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

I commend my hon. Friend. She is right, and that is one of the reasons why I am particularly anxious that we, as a political class in this country, have seemingly decided that we are not all that interested in Russian interference in our elections and electoral processes. I think that we will rue the day in the end. We need to be extremely careful, because we have seen what the Russian Federation has managed to do through cyber-warfare in other countries around the world, and continues to do in Ukraine, because it wants to soften up the rest of the country.

The process of disinformation continues. The latest version of that is the Russian Federation maintaining that Crimea lost 1.5 trillion roubles during the 25 years that it was part of Ukraine. Many would argue that the loss to Crimea is from being taken out of Ukraine. Russian spokespeople do not half have a cheek sometimes.

There is another clear aspect to the annexation. In 1938, Hitler wanted to seize the Skoda factory, which was one of the most productive factories in Europe, and turn it into an arms manufacturer; it was soon making Panzers for the Wehrmacht. Just so, Putin has had his eye for a considerable period on not only the natural resources in Crimea but the ports, which are vital to any future military intentions that he may have. It is all part of a pattern; President Putin always has a tendency to resort to violent options when they are available to him.

Putin was, of course, in political trouble in his own country when the annexation commenced, and it was extremely popular, re-enhancing that nationalist sense in Russian politics. In large measure, one can see the reinvention of Putin as a nationalist hero, in Russian terms, on the back of the annexation of Crimea. There is a sense of political doldrums in the Russian Federation, because Putin clearly has no idea who his successor should be or where the future should lie. He is kind of bored with governing Russia, which potentially makes for a very dangerous time for the international community.

The Government need to be careful about key issues of UK policy. We have referred already to sanctions. As I have said to the Minister many times, I fear that the Government are still dragging their heels—he will say that they are not—on implementing a full set of secure sanctions in relation to individuals who have committed human rights abuses in the Russian Federation and Crimea. I think that the Russians have noticed that that has not yet happened, and that other countries have moved faster. It is time that we proceeded faster. I am sure that the Minister will say that the Government are doing their best, and that it will all happen in the fullness of time, but I am not convinced.

Secondly, there was a time when the UK led within the European Union on trying to bind Ukraine into the international community, and on standing up for it in international affairs. That will be more difficult in the future when/if we are no longer a member of the European Union. I wish to know how we will achieve that in the future. I hope that the UK has made strong representations to the United States of America that one cannot oppose annexation in Crimea and support it in the Golan Heights. Annexation is annexation. One cannot simply turn a blind eye because it involves a big ally on one side of the Atlantic, rather than a country that one wants to criticise on the other.

Finally, we of course wish Mr Zelensky, who has been elected, well. It is difficult to see exactly how things will play out. I very much hope that the UK will want to extend a warm hand, to ensure that he ends up on the right side of the argument.