My Lords, I thank my colleagues on the committee for their perseverance and very considerable help. We have had a long journey, which has required a great deal of hard work, mutual understanding and attention to each other’s views, and I am extremely grateful for their support. My only regret is that, under the rotation rule, so many of them will be leaving the committee at the end of this Session. I should also like to offer profound thanks to our two outstanding assistants, the committee clerk, Sarah Jones, and our policy analyst, Roshani Palamakumbura. I speak for all my colleagues in expressing our admiration, as well as our gratitude, for the exceptionally high quality of their contributions. Finally, I thank the usual channels for enabling this report to be debated so soon after its publication and before Parliament winds up for the election. I quite understand that, as a result of the speed with which it is being debated, there cannot be a formal government response, but I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to points made during the debate.
Before turning to my speech, I should say how very much we all look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith. He will speak with great authority as a former diplomat in Moscow and Kiev. Having looked him up on Wikipedia, although it is not always accurate, I believe that he has charitable and business interests in Ukraine. An additional reason for me to listen very carefully to what he has to say is that he was educated at Ampleforth, though a great many years after I was at that school.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord—or I think I can say my noble friend—Lord Foulkes, after that accolade. It certainly gets my speech off to a good start. I thank him very much.
As the title of our report indicates, our focus is on the events leading up to the current Ukraine crisis and looking beyond it to the future. I should make it clear, as does the report, where we stand on the present situation. Russia has to understand that taking over other people’s territory, whether in eastern Ukraine or Crimea, is unacceptable. Such actions cannot be allowed to stand. For as long as the present conflict lasts, the European Union should maintain sanctions and be ready, if required, to step them up. Therefore, I welcome last week’s European Council decision, which is in line with our approach. Sanctions cannot be an end in themselves; they must be a means to an end. Do Her Majesty’s Government believe that there should be a process whereby progress in resolving the underlying dispute and its causes is linked to a ratcheting down of sanctions? In short, should there be a carrot as well as a stick?
I have another question. In our report, we argued that, while the dispute lasts, other avenues of communication should be kept open, such as cultural links in commemoration of our shared history in
World War II. Do the Government agree, and have they and other EU Governments yet taken a decision about wreath-laying in Moscow on
I turn to how the EU should proceed in future in relation to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics. The committee believes that, while Russia has no right to dictate to sovereign states on its borders, those states and the European Union need to take account of Russian interests and sensitivities. The historic, geographical and current economic links between those states and Russia are such that, if the EU is to play a constructive role in helping them to develop their economies and societies, that cannot be done in the teeth of Russian opposition, as the present crisis shows. This will require big changes of attitude on the part of Russia, and I will say a word about that in a few moments. However, as a committee of the British Parliament, our policy recommendations are directed to the British Government and the European Union.
The first step, I believe, must be to set goals for the EU’s relationship with those countries that take account of how far short of meeting the criteria for EU membership they currently fall and how long it will take them to catch up. We should be prepared to help them close the gap but this will require tough love. In Ukraine and elsewhere, financial, technical, social and expert aid must all be subject to strict political and financial conditionality and accountability. Inevitably, this will create resentment against the donors, but these countries have indicated that they want to draw closer to us and our values, with a view to perhaps one day joining the European Union. We must therefore make it clear that the aid is to help them to do that, not to evade or defer difficult reforms, and certainly not to garner support against Russia.
With Russia, the challenge is of a different order: it is about how two large powers with different political and social systems can work constructively together as equals on common problems in a shared space. This will require sensitivity, mutual respect and an understanding on both sides of different historical perspectives. We on the EU side must try to understand why Russia feels as it does about EU enlargement and NATO. On the evidence that we took, I think we all agreed that President Putin’s views are to a large extent shared by most of the Russian population, and that any foreseeable successor to President Putin would most likely hold the same views. On their side, the Russians must try to grasp the impact that the USSR’s post-World War II expansionism has had on Europe’s collective psyche, and why so many countries on its borders feel as they do about drawing closer to the European Union. It is in this context that the committee believes that co-operation between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union might provide a way forward. Let us together explore how far and in what manner the rules and requirements of these two organisations might be aligned. This could provide a useful framework within which to develop closer EU-Russia economic relations and to develop the countries that border on both the European Union and Russia.
Much as we should like to see better EU-Russia relations, there is nothing starry eyed about the committee’s approach. We attach importance to holding Russia to the obligations it has freely entered into in respect of the World Trade Organization and the European Convention on Human Rights. We also believe that even if Russia is willing to tolerate corruption and lax business practices, to put it kindly, within its own borders, these must not be allowed to contaminate its dealings with this country or the rest of the EU.
I end with an exhortation. The committee believes that since the end of the Cold War there has been a decline in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s analytical and language skills in relation to Russia. Indeed, only last week we were surprised to learn at a seminar that we held that, in recent years, the head of the Russian desk has sometimes turned over on an almost annual basis, and that at least one recent holder of that office did not speak Russian. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to cast light on that. Whether or not she can do that, I hope that she will assure the House that if there is a Conservative Government after the election, they will devote sufficient diplomatic resources to the vital Russian relationship.
My Lords, there is a large number of speakers in this debate. I remind noble Lords that the advisory speaking time is eight minutes. If noble Lords keep to that or less, we will finish this debate by 7.30 pm—four and a half hours from its outset—which will allow us to finish by 10 pm.
My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and his colleagues on, and thanking them for, a particularly interesting report. Like the noble Lord, I share keenly the anticipation of the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith.
The issue of Russia’s identity is not new. Not that long ago, historically speaking, the language of the court in St Petersburg was French. Against this, there has been a long-standing, introspective and profound search by others for the true soul of Russia. The Russians are proud people. The heroism, courage and great human cost of their contribution to World War II should never be forgotten or underestimated. It was crucial to the defeat of the Nazis. The endurance of the Russian people was well demonstrated in how they came through the cruel policies and purges of the Stalin era. For all these reasons, we must beware—whatever our intentions—of perceived triumphalism and of our own self-righteousness. We must, after all, remember the ongoing questions of the implications of the Iraq war.
I have felt for a long time that comparisons can be made with Versailles. I have been surprised to hear some say that the Russians have illusions de grandeur. Now we have a former KGB colonel, Putin, in charge. Of course, in Russia, the KGB is an elite, with its own schools and universities, and to understand Russia, one has to understand that. With it goes arrogance and unacceptable corruption.
I was one of those who had a dream of what might be possible following the end of totalitarian communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall—an exciting new Russia, playing an imaginative part in world affairs. That has not happened. We have to ask ourselves for a moment how far we contributed to that reality. Perhaps we cannot discount the prevailing ethos of romantic ideology and grotesquely oversimplified economic doctrines of the age of Reagan and Thatcher, as compared with the collective wisdom and experience of mixed economies, accountable capitalism and liberal democracy in mainland Europe. Are we perhaps reaping some of the rewards of our own misjudgments? The issue was how to build a society, not just an economy, in Russia—how to make the transition from A to B.
I am one of those who longs for wise, visionary and imaginative leadership, aiming at what global society could be, rather than just numbers and territory-mesmerised autocratic managers—a reassertion of strategy, as distinct from tactics. This report is particularly interesting because it faces that challenge and suggests practical, rather than self-defeating and grandiose, means of meeting it. It emphasises the importance of identifying common interests—striving for constructive relationships with the Russian people, rather than just hostile, punitive relationships. But, as the noble Lord so rightly said, that demands tough and forthright relationships as well. What has happened in Ukraine and Crimea; what happens in our territorial waters and our airspace; what happens with the scattering of lethal, radioactive poison across London: all these things demand resolute responses.
There is one issue that illustrates what I am saying very well. I should declare an interest. For nearly four years I was rapporteur to the Council of Europe on the conflict in Chechnya and, inevitably, in the northern Caucasus. We did not take that issue seriously enough. We may have fidgeted with the teaspoons in our conversations and said that there were people in Britain who were rather worried about human rights in that situation, but we did not tackle it head on and say, “You are contributing to future world instability because you are driving people into the hands of militant extremists, and this will strengthen the international dimensions of the jihadist movement”. We did not say that as firmly as we should have—and I cannot really see what has happened more recently in isolation. We should also remember the heroes of Russian society: people such as Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and too many other journalists who have been assassinated because of their stand for truth. All this is a matter not just of Chechnya and the north Caucasus, but of Russia itself.
As the committee argued, our objective certainly must be good, strong relations with Russia. To have these we will have to be firm and unyielding in our stance along the way on issues such as those that I have just mentioned. Above all, the report argues, as I see it, that we should build relations with the Russian people and with civil society, from education, law and cultural exchange, to the demanding issues of media freedom and human rights. After all, that is what we did so outstandingly well in our contribution to the building of a new, post-Nazi Germany. We took people from all parts of British society and put them in to work in the community. If I may make a personal remark, I remember that my own mother became very devoted to the work she did in a community in Germany, trying to build up concepts of local democracy.
We should be grateful for this report. It is constructive and balanced, and it makes a good start for our deliberations.
My Lords, I had the privilege to serve on Sub-Committee C of the EU Select Committee. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for steering us so skilfully through this complex inquiry, which was so topical that the landscape seemed to change virtually from meeting to meeting. I endorse his thanks to the clerk, the policy analyst and the special adviser for their magnificent policy and technical support.
I will confine my remarks to the two very different points in this report to do with language and language skills. First, one of the report’s conclusions was:
“There has been a decline in Member States’ analytical capacity on Russia. This has weakened their ability to read the political shifts and to offer an authoritative response. Member States need to rebuild their former skills”.
The same deficit was found in our own Foreign Office, as in the member states as a whole, and was thought to have occurred over some time in relation to Russia and the region. Sir Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Russia, told us that UK diplomacy has,
“suffered because of a loss of language skills, particularly in the Foreign Office”.
This point is all the stronger for echoing one of the conclusions of another Select Committee report, on soft power, which was debated in your Lordships’ House only two weeks ago.
Language skills and the cultural knowledge and understanding that go with them are a very important part of the analytical capacity that we found wanting. The report recommends that the FCO should review how its diplomats and other officials can regain this expertise. The new FCO language school is a first-class resource that is already making a contribution towards equipping some of the right people with Russian language skills prior to postings. About 10% of the 800 or so civil servants who had been on courses at the language school up to last November were studying Russian. If the recommendation on regaining linguistic and cultural skills is to be implemented on a solid, long-term basis, we need to see some changes much further back in the pipeline and not have to wait until people are already part of the Foreign Office or the Diplomatic Service with access to an intensive Russian course.
As a nation, we need to see a sea-change in our attitude towards language learning and a dramatic improvement in the take-up of languages at school and university. On Russian, I can give the House a very up-to-date picture of what is going on in schools from data published only last week in the 13th annual Language Trends survey. The curious thing about Russian is that at A-level take-up has nearly tripled over the past 20 years to nearly 1,200 in 2014. However, before anyone gets too excited about this apparent progress, it seems that the increase is largely due to increased numbers of native Russian-speaking non-UK nationals, mainly at independent schools. By contrast, a tiny proportion of state schools offer Russian—between 1% and 2%.
At university level, over the last 10 years there has been a 51% decline in the number of entrants to Russian and east European studies degree courses. Only 14 of our universities now offer Russian as a single honours degree and only 17 offer degrees in which Russian is a significant component. No universities in either Wales or Northern Ireland offer Russian, and only three in Scotland do—down from six quite recently. Slavonic languages other than Russian have fared very much worse still. I hope that the Minister will agree that the languages pipeline needs urgent attention and that the problems with Russian in particular, in the light of this report, cannot be solved simply by leaving it to the Foreign Office language school. Indeed, even with the benefit of the language school, only 27% of posts in the Diplomatic Service associated with a level of proficiency in Russian are actually filled by someone who meets the required standards.
The second language-related issue that appears in this report concerns not UK nationals but Russian nationals and ethnic Russians whose language rights may have been threatened or undermined by an EU member state. The report observes that the treatment of Russian speakers was one key theme in Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. A proposal in the Ukrainian Parliament to repeal the 2012 language law allowing Ukraine regions to have Russian as a second official language was seen by many Russian-speaking Ukrainians as an alarming threat, even though it was subsequently withdrawn.
More pertinent still as far as the EU is concerned is that in Estonia and Latvia, two member states, Russian does not have the status of an official language, and in both countries citizenship rights, including the right to vote in national elections, are dependent on a language test in the official language. The result is that ethnic Russians, mainly older people, are denied citizenship and are unable to participate in the political process.
President Putin has, in various public statements, made much of this discrimination against Russian speakers living in EU countries and has accused the EU of double standards. Some of our witnesses thought that the plight of ethnic Russians was simply being used by Putin as a convenient pretext, that their social isolation was perhaps exaggerated, and that in any case in strictly legalistic terms Estonia and Latvia were violating no specific EU standards. Nevertheless, it is more than uncomfortable that any EU member state should make citizenship conditional on these terms and thereby hand Putin a card to play that suggests that the EU does not practise what it preaches.
I am one of those people who believe that it is perfectly reasonable to state that English would be a requirement for British citizenship, and I have no problem in principle about what happens in Estonia and Latvia. However, does the Baroness not agree that Putin has stated that Latvian and Estonian citizens who take the language test and then apply for and receive local nationality will no longer be allowed into Russia without a visa?
He is preventing contact between the Russians living in those two countries and Russia, which he is then complaining about.
The report acknowledges that point about visas. My point is that it is short-sighted to hand Putin a card to play that enables him to accuse the EU of double standards. The report concluded that there is a prima facie case requiring this historical grievance by ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia to be investigated. That is as far as we went. I hope that the UK Government will press for this investigation to be pursued by the EU so that any excuse for any level of Russian interference in these states on these particular grounds can be effectively neutralised and removed.
I look forward to the Minister’s response on this and to my earlier points about language skills.
My Lords, it is a very interesting report. I am sorry that I was not on the committee because it sounds as though it would have been rather enjoyable under the skilled chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat.
I have four points to add. First, in trying to curb Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and mischief making and the general Russian neurosis and paranoia which seems to prevail in its public opinion, the important starting point has to be that what is going on is a world issue and not only a western issue. Nothing will change decisively unless and until China and the Asian powers are as much engaged as the West professes to be. Of course, the sanctions we have applied and are threatening to apply more of can be hurtful to both sides—indeed, they are proving quite damaging to both sides—but as long as China ignores them there will always be an eastern back door through which Russia can escape and trade.
Putin has made it clear that he relies increasingly heavily on the East. He is working hard for new customers for his gas, for allies in the East—particularly China but other countries as well—and for joint development. He and Gazprom have finalised huge future deals for gas supplies to China and he welcomes proposals from Beijing for the new Silk Road, the Beijing-Moscow high-speed rail link and for a general vast development of links between middle Asia, the Pacific and China. Putin sees Russia not as just a European player—he never did—but as a world power straddling Europe and Asia. He wants near neighbours to play that game as well and to give him the respect that he feels he is due. That is the first point I want to make.
My second point concerns energy. There is only a little about it in the report—I understand why there was not an extensive delving into the complexities of energy—but of course it is a central issue to UK-Ukraine relations and to EU-Russia relations. The dependence on Gazprom, which the report mentions, of the eastern Europeans can be reduced by interconnectors from western Europe, and the current energy union ideas from Brussels are aimed at trying to develop that. However, Europe is always going to be an important customer of Russia, even after interconnector development, greater efficiency and importing more LNG from other countries, including the United States. In any case, Russia is giving up seeing Ukraine as a major transit route. It has shrugged off the South Stream plan, which was to take gas under the Black Sea, and is now connecting into Europe via Turkey on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Russia plans to sell its gas into Turkey, and through Turkey into Europe that way. This demonstrates that Russia thinks that the unsettled Ukrainian state will continue for a very long time.
My third point is this. Putin will, in the end, be contained—it will be gradual—by other, bigger forces than sanctions. Russian banks need to borrow, but they can no longer do so at the favourable interest rates they could get when they had access to the West. Russia needs a lot more inward investment and trade than it has. The Russian people are connected with the rest of the world as never before at every level of citizenship, from school children upwards. The rouble has collapsed, the stock market has collapsed, and the price of oil has collapsed. All those things will eventually check him, particularly as the price of oil, contrary to many people’s hopes, will stay very low and will not go back to $100 dollars a barrel for a long time.
All these things will shape and put pressure on Putin, but I am not sure that sabre rattling will do so. That is because Russia is playing a very different game on the military side. It believes in “new methods of conflict”. Incursions are never to be central or openly military—that is the new doctrine. The new technique is known as maskirovka, which is not a conventional battlefield where the results can be defined and clear victories won; it is always something that is not what it seems. Russia will stir up minorities and do deals with individual countries, as it is trying to do now with Hungary in seeking to break up the European Union from within and proposing nuclear power, and of course it will take offence at the slightest provocation, as we have seen in the papers this morning over the VE Day celebrations.
Incidentally, talk of “arms to Kiev”, which some have suggested, also raises some curious maskirovka issues. Ukraine is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of arms in the entire world. In 2012 it was the fourth largest. Ukraine supplies most of Russia’s helicopter engines and half of its nuclear arsenal is built there. So “arms to Kiev” for those who are urging it—like the US Congress calling this morning for lethal weapons to go to Kiev—means that those arms could end up anywhere. Knowing the area, as experts do, they will probably end up in the wrong hands.
