achieve some diplomatic solution over the next few days and weeks, as we all hope, but also that we look again at the long-term signals that we are sending to Russia? We should review two things in particular: first, the dependence of the European Union on Soviet, or rather Russian, natural gas—surely as an urgent strategic priority we should try to reduce that—and, secondly, the deplorable signal that we, along with many other EU countries, have been sending in reducing our defence expenditure. Terrible tragedies have happened in history because the wrong signals were sent to a potentially aggressive party.
My Lords, no doubt there is previous history in a very similar matter. We can draw parallels between Russia’s intentions in what is happening now with what happened not so long ago in relation to Georgia. That is something that we are acutely aware of. Only last week we were talking about sanctions with regard to Ukrainian politicians and now here we are talking about sanctions of a completely different kind. That just shows how quickly the situation is moving on the ground. We have already seen some of the consequences of sanctions and economic costs in what is being felt within Russia in relation to both its currency and its stock exchange. As to what is now happening and the consequences of Russia’s actions, it is important that we keep up that pressure. I do not think that a military option is on the table—the noble Lord opposite was kind enough to refer to that—and therefore I do not draw any parallels in relation to defence expenditure.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister accepts my warm support for the careful enumeration at the beginning of the Statement of the international obligations and breaches of international law that have taken place. That is absolutely vital. Since it is quite clear from the Statement that Russia has not fulfilled its obligations as a member of either the Council of Europe or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, will the future position of Russia in those organisations be one of the areas under consideration? Would she also accept my very strong agreement with her that there is absolutely no parallel with the peaceful separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia? Many years before, of course Slovakia had been the object of something that much more closely resembles what Mr Putin has been doing in the Crimea.
I add my support to what the noble Lord has said, and I thank him for his warm words. I agree with him that Russia’s membership of organisations has to be because Russia agrees with the values of those organisations regarding democracy and human rights. When it clearly appears to be violating the very values that it seeks to espouse in those organisations, then of course they have to consider whether such membership is appropriate. However, these are all matters that will be discussed and will be part of the package of options available to the international community. I return to what the intention is: it must be to de-escalate the situation and do whatever is needed to get to that stage.
Does my noble friend accept that while she is absolutely right to talk about the potential significant economic costs to Russia, and indeed costs in other ways as well, we also need to keep it in mind that there could be major economic repercussions for western Europe as well, and indeed for the whole world economy, particularly if as a result energy prices suddenly begin to rocket even further than they have already? Can we be sure, in working towards establishing a more reasonable dialogue with Moscow, that we take into account the enormous British, European and indeed global investments that already exist in modern Russia, and the vast and intense integration of trade between Russia and the EU that exists today, and indeed with this country?
In the longer term, when we are beyond this crisis, we need closer relations with a prosperous and more democratic Russia. Does my noble friend accept that in the dialogue with Russia about stabilising the situation and the proper concern with what Mr Putin is apparently trying to do, these issues must be kept very clearly in mind and a sense of proportion maintained?
I hear what my noble friend says. He always has wise words on these issues. It is because we accept that we have these interests in Russia and Europe that we feel it is important that it is in our interest, as well as Russia’s interest, to de-escalate the situation and return to a politically stable Ukraine. Of course the EU and the United Kingdom need Russia, but it is also important to stress that Russia needs the EU as much as the EU needs Russia, and Russia has to be reminded of the cost of not being part of, and playing its role as part of, the international community.
This is an extremely dangerous world and it is a very sobering thought that if Ukraine were a member of NATO, we would be stepping towards a situation where we could actually go to war. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should use military force in this situation, but we could, and I share my noble friend’s view about the dangers for Europe of having cut defence expenditure. My question relates specifically to so-called smart sanctions. Broad sanctions seem to me to cause real damage to Europe, ourselves and everybody, not least to ordinary members of the Russian population. What is the Government’s view on so-called smart sanctions on leaders who have taken certain decisions within Russia, such as freezing their assets and stopping their visas, and do they believe that they would have an impact in making them think about what they are doing?
The noble Lord makes an important point. Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO, it has a long-standing relationship with NATO and contributes to NATO operations, and has done so for many years. I am, with my wide portfolio in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, responsible for sanctions and therefore have spent some time considering what we call smart sanctions: well judged and well targeted sanctions that have impact. Sanctions should not be to make us feel better; they should be put in place so that they work and have an outcome. It is exactly in that vein that we consider them.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that we should be cautious about being quite so dismissive about the military implications of what has happened in Ukraine? I am not referring to military intervention in Ukraine by this country or other members of NATO, but about current members of NATO. Some of our most recent members have a memory that does not need to stretch back very far to create a great shadow of fear of Russia. Having worked very closely with some of these nations, I can assure your Lordships that that fear is very real and very existent. Some of these nations have Russian-speaking minorities. Will the UK Government do everything within their power to ensure that in the ongoing negotiations and discussions, NATO takes every possible action to demonstrate unequivocally to Russia its commitment, its capability and its will to defend all of its members under Article 5?
