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As a result of WTO membership, Ukraine has already started official negotiations with the European Union on creating a free trade zone, which should include not only a free trade area, but energy sphere co-operation and strengthened reform efforts and civil society in Ukraine. President Yushchenko forecasts that the new enhanced agreement will be signed in September. We know that, despite the very considerable burden imposed by the European Commission through the Copenhagen accession criteria, the road to EU membership does encourage the political, judicial and economic reform process.

The EU appears to be suffering from something approaching enlargement fatigue, and the signals to Ukraine have been mixed at best. The Minister will know that enlargement commends itself to all hon. Members in the House, in contrast to attitudes prevailing in some European countries. I hope, therefore, that he will take this opportunity to reiterate our clear support for Ukraine’s EU membership objectives and our intention to work constructively to speed up the process, in the interests of Ukraine and the whole continent of Europe. If flexibility is required, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, it should be supported.

Ukraine’s application to join NATO is another recent development. Despite no specific date for the membership action plan, NATO’s declaration that Ukraine would eventually gain membership has been welcomed. It is the only partner country to support actively all NATO-led operations and missions, as well as practically every international peacekeeping mission under the auspices of the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The aim of NATO enlargement is a broader and more secure Europe—a goal to which Ukraine would certainly contribute.

All in all, in its major contribution to the peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond, Ukraine has proved to be a very valuable NATO partner. However, NATO membership would require broad support in Ukraine. The close historic ties between Russia and Ukraine, and the former’s very specific view of the latter, is a source of tension between the two countries. However, after the past delivery and payment problems with energy supplies, it is good that Ukraine has paid off its gas import debts to Russia, which I hope will result in a generally more comfortable relationship between them.

Undoubtedly, Ukraine has some tough choices ahead, but with its increasing economic prosperity, the chance to showcase itself to the world as host of the 2012 European football championships, and the continuing consolidation of democracy, I am optimistic that Ukraine faces a very hopeful future.

2.44 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab): I know that members often say this perfunctorily, but I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for raising this issue. The President of Ukraine will be visiting this country soon, and we are honoured by a small delegation from the Supreme Rada here this afternoon. I am very pleased to welcome them.

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I first visited Ukraine in faraway 1960, and subsequently I have returned in different guises and auspices—with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence. I have observed four elections through the OSCE and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and I have been on visits sponsored by non-governmental organisations. I genuinely regard the country very highly. Since independence, I have noted and observed, with varying emotions, its vicissitudes—particularly its political changes. However, it has a very exciting future, which should be determined by what Ukrainians themselves wish and do, with the help of any individuals, organisations—international or otherwise—and Governments from whom they seek support. The pace and the nature of the co-operation must be at their behest and not forced on them—they should not be arm twisted—by groups or countries. Ukrainians may wish to follow a number of models: first, to move further westwards, politically and in every other sense; secondly, to remain neutral; or thirdly, to move closer to Russia. We all have our own aspirations and preferences, but that is not a choice for us to make.

The history and geography of Ukraine have had an enormous effect on its evolution and, in particular, on its relationship with Russia. Allegedly, Ukraine began in Kiev and Rus at the end of the 10th century. Periods of independence followed, but for most of its history it has been closely linked—willingly, less willingly or unwillingly—with its more powerful neighbour to the east. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave it the opportunity to become independent—but not too independent, as far as Russia is concerned. The Kremlin does not deeply cherish the idea of an independent Ukraine. Any attempt to extricate itself from the Kremlin’s influence will not be greeted with high enthusiasm in Russia. Other countries fall into the same category—notably, Moldova and Georgia, on which the pressure has been ratcheted up at an alarming rate by Russia over the past couple of weeks.

Even Ukraine has suffered excessive interference. The hon. Gentleman talked about the enforced famine in the 1930s. I know full well about the excessive pressure put on Ukraine during the 2004 elections, the persistent threats to cut off energy supplies and, worst of all, the statement made by President Putin threatening to target Ukraine with nuclear weapons if it had the temerity to join NATO. The country faces many political, economic, security and geopolitical problems, but I am very optimistic about how it will evolve over the next decade or so.

