Russian Annexation of Crimea

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:59 am on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 9:59 am, 24th April 2019

Thank you very much, Mr Davies. I warmly commend John Howell for introducing the debate, which is both timely and important. I gather that a joke is going round in Moscow these days: President Putin is asking General Secretary Stalin for advice on what he should do politically, and Stalin says, “You should execute all members of the Government and paint the Kremlin blue.” Putin replies, “Why blue?” and Stalin says, “I thought that was the only part you would query.” Perhaps there is some exaggeration in the joke, but perhaps there is some truth as well.

The point that the hon. Member for Henley, and others who have been on the delegation with him, made very clearly, and which I am sure Mr Whittingdale, who is a known expert on the subject of Ukraine, will make as well, is that the annexation was illegal, full stop—end of story, in a sense. That is, of course, contested by the Russian Federation, but under any judgment of international law, it is clear that the annexation of Crimea was illegal.

As the hon. Member for Henley said, it followed on from other annexations, attempted annexations or invasions that were also illegal. I warmly commended David Cameron for going to Georgia, as one of his first acts as Conservative leader, to stand with the Georgian people and say that the invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were illegal acts. Unfortunately, the agreement that was subsequently signed with President Sarkozy has still not been implemented. There are still Russian troops in Georgia and, as has been laid out today, the problems in relation to Crimea grow day by day.

The truth of the matter is that the annexation would not have happened had the Russian Federation not signed up to the Budapest memorandum, because Ukraine would have had nuclear weapons. In that accord, the Russian Federation guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea as part of Ukraine, so there is understandable cynicism and scepticism. I do not know what the highest level of cynicism and scepticism that one can have is, but that is what the international community shares regarding any international treaties signed by the Russian Federation under President Putin.

Many have drawn comparisons with the situation in the 1930s. Such comparisons are important to bear in mind, though it would be wrong to make a direct comparison between Putin and Hitler, because their ideologies were fundamentally different. However, their nationalism and deliberate attempts to use violence to secure their aims probably amounted to the same.

In 1938, the German Chancellor was determined to persuade the international community that he would seize only the Sudetenland—the part of Czechoslovakia that, in his words, was dominated by German-speaking German nationals. In fact, by seizing the Sudetenland he undermined the whole of the rest of Czechoslovakia and made it impossible for it to survive as a nation state. I think that is exactly the intention of the Russian Federation in relation to Ukraine. In the 1930s, British politicians did not really care; they thought that Hitler sort of had a point. Politicians in the UK have also said that President Putin sort of has a point about Crimea, because a lot of the people in Crimea are Russian and identify as Russian speakers. However, that is wholly to miss the point that there has been a deliberate process of political destabilisation in Ukraine that went on for a considerable number of years. As the hon. Member for Henley said, it included a fake referendum that was deliberately engineered. The results were falsely counted, and an incorrect version of them was given out.