To understand Russia today, we have to position ourselves somewhere midway between Kafka and Tolkien: nothing is what it seems. I did have some personal experience of the Magnitsky case, which involved bogus police, bogus tax authorities, bogus courts, bogus judges and bogus company officials who had stolen the identity of the company of Mr Bill Browder, to whom I was an adviser at the time. He set it all out in his fascinating book, Red Notice. All that indicates that fraud, scam and murder are the norm, as we saw so tragically the other day with the murder of Mr Nemtsov just outside the Kremlin.
In the long term, as this excellent report sets out, we have to live with Russia, as do all the other Asian powers. That is probably best done on both an EU and a national bilateral basis because we have to work on both tracks. The EU on its present integrationist path is always going to be a discomfort and irritation to Russia, whereas a less centralised, relaxed and, I hope, reformed EU would obviously be less threatening. Each EU state should feel free to build its own type of relationship with the Russian state and the Russian people.
Finally, the report talks about “sleepwalking” into this situation. I am not sure that that is fair. It is good journalism because of course all the newspapers picked up the phrase, but I am not sure that it is a good analysis. All along, there has been a perfectly clear awareness that Russia was on an uncertain and unpredictable course. It was trying to be a great power again and could not understand why it had lost power, but it was not behaving like a great power. Putin changed course completely. I heard him say in his earlier presidency that he wanted to work very closely with Europe and change the political face of Russia, but the Putin who came back in the second presidency was a completely changed man. It was an event that of course surprised, but it was not a surprise that anyone could have sensibly anticipated, however expert they were and however good their knowledge of Russia. Crimea was no surprise at all. Those of us who have been there know that it is a really beautiful place, but its heart was always with Russia. It was always amazed to find itself part of Ukraine and wanted to go back to Russia.
One does not need to be too much of an expert on a country to sense where it is going. In fact, quite often great reams of experts fail to predict things accurately and get things wrong, although I do not think that the blame game is really necessary. I learnt Russian at school but I do not think it helped me understand less or more the mysteries and the total unpredictability of the Russian trajectory.
There are plenty of surprise events ahead. We heard this morning that one may be coming in Argentina, with the decision of the Russians to supply weapons to Mrs Kirchner. I point your Lordships’ eyes in the direction of Kaliningrad—the old Königsberg, of course—where a huge build-up of Russian troops is taking place as they reinforce their vast naval base there. That is an area where we should be prepared for trouble. There are many difficulties ahead, and we have to use the same subtlety as the maskirovka experts will use against us.
(Maiden Speech) My Lords, I should first like to express my deep appreciation for the assistance and guidance that I have received from all those who work in this building. I know that my experience differs in no way from others who have come before me, but it has been a real encouragement to encounter such courtesy and helpfulness from the officials, staff and doorkeepers on whom the functions of this House depend. It is not just their civility that I wish to pay tribute to but their infinite patience.
I welcome the committee report which has prompted this debate. I have lived and worked in Russia and Ukraine for over 30 years, and I continue to take a close interest in the region, as detailed in my entry in the register of interests. The report contains a great range of insights and level-headed recommendations, but I shall try to limit myself to a few specific points arising from it. Before I do so, I should like to make some observations on the current situation in eastern Ukraine in particular, which of course post-dates the publication of the report.
It is always rash to make predictions of events in time of war, but in my assessment, Putin has achieved militarily what he wanted to achieve in Donetsk and Lugansk: he has won his battles and humiliated the Ukrainian leadership; he has created an island of instability in eastern Ukraine; and he has destroyed much of Ukraine’s economy—the mines, factories and infrastructure in the region are shattered and people have fled.
Undoubtedly, there will be flare-ups, but for the time being at least, and assuming as an overriding caveat that Kiev observes, or accepts, the ceasefire, in my view the Russian military phase is largely over. Economic pressure, I believe, will characterise the next steps. In the last month, the Russian Government have relieved Russian private banks of their exposure to Ukrainian businesses. Over $50 billion of bank debt will be absorbed by the Russian Government, allowing the Russian commercial banks to restructure their balance sheets and giving surety over Ukrainian assets to the Russian state. I believe that, in the next 12 months or so, there will be a Russian push to buy out distressed Ukrainian assets. To put the policy in perhaps simplified but, I believe, not misleading terms, Russia’s aim will be to become as close to a 100% shareholder of Ukraine as is possible.
In that context, therefore, I want to make just three points. The first relates to the evidence that the report collects on “hard questions of strategy”, integrated foreign policy and diplomatic competences. I believe that one day Russia’s interventions in Ukraine will be seen as a critical mistake. Nevertheless, if we are to attempt to resolve the great instability in eastern Europe, at some stage we will have to negotiate with Putin—with Russia. Who “we” are is another matter—a most important one, indeed—but there has to be a process of negotiation on strategic issues. At the moment there is no process.
Of course, the German Chancellor and the French President have twice now gone to Minsk. They have shown much courage and persistence, but these very necessary negotiations were essentially about a ceasefire and peacekeeping. We know that there is a strategic basis on which Putin will negotiate. There is a specific framework. But we have not yet entered that stage and, until we do, I agree with the report that there will be no real settlement of this conflict.
Secondly—although I say this with regret—part of the problem lies now with the Ukrainian Government. They came into being with much promise of renewal and democratic process, but, as with previous Ukrainian Governments, there is constant constitutional conflict between the Prime Minister and the President. As the report recognises, the seeds of this crisis have been sown over 20 years of Ukrainian government mismanagement, but the mismanagement—if that is the right word for it—continues. Even now, and despite Minsk, the Ukrainian leadership says that the constitution should not be altered—that is code for abandoning Donetsk—and it believes that the country should join and be armed by NATO. That reads to me like a suicide note which the Ukrainian nation will not accept. At the same time, with the war receding, deep splits are being exposed in the Ukrainian power elites. These threaten stability and play to the Russian line that the country is sliding into lawlessness.
That leads me to my final point, where I would like to pick up on those parts of the report that allude to an ideal of a Ukraine transformed into an attractive civil society with a people whose energies are released—a model state, dare one say, for the region. Over the past year, the mood of the country has fluctuated through hope and disillusionment, but I see that at most levels of civil, social and economic activity there is now a widespread recognition that the country has missed the turning point that occurred, for example, in Poland some 10 years or so ago, when there was a fundamental change of direction. There are and there have been innumerable reform programmes for Ukraine on the table, but I believe that there is now a recognition that it is time to find the political will to implement some major changes, starting with legal reform—without which, in my view, there is little point attempting others. It is time that genuine mechanisms were devised and enforced so that investment funds reach the real economy.
For Ukrainians, the only incontrovertible answer to Russian pressure is to develop in their country a prosperous climate that will deliver the rule of law and economic success. That is the forward-looking, optimistic scenario on which I should conclude, but not before saying how truly honoured I am that your Lordships have welcomed me to your numbers.
My Lords, it is a great honour to be the first to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on his very fine maiden speech. Given his deep immersion in the questions before your Lordships this afternoon, it is a tad anxiety-inducing to be the next in line on the speakers list.
The noble Earl carries one of the most lustrous and resonant names in British political history. His great-grandfather, the last Liberal leader to preside over a wholly Liberal Government, has occupied a special place in our shared historical memory since those of us of a certain age first read Roy Jenkins’s excellent biography of HH Asquith in the mid-1960s. The noble Earl’s immensely distinguished Crown service has been rather more in the shadows than that of his great ancestor, but he has done the state some very considerable service in his diplomatic career. Although I know that he is too discreet to mention it, the noble Earl possesses a special place in intelligence history as the officer who spirited that remarkable and brave man, Oleg Gordievsky, out of Russia and into Finland in the boot of his car. I am sure that his maiden speech this afternoon is but the first flow of a cataract of wisdom and judgment to come in future debates, which we anticipate with keenness and enthusiasm.
Like so many of your Lordships, I am a child of the Cold War. Born in the late 1940s, ours was the first generation to grow up in the shadow of the bomb. We knew what those mushroom clouds over Japan in the last days of the Second World War meant—an entirely new era in international affairs. We did not need a degree in theoretical physics when we read about the H-bomb tests in the 1950s to understand that these new thermonuclear weapons were over 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That the Cold War ended without general war and nuclear exchange was and remains the greatest shared boon of our lifetime. Yet here we are, in the spring of 2015, a generation after the Cold War ended, debating Russia’s capabilities and intentions, trying to read the mind of the man in the Kremlin, and worrying about the dangers inherent in escalating tensions and about the condition of the critical Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, signed for the UK almost exactly 66 years ago by the magnificent Ernest Bevin.
There is a school of thought that the Cold War did not die, rather that it went dormant for a time. There is something in this argument. For example, the Queen’s most secret servants will tell you that the Russian intelligence service has exactly the same number of officers operating under diplomatic cover in London as it did in the mid-1980s; around 34 the last time I looked. With its deep and traditional faith in human intelligence, the Russians also keep a string of “illegals” living under deep cover in our islands, who are fiendishly difficult to detect unless they make a slip. The Queen’s underwater servants in the Royal Navy Submarine Service will tell you that the deep Cold War never really ceased and has picked up noticeably over the last few years. Indeed, I experienced a whiff of it myself in the Atlantic off Florida when witnessing a test launch of one of the Royal Navy’s Trident D5 missiles following the mid-life refit of HMS “Vigilant”. I was on board the survey surface vessel, just two and a half miles from where the missile would burst from the ocean. Another three miles beyond me, a huge Russian spy vessel dripping with electronics could be seen trying to get into the test area and being prevented from doing so by the US Coastguard. When it was all over, the captain of the Russian spy vessel came across the open channel to congratulate all of us, in a perfect Oskar Homolka English accent.
The finely judged and carefully calibrated report on the EU and Russia before us today stimulated a range of deeper memories for me and aroused one particular current anxiety. My most vivid memory is of a study of unintended East-West escalation produced by the Cabinet Office’s Joint Intelligence Committee in the weeks following the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when we truly neared the nuclear rim in a crisis that pretty well came out of the blue—Berlin rather than Havana being the place where we thought the greatest tensions would be played out. In November 1962, the JIC defined “escalation” as,
“the process by which any hostilities, once started, might expand in scope and intensity, with or without the consent of Governments”.
There followed a passage in that JIC assessment, which the report before us today summoned from my memory. It read like this:
“Once any hostilities had started agreement on a cease-fire would involve one side or the other accepting a tactical defeat or both sides a stalemate on what must be a highly important issue. The chances of such an agreement would be better if the attacking side realised that it had miscalculated the importance to the other side of the interests involved or the will and ability of the other side to resist”.
This is exactly what happened after Mr Khrushchev covertly placed his intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles on Cuba.
I am not a “history repeats itself” man, but I am with Mark Twain when he said that history may not repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes. In the context of Russia, Ukraine, the EU and NATO, I think that it is the possibility of unintended escalation—of a misreading of minds, intentions and possible responses—that most worries us. In Bevin’s time, Article 5 of the NATO treaty was as powerful as it was simple. It says:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”, and that the parties individually and in concert will take,
“such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area”.
It was that clarity and simplicity that helped keep the Cold War cold.
The framers of that treaty almost exactly 66 years ago could not have foreseen the end of the Cold War, Poland and the Baltic states as full members of NATO, and a range of unimaginable new instruments at the disposal of the Kremlin. Stalin may have possessed what we thought were 175 divisions and, from August 1949, an atomic weapon, but Putin has a gas tap and he has cyber. What kind of attack and what magnitude of damage inflicted on a near-neighbour Article 5 country would be deemed to have activated Article 5 in current circumstances?
We live in an age of what is called “ambiguous warfare”. Mr Putin is a skilled player of this; it is what he does best. His currency may be falling, his GDP shrinking and the hydrocarbon clock may be ticking long term against his oil and gas position, but this is an activity at which he excels, and it is, I suspect, a near-constant temptation for him. Yet Mr Putin, too, is a child of the Cold War. He, too, grew up in the shadow of the bomb. He knows full well what a serious Article 5 incursion would mean.
Nerves need to hold within the NATO alliance. A new containment strategy needs to be pursued for as long as is necessary. I share the Select Committee’s conclusion that firmness combined with a pursuit of a new, more co-operative relationship with Russia when possible is the way forward to prevent current anxieties and crises,
“deteriorating into something resembling the Cold War”.
It might be fraught; it will not be edifying; it will not be swift; but it is what has to be done.
My Lords, I add my congratulations on the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for securing this debate, which provides a valuable space in which to explore the multifaceted and fast-changing situation in the region. The EU Committee’s report has opened a welcome opportunity to reassess the UK’s relationship with both Russia and Ukraine on a bilateral level and as part of the EU.
I wish to cast my remarks in the light of the recent visit of a delegation from the World Council of Churches to Ukraine. The delegates’ visit to the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev served as a reminder of the very complex relationship of church and state power on which Rus’ was built centuries ago. Ukraine and Russia share this history. It is impossible to unravel national identities that intertwined through the polities of Kiev, Novgorod and Muscovy, and on to the present day.
With this complex interplay of identities in mind, there is a clear need for an EU strategy towards the region that extends beyond united action on sanctions. The urgency of the situation in the region is compounded by the pending association agreements with Moldova and Georgia, which could render these states vulnerable to further Russian aggression. Further, as the committee report notes:
“The historical grievance of the rights of ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia offers the Russian government a convenient pretext which could be used to justify further destabilising actions in those states”.
I echo the report’s call for more steps to be taken to facilitate access to citizenship for ethnic Russians who have long-established residency in those states but who may have limited ability in the official language. We must act now to heal fissures in society that could otherwise be exploited.
Among those whose political identity cannot be neatly delineated are the too often forgotten non-Russians who remain in Crimea. While the immediate priority for the region must be the cessation of fighting, the international community must not allow the annexation of Crimea to become tacitly legitimate. It is imperative that we continue to challenge the validity of last March’s referendum, persevering in our insistence that representatives from the OSCE be allowed into the territory.
I strongly commend the EU Committee’s attention to the importance of holding Russia to its human rights commitment. It states in recommendation 55:
“The EU and Member States must continue to raise the human rights situation in Russia in international forums and to press Russia on human rights violations in their bilateral relations. It is not sufficient for Member States to delegate this to the EU institutions”.
This commitment to ensuring equal treatment for all must also encompass a renewed effort to tackle corruption, which has already been referred to by other noble Lords and which blights the opportunities of so many. As the report states:
“Combating corruption should be an essential part of the EU-Russia relationship. Only in this way will the EU be able to prevent the theft of assets from the Russian people”.
In pressing for the observance of human rights commitments in Ukraine and Russia, the UK must look with care to the integrity of our own position. I am glad that the report presses this point by stating:
“If the UK is to retain its credibility in its criticisms of Russia on human rights, then its position would be undermined if it sought to weaken its own commitment to the Convention. Such a move would resonate in Russia in a very significant way and would be a powerful tool of propaganda for the Russian government”.
The remainder of my remarks will pertain to the report’s recommendation on continuing dialogue and exchange with Russia to avoid the entrenchment of the current conflict. As well as the importance of various cultural exchanges—the arts, language skills and other soft power—faith groups and civil society groups have a key role to play in facilitating cultural and educational co-operation.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in particular is uniquely positioned to show leadership in working for communication, peace, unity and reconciliation. As the majority church in Ukraine, with congregations in all parts of the country and on both sides of the lines of conflict, and having officially declared and reiterated its commitment to the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine, the UOC has a special capacity and leadership responsibility to be a bridge over the opposing political divisions throughout the territory of Ukraine.
The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations also has a key role to play as a facilitator of peaceful ecumenical and interfaith relations, encompassing as it does almost every church tradition represented in Ukraine, as well as the Muslim and Jewish communities. The council has remained impressively united despite all the difficulties facing Ukraine at the moment.
The various denominations and faiths hold different perspectives on the origins of the conflict, but still there is great potential for the churches and faith communities of Ukraine to play a lead role in transcending the competing nationalisms that can feed conflict, by addressing the social, economic and humanitarian needs that have been compounded by the fighting. This moral leadership is backed up with civil society action, with the central role being played by churches in meeting humanitarian needs in the affected regions. It was significant that during the violence in spring 2014, St Michael’s cathedral was used as a field hospital.
The unmet need remains very great. It is important that in the midst of our debate, as people are talking about the long-term strategy in the region, we do not forget the reality of daily life for tens of thousands of Ukrainians. Many are displaced from their homes and living in shelters and temporary accommodation. With even basic infrastructure destroyed, the battle to rebuild their lives is very difficult. We need a more adequate humanitarian response to the human suffering resulting from the conflict, and to support and strengthen the efforts of the churches and faith communities of Ukraine for justice and peace.
My Lords, since I came to your Lordships’ House almost 18 years ago, I have had the great good fortune for eight of those years to sit as a member of Sub-Committee C. Those years have been among the most interesting that I have had among my colleagues here but now that most of us will be rotated under the rules from the committee, I want to say how grateful I feel to the staff and advisers who we have had in putting this report together, as well as for the quite outstanding leadership of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat.
The background to this report is of course the intolerable and outrageous behaviour by Russia in recent times. This report should be seen as a wake-up call, principally to the European Union. Our criticisms in the report are directed principally at Brussels, but also at member states’ capitals. Whatever failings we may have suggested with regard to the United Kingdom, they are overshadowed by its leadership over the years in international affairs in Europe, which is of course exemplified by our defence budget being 2% of our GDP—the largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world.
