Ukraine

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons am 11:30 am ar 8 Ebrill 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Llafur, Blackley and Broughton 11:30, 8 Ebrill 2014

What recent reports he has received on the situation in Ukraine.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Ceidwadwyr, Chelmsford

What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Ukraine.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

What recent assessment he has made of threats to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We are gravely concerned about the situation in Crimea and in the east of Ukraine, where armed groups have seized Government buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk. There can be no justification for this action, which bears all the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilise Ukraine. Russia should be clear that the deliberate escalation of this crisis will bring serious political and economic consequences.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Llafur, Blackley and Broughton

In February, the Chancellor of the Exchequer offered financial assistance to Ukraine. At the start of this month, Gazprom put up the price of gas to Ukraine. What safeguards has the Foreign Secretary put in place to stop any aid we give to Ukraine going straight to Russia via increased gas prices?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the aid that he is speaking of is the International Monetary Fund programme, and work continues on that programme. The Ukrainian Government have been discussing the first stage of that with the IMF. To obtain that aid, Ukraine must meet the conditions set by the IMF, including on how that money is used. Of course Ukraine would enjoy a more successful and prosperous future if Russia were to join the rest of the international community in supporting the economic future of Ukraine.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Ceidwadwyr, Chelmsford

Following the praise of the UK Independence party on Russian-controlled television yesterday, will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the guiding principles of British foreign policy towards Ukraine, namely that Ukraine has a democratic right to self-determination and that sending in the tanks and holding a sham referendum in the Crimea under the shadow of the Kalashnikov is not only aggression but illegal in international law and a threat to the security of the world?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The guiding principles for us are that the development of democratic institutions in Ukraine and a rules-based international system are in the national interest of the United Kingdom. For any parties or leaders in Britain to feed a Russian propaganda machine after the invasion of a neighbouring country is not a responsible position to take, particularly for anyone who professes to believe in the independence and sovereignty of nations.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

The authorisation that President Putin obtained in February to use troops in Ukraine did not specify that it applied to Crimea only. What is our policy in the event of such a Sudeten-like land grab in eastern Ukraine?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and that was of course one of the most alarming aspects of the authority that President Putin asked for in February—that it covered the use of armed force in Ukraine in general. As he knows, the European Union and the United States have imposed certain sanctions, but the European Commission has been asked by the European Council to draw up further far-reaching measures and economic and other sanctions to be implemented in the event of a further escalation and intensification of the crisis by Russia. Any invasion of eastern Ukraine of course falls into that category.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, North East Fife

I appreciate that this is not in my right hon. Friend’s gift, but in the event of the situation deteriorating materially, will he at least support the notion that Parliament may have to be recalled? When talking to other Foreign Ministers in the European Union, has he emphasised the importance of a concerted and determined approach to these issues and that any sign of disunity or lack of commitment would undoubtedly be exploited by Moscow?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Yes, absolutely. On the first point, Parliament must always be able to deliberate urgently, although I have always taken the view that before Parliament has gone into recess is too early to call for it to be recalled. However, I take my right hon. and learned Friend’s point about that. I absolutely agree with his second point. At the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Athens over the weekend, I emphasised that the strength and unity of the European Union on this issue will be a vital determinant of the ultimate outcome.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Llafur, Blackburn

Although I fully support the Foreign Secretary’s strategy, does he accept that the more the Ukrainian Government can reach out to the Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, the less of an excuse President Putin will have for taking provocative action there?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Yes. I think that is an extremely important point and it is one that I have emphasised over the past couple of weeks to both Prime Minister Yatsenyuk of Ukraine and Foreign Minister Deshchytsia. We say constantly to the Ukrainian authorities that it is important that the Government in Kiev show that they represent all the regions of the country. It is of course important to discuss decentralisation in Ukraine without necessarily accepting an agenda of paralysis by federalism, as proposed by Russia.

Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell Father of the House of Commons

Although all historical analogies tend to be misleading, can it be borne in mind that if we are looking back to the 1930s, as we are fully entitled to do, the occupation of the Crimea and Sevastopol bears more resemblance to the Anschluss than to the invasion of Sudetenland? If the Russians were actually to invade Ukraine, that of course would be an act of naked aggression.

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I think there was a good deal of naked aggression in what happened in Crimea. Of course, my right hon. Friend is right about the great seriousness of any further encroachment into Ukraine. That is something we should bear in mind, as well as his point that historical analogies can always be misleading.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Foreign Secretary

As the Foreign Secretary’s earlier answers show, the protests across the east of Ukraine, in cities including Donetsk, highlight the continued risk of violent escalation and further bloodshed in Ukraine. In his first answer, the Foreign Secretary spoke of recent events bearing all the hallmarks of Russian involvement. Would he be willing to set out for the House in a little more detail his judgment of the form that the involvement of Russia has taken in recent days?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Well, I said that it had the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilise Ukraine and that is something we must expect in the run-up to the Ukrainian presidential elections on 25 May. It would be consistent with Russia’s strategy and behaviour over recent weeks to try to damage the credibility of those elections, to take actions that would make it appear less credible to hold the elections in eastern parts of Ukraine and to make it more difficult for Ukraine to operate as a democratic state. Those hallmarks are all present in what has happened in recent days.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Foreign Secretary

I note and welcome the Foreign Secretary’s answer. The Prime Minister said in his statement to this House on Ukraine:

“The international community remains ready to intensify sanctions if Russia continues to escalate this situation”.—[Hansard, 26 March 2014; Vol. 578, c. 350.]

In the light of the Foreign Secretary’s answer, and if reports of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine prove correct, does he believe that that would constitute grounds for widening the economic and diplomatic pressure on President Putin?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

That will depend on the course of events over the coming days and on the evidence of Russia’s involvement. The latest this morning is that the authorities in Kiev say that the situation is dangerous, as we have said in this House, but under control. Indeed, the administrative buildings in Kharkiv appear to be back under the control of the Ukrainian authorities. I think we will have to assess the situation over the coming days, but I say again that a deliberate escalation of the situation by Russia will bring serious political and economic consequences.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Ceidwadwyr, New Forest East

To what extent has the ability of our European allies to wage effective economic sanctions against Russia been undermined by their dependence on Russian gas sources and do we have a strategy for trying to persuade our allies to diversify their energy sources so that that dependence will be lessened in the future?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I think the answer is that that has not affected what we have done so far, but we have to be very conscious of that point and the effect it could have. We are very active—I at meetings of Foreign Ministers and the Prime Minister at the European Council—in saying that it will be necessary to accelerate measures that reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. The G7 leaders discussed that at some length at the meeting in The Hague two weeks ago and my hon. Friend will be aware that we are convening a meeting of Energy Ministers in the G7 precisely to discuss that ahead of the G7 Heads of Government meeting.