Thursday 20th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:05
Asked by
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) reports that on 21 December 2021 Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, expressed his intention to call for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council early in 2022, and (2) that on 22 December 2021 negotiators from the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe and the governments of Ukraine and Russia agreed to restore a full ceasefire between the Ukrainian government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the Government welcomed the 12 January NATO-Russia Council as an opportunity to discuss ways in which to build transparency and address mutual concerns. The only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate and engage in meaningful discussions. We welcome the strong determination by participants in the Trilateral Contact Group to fully adhere to the July 2020 strengthened ceasefire. We hope that this will reduce violence in eastern Ukraine and contribute to improved conditions for efforts towards de-escalating regional tensions.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The NATO-Russia Council has met and, more generally, we have had Ministerial Statements on the diplomacy to prevent future conflict. I regret, however, that the Government continue to be studiedly silent in respect of the seven-year continuing conflict in eastern Ukraine. The agreed restoration of a full ceasefire has made little difference. Yesterday, there were 58 ceasefire violations, including four explosions. Enhanced monitoring and verification capability for the OSCE special monitoring mission and military- to-military crisis management dialogue through the OSCE Trilateral Contact Group are essential to restore, consolidate and strengthen the ceasefire, to reduce casualties and to provide, perhaps, a foundation for progress in other areas. What steps are we taking to support such objectives?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord is quite right. The OSCE special monitoring missions are essential and the UK is one of the leading contributors to those. They report on the security situation on the ground in eastern Ukraine and obviously we continue to call on all sides to uphold the strengthened ceasefire.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, Russia is isolated and lacks any meaningful international alliances. If there has been one misstep by President Putin in recent weeks, it is probably blaming, or seeking to blame, NATO aggression. It has unified NATO members. However, NATO is not the only western alliance. There is also the informal military alliance of the Northern Group, which includes non-NATO members such as Sweden and Finland, which I see the Secretary of State for Defence has visited in recent weeks. Can my noble friend update me on what conversations there have been with those countries in trying to deter the Russian threat?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid that I cannot update my noble friend on that specific question but he is right to point out that NATO is a defensive alliance. Its purpose is to protect member states and every country that joins undertakes to uphold its principles and policies. That includes the commitment that the alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia, as reaffirmed at the Brussels summit.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister has said that the only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate. It may be the best way forward but is certainly not the only way forward, particularly according to President Biden. Does the Minister agree that should Russia intervene militarily in Ukraine it would not be a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing but something that would cast a long shadow over wider European security, that Russia responds only to strength and determination, and that the best way for us to express that is through NATO, a revivification of NATO and, in particular, a strengthening of the transatlantic links within NATO?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble and gallant Lord for pointing that out. I entirely agree with him. As I said, NATO offers the best opportunity for us to help Russia de-escalate this and he is quite right.

Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the statement by Sergey Lavrov two days ago that the OSCE used to convene parties on an equal basis but it is now simply a defender of western interests? What impact does that have on our conversations with the Russians?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am sorry but I shall have to write to the right reverend Prelate on that. I have not seen Sergey Lavrov’s statement.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Portrait Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (Lab)
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My Lords, I was the first chairman of the NATO-Russia Council. I am delighted that it is now back in session and that there are now opportunities to both disagree and agree in that forum. I hope it is kept alive and that the United Kingdom does so. However, is it not a matter of some regret that this country, our country, was not involved in the original Normandy process, which led to the Minsk agreement? Is it not now time for Her Majesty’s Government to consider getting back into the Normandy process and being part of the exercise that perhaps will produce a diplomatic solution?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. I cannot say whether or not that is a matter of regret. Of course, the UK Government continue to work closely with all allies and that includes the Normandy group.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, what practical steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to work with our European and NATO partners to try to persuade Russia to de-escalate? There is no point in simply saying that Russia must de-escalate. There need to be provisions to make that something that Russia sees as desirable.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness is quite right. We are co-ordinating with allies and partners to maximise the impact of all this. The Prime Minister spoke to the French, German, Italian and US leaders in December. In December, the G7 Foreign Ministers and the High Representative of the EU issued a joint statement calling on Russia to de-escalate. The Foreign Secretary raised concerns on the situation at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting at the end of last year and at the OSCE Ministerial Council in December. She has engaged bilaterally with NATO and EU allies, including the US, Canada, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Turkey. NATO Foreign Ministers spoke on 7 January. I am sorry that it is a long list but there is an awful lot of engagement.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to pick up the last point. Last week, I made it clear that this Parliament had a clear and unified message on Ukraine and the threat from Russia. I welcome the initiatives from the Government, but can the Minister tell us a bit more about not only the diplomatic initiatives, which are vital to ensuring de-escalation, but the efforts to work in concert with our allies in terms of any sanctions that might be needed? It is important that we are prepared to act immediately with our allies, including the United States, if that is necessary.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. A Russian incursion into Ukraine would be a major strategic mistake. There should be no doubt that Russian military aggression will be met with strength, including massive economic consequences through co-ordinated—I stress that word—economic sanctions by allies and partners, targeting Russian financial transactions, assets and individuals.

Obviously, it would be inappropriate to speculate on future sanctions designations, but I refer the noble Lord back to the sanctions that were imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Crimea. The UK took action against Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea; that was in co-ordination with our international partners. We worked closely with the EU, the US, Australia and Canada to impose costs on those facilitating Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol through sanctions. I imagine that this template will be deployed again in future.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, if the only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate but Russia will not do so, clearly other ways forward of a non-conventional kind will have to be found. Can we be assured that we are fully engaged with these and with other democracies—not just in NATO and the European zone but the powerful nations of Asia, since this is a global issue? If war were to break out, it would affect not just Europe and the West but the entire planet.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord is completely right. As I just referred to, when it came to the sanctions regime imposed over the annexation of Crimea, the response was global, including from Australia and so on. We are engaging and listening to the world.

Lord Reid of Cardowan Portrait Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not obvious that, as long as Russia maintains its position of wanting a guarantee that NATO will not allow Ukraine to join, NATO maintains its position that that is a non-starter, and their discussions are confined to those two propositions, there is no diplomatic solution? We all know, although we may not want to admit it, that there is no military solution to this problem either. That is why, as my noble friend said, it is a tragedy that we were not involved in the Normandy talks. What consideration have the Government given to other alternatives? One example is that of Austria in the 1950s, which, through negotiation, was guaranteed an independent, neutral status. There is also the position of Finland, which has had a relatively open border with Russia for many years. What consideration has been given to these other alternatives?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question and defer to his extensive knowledge of defence matters. I repeat what I said earlier: NATO is very much a defensive alliance. However, we have not really talked about Ukraine in this. I note that, in a debate on Tuesday, my noble friend Lady Goldie said:

“In terms of the agreements it has reached in its own right, and legitimately so, with the international community and NATO, it has positions which should be respected.”—[Official Report, 18/1/22; col. 1617.]