Ukraine — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 10th February 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:07 pm, 10th February 2015

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the situation in Ukraine.

The past month has seen an escalation of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Fighting has been intense around the town of Debaltseve, a strategically important rail and road hub between the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. The Ukrainians have suffered indiscriminate missile attacks on buses in Donetsk and Volnovakha and on the port city of Mariupol. What is happening on the ground now resembles, to all intents and purposes, a small-scale conventional war. Over 5,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the crisis began last spring, and over 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.

In recent weeks, Russia has aggravated the effects of its initial incursion by stepping up the military support it provides to its proxies. It has transferred hundreds of heavy weapons, including rocket launchers, heavy artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles; and it maintains hundreds of regular soldiers, including special forces, in Ukraine, as well as command and control elements, air defence systems, UAVs, and electronic warfare systems. The Russian army is also the source of ex-regulars, who resign their posts in the Russian army to fight in Donbass as ‘volunteers’. The recent escalation in fighting would not be possible without the military support and strategic direction that Russia provides.

In these circumstances, it is vital that all those countries that have a stake in the rules-based international system remain clear and united against Russian aggression. In Normandy last summer, we agreed with the US and our European partners that the most effective channel of communication with the Kremlin would be through a small group. This is known as the Normandy format, comprising Germany, France as the host of the Normandy meeting, Ukraine and Russia.

Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande met President Poroshenko in Kiev last Thursday, and President Putin in the Kremlin on Friday. On Saturday, in Munich, I held meetings with Secretary of State Kerry and German Foreign Minister Steinmeier to assess the prospects for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. On Sunday, the German Chancellor and the French President held a conference call with Poroshenko and Putin, agreeing to meet in the Normandy format in Minsk on Wednesday. Their aim is to reach agreement on an implementation plan for the Minsk ceasefire agreements that the Russians entered into last September, updated, as they need to be, to reflect subsequent changes on the ground.

The UK welcomes efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the situation in eastern Ukraine, while remaining sceptical of Russian commitment to such a resolution. It is clear that Putin respects strength, so Britain’s focus has been, and will continue to be, on ensuring that the EU remains robust, resolved and united on the maintenance of economic sanctions, and closely aligned with the United States.

The consensus within the European Union that Russia must pay a price for its disregard of the international rules-based system remains strong. Equally, there is a clear consensus that the European Union does not, and will not, recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The emergency EU Foreign Affairs Council on 29 January agreed to roll over all Crimea-related sanctions against individuals and companies—the tier 2 sanctions. This is another clear sign that the EU remains united in its response to Russian action in Ukraine.

The package of economic sanctions which the European Union and the US have imposed on Russia, coupled with the catastrophic impact on the Russian economy of the decline in the oil price, is a critical element of the pressure on President Putin to change his behaviour. Britain was and remains at the forefront of the successful effort to build and maintain an EU-wide consensus on a sanctions regime on Russia, to the evident surprise and dismay of the Kremlin. Yesterday in Brussels I represented the UK at the European Union Foreign Affairs Council, which discussed Ukraine and reconfirmed its decision to apply additional sanctions, but, at the suggestion of the Ukrainian Foreign Minister and as a gesture of support for the political process, decided to delay their entry into force until next Monday. The informal European Council of Heads of State and Government will have further discussions on Ukraine when it meets on Thursday.

The crisis has inflicted substantial damage on Ukraine’s economy. The World Bank estimates that it shrunk 8.2% in 2014. Public debt has risen sharply, foreign exchange reserves have fallen and the currency has lost nearly half its value against the US dollar. Ukraine clearly needs support from international partners to stabilise the economy, in return for which it must pursue the reforms to which it has committed under the association agreement with the European Union and the IMF programme. Britain is providing £10 million in technical assistance to support economic and governance reforms and the humanitarian effort. The EU will make a substantial contribution to the immediate estimated $15 billion financing needs of the country, the majority of which will be provided through an IMF-led package.

We shall also continue to work through NATO to offer technical support to the Ukrainian armed forces and reassurance to our eastern NATO allies. At the NATO Wales summit last September, NATO allies sent a strong message to Russia, agreeing to maintain NATO’s long-standing capacity building work in Ukraine by setting up five dedicated trust funds for Ukraine, one of which will be co-led by the United Kingdom.

