Russian Annexation of Crimea

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:25 am on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 10:25 am, 24th April 2019

History is everything and the history of Crimea is a lot more complex than today’s debate has so far suggested. Crimea was annexed by Catherine the Great in 1783 and was Russian for the best part of two centuries. After the Russian revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of the Russian, not the Ukrainian, Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Changes to boundaries in the USSR were of course arbitrary and were decided solely by Moscow, with no reference to the peoples of the Soviet Union.

In 1946, Crimea was stripped of its status as a so-called autonomous republic and reduced to a mere oblast of Russia, equivalent to a county. In another entirely arbitrary move by Khrushchev, the oblast of Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. Needless to say, not a single Member of the House of Commons or the House of Lords objected to that arbitrary denial of the right of self-determination of the people of Crimea.

During the fall of the USSR, we recognised self-determination as the paramount factor. That is why we supported the independence of Kazakhstan, Belarus and other federative republics. The Crimea oblast also wanted self-determination and in January 1991, Crimean voters voted to be an equal partner in Gorbachev’s new union. A few months later of course, Ukraine voted for independence. We never recognised the Crimean right to self-determination.

As we know, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. I am sure the referendum was inadequate and we have heard all about that, but no one doubts for a moment that for a considerable part of its history, Crimea has been part of Russia and that the overwhelming part of the population, following heavy immigration over the best part of two centuries, is Russian. The people of Crimea would probably—although we really have no idea—rather like to be independent of both Ukraine and Russia. Ideally, there would be a referendum held under independent international scrutiny and that would be the result, but we do not know.

The situation is extremely complex. Russia is not going to give up Crimea. I do not condone that, and I do not condone the annexation. I have argued against the annexation in the Council of Europe. With my colleagues, I have argued that the Russians should not be allowed in just because of the blackmail to which they are subjecting the Council of Europe. We should stand firm. I think the Council of Europe would benefit from restructuring and becoming a leaner place and, after that, of course, we on the Council of Europe have to decide whether Russia should be readmitted, despite the fact that it will almost certainly never give up Crimea.

That is why the Minister’s summing-up speech is all-important. As my right hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale said, the Council of Europe has simply stripped Russia of its voting rights; it has refused to present its credentials, but it is still a member of the Committee of Ministers. The Minister must now tell us what the attitude of the United Kingdom Government is. Do the Government believe that Russia should stay in the Council of Europe as a member of the Committee of Ministers? Following the debate we had in the Council of Europe a couple of weeks ago, the decision on whether Russia should be readmitted to the Parliamentary Assembly will almost certainly depend on the Committee of Ministers. Frankly, the Government can no longer be mealy-mouthed about this. They can no longer have good relations with Russia but say that we should bear the brunt in the Council of Europe for its exclusion. We look forward to hearing what the Minister says.