First, I want to draw attention to Russia as it is today. In 2014, according to the most recent figures by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the Russian defence budget was only around 12% greater than that of the United Kingdom. It has increased substantially in recent years, particularly with its nuclear capacity, which Mr Putin never fails to remind us about. A lot of that extra money has gone towards the Navy but the ground troops are visibly stretched and not fully equipped. They are not as potent a force as we may think, but they are of course capable of putting substantial numbers into shows of force and intimidating postures at the frontiers of the European Union and NATO.
That is the defence side but, on the economic side, we should not forget the parlous state of the Russian economy today. The collapse in oil prices and the rouble, and the flight of capital overseas, together with the effect of sanctions and the extra cost of the Crimean occupation, could be catastrophic for Russia. The committee heard from Mr Kasyanov, the former Prime Minister of Russia and, of course, an opponent of Putin. At a time when oil prices were around $80 a barrel, he told us that Russia could be in a major crisis in two years’ time. With oil prices now below $60 a barrel, I guess that Mr Putin must be losing quite a lot of sleep over this.
We must recognise that relatively modest conventional military resources and concerns over looming economic problems could cause Mr Putin to be at his most dangerous and unpredictable at this moment, in the difficulties in which he finds himself. So with this background, we must ask what we ought to do about this. I hope that this does not simplify it too much but the reaction of the European Union and NATO should be defined as the iron fist in the velvet glove. Above all, NATO—with, I hope, full European Union support—must make it absolutely clear that the principles of Article 5 and the commitments of NATO members that an attack on one is an attack on all, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said, are a totally non-negotiable red line. Any incursion, including a cyberattack that we can pin on them, into the Baltic states or on other NATO territories must invoke a positive and immediate reaction, and he should be aware of that at this stage.
NATO must work immediately to create what was defined in the Welsh summit last autumn as a readiness joint task force. We must work to create this with redoubled urgency.
Having been in Washington in the past few weeks, I would be surprised if the United States did not provide Ukraine with potent defensive equipment in the near future, although I wonder whether Ukrainian troops are capable of handling some of this weaponry. I also believe that anticipation of a crisis is better than reaction to one. So far as I am concerned, I should like to see us move more military assets closer to NATO’s eastern frontier now. We already have fighter aircraft in the Baltic states but I would not be at all averse to seeing more.
So much for the iron fist. What might be the situation with the velvet glove? The European Union’s task must now be to make every effort to convince the Russians that we wish to live in peace and harmony with them. Trying to find relationships between the European Union and the new Eurasian Economic Union is one way that one might go about it, as has been mentioned. However much they irritate us, we must make real and positive efforts to review the past and, if necessary, seek to recognise ways in which we have missed opportunities to recognise Russian interests and susceptibilities.
It is not too late to forge a new, lasting partnership with Russia. The immediate question will be whether all participants, especially in Russia but also in Kiev, will implement the Minsk II agreement. Once that agreement is firmly and permanently implemented, we can start to talk about reducing sanctions and finding ways in which we can live more happily together.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith. With this debate, we have certainly played into his strong suit. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and the members of the committee. They stress as a continuing theme the need to understand Russia and Russian civilisation. In our country we have lost much of that expertise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned in her contribution. I recall that when we recognised this in the 1960s we set up the Hayter report, as a result of which several new posts were established in our universities. Where are they now? I understand that many of them no longer exist. We need to encourage the study of Russian and Russian civilisation.
I have two preliminary observations. This is of course a fast-moving situation. The report was ordered to be printed on
Equally, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, paragraph 325 of the report contains a postscript on UK government policy on the European Convention on Human Rights. If we were to have a pick-and-choose policy in relation to the convention, that would certainly give the Russians a major precedent to pick and chose, and we would devalue any influence we might otherwise have.
A crisis of this magnitude throws important light on the principal actors in the drama. What does it tell us about Russia? Given its economic weakness, which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has just underlined, President Putin has played his cards with consummate skill. We must understand Russia’s fear of encirclement, its desire to end the perceived humiliation after the loss of the Soviet Union and the Soviet empire, the reaction to the anarchy of the 1990s, the search for the restoration of great power status and the pivot to the east to make up for the loss in the west. All this explains the return to traditional themes of authoritarianism, patriotism and the role of the Orthodox Church. It also exposes the weakness of our policy assumption before and after the 1990s that Russia was on a journey to western-style democracy.
On NATO expansion, many serious observers argue that Secretary James Baker gave the clear impression to Russia that, in return for recognising the independence of the Baltic states, NATO would not expand eastwards. The Istanbul summit put an end to that. I understand the Government’s case that Ukraine is a sovereign country which can choose its alliances as it will, but to join NATO would be hugely provocative to Russia. A wise course would be for President Poroshenko to recognise this and for NATO to give a similar undertaking. That is surely necessary if we wish to live in peace with Russia.
What does the crisis tell us about the West? Once military intervention has been ruled out, only sanctions and attempts to isolate Russia remain. So far, there has been a remarkable degree of consensus within the European Union but, as last week’s Council illustrated very clearly, this may well not last as President Putin is seeking to divide and conquer. It is possible that there will not be the required unanimity when we renew the current sanctions, particularly tier 3. As over Georgia, economic interests will prevail. There will be business as usual. For example, last week, we saw Russia’s incremental quasi-annexation of South Ossetia to provide a possible precedent for Donbass.
What does the crisis tell us about the UK’s role? We recall that the UK was one of the four signatories of the Budapest declaration 1994, which has now been massively breached by Russia redrawing national boundaries. The fact that we were not part of the EU team at Minsk can be construed only as a signal of our diminishing status.
How should the West respond? On the economic side, clearly we must mobilise western capital, with conditionality, for Ukraine. We should continue to assist with constitution building with the Venice commission and other groups, and particularly with proposals for decentralisation. Just as Ukraine will have to deal with Russia for energy supplies, we should aim to make progress with Russia in areas of policy of common interest. Russia apparently showed a very positive response at the pre-conference on the non-proliferation treaty. Other areas include counterterrorism, ISIL and Iran. We should maintain sanctions but be ready to ratchet down if Russia continues broadly to observe Minsk II. Overall, the trust has disappeared.
Finally, Galbraith said something like, “All foreign policy decisions involve a choice between the disastrous and the unpalatable”. It would be disastrous to provide Ukraine with US arms. Can one imagine the effect when the first Russian soldier was killed by US guns? It would, nevertheless, be unpalatable but realistic if we were to allow some time for monitoring the implementation of Minsk II.
Crimea is not mentioned in Minsk II. Surely, like it or not, it is now permanently part of Russia, symbolised by the fact that Russia is spending €3.5 billion to construct a 19-kilometre bridge that will link Crimea across the straits to what it would call its motherland, to be completed by 2018. A credible referendum held in Crimea now would probably confirm the illegal one. It is absurd for the US to argue that sanctions must remain until Russia gives up Crimea, which would mean indefinitely. Obviously the options with regard to Donbass are very difficult and different; there would have to be negotiations over the autonomy measure. It is also unpalatable to yield to Russian aggression and lies, but we shall have to live with the new, nationalist Russia: keep doors open, but sup with a longer spoon. Almost 70 years after Kennan’s historic article, we should perhaps re-examine the case for containment.
It is a great pleasure to hear the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, demonstrate how viable it can be to this House to have the participation in our debates of an intelligent former member of the Diplomatic Service. It has been a very long wait, I can tell you.
When I served in the embassy in Moscow, nearly 50 years ago, our boss in London, the superintending under-secretary, was a ferocious man who spoke 14 European languages and had spent the war in Moscow and Kuibyshev, where the embassies were moved when Hitler’s army got near Moscow. He demanded quite a high standard of analytical skills from those who worked for or to him, and of course in the embassy it was a sine qua non that everybody spoke Russian. Our ambassador was an extremely lucky man, because he not only spoke brilliant Russian but was lucky enough to be the brother of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.
That is a shameless hook on which to hang the fact that I greatly regret the news that the noble Baroness will stand down from our House this week. I speak only for myself, but I think the whole House will agree that the penetration and focus of the intelligence and judgment that she has brought to bear in our debates has been extremely striking. It used to light up both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, it has lit up our debates, and we will miss her very greatly indeed.
The point in the excellent report by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, on analytical skills is correct. The Foreign Office has lost a good deal of the expertise that Duncan Wilson and Tom Brimelow had, but it may have something to do with lack of resources; relatively speaking, and absolutely, the Foreign Office is much less well resourced now than it was then.
On the substance of the report, one has to start with Crimea. President Putin has now admitted in a public interview that he decided on
I am not terribly happy with the Minsk agreements for many reasons, but one of them is that they say nothing about Crimea. Moreover, the European Council has, in a way, added to the problem by deciding that the sanctions would terminate in December, when the Minsk programme terminated—if one were to assume, perhaps implausibly, that the Russians carry out the full Minsk programme—so it is entirely related to action pertaining to the Donbass. What about Crimea? Is a policy of non-recognition quite enough as a response to the first major change in the post-war settlement and a breach of all our basic texts, including the Helsinki text and the Paris charter? Is it enough just to look the other way? In particular, is it enough for this country, as a signatory of the Budapest memorandum of 1994? Then, with our partners the Americans, the Ukrainians and the Russians, we committed ourselves to ensuring that the territorial integrity of Ukraine was respected, that no economic pressure was brought on Ukraine and that no violence, or threat of the use of violence, was brought against Ukraine. The Russians have clearly breached all three commitments. What do we do? Do we do nothing at all? It does not add to the credibility of such texts if we do nothing at all. The Ukrainians would not be in the fix that they are in today if they had retained the nuclear weapons that we and the Americans urged them to hand over. They handed them over in exchange for this text, but is it just a bit of paper? It has John Major’s name on it, and John Major is an honourable man. Would it not be dishonourable to do nothing about it now?
I have grave doubts about whether sanctions will do the trick. Sanctions do some damage, but the sanctions that do most damage to the Russian in the street are the counter-sanctions on Russia’s imports of our western consumer goods and foodstuffs. There are shortages in the shops; the Russians see that and they blame NATO—they blame us. It has accentuated the spiral of the narrative of plucky little Russia under threat from the wicked West. I can see that if you tightened sanctions so that they actually affected the Putin inner circle, as the American sanctions do and ours do not, you might achieve more. But, frankly, I do not think that this will be done by sanctions, and it will not be done by a ceasefire, which will probably be honoured no better than it has been in the past.
We have to raise Putin’s perception of the price to him of carrying on doing what he is doing to Ukraine. We first need to convince him that we would not let Ukraine collapse economically and not let it go completely down the tubes. The report by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, has an interesting suggestion at paragraph 282 that we call an international conference of potential donors. I do not know about that. I certainly think that it would be very good to know the Government’s view about that. The Finance Minister of Ukraine was in London yesterday seeing the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Did Mr Osborne offer any help? I do not know, but I hope that we are offering help.
On the question of arms, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I think we need to convince President Putin that we would not let Ukraine’s defence forces collapse. I am not arguing that we should send UK Armed Forces, and neither is President Poroshenko, but he is asking for people to send arms. If we regard Ukraine as an independent country and regard him as its legitimate leader, does he not have a right to self-defence? I have difficulty with the argument that it is provocative to the aggressor to assist the victim, and that appears to be the argument: the Russians would not like it, so let us not do it. I do not buy that argument.
I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said about NATO. I think that is exactly right. It needs to be clear that Article 5 means something to us. I entirely agree with that, but I disagree with those in the US Congress who argue that we now need to see tactical nuclear weapons deployed in the Baltic states and in Poland. That seems to me very rash. We should stick to the 1996 NATO position that there is no plan, intention or reason for the forward deployment of tactical nuclear forces.
Conversely, I think that the Americans were wrong as regards the 2008 NATO communiqué and the invitation to Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance. That was a mistake. It would be good to make it clear to all parties that it is a dead letter, that NATO’s invitation is not currently open, and that the Ukrainian regime is not currently seeking such an invitation. If that could be codified in some way, it might contribute to finding a solution, because I do not think that the solution lies in ceasefires or sanctions but in finding a settlement. One needs to find out what President Putin wants and see to what extent that is compatible with what is right for Ukraine—a judgment for President Poroshenko.
The committee is right to suggest that there is a dialogue to be had between the Eurasian Economic Union and the EU. It is also right to suggest that the President of the European Council, the former Prime Minister of Poland, has a very important part to play in this, not just operationally but given that he is who he is.
There is one last thing for us to do that is really rather important. I apologise to the noble Lord opposite for carrying on, but I did speak about general matters for a moment or two at the start of my speech. Yesterday, I was surprised to note that the Prime Minister’s Statement on the European Council did not mention the first, and for most members of the European
Council the most important, matter discussed at that Council, which takes up a third of the Council’s conclusions: the plans for energy union. These will be extremely difficult and may well end up much less ambitious than the original Commission plans, but this is the real way to respond to an aggressive Kremlin. We need to reduce the perceived dependence on energy from Russia. Actually, we are not dependent on it; Russia is dependent on us. It needs to sell to us, and that need is greater than our need to buy from it. But in some member states, particularly Austria and Hungary, the pressure of the energy link is working perversely as regards the interests of the European Union and Ukraine, so I would say that one of the most important things to do is to press on with energy interconnection, both electricity and gas, and get as far as we can get, realistically, with an energy union.
My Lords, I have the pleasure of being a member of the sub-committee that produced this report and it is only right that I should start by echoing the praise addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for his chairmanship of it, and to the staff who helped so much in producing the report.
It is also a pleasure to have been here for the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, who referred to the turning point for Poland many years ago. Going back to the immediate post-Soviet period, Belarus, rural Ukraine and Poland were all much of a muchness in economic prosperity. However, in the years since, Ukraine has not developed much and Belarus has managed a little, but Poland has surged ahead enormously and is now many times more prosperous than those other two countries. That example was instrumental in fuelling the protest in Ukraine that led to the change of regime and the turning point in its orientation between Russia and western Europe. We then saw Putin realising that, against that shift, he had little chance of seeing again an Administration in Kiev that would be malleable from his point of view. He proceeded to try to minimise his losses by being revenged on Ukraine and trying to ensure that it was destabilised—at best, by another frozen conflict; at worst, perhaps by the scenario that the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, pointed out. That is very much the background.
Reference was made to the first thing that Putin did, which was the operation in Crimea. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, reminded us that Putin has confessed that he had planned that long before his Crimean referendum, which has also been rightly criticised in this debate. I remind Members that another referendum took place at the time of the break-up of the Soviet bloc. It was held by the Ukrainian Government, on whether Ukraine should become independent. At that point, the USSR still existed. The referendum was held on
I turn to the committee’s report. Possibly one of the most crucial observations in the recommendations is in paragraph 168, which states that,
“the EU and Member States face a strategic question of whether Europe can be secure and prosperous if Russia continues to be governed as it is today”.
It goes on to say that Russia has created a,
“geopolitical competition in the neighbourhood”, and:
“The EU’s capacity to influence the internal politics of Russia is limited, and Member States have not demonstrated an appetite to make the attempt. Therefore, if influencing Russia’s future governance is not on the agenda, Member States instead need to devise a robust and proactive policy to manage competition with Russia in the shared neighbourhood”.
The report goes on:
“The first step is … to distinguish between the legitimate and the illegitimate security interests of Russia”, stating that Russia,
“has a right not to be excluded from the eastern neighbourhood. However, it does not have the right to deny or threaten the sovereign rights of its neighbours”.
That should very much be the starting point of one’s approach.
As to the subsequent steps, I find myself in agreement with the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Kerr: the first priority is to deter future aggression. We were hoping for a ceasefire in Ukraine and hope that there will be no further action, but it is hugely important that we deter, and put sufficient resources in key places to deter. It is interesting that we are discussing this having heard a Statement about the Falkland Islands, one element of which concerned making sure that there is effective deterrence there. I had jotted down the Baltics and the Balkans as places we should prepare to deter Putin from. I had not thought that the Falklands would come into the frame so quickly and we will no doubt hear more about that. However, in the Baltic states, and possibly in the Balkans, we need sufficient forces on the ground to up the bar for Putin so much that he is deterred from aggression.
The question will arise about the nature of the support that we give to Ukraine, which is very much the position that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spelled out. Clearly, we need to give it substantial economic and financial support. We should do what we can to turn it into a stable and prosperous state. The EU does that quite well and it ought to make it its priority in this case, whereas deterrence is clearly the priority for NATO action. However, in addition to improving the economy, that will be extremely difficult if Russia continues with its programme of destabilisation.
The question then arises of what further support we give. Here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about supplying various degrees of military support. That has to be looked at and done carefully, but there is no reason to believe that it cannot be done effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, commented on the capacity of the Ukrainian forces to handle that.
Not so long ago, I heard a person with considerable military experience refer to some of the assistance that the US has already given to Ukraine. In particular, it has given a radar system that will detect the use of mortars, so that the Ukrainians can work out exactly where the mortars are being fired from and adjust accordingly. This military gentleman praised the skill with which the Ukrainian forces had used it, but they do not yet have a counter-battery capacity, which would return fire at the mortars. That is possibly the next step to consider, but I leave that to others, particularly in view of the hour.