The Wales summit also agreed a readiness action plan to reassure our eastern allies. As part of the package, NATO allies agreed to a new spearhead unit—the very high readiness joint task force—within the NATO response force, which, supported by the newly created forward integration units in the Baltic and eastern European states, will be able to deploy at very short notice whenever they are needed.

On 5 February, NATO Defence Ministers agreed the size and scope of that mission. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has announced that the UK will lead the force in 2017 and on a rotational basis thereafter. The UK has also committed to contribute to headquarters in Poland and Romania and the six NATO forward integration unit headquarters in the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, the UK will contribute four RAF Typhoons to operate alongside Norway in support of the Baltic air policing mission.

The UK also remains a strong supporter of the OSCE’s monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine. We have provided funding of over £2 million, the second largest number of monitors and 10 armoured vehicles to allow monitors to move around dangerous areas in a more secure manner.

Our policy since the start of the crisis has been to supply non-lethal assistance to Ukrainian armed forces, in line with our assessment that there must be a political solution to this crisis. We have increased our defence engagement with Ukraine and are providing additional support on crisis management, anti-corruption, defence reform and strategic communications.

We have also offered three members of the Ukrainian armed forces wounded in the Donbass life-changing specialist medical assistance in the form of reconstructive surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. We are providing a substantial package of non-lethal equipment to Ukraine, comprising medical kits, winter clothing and equipment, body armour, helmets and fuel. The package is focused on reducing fatalities and casualties among members of the Ukrainian armed forces.

It is a national decision for each country in the NATO alliance to decide whether to supply lethal aid to Ukraine. The UK is not planning to do so, but we reserve the right to keep this position under review. Different members of the alliance take nuanced positions on this question, and are entitled to do so. However, we share a clear understanding that while there is no military solution to this conflict, we could not allow the Ukrainian armed forces to collapse.

By its illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine, including its direct military support to the separatists, Russia has demonstrated its disregard for international law. It is clear that President Putin respects only strength, and by standing united, using our combined economic muscle to impose significant economic costs on Russia, the international community has shown its determination to rebuff Russia’s anachronistic behaviour.

The ball is now firmly in Russia’s court. Until we see Russia complying with the terms of the Minsk agreement on the ground—withdrawing troops, stopping the flow of weapons and closing the border—there must be no let-up in the pressure. Fine words in a declaration tomorrow will, of course, be welcome, but we have seen them before. The proof of the pudding will be in actions on the ground. We will monitor the situation carefully, and we will agree to a relaxation of the pressure only when we see clear evidence of changed Russian behaviour and a systematic compliance with Russia’s obligations under the original Minsk agreement.

Meanwhile, there will be no let-up in our efforts—with the US, in the EU and through NATO—to ensure that Mr Putin hears a clear and consistent message: civilised nations do not behave in the way Russia under Putin has behaved towards Ukraine, and those of us who live by the rules-based international system will be steadfast in defending it against such aggression. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:19 pm, 10th February 2015

My Lords, on behalf of the House, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary in another place earlier today. The conflict in Ukraine is clearly a major geopolitical crisis, but it is also a conflict of profound civilian suffering. As the Statement made clear, 5,000 lives and more have already been lost; some 5 million civilians are living in conflict-affected areas; and nearly 1 million people are internally displaced as a result of the fighting.

Parliament was united in welcoming the Minsk agreement last year. But even after the agreement was reached, although the fighting briefly subsided, it did not stop. As we have all seen on our television screens every night, the situation has yet again deteriorated, with over 200 civilians killed in the last week of January alone. But President Putin appears to have miscalculated the sustained commitment of the West to forceful economic diplomacy. So long as the Russian Government refuse to change course, we have to continue with a robust and united international response. With the collapse in the oil price in recent months, we believe that sanctions still hold out the prospect of altering the calculus of risk in President Putin’s mind regarding Russian actions in eastern Ukraine.

The Foreign Secretary made clear that at the request of the Ukrainian Foreign Minister a decision was taken yesterday to delay the implementation of a further set of EU restrictive measures, and we support that approach. While credible negotiations are ongoing, all efforts have to be focused on ensuring that they are successful. But in the absence of a deal agreed later this week, do the Minister and the Government believe that new EU restrictive measures—as opposed to simply an extension of the existing measures—should be on the table at the EU Council meeting to be held shortly? More specifically, will the Minister tell us whether, in the absence of meaningful progress this week, the Prime Minister will be calling for new tier 2 or tier 3 sanctions to be discussed by EU leaders?

