I thank my hon. Friend for that tribute, and I agree with it. The Ukrainian delegations have been absolutely fantastic, regardless of politics. They have all stood as one in the Council of Europe and it has been a great pleasure to work with them.
Finally, I turn to the situation in the Azov sea. Stability remains elusive in eastern Ukraine, and Russia has moved to shore up its hold on Crimea. Russia has built a bridge across the Kerch strait, connecting Crimea to Russia. On
In December, suspicions that Russia has nuclear arms in Crimea were reported. Such developments suggest that, although the conflict in the eastern mainland regions of Ukraine may be resolved, Russia does not intend to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea. I am worried that succour may be given to the views I heard coming out of various organisations that both sides in the conflict are to blame. They are not. This is naked Russian aggression. The bridge breaches Ukrainian sovereignty—a particularly dangerous development that we need to condemn.
For all those reasons, the Secretary of State for Defence made a visit to Ukraine before Christmas and we sent a naval vessel to the area—not quite a harking back to gunboat diplomacy, but nevertheless a move that certainly sent a great deal of patriotism through some people’s blood. It was meant to send a clear signal to Russia that we will stand by Ukraine, rather than being an act of further provocation.
I understand that we intend to send other Royal Navy ships to provide a more constant British presence. To our Ukrainian friends, I say, “We will support you. I hope that you take that in the intended spirit.” This is a terrible tale of a big country throwing its weight around to the detriment of a country, which, as its role in the Council of Europe shows, is playing a full part in western culture while retaining its own identity. This is not a good situation. It has made Europe much more prone to instability and increased conflict. I look forward to the Minister’s comments and his continuing commitment to trying to ensure that Russia withdraws from Crimea.