Finally, we have heard a lot of nuclear sabre-rattling from the Russians. They have done this consistently over the last year or two, dropping hints and reminders of their nuclear capability. It even happened yesterday, with some threats directed towards Denmark and the Danish navy. This very much worries me, because it is the sort of thing where mistakes can happen. If the Russians keep talking about their nuclear capability, they might talk themselves into doing something foolish. Deterrence there is of the normal form, but I very much hope that we find other ways of getting through to the Russians the message that this is a step that should never be taken.
I begin by congratulating my colleague and noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on a most penetrating speech. It was very helpful that he brought his own experience and knowledge to this debate. I hope that we will hear more from him as these problems develop. I cannot think that they will go away immediately. I also want to express the sense of privilege that I had to serve on Sub-Committee C in preparing this report. I thank the clerk, the policy adviser and, above all, our chairman for his very persistent work in producing what I think is one of the best reports that has emerged from the European Union Select Committee.
The crisis that we face in the deterioration of relations between the EU and Russia has to be acknowledged and acted on. It is not entirely due to Russia. In my opinion it has overreacted to issues that we have given rise to. We heard evidence—it was reported most knowledgably by Rory Stewart MP—that the Foreign Office has downgraded its capacity in Moscow, and indeed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office itself. We also heard that that had happened with the EU representatives in Moscow. It seems that we have blundered into this mess through failure to recognise what was happening in Russia.
The breakdown of the Soviet Union was enormously humiliating to the political class in Russia, but also to the citizenry. The citizenry has been appealed to by the political leaders. We have seen the troubles in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Georgia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh and have not reacted strongly enough to them. It is not suitable now to neglect the Crimea as something that has been achieved or set back. My daughter, who is a film-maker, was in Ukraine three months before the balloon went up. She made a film about Ukraine and the Crimea that was, in some sense, a documentary. It demonstrated the great love the Russians have for the Crimea and how, over the generations, they have built up their connections in stone. It was shown at the British Film Institute after the explosion and I think it was very observant.
We do not seem to have had a sufficiently coherent response to what has been going on in Russia. One of the pieces of evidence that we gained when we were in Brussels was how the trade department had not kept the political departments fully aware of the development of the association agreement with Ukraine; the AA took the observers by surprise in Europe. That was a failure of the European Union’s structure. It is also clear that Russia has been very concerned about its security.
It seems to me that we should have been engaging in constant dialogue with Russia about those matters in which we share an interest. The partnership and co-operation agreement has, of course, been suspended now, which is a great misfortune. The involvement of Russia with our interests is clearer. In 2013 the natural gas imports from Russia to the European Union were 39% of its requirements. We should have had more engagement with the setting up of the Eurasian union and we should have got to grips more with the Eastern Partnership and the six countries of the former Soviet Union. We have been too slow to reappraise our relationship and that, I think, is well brought out by the report.
How can we get back into dialogue? I agree with those who say that we cannot abandon sanctions or the pressure that we are putting on Russia so long as it is prepared to split up sovereign nations. However, there are many matters in which we could engage. We can develop a sense that we have a common interest in a security architecture and in resolving the economic problems that are afflicting both the eurozone and Russia. Because of our and its membership of the Council of Europe, we can discuss the European Convention on Human Rights. We can pick up Putin’s assertion in 2010 that he wanted to see an economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. I think he actually meant that co-operation was to be thought about. We must also remember that culture, education and science are things that we have in common, and we must appeal to the citizenry of Russia in continuing to cement our dialogue. We do not want Russia to feel drawn increasingly to the East and out of contact with the West. That, it seems to me, is the priority that we have to face now.
My Lords, we must all deplore the tragic loss of life caused by Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its infiltration into eastern Ukraine and, before that, Transnistria and two areas of Georgia, flouting international law. Nothing that is said today about mistakes by the EU or ourselves can take away from the brutal actions of the present Russian Government. Many, many Russians have opposed the latest invasion—some were parents of fallen soldiers—but they have been silenced by oppression and propaganda. That is why I welcome this debate, having served on the committee, and I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for his patient chairmanship.
This debate could be called Russia’s nimby because the essence of it is the extent to which Europeans should intrude—or, to put it more politely, be invited—into
Russia’s back yard. Historically, we Europeans should perhaps have learnt our lessons and realised that the great bear was bound to growl and lash out the moment any smarter, smaller animals approached him. But of course there is also a clash of civilisations. We in the European Union are naturally proud of ours. We think that we have got the human condition about right and that the Copenhagen criteria of justice and the rule of law should eventually suit everyone in the world. What else, we say, are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the European convention for if they are not statements of global faith? Universality for many liberal-minded people now is not even debatable.
However, we have to acknowledge that there are degrees of awareness and belief. There are Europeans in Russia and Russians in Europe, all with very different standpoints. Mrs Thatcher’s simple test was to ask whom one could do business with. If we are selling our house to an oligarch, presumably we are not in the least concerned about his attitude to human rights, but if he proposes marriage to one of our family then we begin to be concerned about his motives. I believe that we should make much more effort to understand Russia’s point of view. The Russians say that the EU has been treating Russia as though it was a prospective EU candidate—I quote from the evidence—
“prepared to sacrifice its interests and sovereign rights for the sake of future membership”.
I think the committee accepted that there is some truth in that.
At the end of the Cold War, there were genuine overtures on both sides and discussions of Russia’s future—if not within the EU, at least in harmony with what the EU was doing. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, described that era. Then, after Yeltsin in 2000, the scene changed again and this is where we say that the EU and its member states were “sleep-walking”. I stand by that phrase.
The importance of the new Commission’s review of its neighbourhood policy, coming up in May, is that it inevitably includes countries such as Ukraine which are already within the Russian sphere of influence. As the heroes of the Maidan in Kiev argued a year ago, the EU brings potential economic and social benefits, depending on the reforms that must pave the way. In Ukraine, especially, alongside Russia’s influence there are equally powerful religious beliefs and cultural traditions which come down from Poland and Austria and which are entirely European, as there are, it can be argued, with French and other influences within Russia, so on that score the nimby theory breaks down very quickly.
Time should be a healer, but how rapidly we seem to move on from our universal belief. We are already forgetting about Crimea. The OSCE has just cancelled a photographic exhibition in Vienna marking the anniversary of the Crimean invasion. The Ukrainians cannot believe that the West, having condemned Russia’s military action so recently, should now even disown the photographer.
The situation in Georgia, seven years after the war with Russia, remains very serious. There is considerable uncertainty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the borders, visas, the use of language, Russian subsidies and many other critical issues. I visited Georgia last July just after the signing of the new association agreement. I know that the agreement still promises economic and trading advantages, but trade has stagnated, tourism is still suffering and the political scene is fragile following the reshuffle of Ministers.
In our report we said that we should look forward to renewed EU dialogue with Russia, and this is now being bravely led by Chancellor Merkel. We should build upon our mutual interests in foreign policy, such as the nuclear negotiations with Iran and possible ways forward in Syria. We should recognise our strong cultural ties and the value of educational exchanges. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the importance of churches and non-governmental organisations. All these must be rebuilt. We should also take part at some level in the 70th anniversary commemorations in May. I hope that the Minister will clarify what will be happening then.
It is conventional to say that we have been well served by the staff. However, more than that, we have depended on the skills and expertise of our clerks, Roshani Palamakumbura, Sarah Jones and, before her, Julia Labeta, and our adviser Dr Samuel Greene. To all of them we owe a debt alongside the gratitude that we owe to our chairman.
My Lords, as a member of Sub-Committee C, I join with colleagues in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for his great skill as a chairman and his patience in guiding us to our conclusions. It was not always easy as there was a certain amount of division in the committee. I also pay tribute to our policy advisers, Sarah Jones and Roshani Palamakumbura, and our adviser Sam Greene.
I join in the general condemnation of Russia’s and Mr Putin’s actions. He runs a paranoid regime, where his opponents are imprisoned and critics harassed or worse. The annexation of Crimea was illegal and an explicit denial of Russia’s promise to respect its neighbour’s territorial integrity. It is obvious, too, that Mr Putin, in exchanges, has not acknowledged or told the truth about his country’s involvement in eastern Ukraine. However, having said that, the actions of a state—even an authoritarian state—are rarely the consequences of one person, and, in the few minutes that I have, I would like to explore precisely why Russia has reacted as it has done.
Lord Salisbury, the great Victorian Prime Minister, once remarked that the first evil in diplomacy was war and the second evil was an obvious diplomatic triumph. He presumably meant that the latter often sows the seeds of the former. People often quote Mr Putin’s remark that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century, as though that in itself was a sinister observation. I suspect that many people in Russia share that sentiment, not because of any great attachment to communism but because of the economic pain and the chaos that followed.
“When Russia was weak in the 1990s and beyond, we did not take Russian interests seriously. We did a poor job of seeing the world from their point of view, and of managing the relationship for the long term”.
While we were taking evidence in our committee, we heard much argument over whether assurances were or were not given to Russia in the past about the expansion of NATO. Sir Rodric Braithwaite, the former UK ambassador to Russia, was quite emphatic that such assurances were given. He provided the dates and the names of the people who were present, including himself, and said that these assurances were confirmed in Foreign Office documents. Whether these assurances were given or whether a different interpretation can now be placed on them because circumstances have changed, it is clear that the Russians were deeply unnerved by the expansion of NATO.
“This is the first sign of what could happen when NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders … The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe”.
In 2008, President Putin warned that including Ukraine or Georgia in NATO membership, as had been proposed at a summit in Bucharest, would be perceived as a direct threat to Russia.
Extraordinarily and ironically, George Kennan, the US diplomat and the architect of western containment of the Soviet Union, expressed his anxiety in 2008 after the first round of NATO expansion. He said:
“I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies … I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else”.
We may regard NATO as a defensive alliance, but it was originally aimed against Russia. Security can be a zero-sum game: one person’s security is another person’s insecurity.
Perhaps we do not sufficiently appreciate what a big decision it was when Russia allowed Ukraine to declare its independence. Russia was giving up a territory with which it had the most profound emotional and spiritual links, going back 1,000 years to the time when Kiev was the first Orthodox capital of the country.
We in the West and in the EU say that we do not recognise spheres of influence. Does this really accord with history and the realities of the world today? Try telling that to Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia. For Russia, of course, EU associate arrangements were the stepping stone to full EU membership, which it saw in many cases as leading to full NATO membership.
When we were taking evidence, we heard plenty of criticism of the EU’s handling of the proposed association agreement and comprehensive free trade agreement with Ukraine. Insufficient consideration appears to have been given by the Commission to the tension between the free trade agreement and Mr Putin’s proposed Eurasian Customs Union. Some officials who appeared before us admitted that almost no thought had been given to Russia and the effect on the Russian economy, and that there had been little contact with Russia even though the impact on the Russian economy was potentially considerable.
We may not like Moscow’s position, but it is not difficult to understand the logic. Ukraine is a huge expanse of flat land that Napoleon and the Nazis crossed in order to invade Russia. Ukraine is seen by Russia as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance. After President Yanukovych was removed, proposals were put forward in the Ukrainian Parliament to cancel the Russian lease on the naval base in Crimea. Russia would have lost access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, and it allowed President Putin to speculate about having a western base in Crimea.
We all know about Winston Churchill’s speech in 1939 about Russia being a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. However, he also said:
“It cannot be in accordance with the interests of the safety of Russia that”, the West,
“should plant itself on the shores of the Black Sea”.
Churchill would have understood Russian fears—even if they were illusions—about its base in Crimea.
I have concentrated on viewing the situation from a Russian point of view because it needs doing. However, we have to deal with the situation as it is: to understand is not to forgive. I support the imposition of sanctions. I agree that if there is not further progress, sanctions should be increased. I agree that we should stand by our Article 5 commitments. It is important that Minsk 2 should be upheld. This applies to Mr Putin and, equally, to Mr Poroshenko and the Government in Kiev. They should not be allowed to add new conditions to the agreement.
There are other things that we should be doing and encouraging. First, we need to consider devolution—even asymmetric devolution—within Ukraine. Secondly, we need to fashion an economic rescue plan for the country, funded jointly by the EU, the IMF, Russia and the United States. Lastly, and most importantly, the West should agree to Ukraine as a buffer between NATO and Russia, akin to Austria’s position in the Cold War. We should publicly rule out NATO expansion to include either Georgia or Ukraine.
We need a prosperous Ukraine—one that cannot be presented as a threat to Russia and one that will allow the West to repair its relationship with Moscow. We need Russia for many different issues and it is in all our interests to find a solution that enables us once again to have a better relationship with Russia and end this tragic situation.
My Lords, I have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, his committee and staff before on an excellent report. It should be read in conjunction with the excellent recent report on soft power from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The two link up rather well.
I rather take the view, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, that we need to understand the Russian position, but I also strongly take the view that when you understand bad behaviour and its origins you do not justify it. The noble Lord made that point in a single line. It is very important. It is easy to look back on Russian history in the 20th century and see what a disastrous history it was: two world wars, famine, dictatorship, failed revolution, collapse into ignominy in the later part of the century. Russia is not a country you would have wanted to have been born into in the 20th century.
Just as that is true, the other side of the same coin is that you would not have wanted to have been born in one of the eastern European states that were occupied by the Soviet Union or, as those states saw it, by Russia. Indeed, I remember seeing groups of German troops in what was then East Germany, and a large group of armed Russian troops a few hundred yards down the road. That was common throughout, because those countries were held in occupation, and what they remember is not only the occupation but the failed revolutions, whether in Hungary or Czechoslovakia, and the brutality with which they were put down. They also remember, and this is particularly true of Ukraine, the mass famines and deportations that were driven both by the Nazis and by the Russian communists. In other words, there is an appalling history in this belt of countries that makes it easy to understand why they are behaving as they are.
As I say, understanding behaviour is not the same thing as condoning it, so it is also important to recognise that this is an incredibly difficult area for the world to address and one that in my view, as I have said before in the House, is profoundly dangerous precisely because it is difficult to predict how it is going to develop. Several people have said that they think that Mr Putin is a skilled strategist. I do not think he is, but he is extremely good on tactics. I am deeply worried. In what I thought was a rather perceptive speech, the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, hinted that the problem of Russia under Putin is that there is not really a strategy that in the long run will be beneficial either to Russia or to the other countries in the region. It is a profoundly dangerous strategy, because at the very least it will blow up into a major conflict in one area or another.
One of the problems driving Russia at the moment, and to which many speakers have referred, is that of nationalism. Mr Putin is a strong nationalist. The problem with nationalism is that if you use your Russian populations in the border areas, as has been done in Ukraine, you cannot necessarily control them. The noble Baroness on the Front Bench who is to respond to the debate for the Government will know that I was saying some years ago that there could be no peace settlement in Syria because Putin would not allow it until Assad was winning. That has turned out to be true. It is not true not because there is necessarily some wickedness in Putin, but because he believes that all this is about the loss of Russian world power and Russian nationalism, which are so important to him. That very nationalism is dangerous. It is also out of kilter with what is happening in the rest of the world.
One thing which the report brings out so well, and which is probably the central message that I would like to re-emphasise, is that the European Union does not have a clear strategy for how to deal with this. In fact, what troubles me, and as the report indicates, there are divisions growing within Europe. People have mentioned Hungary, but I am not sure what is going to happen with Greece at the moment—something that has been mentioned outside this House. One can see that there is the danger of a certain fragmentation of a coherent policy within the European Union, and it is obviously in Mr Putin’s interests to play on that. He would like to see greater disintegration, if you like, within the European Union and NATO.
That raises the question: how can we in the European Union make sure that we have a common policy towards Russia? When people say to me, “Oh, at the end of that road there is a common foreign policy and a common defence policy, and that will lead to a European nation state”, perhaps the first thing I would say is that history tends to indicate that a severe external threat often creates a united state in some form. Indeed, we need only look back to the origins of the United Kingdom to see how we created a nation state out of four separate nations in large part because of threats from outside of what were then religious wars. We do not have to go down the road of a common European foreign and defence policy, but my goodness we really do have to have a clear strategy towards what Mr Putin is doing in Russia.
This is not just about the issues in Ukraine; there are issues along several of the boundary areas. It is also about the corruption in Russia. It is about the fact that polonium-210 can be transported from a nuclear reactor somewhere in Russia across to Moscow and then to London, be used to poison a person, and go back again with no action taken by that Government. It is the whole issue of the Russian policy of trying to push at boundaries in a way that is destabilising not just for Europe but for the rest of the world. That is one of the reasons why I rather like the recommendation made in paragraph 282 that we should organise an international conference to help Ukraine not only on economic regeneration but on dealing with the corruption that is inherent within Ukraine itself, because that has been part of the problem. We need to do that not just in the European context but externally. I really do not believe that some of the other emerging great powers—India, China, South Africa, Brazil—think that it is a good idea to have a major power changing borders by force. They certainly do not think that it is a good idea to get a power to give up its nuclear weapons, as Ukraine did in 1994, and then start dismembering that country. What does that do for nuclear disarmament anywhere? It is a profoundly serious problem.
I have great respect for the Russians, but a danger pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, with regard to sanctions is that one of the things that drives Putin is his belief that the West is decadent, whereas Russia can suffer bravely and with courage. That is what sanctions do. I do not have an alternative and I think that we have to impose sanctions—I strongly support them at the moment—but we need to recognise how intensely serious this issue is.