On the question of sending lethal arms to the Ukrainian army, we welcome the Government's reassurance that the UK will continue to work through NATO to offer technical support to the Ukrainian armed forces. This weekend, the Foreign Secretary said:

The UK is not planning to supply lethal aid”,

That was repeated in the Statement read to the House, but does the Minister agree that a unified approach to economic diplomacy has been fundamental to the pressure exerted on Russia? Is it therefore sensible for every European member state to take decisions separately about arming the Ukrainian Government in the absence of any co-ordinated EU position? Again, I quote the Foreign Secretary, who said:

“Ukrainians can’t beat the Russian army”.

He went on to say that the policy remains under review by the UK Government. Given those two statements, will the Minister explain to the House in what context her Majesty’s Government envisage that Britain could decide to export lethal arms to the Ukrainians?

Of course, we welcome the recent German and French initiative to try to broker an agreement between President Putin and President Poroshenko. Talks in Moscow with Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany were held alongside US Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Kiev and were followed up by Chancellor Merkel’s important visit to Washington yesterday. The House knows about the talks scheduled in Minsk for tomorrow. Of course, the ultimate test is whether these talks are successful in ending the conflict.

It is in exactly this spirit that I ask the Minister about the extent of British engagement in these matters. Does she agree with us that, given this country’s unique assets and alliances, we could have a key contribution to make, helping ensure that this diplomatic effort is successful? If she does, can she explain to the House today why our country seems to have chosen to take something of a back seat in trying to resolve this crisis?

The Government do not need to take our word for it. As General Sir Richard Shirreff, the distinguished top commander in NATO until last year, warned, the Prime Minister is a “foreign policy irrelevance” and a “bit player” on the world stage. Sir Richard is not alone. Other commentators have recently seemed to agree, including, the other day, the authors of an important leader in the Times—not a newspaper that is obviously opposed to this Government generally.

Under past Governments of all complexions, Britain has taken a leading role in diplomatic negotiations of this sort and, in particular, in efforts at conflict resolution of this kind. When the Minister replies, therefore, can she offer any more hope that Britain in the weeks and months ahead will be an active, engaged and influential part of efforts to resolve this crisis?

The accelerating military and diplomatic pace threatens to weaken the united front previously displayed by the West, yet of course the mounting death toll and the continuing crisis should strengthen, not weaken, our resolve. Our priority, surely, going forward, must be to remain on guard against Russia’s efforts to find and exploit weaknesses among its European neighbours, but it is always important to remember that the EU must continue to make clear to the Russian Government that we continue to recognise our long-term underlying shared interest in co-operation rather than conflict. This is a crucial moment in a very serious crisis that affects us all, and we continue, as a responsible Opposition, to support Her Majesty’s Government’s approach.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:27 pm, 10th February 2015

My Lords, I am grateful for the measure of support which the noble Lord has given on behalf of the Opposition. It may be the better approach to begin with the last question, which is, “Do we expect to take part in an active manner in the resolution of this crisis?”. We intend to do so because that is what we have been doing. We intend to continue in our resolute way in the diplomacy in which we have engaged in leading first of all, of course, as the world has seen, in applying pressure in Europe with regard to sanctions—a matter that is directly related to Mr Putin’s decision to be brought to the table.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that we have not been a person at the table specifically in the Normandy format, but I did report to the House on 10 January this year about the Normandy format talks, which I had hoped were going to take place the next week in Astana, and made it clear who the participants were. The fact that the meeting did not take place at that particular time was simply because the Russians failed to come forward with a sensible approach to negotiations. Noble Lords will remember that it was the time of the appalling attacks in Paris on innocent people, so other matters intervened.

The Normandy process was born last summer, and has borne fruit. It deserves to be given that continued support by us. It has our support. Clearly, after the discussions yesterday with Mr Obama, it has his support, too. It is crucial, above all, that we do not allow Mr Putin to divide the allies who seek to enforce international law. It is what he is about and it is why we can see that, since the beginning of this year, the level of violence in eastern Ukraine has increased. It is also presumably why—I am making a guess here, but I hope it might be a vaguely educated one—he is trying to put the eastern separatists, with his help, in the strongest position possible in any redrawing of a ceasefire line, having tried to take over even more land.

We are playing and have played a leading role in the EU and NATO and fully support the Normandy process. Of course, one could open that up to other people: if it was opened to us, and to the United States, why should other colleagues in the European Union not also seek to be part of it?

