Bill Cash: the EU’s ambitions for the Eastern Partnership and the association agreement over the past 18 months have borne some responsibility for the relationship between Russia and Ukraine

William Hague made a statement in the House of Commons, yesterday, on the situation in Ukraine. During the debate Bill Cash made the following intervention:

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): With permission I will make a statement on the situation in Ukraine.

The House will recall from my statement last Monday that, on Friday 21 February, former President Yanukovych and the opposition in Ukraine signed an agreement to end months of violence. Shortly afterwards, Mr Yanukovych fled Kiev, the 2004 constitution was restored, early presidential elections were called for 25 May, and an interim Government were appointed.

Last Wednesday, President Putin ordered military exercises involving a stated 38,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine. By Friday, unidentified armed men had appeared outside airports and Government buildings in Crimea. On Saturday, President Putin sought and received the approval of the upper House of the Russian Parliament to use Russian armed forces anywhere on the territory of Ukraine, without the consent of the Ukrainian Government, citing a “threat to the lives of Russian citizens”.

Russian forces in Crimea went on to take control of Ukrainian military sites, including in Belbek, Balaclava and Kerch, and to establish full operational control in Crimea. Helicopters and planes have been deployed. The Russian Government have not ruled out military action in other parts of Ukraine—indeed, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has reported Russian fighters infringing Ukrainian airspace over the Black sea.

Her Majesty’s Government condemn any violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which contravene Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Helsinki Final Act and the 1997 partition treaty on the status and conditions of the Black sea fleet with Ukraine. Under that agreement, Russia is entitled to station troops and naval personnel on its bases in Crimea, but not to deploy troops outside those bases without the permission of the Ukrainian Government.

Moreover, Russia’s actions are in breach of the Budapest memorandum, signed in 1994. In return for Ukraine’s giving up its nuclear weapons, Russia joined the United Kingdom and the United States in reaffirming its obligation to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

The Russian Government have argued that there is no legitimate Government in Kiev, but the incumbent Ukrainian President abandoned his post, and the subsequent decisions of the Ukrainian Parliament have been carried by large majorities, required under the constitution—including from members of the former President’s party, the Party of Regions. The suggestion that a President who has fled his country then has any authority whatever to invite the forces of a neighbouring country into that country is baseless.

Russia has also argued that Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine are in danger, but no evidence of that threat has been presented. Furthermore, international diplomatic mechanisms exist to provide assurance on the situations of national minorities, including within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe. These mechanisms, not the breaking of international agreements and the use of armed force, are the way to secure assurances of protection of the rights of minorities.

I commend the Ukrainian Government for responding to this extreme situation with a refusal to be provoked. The Ukrainian armed forces have been placed on full combat readiness, but the Ukrainian Government have affirmed that they will not use force, and I have urged them to maintain this position. However, there is clearly a grave risk of escalation or miscalculation and a threat to hard-won peace and security in Europe.

This Government have been in constant contact with the Government of Ukraine, with the United States, with our partners in the European Union and with our allies in NATO and the G7—and, indeed, with the Russian Government themselves. Our objectives are, first, to avoid any further military escalation, and instead to see Russia return its forces to their bases and respect Ukrainian sovereignty; secondly, for any concerns about Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine to be addressed by means of negotiations, not force; and thirdly, for the international community to provide Ukraine with urgent economic assistance, provided that it is ready to carry out vital reforms. I will briefly take each of these areas in turn.

First, we and our allies have condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and warned against any further escalation. The Prime Minister has spoken twice to President Obama, and I have been in daily contact with my counterparts in the European Union, NATO and the G7. We have made firm representations to Russia. The Prime Minister spoke to President Putin on Friday, and I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov on Saturday, when the Russian ambassador to London was summoned to the Foreign Office. We have urged Russia to meet its international commitments and to choose a path out of confrontation and military action.

At our request, the UN Security Council held an urgent meeting on Sunday. Members of the council called for international monitors to be sent to Ukraine to observe the situation and stressed the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the need to lower tensions. NATO’s North Atlantic Council met on Sunday, and called for Russia to withdraw its troops to bases and to refrain from further provocative actions in Ukraine, in line with its international commitments. The NATO-Ukraine Commission was also convened.

Yesterday, at the Foreign Affairs Council, European nations strongly condemned Russia’s acts of aggression, called on Russia immediately to withdraw its forces to the areas of their permanent stationing, and without delay to agree to the request by Ukraine for direct consultations with Russia as well as under the Budapest memorandum. The council stated that in the absence of de-escalating steps by Russia, the European Union will decide about consequences for relations between the EU and Russia, such as suspending bilateral talks with Russia on visa matters, and considering targeted measures. Heads of Government will meet at a European Council on Thursday. As the Prime Minister and President Obama have said, there must be significant costs to Russia if it does not change course on Ukraine. EU member states have reconfirmed the offer of an association agreement with Ukraine, including a deep and comprehensive free trade area, and confirmed our commitment to support an international assistance package to support Ukraine, based on a clear commitment to reforms. The Council also agreed to work on the adoption of restrictive measures for the freezing and recovery of misappropriated Ukrainian assets.