To my mind, the problem of how we deal with Mr Putin’s Russia is a greater threat to world peace than what is happening in the Middle East. The Middle East is actually containable; Russia is not containable, and at best this situation has the makings of a new Cold War drifting into the future. It is not easy, but I will say this to the noble Baroness who is going to respond for the Government: please can we start doing all we can within the European Union to get a clear and coherent strategy on our foreign policy reaction to Russia and to the dangers in the border areas? There are answers; they are far too complex to deal with in my final minute, but they are there and they need to be developed in full.
My Lords, I have an important interest to declare, which is that I have been involved in business in Russia since 1995. I started that in the belief, which I still hold, that it is through commercial interchange that eventually we will restore some of the optimism about Russia’s future that many in this House have had for a number of years, although we have certainly found ourselves and our judgment somewhat questioned by the experiences in Ukraine.
We have heard two outstanding speeches. The maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, was quite remarkable and I find myself agreeing with almost all of his analysis. I have watched his career with great interest for some decades. He certainly does great service to the memory of his great-grandfather, whom I have been writing about with interest in The Military Conversations of 1906-1914. We look forward to hearing much more from the noble Earl. The other speech that I found myself agreeing with—we do not always agree on these matters—was that of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. His words on sanctions are well worth careful scrutiny. We often embark on sanctions with the best of wishes and intentions, but unfortunately they can yield poor results and they often produce the very effects that we do not want, particularly in the country that is most affected by them. In this case, a great many countries are affected.
All the members of the committee deserve to be congratulated on the report and on the tone that they have brought to this discussion. It is very different from the tone of discussion, I dare say, in another place and particularly in the newspapers of this country. We have to change that. We have to develop a much greater understanding of the complexity of the issues and we must do so fairly urgently.
What is Britain’s role? Paragraph 82 of the recommendations and conclusions says:
“As one of the four signatories of the Budapest Memorandum (1994), which pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the UK had a particular responsibility when the crisis erupted. The Government has not been as active or as visible on this issue as it could have been”.
That is a matter of great regret. During the crisis inside Ukraine and in Kiev, the French, German and Polish Foreign Ministers went into negotiations. In the light of the fact that, no sooner was the ink dry on that agreement, it was effectively torn up in front of everybody’s eyes, it may have been quite a good thing that we were not involved in that rather deplorable example of EU negotiations, but staying out of that particular involvement carried with it our then acquiescing in what I think was the brave and necessary involvement of the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany in direct negotiations with Ukraine and Russia.
This country has a responsibility to try to find a way of dealing, in international law, with the annexation of Crimea. This will not be changed, probably for a number of years, but we need to lead the discussion, because eventually it will have to be changed. Of course, if Ukraine and Russia can reach an agreement, it will be settled in international law. That is probably the most desirable outcome and it eventually will have to be part of such an agreement. But to help that process we should point to the necessity of a wider discussion—widening it means that it is always easier to reach agreement—and indicate that one area that could be brought into that discussion is the question of Moldova and Transnistria. Putting that into the international discussions over the annexation of Crimea would be sensible. There is a lot to be said for widening this to all the disputed areas and boundaries in and around Europe and central Asia, which will come back to haunt us if we do not settle them.
Among the other aspects that have been raised in this debate, a great deal has been said about this whole issue of why Russia feels encircled. History shows us exactly the same: if you look to the origins of the 1914 war, there is no question but that encirclement was a big factor. It was felt not just by Russia at various stages but by Germany and by other countries. We need to respect that in international affairs.
One person who does not carry much weight these days in Russia is Mikhail Gorbachev. There is no doubt, in my judgment, that he can fairly claim that, with the full might of the Soviet Union behind him, he could have clamped down and there would have been no unification of East and West Germany. There has been some correspondence recently in the Guardian, on 6 and
“One of its causes, though not the only one”— an important reservation—
“is the unwillingness of our western partners to take account of Russia’s point of view, legitimate interests and security. Verbally, they applauded Russia, especially during the Yeltsin years, but in deeds they took no account of it. I am thinking mainly of Nato’s enlargement, the plans to deploy a missile shield, and the west’s actions in areas important to Russia (Yugoslavia, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine). They literally told us: it’s not your business. As a result an abscess built up, and burst”.
We must return to this area to try to find our way through these difficult questions.
The contribution of those who have said that Russia has to be part of the solution is also important. The economic strength of Ukraine has to be built up, but it will not be built up just by relying on EU disbursals, the IMF or anybody else. Russia has an interest in Ukraine: it will invest there and will need to become a partner in investment. It is not going to be easy; it will be very difficult to break down the hatreds, almost, that have emerged in the last few years between people in Ukraine and Russia who previously worked evenly and well together. It will take time.
I suggest that Britain’s role is strategic. At the time, I was not keen on the decision at the NATO summit in Chicago to continue with dual-capable aircraft. In retrospect, I believe that it was a wise decision. I agree with those who have said that there is no case for these aircraft to be deployed now to new NATO members, but I believe that Britain should take a very active part in the whole of that issue and discussion. We may have a role to play. That whole aspect of NATO’s strategy has to be looked at again, but we should not consider deploying such aircraft in sensitive areas. These are issues to which we will return.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the committee on an excellent report and add my voice to those who have paid tribute to the first-class contribution to our debate from the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith.
Recent contributors to this debate have emphasised that Russia has legitimate interests. There is no argument about that, but the question in my mind is whether President Putin is a respectable and representative bearer of those interests and whether he deserves the kind of co-operation and regard that I think all of us would like to give to the Russian state. My reluctant conclusion—the evidence seems to me to bear this out—is that it is very difficult to deal with this man on terms that one would regard as honest and straight- forward. He has a track record of oppressing his neighbours. There is no good reason, and no provocation from the West, that could justify what happened in Georgia and the proclamation of the so-called independence of the enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for which, I might say, we simply gave him a rap on the knuckles.
He has developed, not just in theory but in action, doctrines of spheres of influence. You can argue about their legitimacy, but the fact is that he has used them to oppress his neighbours and to override the sovereign rights of inhabitants of other countries. He has arrogated to himself the right to protect Russian-speakers irrespective of their citizenship. He has a track record of fairly aggressive activity.
At home, he has shown himself to be a very revisionist authoritarian. He has suppressed domestic opposition, built up military force and drummed up a nationalist agenda which now provides the background against which he can maintain his domestic popularity. He has not concealed this. I do not disagree with those who say that we should nevertheless have regard to Russian interests, but we must do something more effective than we have done so far about his preferred methodology of pursuing his agenda: propaganda, subversive activity in neighbouring countries and skilfully devised irregular military action which is carefully calibrated not to trigger any specific article of the Washington treaty. As a result, we have found it very difficult to deal with him.
He has obviously been encouraged by the inability of NATO Governments to devise a credible response. I say to those who think that the wise thing to do would be now to rule out NATO membership for either Georgia or Ukraine that they should think of two things: first, the destabilising effect that that statement would have in those countries, which also have interests in the matter; secondly, would Putin really regard this as fair dealing? I think he would regard it as an immense prize, enabling him to gobble up these countries even more effectively. I would be against any such declaration. It is a separate issue whether we pursue actively their membership of NATO and I would certainly not be in favour of that in the present circumstances.
We have to recognise that Putin has demonstrated determination that Ukraine should not be allowed to move westwards—it is part of the area that he wants to keep under his control and in which he can actively interfere. We have been proposing that the possibility of European Union membership should be available to Ukraine. Not only does Putin oppose Ukraine’s membership of NATO, it is increasingly clear that he does not like the implications of an association agreement or of membership of the European Union. I do not think that we can allow those policies or attitudes to stand. The Ukrainians have a right to fashion their own destiny.
As a result of the present situation, we face some fairly unattractive choices. Obviously, one of them is a result of what has happened in eastern Ukraine—to match force with force. That would be disproportionately risky and I would not support it at all. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we should actively consider the sale of weapons that will increase the defensive capability of the Ukrainians. I cannot see why they should be put in a position where they are outgunned and outmanoeuvred by separatist forces in part of the country.
These are all calculated risks. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, also mentioned something that I very strongly agree with; that is, the consequences of the failure of the Budapest memorandum. That has very wide consequences for those who wish to promote, as I would like to see it, a reduction in nuclear proliferation and, indeed, encouraging countries to go non-nuclear. What conclusions do you draw if the result of giving up your nuclear weapons is to be invaded?
The Kiev Government face a difficult task, politically and psychologically. Ukraine has not been a successful country so far and they are now faced with the extraordinarily difficult task of fulfilling their side of the Minsk agreement, which demands that they do certain things, without having full control over the situation on the ground or much certainty that anything liberalising that they do will actually bear fruit. But they have to make the effort and it should be a high priority of western policy, including of our own country, to help them in this task. The Government’s initiative in proposing a good governance fund is excellent, although it will need resources from other countries and a much wider effort on the part of EU member states, along with international agencies, to accelerate the economic development of Ukraine.
Finally, what about future policy towards Russia? We do need one, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly said. We need to keep open the door to a more constructive relationship in a post-Putin world—I fear it is going to be a post-Putin world—and, as far as we can, we should try to prevent the spread of antagonism into other areas of policy. We have a strong interest in not having overspill but we must signal the unacceptability of current Russian policy in Europe. I agree that sanctions are not an end in themselves and will not do the whole job but I do not think that we can do anything but continue to signal our disapproval and they have to stay in place, at least until the fulfilment of the Minsk agreement. I hope this will be on time, although I admit that I am not optimistic.
We need to learn some lessons. We need to work against the Russian hardliners, as was said yesterday, projecting our understanding of the world and our values in a sophisticated and well resourced information strategy, which the European Union ought to engage in. We ought to do something about defence. The decisions taken recently by NATO at the Wales summit are a beginning but they are only a beginning, and it is right that we included cyberattack as coming within the purview of Article 5. We need more rapid implementation than we are getting at the moment and NATO needs to revive its almost defunct military planning capability. We need to look at security in the round.
The most recent UK national security strategy did not have European security as a focus. That has to change. European security and the defence of our dependent territories are surely the meat and potatoes of British defence and foreign policy, and we must not allow other threats to our security—I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Soley; they are not equally deadly—to distract us from the importance of ensuring the security of our own continent. Of course, there is a wider scope to this in the fringes of our continent, which are also increasingly in flames. The capabilities we need cannot be realised for less than the 2% undertaking to NATO. I hope that the Government will stop messing about on this subject, which damages their credibility and undermines the confidence that our allies have in this country.
My Lords, I declare my interests in this part of the world as represented in the register, and I join the many people who have already congratulated the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on a speech that was both deft and comprehensive. It covered almost all the points that I wished to make and certainly everything I wished to agree with. I look forward to hearing a great deal more from him. I welcome this report and found much in it to agree with. I managed to find a few points that I would like to add.
First, Mr Putin is a creature of the post-Cold War world and, unwelcome though it may be to hear it, the West carries some responsibility for creating the conditions that brought him to prominence. Much has been said today and elsewhere about how the West mishandled relationships with Russia. I do not propose to rehearse all that again in detail now. In brief, Russia—humiliated, isolated and increasingly turbulent, and not least as it experienced a very sudden loss of empire—responded to a person who offered a return to strength and respect. To an extent, he has succeeded. But in doing so he has stifled civil society, established total control of the media that shapes public opinion, suborned the judiciary and the rule of law, and embarked on a series of aggressive external adventures, of which Ukraine is but the latest.
Today President Putin, working through a very small clique, is almost synonymous with Russia. He is unpredictable, antagonistic to the West and at the same time seemingly both in total control and beyond any control or accountability—but also seemingly hugely popular. I wonder if things could have been different. If the West had shown a bit more vision and less triumphalism—which now looks horribly like pure hubris—and thought a bit more about working jointly on the concerns that the West and Russia share, I believe that we would not now be facing what the report calls “outright confrontation and competition”. For example, I remember, in 1991, one man in Russian intelligence telling me that the West and the USSR had actually shared a great deal of intelligence on matters such as Northern Ireland during the Cold War, but this co-operation seems to have been discarded almost overnight. He was baffled that the West did not seem to see the common problem that we were going to have with Islamic fundamentalism to the south of Russia. Subsequent events have, of course, proved how tragically prescient those remarks were.
Secondly, I would like to ask one or two potentially uncomfortable questions about sanctions. I support sanctions; they have been necessary, and they have quite understandably been used to punish Russia for the invasion of Crimea. The people and the economy of Russia and other countries have indeed suffered. From a strategic point of view, however, surely we must recognise that Mr Putin is not going to be in some way “brought to heel”. His whole credo and platform are based on the very opposite of this. The situation in Crimea has not been reversed—indeed, as other noble Lords have said, there seems to be a creeping acceptance of it. Can the Minister tell us what evidence there is that sanctions have had any effect in causing Mr Putin to change his mind or his ways? More strategically, what are the likely outcomes if the Russian economy really does crumple under the sanctions, low oil prices and other economic headwinds that have been referred to? Surely the European Union and the Foreign Office must have thought this through to some sort of end game. Finally, how effective will sanctions be if the oil price should recover?
On Ukraine, the report refers to the West as “sleep-walking” into a crisis. I agree with an earlier speaker who felt that that was perhaps unfair, but there is a hideous civil war in Ukraine that is going to take a very long time to resolve. It has already cost thousands of lives. Mr Putin has a collection of frozen conflicts and it is hard to see how he could now return Crimea to Ukraine without humiliation.
We are where we are, and both the West and Mr Putin have made blunders along the way. The only way forward, as I see it, is for the West to make unoccupied
Ukraine work economically. That would be hugely expensive—Natalie Jaresko, the Finance Minister from Ukraine, referred to the $40 billion IMF stabilisation bailout as just a first step—and extremely difficult to achieve. But surely it is something that, sooner or later, is going to have to be done. If we fail, Ukraine will remain corrupt and war-torn, a failed state and a basket case on Europe and Russia’s borders. Some would say that that is exactly what Mr Putin wants, but maybe it also holds the germ of an idea for how we could eventually re-engage with Russia on this very difficult issue.
Finally, on Russia itself, we have a good many reasons to criticise Mr Putin and his regime in the strongest terms. However, our difficulty with Russia started much earlier in the missed opportunities of the 1990s. We are now stuck in a cul-de-sac characterised by what this report calls an “adversarial mindset” on both sides. We may never—certainly not while Mr Putin is in charge—see Russia wish to subsume its interests in a wider European community. We cannot ignore Mr Putin’s actions, but we simply cannot allow Russia to become another pariah state and a destabilised and destabilising force. As other speakers have said, we need to base our strategy much more overtly and obviously on three things: a better understanding of how the Russians see themselves; a focus on common areas of interest; and a long-term view that includes the next generation in Russia—it is with them that we are going to find the solution to these problems and not in our own. That approach at least offers some kind of starting point for what I have called before in this House rebooting the relationship with Russia for the long term, whether or not Mr Putin himself remains in the Kremlin in the years ahead.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Tugendhat on so effectively presenting this brilliant report—and it is a brilliant report. So many people outside your Lordships’ House have read it and complimented all the work of the committee in producing it. It certainly has been a fantastic read for us all.
For some years, I have been chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, which I now declare. Indeed, one of its directors is my noble friend Lord Oxford, who now brings all his experience and understanding to our deliberations. I warmly congratulate him on such a superb maiden speech.
When the Soviet empire collapsed, the departure and independence of Ukraine was very keenly felt by many Russians. But Ukraine has always aspired to be independent, and that spirit provoked savage reprisals by Stalin. Before the Second World War, Stalin effectively starved to death millions of Ukrainians—the Holodomor. In this Palace of Westminster, we have sought to commemorate this tragedy with artistic and photographic exhibitions. It is certainly an event that has scarred the memories of the people of Ukraine.
Regrettably, since independence, Ukraine has been both ill governed and highly dependent on Russian energy supplies. Russia, in turn, has used energy as a weapon of foreign policy, using differential pricing to influence those whom it favours or dislikes. Therefore,
Ukraine has been dependent on Russia not only for energy supplies and transmission but as its major export market. Regrettably, a number of those who have led Ukraine politically since independence acquired massive wealth. Former President Yanukovych, now in exile in Russia, apparently built up a fortune of some $70 billion. His effective removal by outraged Ukrainian citizens following the Maidan demonstrations led to the subsequent invasion by Russia, furious at his departure, of Crimea and the Donbass. Ukraine has perennially been in debt to Russia. Indeed, the failure of President Yanukovych to sign the EU Association Agreement was linked to Ukraine’s debt to Russia, which the agreement did not cover. That is because the EU essentially believed, with some degree of understanding, that any money provided would simply be stolen. And so this president turned to Russia.
It was a key policy of the new Ukrainian Government under President Poroshenko to decentralise authority to the regions of this vast country. But this was not spelled out and acted upon sufficiently when they came into office, which might have pre-empted the rise of separatist sentiment. This still needs to happen, but in a way that does not dismember the country, which appears in some respects to be Russia’s objective. Does the Minister agree that the EU must encourage Ukraine to move forward on this decentralisation process as the opportunity presents itself?
The question we all ask ourselves is this: what is Russia’s objective? It seems quite clear to me, somebody who knows Ukraine very well, that it is to make Ukraine ungovernable and drive away any foreign investment to ensure Russia’s continuing dominance and influence.