I will quickly answer the noble Lord’s other questions. He referred to the fact that a unified approach to economic diplomacy had been crucial. I most certainly agree. I hope that I have made that clear both in this reply and during the Question a wee bit earlier. He also asked, in particular, whether it was sensible for each NATO country to make its own decision with regard to defensive weapons. The fact is that they can, so whether it is sensible or not shifts to the fact that each country must be sensible and sensitive in the decision it takes. Clearly, our allies in NATO will exercise that degree of moderation and sensitivity before they take action—if any is taken at all.

However, it must be made clear to Mr Putin that we are not going to rule out action. The noble Lord asked in what kind of crisis the UK would supply defensive weapons. I am not going to give Mr Putin the pleasure of knowing what any plans might be. Let him come to the table with proper resolve tomorrow and then put the declaration which I hope may be achieved into practice. Then we might be able to have more sensible talks with him. We will continue to have business with Mr Putin—of course one does—but it is not business as usual.

Working backwards, I will deal lastly with the first question that the noble Lord asked, on whether new EU sanctions would be considered if no deal were to be reached tomorrow. That is the natural outcome of the delay of yesterday’s decision about sanctions until 16 February. Mr Putin should be in no doubt as to the resolve of the European Union as a whole.

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

My Lords, we have 20 minutes for questions. I remind noble Lords that your Lordships should make brief interventions in the form of questions—this is not a debate.

Photo of Lord Spicer Lord Spicer Conservative 3:32 pm, 10th February 2015

My Lords, I wanted to ask this question some time ago. I am sure my noble friend is aware that we are entering a very serious phase in all this and therefore that we ought to be absolutely clear as a country what our role and position is. If it is to be the broker between Germany, the Europeans and the Americans, would it not help if we had a posture which combined negotiations with raising our military position and strength at the same time? She herself said in the Statement that the Russians understand threats above all.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I give the same answer to my noble friend as I gave in January. We are not considering rearming ourselves and increasing our own armed position to launch any form of military action in Ukraine. That is simply not something that would be considered at this stage or, I would hope, in any event. That is not on the table. What we are considering is how best to continue the strong pressure on Mr Putin to ensure that the discussions tomorrow bear fruit and then to hold him to the results of that.

We have a strong part to play in all the continuing negotiations, and the diplomatic airwaves, both face to face and over the internet and telephone, have been a-buzzing this last week, as all noble Lords would expect. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had meetings in Munich on Saturday with Mr Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, and Herr Steinmeier, the German Foreign Secretary. There are talks a-plenty between all the key players. That is why the consensus can be maintained.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

My Lords, I commend the Government on the robust tone of their Statement, but, as it says, words do not get very far with Mr Putin, and even sanctions have not so far had the effect that we had hoped.

Does the noble Baroness agree that the only physical obstacle to the further advance of Russian special forces, Russian separatists and Russian so-called volunteers have been the brave men and women of the Ukrainian armed forces, who have been fighting with inadequate weapons? Nothing is more devastating for the morale of any fighter than knowing that he or she is less well armed than his or her opponents. If there is not a convincing settlement in Minsk tomorrow and no real evidence for believing that the ceasefire terms will in future be observed, are we not getting to the point when it would be right for the Government to take the lead within the European Union in indicating that we would be prepared to sell defensive weapons, including lethal ones, to the Ukrainian armed forces?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord raises questions that I know colleagues have been discussing and about which they are deeply concerned. I know that he raises them with his background as a Minister in the MoD and has experience of the kinds of difficulty that surround dealing with someone such as Mr Putin.

Briefly, I agree that the courage of the Ukrainians who are trying to resist the separatists being fuelled by up-to-date materiel has been remarkable. There are allegations that they have carried out atrocities. One hopes that those allegations will be disproved, but if they have committed atrocities, that is wrong. The majority have been committed by the separatists.

We have had a long-term relationship in providing non-weapons-based help and support, supplying training and advice more generally as well as the non-defensive materiel that can assist them. Any further step would be one that no Government would wish to rehearse in public, unless there were the need. The important thing is to ensure that there is never that need and that we hold Mr Putin to account, slippery and careful in creating smoke and mirrors as he is.

