Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I agree with much of what the Foreign Secretary says, including that President Putin is a calculating, ruthless and lethal authoritarian. Does not the whole crisis spring from the failure after the cold war ended to establish a common European security system to which Russia felt attached? Instead, there has been a kind of cold peace. Surely the way forward is a negotiated solution, or an attempt at one, in which there are limits to NATO expansion and European Union expansion in return for an end to Russian aggression.
Mr Hammond: The situation is that, after the cold war, when 19 ex-Soviet republics, or whatever it was, liberated themselves from the Soviet Union and became independent countries able to set their own path in the world, we sought to build a normal relationship with Russia—one in which Russia would join the community of nations and become richer and more normalised, and one in which the Russian people were able to become more prosperous. President Putin has chosen to set his face against that future and to hark backwards to the Soviet Union or perhaps to the Russian empire. We should remember that he is on public record as saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst disaster of the 20th century. Many of us would think it was one of the great achievements of the 20th century.
I do not think we can compromise with somebody whose avowed intention is to exercise control over independent neighbouring countries in such a way that they cannot determine their own future, whether that is a future aligned with the European Union and NATO or a future aligned with Russia and other allies. That must be for those people in those independent countries to choose for themselves.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I agree with the Foreign Secretary’s statement and with the thoughtful response from my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander). The puzzle surely is this. On one reading, Russia is acting with a kind of irrational belligerence and aggression, given that it is inviting the retaliation that the Foreign Secretary has explained, which will be intensified, so what is Russia really after? Will the right hon. Gentleman share his assessment? Could we pursue an alternative strategy, because it does not seem to me that we are getting anywhere with this approach? Russia is not getting anywhere—it is suffering economically—and we are not getting anywhere.
Mr Hague: I believe that Russia’s actions in Crimea, and now in eastern Ukraine, are a response to the unexpected and rapid fall of President Yanukovych and his Government, which was understood in the world—and indeed in Russia—to be a major reversal for Russian foreign policy. The long-term consequences of that response have not necessarily been thought through. Russia has acted to restore some of what it might think of as its prestige internationally or domestically, and therefore taken these actions. There is an alternative approach—the one agreed in Geneva only 11 days ago, with Russia’s Foreign Minister present—which is for all concerned to de-escalate tensions while the Ukrainian Government pursue constitutional reform, including decentralisation to the regions of Ukraine. That is the alternative model.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I agree with much of what the Prime Minister has said, but does he not agree that bluster and bombast by diplomats and military leaders is unlikely to resolve the problem? Instead, we need a negotiated solution in which Ukraine’s military neutrality is guaranteed by both Moscow and Washington and in which NATO does not engage in any further enlargement or encirclement of Russia’s border, in return for a clear guarantee that Russia will not conduct any more aggressive moves in Ukraine, Moldova or any of its other neighbours. It seems to me that unless we get a deal like that, we will not make much progress.
The Prime Minister: I certainly agree that we do not want bluster and bombast; we want a talked process. But we have to be clear that a really good offer of a talked process and a contact group was on the table and the Russians refused to engage with it. That is why I think that the action taken—limited to start with, but growing—is necessary to demonstrate that there are two paths Russia can take: one of increased international isolation, and one of talks. As for the extension of NATO, I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but there must be many people in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia who, looking at their own country and the future they want, and because they have Russian minorities there, must feel glad that they have the protective cloak of NATO.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Given President Putin’s increasing international and domestic malevolence, is there not a danger that the west will get caught between saying strong words and taking no action on the one hand and, on the other hand, allowing Russia’s legitimate interests, such as its interest in the port of Sevastopol and its Mediterranean port, and its economic interests, to provide some spurious legitimacy for his actions? Is there not a case, therefore, for a new, more global, deal that addresses the legitimate Russian interests—although not the illegitimate ones—but protects self-determination around Russia’s border? That might provide some comfort to the President, and more importantly to the people, that NATO has limited ambitions around Russia’s border, because I think that that is part of the problem.
Mr Hague: We must be alert to the dangers to which the right hon. Gentleman correctly refers, and we must be prepared to be imaginative about long-term frameworks and solutions. We have already made the argument—I made it only a week ago to Foreign Minister Lavrov—that we recognise those Russian interests and are not seeking a zero-sum strategic game, and that there will be ways for the Russian economy, as well as the Ukrainian economy, to benefit from closer ties to the European Union. However, the response to us and other countries making that argument has been what we have seen over the past few days. That does not stop our making it, but it shows how difficult it is to construct a global deal, as the right hon. Gentleman said.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I, perhaps to his surprise, commend the Foreign Secretary for maintaining a cool head in this situation? Clearly, there is tremendous provocation from President Putin. However, in the end, this situation will be resolved diplomatically or it will not be resolved, with terrible costs to the whole world. In that context, will he say now or later what his view is on Ukraine’s ability to have a free trade agreement with Europe, as well as a free trade agreement with Russia? Will that not be part of a diplomatic future?
Mr Hague: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. It is important that we never describe the strategic context for Ukraine as a zero sum game. We welcome the idea of closer links between Ukraine and the European Union. We have supported the association agreement and a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. We believe that those agreements would benefit the economy and people of Ukraine, and the economy and people of Russia. We absolutely recognise that Russia has important and legitimate interests in Ukraine. That, however, is not a justification for the armed violation of the sovereignty and independence of the country.