The British Ukrainian Society is fully part of a process that is now under way in Vienna. The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, a hero of the Maidan demonstrations, called for a Marshall plan. In an echo of this, a small group of us, including him and my noble friend Lord Oxford, is helping in this process. It has a degree of support from President Hollande. In a remarkable demonstration of unity, but also of clear necessity, Ukrainian federations of employers and employees have come together to underpin this initiative. Work streams are being set up in such diverse areas as trade, health, EU association, anti-corruption and judicial reform, headed by distinguished Europeans, including from this country and including members of your Lordships’ House, who will analyse rigorously what is necessary to provide a wholly different constitutional and economic climate. We hope that in September we will be able to report on this. Depending on the level of stability in Ukraine, our clear intention is to launch a major reconstruction fund embracing private sector investors. Of course, the role of the IMF and others is crucial, but we are hopeful that the huge opportunities in Ukraine, not least in agriculture and in IT, will be attractive. We have been pleasantly surprised in discussions in Washington at the level of interest not least from those in the United States. Such a fund would help disconnect Ukraine from the massive current economic shadow of Russia which impacts it so directly.
One of the more troubling interplays has been the extent of involvement of politicians there with different business groups which so dominate the economy. I mention this because, in the fullness of time, more competition is crucially needed. However, confiscation, nationalisation or punitive tax rates, advocated by some, are not seen as a wise priority in Kiev in key government circles, although one oligarch in the last day or two, who appears to have had a private army, has challenged the state’s authority in a completely unacceptable way.
As we have heard, the aggressive behaviour of Russia has been well documented. Nevertheless, it is certainly unwise for some to call for NATO membership of Ukraine, which before the current tragedy was never a live issue. That simply gives Russia a self-justifying excuse to continue its aggression.
Ukraine is a European country that deserves much better than it has suffered. As the excellent report of the European Union Committee makes clear, there are potentially practical ways of trying to engage with Russia at a national and EU level while making it absolutely plain that there will be a heavy price if this offer is spurned. Yet for all the huge energy and commitment of the current Ukrainian Government to initiate much needed reforms, ultimately they will have to recognise that, however unpalatable, no country can escape the reality of its geography.
My Lords, Russia is a country that I know reasonably well. My first job was in the Diplomatic Service. In my 20s, I spent a year learning Russian, and three years as second secretary in Moscow in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War. I have been back more than 20 times since then, including in recent years. I also know reasonably well Ukraine, which I first visited in the days of the Soviet Union and, most recently, about a month ago. I shall be there again from tomorrow morning, visiting, I hope, the front line in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
Like, I imagine, most people who have some sense of affinity and affection for Russia, I was particularly disappointed that the end of communism did not mean, as it did in the rest of eastern Europe, the emergence of a successful democracy and of a successful, sustainable and diversified economy, and still less that Russia re-entered, as I had hoped it would, the European family of nations which it had been definitely a part of before 1914—diplomatically, economically, culturally and intellectually. Those were the years of Blok and Yesenin, of Rachmaninoff, the Ballets Russes and Stravinsky; and the years in art of Malevich, Tatlin and the young Kandinsky—an enormous flowering of talent and striking originality.
It is very sad that Russia has gone the way that it has. Some people say that it is the fault of the West. It is arguable that we might have done more to support or be sympathetic to the requirements and difficulties of Yeltsin, but in the Putin era it would have been very different to blame the West for that. The shadow of the Soviet Union, which had shortened, has fallen and ever lengthened over Russia during the past few years. The state, the regime, controls now all the broadcasting media and has an effective veto over all the printed media. There is an increasing sense of fear in terms of people’s willingness to express themselves freely. There is a labyrinthine kleptocracy—not a word that is mentioned in the report, unfortunately. The best account of that—I do not need to go into it—is in a remarkable book of which noble Lords may have seen very good reviews in the
: Karen Dawisha’s
Unfortunately, because of legal blackmail or fear that some oligarch, perhaps put up to it by Putin, might spend millions of pounds suing it for some form of libel, the projected British publisher, Cambridge University Press—I am sorry to have to say this about an institution related to one of my own universities—has cravenly decided not to publish here, so anybody who wants that book has to look to the United States, as I did, to get it.
The worst aspect of all, however, has been the regular murder of critics or supposed enemies of the regime. Some names, such as Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Magnitsky and, most recently, Nemtsov, are now world renowned—these were deeply brave people who will go down in history—but there are many others whose names are much less well known. It is deeply worrying, and it has objectively not been possible for us to have, even had we wished it, the kind of relationship of confidence, the ability to discuss in a friendly and mutually supportive way the future of the world, which we would like to have had with the Russian leadership. It is not possible to deal with people on that basis who behave in that fashion.
However, deal with them we must. They are there and, as has rightly been said, Putin is now enormously popular and is likely to remain in power for a long time. That is a reality that we have to cope with, so how do we deal with him? The first thing to remember is that we must deal with him in the only currency which he understands, which is that of power realities. There, I slightly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. Economics is part of power realities; sanctions are important. I described in the House at the time the reaction of the West to the invasion of Crimea as derisory and said that it would almost certainly encourage Putin to come back for a bigger bite elsewhere. The sanctions that we came up with when he invaded, or took part in the subversion and take-over of, parts of eastern Ukraine have been slightly more robust. That has induced slightly greater hesitation in Putin which is much to be welcomed. But we need to go a great deal further. We need certainly to consider much fiercer sanctions if there are any further breaches. I think that I was the first person to suggest in this House, in November, that we should look at the possibility of denying Russian banks, or certainly those associated with the regime, access to the interbank market—the SWIFT system. I see that that idea has been taken up recently in the United States Congress by John McCain and others and it would be an extremely effective weapon. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we need to do other things as well. We need certainly to make sure that the Ukrainian army is supplied with reasonable, including lethal, defensive weapons. I have raised that point in many different contexts in this House during the past few weeks.
I certainly agree with him that we need to make much greater progress in ensuring that the European Union gradually weans itself from excessive dependence on Russian natural gas. I support the initiatives in building up a European common energy policy designed, among other things, to achieve that objective. It is enormously important to reinforce our commitment to Article 5. We want to put right out of court, out of anybody’s imagination, in Moscow the idea that they might have a go at a NATO or EU member. For that purpose, the high-readiness reaction force which NATO is now considering is very useful, but the best way of reinforcing the Article 5 commitment would be to put our troops, or NATO/EU troops from elsewhere in the Union and the alliance, in the front line, within 100 kilometres of the frontier, so that if there was trouble, they would be likely to be killed in the first hours of any conflict. There is no greater commitment that you can make than that to support your allies.
If we do those things, we have a reasonable chance of reaching a reasonable accord. I would regard a reasonable accord as one in which there is a genuine election—not at the point of a gun but with proper campaigning, international observers and so forth—in Crimea and in the areas of Donetsk province and Luhansk province that have been occupied to see what the local population really wants. If they want to join the Russian Federation, that is fine—they have a right to do that and it can go ahead—but equally, as a quid pro quo, the rest of the Ukrainian population would also have a right to determine their future, and if they wished to do so, their right to join the EU and to join NATO would be respected by Russia. That is essential. Some people say that that is unrealistic or, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said in a lucid speech with which I mostly disagreed, that we should ourselves exclude that idea. That would be quite wrong. To try to create a separate status for Ukraine that did not allow it to join NATO or the EU would be wrong for two reasons. First, it would be wrong morally. It would be a terrible betrayal. It would amount to saying that the people of Crimea can have a free choice, because they want to join Russia; the people in the rest of Ukraine cannot have a free choice, they are not sovereign. That would be a disgraceful retreat, psychologically damaging and very dangerous, because of course it would encourage Putin to go further. Secondly, it would not work. The Ukrainian population would not accept it, and why would Putin respect it? Russia has already signed a piece of paper from which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, quoted extensively, the Budapest agreement, under which Russia guaranteed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. That agreement has been breached in just about every respect, and I think that Putin regards it as some sort of joke.
We should be quite clear about our determination to preserve the right of sovereignty, to which we are committed, and therefore the right to self-determination of Ukraine in future. It would be a great mistake for us, in my view, to allow a situation to arise in which there is uncertainty and seen to be something to play for. That is to invest in future instability and attempts by Putin to change facts on the ground. It would also be a great mistake to allow Ukraine to join the EU but not NATO, because that would mean that we had a commitment under the Lisbon treaty but the United States did not have a commitment under the Washington treaty to support Ukraine. Again, that would be an area of uncertainty that could be exploited in future, which could be destabilising and which could lead to exactly the sort of nightmares which we all hope to avoid.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on his excellent maiden speech. According to the Daily Telegraph, he was MI6 station head in Moscow, but I know that he could not possibly comment. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and the committee on the excellent report before your Lordships’ House today. I heartily agree with most of it.
I begin by reflecting on the appalling murder of Boris Nemtsov on
The report states:
“The EU’s relationship with Russia has for too long been based on the optimistic premise that Russia has been on a trajectory towards becoming a democratic ‘European’ country”.
It also states that there has been a loss of member states’ analytical capacity on Russia and a loss of specialist Russian expertise in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Both statements are sadly very true.
When I wrote my book, Russia First: Breaking with the West, in 1997, the clue was in the title: breaking with the West. I argued then that the West effectively lost Russia in the mid-1990s when, humiliated and marginalised by the West, as the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, referred to, Russia decided to pursue its own strategic interests and distinct future Eurasian path. Neither meant that Russia would turn into a western-style democracy with a fully fledged market economy. It was obvious then, and it is even more obvious today.
I think that I have met virtually every British ambassador who has served in Moscow since the late 1980s; standing out head and shoulders above the rest, Sir Rodric Braithwaite and Sir Rod Lyne—real Russian/Soviet experts. I do not believe that the FCO is currently capable of reproducing their expertise, experience or analytical capabilities, which is worrying.
The report is also right to identify two evident policy failures in the run-up to the Ukrainian crisis: first, the failure to be aware of Russian hostility to the association agreement referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont; and, secondly, the crucial importance that Moscow attached to preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. Imagine, if you would, the situation back in 1962, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, referred, if Cuba had said that not only was it going to install Soviet ballistic missiles 90 miles from the USA but it would also join the Warsaw Pact. War would have been inevitable. In 1983, the US invaded Grenada, a Commonwealth country, after a coup by a revolutionary group. Incidentally, the UNGA condemned the invasion as a,
“flagrant violation of international law”, and the only reason why the resolution did not pass was because the US vetoed it in the UN Security Council.
It is also correct that Moscow misjudged the West over Ukraine. With Transnistria, a European country had already had its territory divided by pro-Russian separatists after a war in the early 1990s with little or no reaction from the West, while Georgia, after the 2008 war, remains divided to this day. Russia was genuinely surprised by the strength of the West’s reaction to its role in the Ukrainian crisis.
That brings us to the question of sanctions. Here I disagree somewhat with the report’s conclusions. It states that sanctions are fine in the short term, although there is no evidence that they have shifted President Putin’s stance on the Crimea or Russia’s perceived vital strategic interests. In the long term, the sanctions are adjudged to be,
“detrimental to the EU’s interests as well as to Russia’s”.
I think that the sanctions, apart from making the West feel virtuous in “punishing” Russia—again, a word used by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell—will be purely counterproductive, as some witnesses to the committee noted. They play into the hands of the nationalists while achieving virtually nothing politically. Economically, Russia is suffering far more from the fall in the price of a barrel of oil than from sanctions, so in that sense OPEC has far more leverage than the West. The EU has 12 to 14 times more trade with Russia than the US, so if anything, sanctions will damage Europe much more than Washington.
Finally, I agree with the report’s emphasis on a greater EU dialogue and engagement with Russia through, for example, reconvened summits and a focus on issues of shared interest. While I am sure that everyone in your Lordships’ House would welcome a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis based on Minsk II, I hope we can also agree that, as the report says, it would indeed be,
“a failure of imagination and diplomacy if the crisis in Ukraine were to result in a long-lasting era of colder relations”.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tugendhat and his committee for the excellent work that they have done in producing the report. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on his excellent maiden speech. I say that because the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who is sadly not now in his place, welcomed him as a fellow member of the Diplomatic Service. I welcome him as another example of the goodness of the hereditary system and the by-election system in bringing people into this House who can make a contribution who might not otherwise be taking part in national politics.
There are a number of examples of larger countries breaking rules with impunity. We have seen it in the EU itself, with France and Germany making agreements and then breaking them. Some people point the figure at China. Now we have Russia breaking an international agreement. Whatever one thinks of Mr Putin and his actions, I believe that we might have reason to be grateful to him. I say that because he has made us wake up. He has certainly shaken up the former Soviet Union states—some of which are now in the EU, some of which are not—which were perhaps a bit starry eyed about what the West could offer and how much benefit there could be from the West. It has certainly shaken up the West. By the West, I mean the EU and the US. It is one of the sadnesses that this report is inevitably more EU based than internationally based, because the EU policy towards Russia will have to take account of what the US is doing.
I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench what she expects the EU’s reaction to be to the US supplying arms to Kiev. Will there be a united response, or will an American action divide the EU rather than a Russian action?
The report rightly highlights some of the failures of the West and shows as a result what a tricky negotiating partner the EU can be at times. It is striking at paragraph 235 how shocked Mr Putin was that for once the EU was unified and had a strong sense of purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned the understandings that the US had with Russia, which seem to be broken with fairly good impunity on its side.
My noble friend Lord Jopling said that he hoped that NATO would have full European support, but that is a big if. Can there be full European support? This takes me back to the point that we might be grateful to Mr Putin, because we now have a better chance than there has been to date of having a long-lasting European response to the Russian problem.
When I talked to people in the Czech Republic, particularly the older generation, I was struck by what a generation gap there seems to be. These people were born under the Soviet regime—the noble Lord, Lord Soley, mentioned what a transformation they have had—and they are finding it extremely difficult to adjust to western European standards, which the young seem to pick up fairly quickly. There was certainly a hankering to go back to a more structured, family-orientated way of life that existed in the Soviet Union, much though they disliked the oppression at the time. Mr Putin’s actions have made that older generation think that they were perhaps being slightly misty-eyed about what had happened in the past and that the reality, whatever difficulties that generation gap produces, is a better alternative.
I was also struck by the fact that the Lithuanians who gave evidence to us in Sub-Committee A did not want to talk about the single currency but about defence, because they saw the euro as part of defence. The remark that particularly struck me was that the Russians could attack them much more easily if they had their own currency, but now that they were part of Europe they saw its currency as part of their defence policy and were much more resilient to any difficulties that Russia might cause.
I want to ask my noble friend about what I read at the end of last week that really thrilled me: that we were going to back to one of Mrs Thatcher’s old policies—giving help to the former Soviet states for good governance. This was a hugely important part of the Foreign Office brief then. If we are to give £20 million a year to the former Soviet countries for good governance and improving their way of life, I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us more about it.
We must be under no illusion as to what the Government in Russia are up to. I stress again, as some noble Lords have done, that we need to separate out this Government from Russia itself. We are not criticising Russia, because there have been different Governments. We heard before this debate started that Russia is now exploring selling ships to the Argentinians, who are going to call those ships the Malvinas-class destroyers. That is another way of getting at the unity of the EU and separating parts of the West from itself. I hope that as a result of all the damage, horrors and evils that have happened over the last couple of years, we will emerge with a stronger, more united EU and a more sensible regard for some of the sensitivities of Russia and treat it as a more equal partner than in previous years.
My Lords, we owe a considerable debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, for having introduced such a perceptive and timely report on a topic of major significance for our foreign policy and that of the rest of Europe, and for ensuring that it is debated without the sort of delays to which we are all too accustomed.
I would suggest that there are few more futile efforts than that of a number of commentators who pose—and try to answer—the question of whether Ukraine or the Islamic State should have a higher priority in our foreign and security policy formulation. We do not have the luxury of that choice: both pose a fundamental challenge to the rules-based international order, which it is in our interests to sustain. Both pose threats to democracy, human rights, our security and that of our allies, with the risks of mass migration and the destabilisation of whole regions on Europe’s doorstep. I suggest that both need to be countered effectively if we do not wish to find ourselves having to take more costly decisions further down the track.
I doubt whether anyone would contest one of the report’s main findings: that we and the European Union were ill prepared for, and rather misjudged, President Putin’s reaction to the events in the Maidan and the fall of Yanukovych. I would add only that President Putin seems to have been equally ill informed and ill prepared, and equally to have misjudged the European reaction and the effects of the economic sanctions imposed in response to his illegal actions. I enter a modest plea of not guilty, as I recall a conversation in Vilnius in October 2013 with a Lithuanian parliamentarian who was exuding optimism about the future course of events, to which I replied, “Provided that there is not a Putin surprise”. Well, there was a Putin surprise. Europe’s misjudgment has given rise, as is often the case in democracies, to a rather excessive tendency to blame ourselves. Putin’s reaction, as is often the case in authoritarian regimes, consists of blaming absolutely everyone else. Neither of those reactions seen a very useful guide for future policy, so what should our future policy be?
I would certainly argue that any viable European policy needs a clear element of deterrence and containment as part of it. We should be prepared, and make sure we show others that we are prepared, to impose new economic sanctions if Russia does not stick to the letter and spirit of the Minsk agreement. There should be no question of easing sanctions unless every part of Minsk is implemented, in particular the provision for Ukrainian control and international monitoring of the whole Russia-Ukraine border. I would argue that we should also fulfil our 2% of gross national income commitment for defence spending to NATO and press others to do so, too. We should be more active in supporting NATO members closest to Russia and refuse to legitimise Russia’s seizure of the Crimea, from which President Putin has now stripped away the veil of deceit. I feel that it was a pity that Ukraine and Russia never gave any thought to the creation of a sovereign base area for Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. That thought may come forward in some years’ time.