Photo of Lord Blair of Boughton Lord Blair of Boughton Crossbench

My Lords, there have been many crimes committed during this terrible set of events. Can the Minister inform the House on the progress of the investigation into the most obvious of them, which was the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner? That was a war crime beyond normal war crimes and I wonder whether she could assist the House.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lord, that crime was clearly visible to all of us. I can only congratulate those who have persisted in the most difficult task of carrying out investigations against all the attempts by the separatists to prevent access to the crash site. Those investigations are ongoing.

More broadly, with regard to human rights abuses we are determined not to allow impunity. We are concerned by recent reports of the use of cluster munitions in eastern Ukraine. The noble Lord referred to a specific event, but the issue is broader than that. It is important that all of us, and those who work in NGOs, with all the contacts that they have, can insist that those gathering evidence bring to book those responsible for human rights abuses. Impunity must not succeed.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

Does my noble friend accept that in the unlikely circumstance that we have progress in Minsk tomorrow and that Mr Putin sticks to his word perhaps for more than an hour or two, or even a day or week or two, the holding of any ceasefire is contingent on the verifiable force of peacekeepers? Does she agree that the OSCE effort, valiant though it has been, is perhaps now inadequate? What conversations is it having with the relevant UN agencies to explore the possibility of UN peacekeepers being the basis of verification of any ceasefire agreement?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My noble friend raises a very important point. The OSCE plays a great part in such matters, not only in Ukraine but across Europe, and we are a strong supporter of it. We will continue to suggest that it should play an active role in monitoring any ceasefire agreement. I am aware that there were reports in the press—as yet unsubstantiated, I think—that Mr Putin is said to have commented that he might well agree that the OSCE, and indeed the United Nations, could monitor. But those are unsubstantiated reports so I would not wish to go further than that.

The central premise of my noble friend’s question is right. If there is, as we hope there will be, a decision in Minsk tomorrow that leads to some form of ceasefire and a development that is peaceful, there will need to be an agreement to have verification on the ground, which can have the confidence of not only the European Union but, of course, the Ukrainians. It is for them on Thursday then to consider any proposals that may come out of tomorrow.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, the actions of the separatists and the Russian Government are, of course, utterly deplorable. But will the Government press the Government of the Ukraine to curb the activities of the extreme right-wing nationalist and anti-Semitic elements which actually constitute a propaganda gift to Mr Putin and Russia?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, it is important that throughout Europe and beyond people do not use any activity to undermine the right of minorities to express their own views or indeed to practise their own faiths. If they do so, whether they be separatists, Ukrainians or any groups in any other European country, they are a gift to any person who wishes to show that they have a right to act. Mr Putin, in particular, would of course seize on an opportunity to point to what he alleges to be Nazism where no Nazism actually exists.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, no one wants to precipitate a wider war in Ukraine—no one sensible, anyway—but my noble friend spoke about technical support to the Kiev government forces and strategic communications equipment. Can she indicate to us whether that includes—or at least does not rule out—the provision of cybertechnology and advanced electronic equipment to neutralise the very sophisticated Russian weaponry that has been supplied to the rebels and the sophisticated communications equipment that is giving them a considerable advantage at the moment?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I think if I asked I would be advised that it is not a good thing to mention what our cyberactivity might or might not be. Indeed, I have always been informed by other Ministers that Russia has very good methods of its own to find out what other people’s cybercapabilities are. I can say to my noble friend that we have been providing additional support on defence reform and strategic communications. In addition, this year we plan to provide further support, including with regard to logistics. We are actively considering what more we are able to do. I think that is coded language for saying that we are seeing what we can assist with.

All this has to be based around the fact that tomorrow we will see an attempt by our colleagues to come to an agreement in Minsk. Of course, the Normandy format could be extended to others. We have said that that is not the right way forward because it would render it too wide a group, incapable of coming to a negotiated agreement. But the scene is set whereby tomorrow the Normandy format will, we hope, come to proposals which would then be put to the Ukrainians on Thursday. There is a process in place. Underneath all that is a determination to keep the pressure up on Russia. One part of that determination is indeed to ensure that we give what assistance is proper to the Ukrainians.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords—