In terms of immediate steps to respond to Russia’s actions and acting in concert with the G7, we have withdrawn the UK from preparations this week for the G8 summit in Sochi in June. We will not send any UK Government representatives to the Paralympic games beginning this week, while maintaining our full support for the British athletes taking part.

Secondly, we are urging direct contact between the Ukrainian and Russian Governments. We are willing to pursue any diplomatic avenue that could help to reduce tensions, so we have called for urgent consultations under the Budapest memorandum, or the creation of a contact group including Russia and Ukraine. We urge Russia to accept the invitation to attend talks under the Budapest memorandum in Paris tomorrow, which I will attend.

The UK supports the powerful case for the deployment of UN and OSCE monitors to Crimea and other areas of concern in Ukraine given the grave risk of clashes and escalation on the ground. We are taking part in urgent consultations in Vienna. We welcome the Ukrainian Government’s support for such deployments and we call on Russia to follow suit.

The Prime Minister and I have both spoken to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to urge him to use the UN’s authority to bring about direct contact between Russia and Ukraine, and to urge the peaceful resolution of this issue. I welcome the fact that the deputy Secretary-General is in Ukraine today.

Thirdly, we are working to support the Ukrainian Government, who are facing immense political and economic challenges on top of the invasion of their territory. Yesterday, I returned from Kiev, where I encouraged Ukraine’s leaders to make a decisive break with the country’s history of pervasive corruption, failed IMF programmes and poor governance. I urged acting President Turchynov and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to continue to take measures that unify the country and protect the rights of all Ukraine’s citizens, including minority groups. I welcome the steps they have taken, including the appointment of new regional governors in Russian-speaking regions, and the veto of recent proposed legislation affecting the status of the Russian language.

In return for urgent commitments and reforms, it is vital that Ukraine receives international financial and technical assistance. The International Monetary Fund should be front and centre of any programme of assistance, an approach I discussed with the IMF in Washington last week, and it sent officials to Kiev yesterday. G7 Finance Ministers have issued a statement declaring our readiness to mobilise rapid technical assistance to support Ukraine in addressing its macro-economic, regulatory, and anti-corruption challenges.

The EU has also previously committed €610 million in financial assistance to Ukraine, which could be made available once an IMF programme has been agreed. In the longer term, through the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and neighbourhood funding, the EU will continue to provide significant support to Ukraine. For our part, as I informed the Ukrainian Government yesterday, we will provide immediate technical assistance to Ukraine to support elections and assist with reforms on public financial management, debt management, and energy pricing. We are exploring further UK expertise to assist with programmes to tackle corruption, reform the labour market, and improve the investment climate in Ukraine, and a British team is already in Kiev to co-ordinate these efforts. We have also offered assistance on asset recovery. I agreed with the President of Ukraine yesterday to send a team to assist Ukraine to provide the information we need to recover stolen assets, and to address this problem more widely.

Over the past four years, the Government have sought and secured an improved relationship with Russia, and we continue to work with Russia on immense global issues such as the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and to try to make progress towards peace in Syria.

The UK’s national interest lies in a free, democratic, unified, stable and peaceful Ukraine able to make its own decisions about its future. We will continue to do everything we can to support the diplomatic resolution of all the issues I have described, exercising our responsibilities as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and working closely with the nations of NATO and the European Union. We will continue to discuss the situation directly with Russia’s leaders.

But we also have a direct national interest in the maintenance of international law, the upholding of treaty obligations, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nations, and the diplomatic resolution of conflicts that affect the peace and security of us all. For that reason, it is important that there is a clear response to these events, and that they are not repeated, and that is what we will pursue with determination in the days and weeks ahead. (…)

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Given what the Foreign Secretary said about his recognition of the sensibilities of Russia in this situation, does he recognise that the EU’s ambitions for the Eastern Partnership and the association agreement over the past 18 months have borne some responsibility for the relationship between Russia and Ukraine? That is especially so given, for example, the express views of an EU diplomat last November, who stated—even threatened—that the Ukrainian leadership would have to come to the EU on their knees if they did not do what the EU wanted.

Mr Hague: We are talking about an association agreement that remains on the table between the EU and Ukraine, and a deep and comprehensive free-trade area. That is similar to something that Ukraine would willingly enter into. There is no requirement from the EU that it does that, and it is a very different thing to EU membership. It was being discussed with the Yanukovych Administration, because they wanted to discuss it with the European Union. I assure my hon. Friend that from everything I have seen in Ukraine, having been there on Sunday and Monday, there is strong political unity in that country that welcomes seeing the back of President Yanukovych, and that wants to enter into closer association with the European Union. That is its sovereign right and decision, and we should be prepared to defend its right to make those decisions.

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