I suggest that we should give no ground to Russia’s demands for a sphere of influence, any more than we ourselves should make any such demands. That includes that we should not be championing the extension of NATO’s membership. However, we also need a positive element to our policy towards Russia to match the deterrence. The report was wise to suggest that the EU should be ready in due course to explore the scope for co-operation with the Eurasian Economic Union. We should take every opportunity to make it clear that the free trade agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia were not intended to constrain—and will not constrain—or damage those countries’ trade relations with Russia. We need a massive and substantial effort to reform Ukraine’s economy and free it of the cronyism and corruption that has hitherto been its bane. Here I pay tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, who knows so much more about these matters than I do and spoke very interestingly on that aspect.
With regard to Russia itself, we obviously persisted too long in nurturing the illusion that we could somehow or other bring about its transformation into a normal European state and economy just like the others. Still, were we wrong to offer help after the collapse of the Soviet Union? I myself do not think so. Clearly we must now deal with Russia as it is, but surely we do not need to leave our values outside the door when we do so.
Then there are the lessons to be learnt for our own diplomacy, on which the report has some justifiably critical things to say. If we go on squeezing the FCO and the Diplomatic Service resources, there will be more unfortunate consequences down the track. I thought that the report was a little less revealing on how on earth we came to be absent from such a key area of policy. I do not understand how we came not to be represented in the key moments in the Ukraine crisis or how we came to subcontract the main decisions to Germany and France. Where was the Foreign Secretary when his colleagues were heading off to Kiev in the crucial period of this crisis? We did not absent ourselves from the Balkans in the 1990s nor from the nuclear negotiations with Iran. As a signatory of the Budapest memorandum, should we not have been playing a more active role?
I am sure that this will not be the last occasion when we debate this range of issues, nor should it be. It is fashionable just now to lament the demise of the post-Cold War settlement in Europe and, more widely, of the overall rules-based structure of our world. However, surely we should not accept that as a given; we should be pushing back against it. To do so, we need to strengthen and increase the credibility of our main international structures of which we are members: the EU, NATO and the UN. I hope very much that the Government who are formed after the election will put that strengthening of those institutions and structures at the heart of their foreign and security policies.
My Lords, my interest in Ukraine first began when I became secretary to the Parliamentary Space Committee, when I had no real idea of the strength of Ukraine in the space sector. Before that, I had been brought up with a Russian governess and knew that there was food all over the Soviet Union. I remind your Lordships that 25% of the total agricultural output of the former Soviet Union came from Ukraine, and 70% of the sugar from sugar beet. It was the fifth largest exporter of wheat and the third largest exporter of cotton, and had 25% of the workers in the agricultural sector. This information is historical but has become quite important to modern-day Russia.
Ukraine had a state company called Yuzhmash, which used to produce 6,700 tractors a year. It then went into the space business, first by employing German prisoners of war to construct a large military equipment factory at Dnipropetrovsk, which was Ukraine’s fourth largest city, and then developing into a major centre for nuclear arms production and space and ballistic missile design that employed 50,000 people. This interested me as secretary to the Parliamentary Space Committee, and I wanted to look at the missiles. They kindly arranged for me to go down there. I arrived at Kiev and was told that I would have to wait until the next day for a plane. I said, “Can’t I go down now?”. A chap came up—a pilot—and said, “Well, I’m on the way back with my plane. Would you like to come with me? You won’t mind the dog and the puppies”. So that is how I first got to Ukraine.
As I say, Yuzhmash was employing 70,000 people, but the main Soviet missile activity was in Hrunecheva in Russia, where they are now launching or preparing six new rockets, including one proton rocket. As well as that, Ukraine was a great shipbuilder. Being secretary of the House of Lords Yacht Club, that interested me as well, so I asked if I could have a look at the ships. My bank then set up a team to buy ships from Ukraine. The thought was that we would buy product tankers, general purpose vessels and reefers, which could be chartered out into the market and fully financed. I had not realised that before its independence Ukraine had supplied 60% to 70% of the Soviet Union’s ships, most of them for Russia. At the end of 1995 some 126 vessels, mainly product tankers, had been built at the Kherson shipyard alone. So Ukraine became a much broader country for me to look at. We asked whether they could build some ships for us. Then I heard about the Know-How Fund, so I wrote to it— I did a packet about how you build a ship and so on. The fund gave me £100,000 so we set out to see what we could do to develop demand for ships that the British marine sector could use. It seemed quite simple to build a ship. They built many ships extraordinarily quickly and very easily. We set up a shipbuilding company with them. We took a team of all our experts from the United Kingdom—we did not build ships anymore, which, as my family comes from the Clyde area, has always upset me—and placed an order for some ships, which were surprisingly cheap and economic. At the end of the day, the project failed for reasons of bureaucracy, but their shipbuilding knowledge was valuable.
Given its strength in the agricultural sector, with its 9,000 tractors, I thought that Yuzhmash would still be in business, but it has been closed down. That seems rather strange when it was a very good operation, but it seems effectively to have been alienated by the Soviet Union. My concern, therefore, is: what is going on? Surely Ukraine’s remarkable agricultural capability and ability to increase production has a cash flow value that could help the world and ourselves. If they can build ships—they still have the facilities there—and we could find orders for those ships, which are needed in the international market, there must be some opportunity.
When I have been to Kiev I have usually got into trouble because I ask too many questions. I wanted to know about religion, for example, and before I knew it I was locked up in some archives or some underground thing with a chap with an enormous long beard with weights on the end. I did not know that this was a very senior man of the church, that it is important that you should have a long beard to be respected and that in order to do that you put weights on the end of your beard to make it grow longer. This was some of the technology. I learnt from them all about how they had hibernated in these caverns during the war. Then, when they had nothing else to do with me, although I am completely tone deaf and have no idea about music—I could not even sing middle C at school—they sent me off to the opera for three or four days running, all as part of some propaganda exercise. Finally, they said, “Look, what can we do together?”. I checked with my colleagues from the bank and found that we could willingly finance things in Ukraine, but the politics were beyond my pay grade.
Ukraine is a country that I love. It was intriguing to be able to ask them questions such as, “Did you really send those rockets to Cuba?”—although maybe I should not be saying these sorts of things. I had been to Cuba quite often as well, and I asked the Cubans if Ukraine had sent the missiles. I never really knew the true story. It was said that the missiles had indeed been sent, but they had not necessarily arrived. So the Ukrainians had to send some more but, as there had been no reaction from the Cubans, the Ukrainians sent some photographs of the missiles on the cargo boat. When I went to Cuba, the Cubans said, “Yes of course, we know all about that”.
This lovely world of Ukraine has intrigued me for a long time. To some extent they are European. With those assets and that agriculture production, when we are short of food in the EU, maybe we could invite them to come along. The question is: who do you talk to there now? It seems to me that Putin is gradually concentrating control as much as he can within a small area around Moscow, and countries like Ukraine may be left out in the cold.
Ukraine is a country that I love and respect. If any of your Lordships would like a bit of fun, I would willingly take you down to look at the old missile factory, although it is not producing missiles anymore. The people there are still nice.
My Lords, I feel very much in the minority since those who have spoken, often very eloquently, know so much about Ukraine, particularly the last speaker. It is a pleasure to take part in a debate to which the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, has made such an admirable contribution. We look forward to hearing from him often in future.
At first sight, Russia’s behaviour towards Ukraine is not very different from the sort of conduct that great powers have always offered to smaller powers who are their neighbours, but first sight is practically always a mistaken concept. The present Ukraine crisis is quite different from other crises. First, all intelligent Russians know something of what the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, drew our attention to; namely, that before the First World War, the export of wheat from Ukraine made a substantial contribution to Russian wealth. The black soil of Ukraine was well known throughout the international agrarian world.
Secondly—this is perhaps more important—all historically minded Russians know very well that Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, was the first centre of Russia at the end of the 10th century. It was the motor of Russian Christianity, as many of us who have the privilege of living in West Kensington recognise every day as we pass the statue of St Volodymyr at the entrance of Holland Park. In those days of the remote past, there was a definite Russian concept in Ukraine. It took a very long time to be superseded by the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which was the centre of Romanov, communist and Putinesque Russia. I think Moscow was first mentioned in the chronicles in 1147.
Ukraine is now formally independent and is recognised as such by the signatories to the Budapest agreement, which include this country and Russia. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was quite right to say that we should not forget that; nor should we allow Russia to forget it. A scrap of paper it may be, but it is scraps of paper that make civilisation. In this House, there seems to be a certain reluctance to be proud of the fact that we won the Cold War and to feel that we imposed a humiliating sanction on the new Russia. However, many of us must respect the victory. The average eastern European would be astounded to hear some of the speeches made in this House. Ours was a modest, quiet celebration; there was no ceremony in St Paul’s at the end of the Cold War. Can we honestly believe that that was a damaging thing which humiliated Russia? I feel that perhaps we did not do enough. To blame some of our actions for the later evils of Russia seems a false piece of historical writing.
If one is going to be serious, the entry of the Baltic states into NATO must be represented as a triumph. I remember a great friend of mine, Lord St Oswald—other noble Lords may also remember him—who every year used to insist on trying to put the capture of the Baltic states by the Russians on the agenda of the United Nations. He was always very politely told to delay his humanitarian gesture, which he did. He would have been delighted that Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn are now NATO capitals.
All the same, we all hope—this was a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling—that in the long run we shall be able to recover the possibility of friendship and collaboration with a civilised Russia. The long chain of great Russian novels and plays reminds us that Russia may in time be able to contribute to world civilisation as much as any other western country—indeed, many of us would say more.
There is a certain similarity between the present and the situation in Finland in 1940. We loved the Finns and admired their bravery, but we needed to be the allies of the Soviet Union—of Russia and Uncle Joe—and we made such an alliance, which was such a triumphant part of the last part of the Second World War. For details of the Winter War, as it was called, in 1940 between Russia and Finland, I recommend very strongly, as if I were your Lordships’ history tutor at university, the second volume of Harold Macmillan’s memoirs, The Blast of War, chapter 3 particularly.
There is one more point that we should address. It is frequently said that we do not want to see a repeat of the Cold War. Of course we do not, but that is not very likely because the Cold War was a war of ideologies, not a war of states. The great American ambassador Chip Bohlen said that we would not be able to deal with Russia sensibly until she had ceased to be a cause and had become a state. She has at least become a state and ceased to be a cause, and perhaps in that respect there is reason for optimism in the long run.
My Lords, I must begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, on what I can only describe as an impeccable maiden speech. I hope to hear him very often in future. I also thank my noble friend Lord Tugendhat and his team for an outstanding report from which I have learnt a very great deal—and I have learnt a great deal more from the debate that has followed.
I have one regret about it, and it comes pretty early. In paragraph 5 we read:
I understand the reasons for that, and it would have been an unmanageable task to have written that into this report, particularly in the time available, and I dare say that it would have been pretty difficult to assimilate, but it has to be said that in Putin’s mind NATO stands as a very important shadow behind everything that is going on in Europe.
This brings me on to sadly familiar ground. I speak really out of a sense of duty because I realise that although here they are more numerous, in the country as a whole the proportion of people who have lived through history since before the Second World War is small. I was fortunate enough to have a highly intelligent historian as my father and guide who had fought through the First World War, and I have read a bit of history myself, and I find what I am hearing and seeing now extraordinarily, sickeningly similar to what happened when I was a child under tuition.
I was born in 1930, and at that time, a nation that felt itself to have been humiliated by recent history threw up a dictator who achieved astronomic popularity by playing on that card and annexing neighbouring territory on the grounds of ethnic appropriateness. He did so with the freedom afforded by neighbouring states being ridiculously underequipped to resist him. The fate of the gallant, brave but tiny British Expeditionary Force underlines what I am saying. What have we now? We have a great European country that considers itself to have been recently humiliated by history, led and dominated by a tyrant who has no respect whatever for human rights—which is another echo—and who is annexing neighbouring countries on the grounds of ethnic similarity. We also have a British Government, as we had in 1937 to 1939, who seek to restrain the policies of that dictator, backed by wholly insufficient military force to give credibility to any threat that might be made.
Clausewitz said, if I remember correctly, that war was diplomacy carried on by other means. If I say that, I suppose people will begin to dismiss what I have to say, thinking that old men who recount the past are trapped in the definitions of the past. However, the Putin era has redefined not diplomacy but war, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Howell. The equivalent English word is “masquerade”. The word I want is “maskirovka”—my noble friend nods—which is very different until it shades into warfare. The definition is important because NATO, in Article 5—hence my regret that it could not be in this report—has a very clear definition of the infringement of the rights of a country, which is based entirely on the old-fashioned concept of tanks rumbling across the frontier. However, in Ukraine we have what has been—and, I do not doubt, will continue to be—the infiltration of personnel and light equipment across the border. Therefore I see a repetition and I just pray that it does not go the full course, as it did in 1939.
How long does it take to prepare and to be sufficiently credible in one’s armaments? Noble Lords will recall that the turning point in the downward spiral of our fortunes in the 1939 to 1945 conflict was the building of the Supermarine Spitfire. The Air Ministry gave the contract to develop the prototype on
Despite that time lag, of 1935 to 1939, we are still wondering whether we should stick to 2%. We have to, and there may be costs to that which are not very acceptable. But I, for one, do not want my children to have their children in the middle of another world war. It has to be fought if we are to protect all the values of our society, and world health.
If the right reverend Prelate, who has gone back to his flock, were here, he would perhaps be muttering, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, and saying that we should be beating our swords into ploughshares. But it is beating your swords into ploughshares that precipitates war if the other chap has not done it as well. When the Americans say, “You are not strong enough—you can only be a small unit within our army”, that says to the Russians, “Come on, have a try”. We have to be strong and make the sacrifices necessary to do that now. They will be hugely greater if we do not.
My Lords, I thank the committee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, in particular, for the excellent analysis in this report. I know it has been widely read and appreciated, not just in this House but across the whole continent, and I thank them for their work.
There have been some excellent contributions this afternoon; it has been great to listen to so many people who understand this part of the world. In particular I express my appreciation for the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, which gave a particularly insightful view of the situation in the area, and which was a very good analysis of what is going on today. The most shocking fact I heard this afternoon was that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, served in the FCO in Russia 50 years ago—so he must have been about 15 years old at the time.
At the outset I underline that the Labour Party stands as one with the Government as regards their response to events in Ukraine, although it should be underlined that we were disappointed that the UK was not more involved and engaged in drawing up the Minsk agreements. The report looks at how the situation was arrived at and at where we go from here. Whether the situation in the Crimea could have been averted is a moot point. It seems that very few analysts saw the annexation coming and that, to a large extent, events on the ground ran ahead of diplomatic and political control.
One issue highlighted in the report is the decline in Russian expertise in the FCO. It seems as if certain elements within the coalition Government seemed to have taken Fukuyama’s “end of history” to heart, believing in the triumph of western liberal democracy—a point that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, emphasised. Perhaps they were lulled into a false sense of security by the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Pussy Riot just before the Sochi Olympic Games began. How wrong could they have been? Politics and international political tension is on the increase rather than decreasing, as was predicted, and we need to ensure that we have an adequate diplomatic and political response to the changing situation, as regards not just Russia but further afield in the world.
The lack of Russian speakers in the FCO is underlined in the report, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, emphasised. The report also suggests that there might have been some misreading of Russia which could have been avoided if more experts had been in place in the EU, who would have been able to flag up the fact that, among other things, Russia was becoming increasingly upset—and felt “humiliated” and “encircled” —by the rapprochement of Ukraine to the EU.
We have learnt that it was a grave mistake to take our eyes off Russia, and that we misunderstood the character of Putin. When it comes to Russia, we do not need generalists but experts who are there consistently and who have built up a rapport with Russian diplomats. It is worth noting that China has been far more successful in its relationship with Russia through careful handling of where Chinese and Russian interests overlap. Can the Minister inform the House whether there has been a beefing up of the Russian department at the FCO and if there are any Ukrainian speakers on the staff? I wondered also whether the Minister would be open to using and engaging with think tanks that have a degree of expertise on Russia to help with advising on Russian affairs.
Russia’s foreign policy must be interpreted frequently as a tool of domestic policy in a country which prides the “strong man” standing up for his country. Russia still contests that many of the states which surround it geographically are its own sphere of influence. The speed of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement, according to the report, took the Russians by surprise, and it is clear that Russia often conflated the EU with NATO. It saw the association agreement as a direct threat to its own ambitions to develop further its own trade partnership, the Eurasian Economic Union. It seems that, at EU level, there was very little or no effort to reassure Russia that the association agreement was not a zero-sum game whereby Ukraine would have to curtail trade with Russia. But none of this excuses the fact that, for the first time since 1945, an invading army has redrawn the borders of a country in Europe through force and, in the process, has broken a whole raft of international agreements to which we and the Russians have signed up. The united condemnation of Russia and the imposition of sanctions was absolutely the correct response, and it is essential that the EU remains united in its dealings with Russia. As the report suggests, we need to be willing if necessary to step up sanctions.