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, while obviously the firm action by the Government deserves full support from all parts of the House, does the Minister not agree that ultimately a solution to the intractable problems of Ukraine cannot be imposed—it has to have the confidence and support of the entire Ukrainian population—and that this would involve reconciliation, bridge-building, peace-building and confidence-building? Is it not therefore absolutely essential in the midst of all our firm action to leave nobody in any doubt that we recognise that there is a Russian population in Ukraine which has real anxieties—well founded or not, and certainly ruthlessly and cynically exploited by the Russians—and a real concern about its identity and future in Ukraine, and that we must not use language that seems to obliterate that reality?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point to the fact that opinion can be manipulated, and Mr Putin is very clever at doing that. It is, of course, right to say that there must be people in the area of eastern Ukraine—I would assume, because I do not know and have no evidence of it—who consider themselves to be Russian or Russian-aligned and who have anxieties. There are other ways of assisting them than having Russia send in its materiel and troops effectively to create an unstable and violent situation. I agree, however, that if there are anxieties they must be addressed. We must also remember that Russia illegally annexed Crimea and I have a concern, as others do, for the Crimean Tartars, where the news is not good and disappearances continue. My goodness, my Lords, the Crimean Tartars have anxieties.

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

My Lords, I declare an old interest as having been for some years a former member of the advisory council to the Rada of Ukraine, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that we must uphold the rule of law; that is essential for the interests of the whole European continent. However, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, a concern to make sure that Russia knows exactly where it stands. In particular, it might be very helpful if we indicated to the Ukrainian Government that there is no immediate or close possibility of Ukraine joining NATO. I know Russia well, and a very striking thing there is the level of paranoia about any kind of invasion of Russia. It is a ludicrous idea but it is strongly held. Does the noble Baroness therefore agree that it is important to indicate our understanding of some of Russia’s concerns, albeit that the country must obey the rule of law, and that that means that we have no aggressive intentions? We know that we have no such intentions, but in the case of Ukraine it is vital to keep saying so.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I would say to my noble friend that Ukraine is, of course, a sovereign country, and all European democracies are entitled to pursue NATO membership. However, I am sure she knows better than I that it would be necessary for Ukraine to achieve the standards expected of an ally, and to be able to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership before being invited to join the alliance. Given the situation in eastern Ukraine we would expect this process to take many years.

Photo of Lord Cromwell Lord Cromwell Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Baroness, in repeating the Statement, referred to President Putin responding to strength—indeed I think “force” was the word used—and she may well be right in that. It is widely said that should the talks in Minsk fail, war is the next step. Does she agree with that, and if so who exactly is going to be declaring war on whom? Finally, with the President of Russia arming one side and the President of America possibly arming the other, what would a victory look like?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me to paint a picture of Armageddon, which is not my wont. When we go forward in diplomacy with the next-steps talks tomorrow, their results will clearly be discussed with the Ukrainians on Thursday. I would not want to predict the outcome of those talks. I always go into these matters in a determined and positive way, and I am sure that given the characters of those involved in the Normandy format, they are far more determined and knowledgeable than I could be. I do not wish to go down the route of predicting whether there would be all-out war because it is the job of us all to stop that happening. That is where we must not end up, and the route being taken by the negotiators is one which does not have on it a signpost to war.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, in agreeing with what my noble friend has just said, could we try to cool the rhetoric all around? Invoking the spirit of Munich and talking about a new cold war, let alone a hot one, helps no one. If, sadly, the Minsk dialogue does not result in success, could we consider convening a conference here in London and taking a leading role, which we would be well fitted to take, to bring all the parties together? A future Europe that is at peace and in harmony needs a stable, prosperous Russia and a free Ukraine as much as it needs everything else.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, none of us in the European Union is seeking a confrontation with Russia; it is the Russians who have sought confrontation with Ukraine and others. We need to work within those parameters. That is why I say that it is not business as usual with Russia, but it is business. We talk to the Russians—and indeed tomorrow the Normandy format will show that there is negotiation—but do not let us underestimate the determination of Mr Putin to try to drive a wedge between us. That must not succeed.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, I welcome the fact that this debate has been much more detailed than in the past and I am grateful for that. I also welcome the recognition that this is a profoundly dangerous situation. However, I say to the Minister that it is not new. If we read President Putin’s statements and speeches over the years, as I have done, it is clear that he is looking for a re-ordering of Europe. He uses phrases such “spheres of influence” and “near neighbours” over and over again, which go against the United Nations rules on those very things. So we have a crisis that will grow, and getting it under control in some way will be profoundly difficult. Some of the suggestions which have been made today, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, may be useful in time, but we should be under no illusions and we should be reading President Putin’s statements because they tell us an awful lot.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the last sentence uttered by the noble Lord is one that we should all take away with us. I agree with him.