Russian Annexation of Crimea

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:48 am on 24th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State 10:48 am, 24th April 2019

I thank my hon. Friend John Howell for initiating this debate, and for setting out the arguments so clearly and in such a well-informed manner—as did all hon. Members who contributed.

At the outset, I want to comment on the outcome of Ukraine’s presidential election. With the vast majority of votes counted, Volodymyr Zelensky won Sunday’s second round run-off with just over 73% of the vote. It is a testament to the development of Ukraine’s democracy that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights judged the second round to be peaceful and competitive. Its representative stated that the process respected fundamental freedoms.

I also pay tribute to President Poroshenko, who led Ukraine over the past five years in the face of unprecedented security and foreign policy challenges. He has accepted the choice of the Ukrainian people with great dignity and has offered to work with the President-elect. Our Prime Minister spoke to President-elect Zelensky yesterday. She congratulated him on his clear victory and assured him of the UK’s ongoing support. That important commitment is at the heart of today’s topic. We will debate one aspect of Ukraine’s territorial integrity: Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The Government’s position is absolutely clear: Crimea and Sevastopol are part of Ukraine. Russia’s illegal annexation and its continuing destabilisation of Ukraine is reprehensible. This Government will never recognise or legitimise Russia’s status in Crimea.

It is now five years since Russia illegally annexed 10,000 square miles of sovereign Ukrainian territory. Russia’s military intervention and subsequent unlawful referendum violated not only the Ukrainian constitution, but international law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley clearly outlined, Russia is now using a whole range of strategies to maintain its hold on Ukrainian territory and undermine Ukrainian sovereignty. It uses political manipulation and disinformation to fuel the conflict and interfere with elections; it forcibly moves Ukrainian citizens out of Crimea and moves Russian citizens in, in violation of the Geneva convention; and it persistently fails to meet its commitments under the Minsk agreements. It should withdraw its forces from all of Ukraine.

As we have heard, in November, Russia attacked and seized Ukrainian vessels and 24 servicemen as they sought to enter the sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait, as they have every right to do. Those servicemen continue to be detained in Moscow. I call on Russia to release these servicemen immediately and return the vessels to Ukraine.

Russian authorities have overseen the militarisation and the systematic restriction of fundamental rights and freedoms in Crimea, including freedom of expression, of movement and of religion, as well as the right to peaceful assembly. Despite repeated calls in UN General Assembly resolutions, Russia has not permitted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit to make a full independent assessment of the human rights situation. Even without such an assessment, the weight of evidence is damning. Minority groups, such as Crimean Tatars, face clear and increasing levels of persecution. Twenty-three Tatars were unlawfully detained following raids on their homes on 27 March, for example. Russia continues to ban the Tatars’ representative institution, the Mejlis. That violates a 2017 International Court of Justice order.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also documented a catalogue of abuses against political opponents and minorities in Crimea. Those abuses include arbitrary detentions and arrests, enforced disappearances and torture. Those who refuse to recognise Russian-based legislation applicable to Crimea are denied their basic human rights. Ukrainians face pressure to renounce their citizenship in favour of Russian citizenship; if they refuse, they are denied access to basic services. Crimeans are being forcibly conscripted into the Russian military—nearly 15,000 have been conscripted since 2015.

The UK is instrumental in ensuring a robust international response to Russia’s actions. Following the annexation of Crimea, Russia was suspended from the G8. The EU, the US, and partners including Canada and Australia, imposed a robust package of sanctions targeting key sectors of Russia’s economy, and we continue to co-ordinate our response to Russia’s actions.