I think I probably dealt with some of those issues in answering a previous question. I understand the sentiments that the noble and gallant Lord expresses. I do not think I was being dismissive in relation to potential military action; I was trying to say that it is important that we do not hypothesise about whether certain things—for example, if defence spending had been done differently or a certain decision on another foreign policy issue had been taken differently —would have had an impact on Russia’s intentions. I think it is probably better for us to try to understand the Russia psyche on Crimea and Ukraine, which may give us a slightly better perspective on the thinking behind Russia’s actions.
Is my noble friend aware of the speed of events out of a clear blue sky, when suddenly we find ourselves, as the noble Lord, Lord West, said, in an extremely dangerous situation in which there is a lot of fear on every side? It is important to remember that, since it is extremely dangerous. We need the greatest restraint on all sides, and we need the earliest possible meeting of Russia and Ukraine with the contact group to which the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, referred to make sure that we get contacts in this way.
As Defence Secretary I paid an official visit to the Soviet Union when it was breaking up. One thing that came across very clearly was that, while they regretted the passing of some other members of the Soviet Union, the one they really minded about was Ukraine. It has a particular sensitivity for them, and of all the bits of Ukraine which have a sensitivity, Crimea in particular is one, not least because of the Russian Black Sea fleet being based there. It is against that background that I hope we will recognise the need, obviously, to make it absolutely clear that invasion and infringing the territorial sovereignty of another country are quite unacceptable. There needs to be the earliest possible discussion of these issues, which are not going to be easy to resolve. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, referred to the referendum coming up which will raise further issues. We need to discuss it around a table, and with not bullets and guns in the streets.
I fully endorse the incredibly wise and perceptive comments of my noble friend.
My Lords, I sometimes think that we are living in a bit of a dream world here. If anybody listened to President Putin’s press conference late this morning, as I did, they would have been left in absolutely no doubt whatever that he is unimpressed by all the threats that are being made against him. He may not in his heart of hearts believe that, but that is what he is saying. He is not impressed by sanctions, or by this or that with which we are threatening him. Is it not the truth that, as the noble Lord, Lord King, has said, Ukraine, and Crimea in particular, are extremely important to him and to Russia? He is not about to give in easily on this.
Would it not be far better if we stopped constantly saying that territorial integrity must be maintained when we know that it is very likely that it will not be, and that the solution will probably be that President Putin will get a lot of what he wants? In the end, Ukraine cannot exist if a part of that nation is in constant turmoil and being threatened by Russia. It would be far better, in my view, if an arrangement was reached whereby Crimea went back into the Russian Federation. Although there would still be problems in eastern Ukraine, you might then possibly have a united Ukraine which was capable of looking after its own affairs without further fear of Russia.
The noble Lord makes important points. It was exactly these sensitivities to which I referred in answering the Question on Thursday and, indeed, in the Statement today. We recognise and understand those sensitivities, and the emotional connection to which my noble friend Lord King has referred between Russia and Crimea and Ukraine. However, we must also not forget that a sovereign nation has been violated, and this cannot be the way in which we conduct international affairs. Simply to stand by and say that we recognise the emotional connection and the history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, and must therefore to some extent accept and stand back from this situation, would not be the right approach. As my noble friend said earlier, there are territorial disputes all around the world. What kind of a signal would we therefore be sending?
My Lords, is it not true that Russia also has emotional connections with other parts of its former empire, including Armenia and Georgia? One cannot rely on that. The sad reality may be, alas, that Crimea may already be in the course of being lost to Ukraine, and that all we can do is try to ensure that eastern Ukraine does not follow the same path—by, for example, ensuring that adequate guarantees of freedom, language and so on are given to the Russian-speaking inhabitants of that region.
Can the Minister indicate a little more about what sanctions, asset freezes and smart sanctions we have in mind? In terms of institutions, if there is no adequate response from Russia in respect of the pressures which we exert, are we considering, for example, seeking the suspension of Russia from the Council of Europe in the same way that the Conservative group yesterday withdrew from the European Democratic Group, where they sit with their Russian colleagues? What about the OSCE? What about the G7/G8? What consideration, if any, has been given to the UK taking the lead in calling for the suspension of Russia from these various international organisations?
I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not go into a huge amount of detail at this stage. I will simply say that all options, whether diplomatic or economic, are on the table at this stage. However, as noble Lords will understand from today’s debate if not from anything else, those actions have to be collective. Those collective discussions and options have to be discussed in the right fora, of which the Heads of Government meeting on Thursday is one. Therefore we may return to this matter, possibly next week.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for repeating what has been an unusually constructive Statement as regards what we have been hearing for the past month. Is it not a fact that Mr Kerry and our Secretary of State have been sabre-rattling in a thoughtless manner for almost a month until we could not expect any other reaction from Mr Putin than that which we have?
Over the past 45 years I have run my life and other people’s lives on the basis of planning and preparation, not on that of prejudice. After having listened to the prejudicial statements that we have heard for the past month, I ask: is it not true that it is time we grew up as regards the reality of international relations rather than the prejudice that we illustrate all too ineptly?
I was incredibly heartened because the noble Lord started off in such a constructive fashion, and I thought that we would try to find a meeting of minds somewhere in his question or maybe even in his comments. Unfortunately, I disagree with much of what he has said. He may not be happy with that very simple and short answer, but I am sure that if he requires a more detailed answer, he will write to me, and I will respond.