Ukraine’s geopolitical problems can be understood simply by looking at a map—it is sandwiched between Russia and Europe. I spoke about the relationship with Russia and the menacing statements that have been made. I recall watching the Central Election Commission’s enormous screen as the results came in of each of the 2004 elections and observing the colours of those who supported Yushchenko or Yanukovych. The results demonstrated a clear dividing line between each of the candidate’s supporters. That is no one’s fault—it is quite natural—but it is the essence of the problem.

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Despite the problems, a consolidating democracy is emerging swiftly in Ukraine. I hope that it will not be long before we can designate Ukraine a consolidated democracy. Will the country shift its alliances and join NATO? In 2002, Ukraine announced that it was seeking membership of NATO. We are all well aware that that was not universally endorsed, which is putting it politely. Many hoped that Ukraine, along with Georgia and others, would be offered a place on NATO’s membership action plan. However, such an offer was not made. Will Ukraine be offered a place later this year or early next year, or will the process be further elongated? I will be interested to hear the views of Her Majesty’s Government as we are pretty familiar with the French, German and American positions. The earlier decision was clearly a glass half empty and a glass half full: Georgia and Ukraine would become members of NATO, but not yet. The question, therefore, is how long do they have to wait?

Once again, it is absolutely imperative that the people of Georgia and Ukraine express their aspirations. The people in Georgia have expressed their views very strongly and positively. In Ukraine, however, there is no majority in favour of joining NATO. One of the many conditions for achieving membership is substantial public support. Even though there may not be membership on offer at this moment in time, or even in the months or years ahead, there are many areas of common interest. Further consolidation can be made on those areas between NATO and Ukraine if Ukraine so desires.

The prospects for closer collaboration with the European Union are much greater. Integration has been a priority for Ukraine for some time. There is a partnership co-operation agreement, and we are aware that Ukraine performs an important role in the neighbourhood action plan. I have been looking at a number of documents produced by the European neighbourhood policy and at a progress report on Ukraine, and the response by the European Union has been pretty positive. Many people can express some satisfaction with that.

We heard about other developments in the World Trade Organisation. Again, the pace at which the relationship with both the EU and NATO evolves will be set by the Ukrainian people.

I want to comment on a few further problems—we all have problems—including problems of governance. Progress is being made, but we need to see more reforms in society as a whole. Mrs. Tymoshenko’s party has a very small majority in Parliament and her relationship with the President is not as close as it could be. Hopefully, though, governance and stability will evolve and normalise.

One must not patronise the Supreme Rada of Ukraine; it is a very powerful institution, which has determined its own pace of development. It has far more powers—some of them negative—than we have in this country. There has been a partial easing of the fractured relationships. Earlier this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote about Ukraine’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, and said that it was

I would like to compliment Ukraine on how it has conducted its elections. I headed election observation
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missions in the 1990s and the country fell far short of international standards. I have just been looking at the various reports of ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I headed the three election observation missions in 2004. When presenting the ODIHR and Parliamentary Assembly’s report after the first election on 31 October, I said:

The committee felt that the election process constituted a step backwards from the 2002 elections. We urged Ukraine to use the period between the first and second rounds to improve election organisation and conduct. Regrettably, it ignored our advice. Therefore, in the second round, I commented on behalf of the international organisations. I said:

and concluded:

The incredible thing was that a few weeks later, when the results of that election were invalidated by the Supreme Court, the next set of elections were incredibly different. The media became neutral, which is more that we have experienced in the UK over the years and in the forthcoming London election. There was a totally different philosophy in those second elections. With my long experience of looking at elections, I could not believe that one could go from an election with epic proportions of corruption to—within a few short weeks—an election that got very close to meeting international standards. The subsequent elections have had a very good response from the international community.

In conclusion, there are problems within the society that need to be overcome, but there is a strong and vibrant civil society. There are problems with the economy, with modernisation and with the health service. However, there are echoes of those concerns in any country, not least our own. I desperately hope that a population that is becoming more sophisticated, more involved and more supportive of the process of democratisation will make Ukraine a model of governance and society, not just in the region but far more broadly.

