The unprovoked aggression by the Russian Government against a sovereign, democratic state is wholly unacceptable and we are committed to ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to ensure that any support, however indirect, for Russia’s unjust war is prevented.
The First Minister met the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, on Sunday evening to discuss concerns about the Russian-owned oil tanker the NS Champion, which at that time was heading towards Orkney to pick up a cargo of crude oil at the Flotta terminal. In line with the agreement that all efforts should be made to prevent the tanker from docking, Scottish Government officials have been working collaboratively with a range of stakeholders, including Department for Transport officials and the Joint Maritime Security Centre, to pursue all options.
More generally, we have been working collaboratively with stakeholders to make it clear that vessels that are owned, controlled, chartered or operated by individuals or companies connected to Russia are not welcome in Scottish ports or to undertake business here at this time.
Members will wish to be aware that an amendment to the UK sanctions regime that prohibits the entry into UK ports of vessels connected to Russia and the registration of such vessels in the UK, and which allows for the detention of such vessels that are already here, in certain circumstances, enters into force at 15:00 today. The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with the UK Government to maximise the effectiveness of the regime, to share intelligence and to prevent unacceptable Russian vessels from taking part in business activity here.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his engagement on the issue over the weekend. It was the right thing to do to cancel the contract with Sovcomflot and to prevent the NS Champion from berthing at the Flotta oil terminal in my constituency. It is a victory for the people of Orkney, who have been steadfast in their determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine. Through their defiance, major oil companies have had to act. As a result, money that would have flowed into supporting Putin’s bloodthirsty regime has been prevented from doing so.
The decision to prevent Russian vessels from entering UK ports, which was announced by Grant Shapps yesterday, is in keeping with the spirit of the sanctions regime. Is the cabinet secretary confident that the measures that are being taken in Westminster today will have the effect of converting a request into a legally enforceable ban?
I thank Liam McArthur for his engagement over the weekend and for the intelligence that he provided on the particular vessel. I also record my thanks to the people of Orkney for standing united with the people of Ukraine at this difficult time.
I believe that the regime that is being put in place by the UK Government, which will come into force at 3 pm today, is sufficient to address the issue. There are some challenges with the sector, because some vessels operate under a flag of convenience and have complex ownership structures that can make it challenging to identify connections with Russia and whether those vessels provide some benefits to Russian stakeholders. However, I assure Liam McArthur that I have asked my officials to prioritise their work with the UK Government to ensure that we share intelligence in the area and identify any such vessels at the earliest possible point, so that they are not able to operate in Scottish ports and Scottish waters.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that further response—particularly what he said about the complexity of the sector and ensuring that the ban applies where it needs to apply but does not necessarily impact on other vessels.
Given that harbour authorities will be on the front line in enforcing the new restrictions, will the cabinet secretary confirm that they will be fully consulted on how the measures will operate in practice? What work is being done by the Scottish and UK Governments to assess the impact that the measures will have on the wider oil and gas sector in the UK?
I assure Liam McArthur that there will be communication with Scottish ports and that there has been already—I believe that the UK Government’s transport secretary communicated with them yesterday. There will be on-going engagement with Scottish ports, which will allow for further clarification on any issues, if that is required.
I also assure Liam McArthur that Marine Scotland officials are actively tracking and monitoring all Russian vessels that are exercising the right of innocent passage, under international law, in Scottish waters. That will continue to be the case in the days and weeks ahead.
I recognise that the sanctions will have some economic impact on our ports and harbours. We stand ready to engage with them and to discuss any challenges that they experience as a result of the sanctions that are being enforced.
The international community is right to take strong actions to cut off resources to Vladimir Putin. What is the Government doing to ensure that Scotland plays its part in enforcing formal sanctions and in ceasing trading outwith the sanctions regime? Does he agree that the full range of sanctions that are imposed on Russia should be extended to Belarus, given its despotic president’s backing for the invasion and the fact that Belarus is being used as a launch pad for the assault on Kyiv?
The Scottish Government has made very clear our view that the United Kingdom Government and the international community should impose the severest sanctions possible on Vladimir Putin and other interests in Russia. We stand in complete solidarity with the people of Ukraine. As my colleague Angus Robertson has outlined, we are taking a range of steps, including providing financial support and wider support to the Ukrainian Government and support organisations in dealing with refugees who are now having to leave Ukraine and go to other European countries. We stand ready to play our part in helping to deal with that humanitarian crisis.
If reports of Belarusian troops joining the illegal invasion of Ukraine are correct, it would follow logic that Belarus should be subject to the same severe sanctions as Russia is. The international community must be prepared to take that action if necessary.
As an Orcadian whose home overlooks Scapa Flow and the Flotta oil terminal, I, too, congratulate local people in Orkney on their efforts to ensure that our community’s opposition to the visit was very clear. I also thank the office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, with which I was in contact over the weekend.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the concerns relating to a Russian-chartered private flight to Moscow, which took off from a Scottish Government-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd airport, with NOTAM—notice to airmen—guidance in place. There appears to be some confusion, and claims and counter-claims from various bodies, over notifications and procedures. Will the cabinet secretary give a commitment to investigate that situation to establish precisely what happened and to ensure that there are no loopholes by which Scottish ports and airports can be used to evade sanctions?
We have already looked into that matter. The member is correct in saying that a notice to airmen order was issued. However, there was a delay in the information being provided by the Civil Aviation Authority to airport operators—it was not provided on Friday. On looking into the matter, I have found that the flight was given clearance by NATS as complying with the sanction regime that was in place at that particular point. Therefore, the proper procedures were followed at that point. However, there is obviously a lack of clarity on some aspects of the sanction regime. We will continue to pursue those matters with the UK Government to ensure that everyone has clarity on the details of how the sanctions should be applied, so that agencies can then enforce them sufficiently.
I understand that there was a Russian tanker in Shetland last week, much to the consternation of the community there. There was also a Russian transporter vessel anchored in Broadbay in Lewis for a number of days. I understand that it has just left this morning. What restrictions can be placed on Russian vessels entering Scottish waters and anchoring if they are not berthing at a harbour?
I recognise the concerns that the member raises, but the member will also recognise that, under international law, there is a right of passage for vessels going through international waters, including Scottish waters. I assure the member that we want to ensure that Russian interests that seek to profit from bringing vessels into Scottish ports and harbours are unable to do so. The new regulations will ensure that that cannot happen from here on in.