It is vital that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. We were pleased to note that in the European Council last week a commitment was made to the effect that EU sanctions on Russia should be eased only in the event of the full implementation of that agreement, despite misgivings in some quarters, as alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It is clear that the security dimension of the EU is becoming more and more important. This demands common action, resolve, and a clear commitment to our continuing place in the European Union, on which, of course, it is very difficult for this Government to deliver.
There is without question a vast array of corruption in Ukraine, which must be halted. Ukrainian Assistant Defence Minister Yury Biryukov estimated that 20% to 25% of the money allocated to the military budget is stolen. But as the report clearly states, Ukraine is in an extremely precarious situation economically and it would be in nobody’s interest to see the country implode. There is a humanitarian crisis, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said. It would be in nobody’s interest to see the country go backwards, so let us support Ukraine, but let us do it with our eyes wide open—with tough love, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat.
So what will happen next? Russia is undoubtedly feeling the pain of the sanctions, but more prominently perhaps the collapse in the price of oil. That is already having a real impact on the economy of the country, but there is no reason to believe that Putin’s attitude will change. Putin likes to play by Putin’s rules and nobody else’s. He is, as we are aware, enjoying popularity ratings of 80% in the polls, due in no small part to his so-called victory in Crimea. His support on this issue comes even from Russians who might be seen traditionally on the liberal wing.
The trust between Russia and the West has gone. Even Putin himself has admitted since the publication of this report that it was he who initiated the annexation of Crimea for the Russians. Russia seems to be determined to goad the West and the UK in particular—for example, through honouring Lugovoi, the “alleged poisoner” of Litvinenko, during the recent hearing in London. There does not seem to be much point in playing Mr Nice Guy with Putin; he does not respond to that kind of treatment, and we must respond directly to provocative action from Russia. Beyond this, however, we need to understand that we must do everything possible to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia; we must learn to live with each other, because we live in the same neighbourhood—we have no other option. Therefore, we need to elaborate a better understanding of the concerns of Russia, but, I should underline, without acting as if we are apologists for or appeasers of Russian aggression. We need to simultaneously show strength when necessary—a strength understood by Putin—and stop talking past the Russians in conversation. We need to develop a clear strategy, together with the rest of the EU, towards Russia, as my noble friend Lord Soley said. We need to be clear that we have absolutely no idea of what would replace Putin if he were to go, so let us make sure that we do not jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. The collapse of Russia is in no one’s interests.
Finally, we were slightly disappointed by Britain’s failure to take a leading role in responding to the events unfolding in the Ukraine, despite being a signatory to the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances. Is this a symptom of Britain moving away from its traditional leadership role in EU affairs?
This is certainly the last time that I shall be speaking during this parliamentary Session from the Front Bench, so I thank the committee for its work over the Session and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her work on the Foreign Affairs team—and, in particular, for the much appreciated initiative of the regular briefings that she has held with the FCO.
My Lords, this has been an important debate, covering one of the most crucial foreign policy issues that we face today. As my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said, it has taken place under slightly unusual circumstances, coming as it does before the Government have had the opportunity to issue their formal response to the committee’s report. That response will be coming within the usual timeframe. But I perfectly well understand why the committee wished to go ahead at this early stage. There has been a clearly expressed view around the House on more than one occasion that we should have a full debate on the situation with regard to Russia and Ukraine. We have debated it in the past but, apart from the debate about the association agreements, not within the past month or so. We are, of course, running out of time to have this kind of debate. As Dissolution faces us next Monday, it was perfectly understandable that noble Lords wished to go ahead now with the debate.
When I attended the Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this month, I had a bilateral meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine. I reaffirmed the UK Government’s support for Ukraine and assured him that we would continue to raise awareness of the crisis there. The committee has assisted me in carrying out that commitment by holding this debate today.
I thank the committee for its detailed and far-reaching work on this critical issue and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Tugendhat for his expert chairmanship. The Government agree with a great deal of the committee’s findings, but there are also a number of conclusions with which we must disagree. Today I will seek to address some of the main themes.
It is important to consider the roots of this crisis, as so many noble Lords have done. They lie in Russia’s rejection of the rights of the people of Ukraine to choose their own future, free from external interference. Since 2007, Ukraine had been working towards an association agreement with the European Union. It was not a secret, it was not rushed, it was not a surprise to Russia—it was an open and transparent process between a sovereign state and the European Union. But when Russia decided that it did not like the path that its sovereign neighbour was following, it responded in the worst of ways. Under pressure from Moscow, Ukrainian President Yanukovych cancelled negotiations with the European Union. When the people of Ukraine took to the Maidan to protest and to express their democratic right to demand a new course for their country’s future, they were met with threats, intimidation and violence. Protesters were shot and killed by security forces acting on behalf of the Yanukovych Government. President Yanukovych then fled to Russia.
The events that then followed are well known. On
Moscow’s actions in ignoring sovereign borders, illegally annexing territory and using military force in order to preserve what it sees as Russia’s sphere of influence constitute the biggest threat to European security since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Today we heard important analyses from around the House from noble Lords who lived through the Cold War and practised diplomacy during that era and beyond. It was important to hear their perspective because it is in that way that we learn. Perhaps one of the most moving testimonies was from my noble friend Lord Elton, to whom I am grateful.
I turn to analysis. Russia has proved itself an unpredictable and dangerous actor, willing to risk international security and its own economic stability to satisfy its geopolitical aim of preventing Ukraine leaving its sphere of influence and forming a closer association with the EU. We reject the claim that the UK or EU together “sleepwalked” into the current crisis. The UK and EU were well aware of Russia’s hostility towards the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, particularly in the run-up to the Vilnius Summit in November 2013. Of course, Russian military action was considered as a possible response, but at the extreme end of its available options. However, no one could have predicted the scale of the unjustifiable and illegal Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine. As noble Lords have remarked, the proximate cause of the crisis was the sudden collapse of the Yanukovych regime in Ukraine the following February after weeks of street protests in Kiev. As President Putin has now publicly confirmed, it was this event that triggered the decision by the Russian leadership to annex Crimea—an unprecedented action that tore up all the rules of security in Europe. The associated decision-making process was therefore days, not weeks. The blame for what has followed in the Donbass lies squarely with the pro-Russian separatists, backed by the Russian authorities, not with a benign association agreement between the EU and Ukraine which had been under negotiation for more than seven years. I should say at this point that I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his support when we discussed the association agreements for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and I am grateful today for the support for the wider policy on Ukraine expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely.
A criticism throughout the committee’s report is that the Foreign Office and the EU lacked sufficient analytical capacity on Russia and an understanding of Russian goals. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has a lot of experience of the teaching of languages and their use and she argued that we lacked capacity with regard to language skills in this area. This House is an example of the importance of expert knowledge and the value of long-standing experience. We recognise that there is always more that we can do to build knowledge and insight. It is certainly true, simply due to the passage of time, that there are very few officials in any government department or agency with direct professional experience of working with the old Soviet Union before it collapsed. My noble friend Lord Tugendhat and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, referred to the high turnover of staff in our Russian department and the nature of our capability. It is true that as a response to the Ukraine crisis we upgraded the position of Director Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well as adding a new additional director and new deputy directors, which meant that the staff necessarily changed. However, that occurred because we were trying to improve our response and our staffing ratio. It is, of course, not true that none of those incumbents spoke Russian; some did. However, we do not employ our directors primarily for their language skills; rather it is their leadership and policy skills that come to the fore in London, where they work. However, when we speak to the Russian embassy in London, we expect to speak in English. That is because when they speak to us in Moscow, they expect to speak to us in Russian, and that is where the language expertise should lie.
Through necessity we have increased resource and analytical focus on other parts of the world in recent years—for example, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa. However, that does not mean that we have taken our eyes off Russia. I have just explained the upgrade that has taken place in that regard. Since 2010, the Foreign Office has increased from 43 to 56 the number of Russian speakers posted to Russia and the former Soviet Union. This week, the Foreign Office will launch an eastern Europe and central Asia cadre of experts, already counting 400 members, designed to pool experience and ensure that officials working on this region have the support and skills to lead first-class foreign policy towards Russia and the region.
I also cannot accept wholesale the report’s claim of a decline in the EU’s Russia expertise. In the past 11 years, the EU as a whole has absorbed lifetimes of experience of officials working with Russia and the Soviet Union through the accession of the Baltic states, the Visegrad four, and Black Sea states. The EU’s response to the crisis has always been in support of one clear goal—the restoration of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, asked what action was being taken on the basis of the Budapest memorandum and thinks that we were absent from that. We were not. As I said back in October, we have tried to engage in discussions on this but the Russians simply refused on that particular point. Throughout the whole period, the Prime Minister spoke to President Putin eight times in 2014. They met most recently at the G20 in Brisbane on
The committee’s report notes the remarkable degree of unity seen in Brussels over the course of the crisis. I will give way but I am aware of the time.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. She raised the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements. An important issue arises which I tried to raise yesterday in questions on the Statement. However, I received no satisfactory answer from the Leader of the House. Yesterday’s Statement on the Council said that the sanctions would not be eased until the Minsk agreements were fully implemented. I think that I have cited that correctly. The implication there is that if the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, sanctions will be eased. However, as the noble Baroness knows, the Minsk agreements do not mention Crimea. The prospect therefore arises under the terms of the EU Council Statement yesterday that sanctions could be eased, or indeed removed, while Ukraine remained occupied by Russia. Am I reading the situation correctly? What actually is the policy of the Government and the EU in relation to sanctions and Crimea aside from sanctions and the rest of Ukraine which is dealt with in the Minsk agreements?
My Lords, I assured the noble Lord that I would be answering his question later but he is so eager that perhaps, with the leave of the House, I will jump about a bit. I hope I will not confuse the rest of the House too much but at least I may perhaps enlighten the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who asked pertinent questions on this matter.
Will the sanctions relating to Crimea be lifted if Minsk is implemented? A moment ago, I had a quick read of yesterday’s Hansard while we were continuing the debate. No, we do not, and will not, recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. The change of borders by force is a direct challenge to international security. Sanctions relating to Crimea will remain in place until Russia returns it to Ukraine. This was made clear most recently in a statement by all 28 EU member states at this month’s Foreign Affairs Council, predating last week’s meeting. The agreement reached at the March European Council was to make clear that the tier 3 sectoral sanctions adopted in response to Russia’s actions in Donbass, not Crimea, will be lifted only once the Minsk agreement has been implemented in full. I appreciate that for some there has been conflation of the two types of sanctions. That is as far as one can go. I intend to speak about Minsk. Perhaps I may leave it at that point.
My Lords, I have gone as far as I can in elucidating the matter and ought to return to the major issues around this.
We have unified in the EU around a strategy of three pillars to restore Ukrainian sovereignty. First, we are supporting Ukraine through reform assistance, emergency funds, military training and ensuring that its vital energy needs are met. We are giving Ukraine a basis on which to resist Russian pressure and succeed as a sovereign country. My noble friend Lord Risby, in particular, asked whether the UK should push Ukraine towards decentralisation. We need to continue to support Ukraine, particularly on its political commitments, such as setting out modalities for local elections on constitutional reform and reaching out to the east through national dialogue. That is part of the implementation of Minsk.
The second pillar is the diplomatic track. We are clear that this crisis will be resolved diplomatically only in a way that secures Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the face of Russian-backed aggression. Russia and its separatist proxies must abide by the commitments they made at Minsk.
The third pillar is pressure on Russia, primarily through sanctions. The UK has led the EU in ensuring that it agrees robust sanctions that, in concert with the fall in oil prices—to which noble Lords referred—and Russia’s own structural problems, deliver real economic pressure on Russia. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, that is why we have seen Mr Putin willing to come to the table to discuss agreements made at Minsk last September and last month. Until Russia meets the entirety of its commitments made under the Minsk agreements of September and March, we are clear that the full pressure of sanctions must remain. I am referring to Minsk, not Crimea. To do anything else would simply reward continued Russian aggression.
My Lords, if I go further, I will test the patience of the House myself. I should return to this matter; I am already going to run over what on this length of debate would be a 25-minute speech. I am hoping not to reach that.
The European Council agreed last week to link clearly the duration of sanctions against Russia,
“to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements, bearing in mind that this is only foreseen by
This is a clear demonstration of the political will of the EU to maintain the pressure on Russia for as long as is necessary. My noble friend Lord Howell made a skilful analysis of the Russian perspective of the geopolitical world, as did other noble Lords.
While we have focused on Ukraine, it is clear to the Government that we do not have a Ukraine crisis but a Russia crisis, of which Ukraine is the unfortunate victim. We need only look elsewhere to what Moscow terms its “near-abroad”—a term that other noble Lords have used—to see how the ripples of the Russia problem are disturbing others. Georgia’s 2008 conflict with Russia showed the international community the dangers of appeasing Moscow. The fundamental truth behind all the incidents in the eastern neighbourhood is that they reflect Russia’s world view—a world of great powers and vassal states, and a world in which the EU and Russia are strategic competitors, not strategic partners. I am grateful to the committee for so clearly identifying the true nature of this relationship. The Government are in full agreement.
How we respond to our recast relationship with Russia is a key priority, and I must respectfully disagree with the committee’s claim that the UK has no Russia strategy. On the contrary, we have a clear strategy that recognises many of the same risks and opportunities that the committee brings out in its report, and which will form the basis of how the UK interacts with Russia in the coming years. Fundamentally, we must recognise that Russia can no longer be considered a partner. Both our attempts to forge a modern and mature political relationship have, sadly, failed. None the less, we agree that we must continue to engage with Russia where it is in our interests to do so. After all, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and we must continue to co-operate on the key global challenges we all face. We all want to continue to trade with Russia. The report is correct in its assertion that Russia must not simply be ignored in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood. We agree. We must also do more to support civil society in Russia and to forge closer people-to-people links between us.
At the same time, we must also do more to protect ourselves, our allies and our eastern partners from Russian manoeuvring. Many noble Lords made reference to NATO. I will not repeat the excellent guidance we received from my noble friend Lord Jopling about the new, high-readiness joint task force. I will merely add an elucidation to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others with regard to Article 5. We agree that what Article 5 means is clear. I can say also to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, that we confirm our commitment to the intent of Article 5. However, I have to say that we have always made it clear that there is not a military solution to the crisis in Ukraine.
Further, the EU and UK must support those countries in our neighbourhood that want to benefit from closer association with our way of life. That is where I am brought to talk about the Good Governance Fund, which was referred to by my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady Neville-Jones. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced at the March European Council last week a new UK technical assistance programme to support reforms in countries in the eastern neighbourhood and western Balkans. In the first year, the fund will provide expert advice, training and assistance to the Governments of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. There will be options to extend the fund to other countries in further years. We expect the work to be up and running this summer. The initial £20 million will come from DfID in the next financial year, but this will be a cross-government department fund. Future funding will therefore be confirmed in due course.
I add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on his remarkable and informed maiden speech. It is one of those occasions where one might say one expected nothing less. He set the bar high with his experience before he came here and he proved that he will be a most valuable Member of this House. He and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the importance of strengthening the rule of law and democratic accountability, as well as reforming the police and, in particular, the justice system. I agree. We must also have anti-corruption measure to help improve transparency and encourage effective management of public finances—and to strengthen independent media to ensure balanced and accurate news and public affairs reporting. All those matters will be the subject of spending that can be achieved from this new fund. That is what it is for—to give support on those matters.
I was also interested to hear from my noble friend Lord Howell and others, such as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about the crucial matter of energy and energy supply. I accept that the EU needs to reduce its dependence—or at least its perceived dependence—on Russian energy.
I have reached the closing part of my speech. I know that I am at 22 minutes, but I am going to test the patience of the House because I have been intervened on. I know that in a timed debate of this length I could be allowed 25 minutes, so I will rush on.
I reiterate my appreciation for the committee’s work and for the high-quality debate that we have had today. We strongly welcome the fact that the committee’s report includes a wealth of evidence, taken from a wide range of sources. However, I place on record my concern at the prominence given in some parts of the report to unjustified claims. In particular, there are assertions made by Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, that the committee should regard with the utmost scepticism, as I did when I met him in November and challenged his version of events. For example, he said that the EU was not ready to discuss with Russia its concerns regarding the association agreements—it was. He said that the Maidan protests were dominated by neo-Nazi and other extremist groupings. He said that the Maidan protests were supported by the EU and the US and were part of a deliberate plot against Russia. These are key elements in a deceptive Russian narrative, in which the West is to blame for Russia’s problems, and in which NATO seeks to encircle and threaten Russia. That is not the real picture. We do not see the world in such terms. We reject the charge that we have trampled over Russia’s legitimate concerns.
I can assure the committee that this Government have no intention of allowing the current crisis to break all links between Russia and the West. Diplomacy in all its forms, including all the cultural channels, is the route to better EU-Russia relations. It is right that we should follow that route: diplomacy suffers when dialogue ends.
My noble friend Lord Tugendhat asked a particular question: will the UK be represented at the
My Lords, I thank all who contributed to this debate and who made it such a notable occasion. I think that my colleagues on the committee and I have been greatly encouraged by the degree of support that the report has received. I also add my voice to those who congratulated my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith on his outstanding speech, with all the knowledge and insights that he brought to bear. Finally, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her comprehensive response and for the frankness with which she dealt with those issues on which the Government and the committee are not entirely in accord. I cannot pretend that she entirely convinced me, but she did convince me that, if she is still in post after the election, the Foreign Office will be in very good hands.