Non-governmental organisations can help—we heard about one NGO that is helping and there are others—and Governments must assist economically and politically. We must pass over, where it is required, the expertise that we have acquired—albeit painfully over the years. However, we must ensure that it is not perceived as a master/servant relationship. In the driving seat is the Rada, the Government, the President, the political parties and the people of Ukraine. If they seek assistance, then we will, I am sure, continue to give it. We must recognise that we must not interfere in a way in which that assistance is perceived negatively by those who will seek to damn that assistance.

I hope that the next time that the hon. Member for West Suffolk chooses to raise the subject of Ukraine, we can be delighted to say that progress has been made.
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More is being made, and very soon Ukraine will be a country that will be seen to be the equal of others in the quality of its people’s lives, of its institutions and of its commitment to democratisation.

2.59 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Anderson, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for taking the initiative to seek this debate. What he said at the beginning is evidenced by the fact that I and my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who will hopefully catch your eye later, Mrs. Anderson, represent clear evidence of the cross-party support for Ukraine. I am sure that the Minister will endorse that when he speaks later.

Like the hon. Member for West Suffolk, the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), to whom I pay my tribute for his work chairing our all-party group, and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), I am one of the signatories of the motion that welcomes the huge progress that Ukraine has made in recent years and commends the continuing potential for progress that we all know exists. That potential was marked by the bid in Bucharest the other day at the NATO conference and is always subject to discussion among friendly countries in the European Union.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): While the hon. Gentleman is paying tribute to people, will he join me in paying tribute to His Excellency the ambassador, Ihor Kharchenko? During his short time in London, he has worked massively to improve and consolidate the bilateral relationship between Ukraine and the UK, particularly in the field of trade.

Simon Hughes: I unreservedly join in that tribute. We all have contacts with missions, high commissions and embassies from all over the world. The team at the Ukrainian embassy, both at present and under the previous ambassador, have been absolutely excellent at ensuring that they sustain good relations. They are here to support and brief us. There are not many occasions when one appears at an event without suddenly discovering that at one’s shoulder is somebody from the Ukrainian embassy, wanting to ensure that we have not forgotten that they are around and that they deserve to be taken seriously. That is exactly how missions should work.

Other than at school, from maps and so on, I guess that I was first aware of Ukraine’s importance when I became a Member of Parliament and there was a discussion about whether we should have a memorial in Southwark to the people of the Soviet Union who were killed in the last world war. A memorial was erected, and it stands today in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth park, just by the Imperial War museum. It reminds anybody who goes there that 20 million people died in the countries of the former Soviet Union. We remember that every year in May and on other occasions. When there are remembrance services at that memorial, among those laying wreaths are people doing so on behalf of Ukraine. The people of Ukraine played a hugely important part in the liberation army, and they have played a major part in peacekeeping roles throughout the world since. Tens of thousands of
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people from Ukraine’s forces have contributed, and we need to remember that. They do their bit for world peace, and have done so for the past 50 years.

A second topical allusion is that we stand about halfway between one satisfactory semi-final of the European champions cup—when Manchester United fantastically and mercifully got the goal that took them through to the final—and another semi-final that guarantees an English team going through, with Chelsea and Liverpool playing for a place in the final in Moscow next month. Although no UK team will play in the European championship finals this year, for reasons that I shall not go into, there will be another opportunity in four years’ time, when the championships will be in Ukraine and Poland. I sincerely hope that at least one UK team, if not two, three or four, will be there.

Stephen Pound rose—

Simon Hughes: And possibly Ireland as well, before the hon. Gentleman intervenes. We certainly need to make up for this year’s deficit. I remember from when I was in Kiev that one thing that links us, apart from politics, faith and culture, is the love of and commitment to sport. Such things matter to ordinary people and are much less complicated than elections, parties and democracy.

Stephen Pound: The hon. Gentleman need not wait so long to see a Ukrainian connection in European football. Andriy Shevchenko, a great footballer from Kiev, sadly plays for Chelsea, but I think that he plays with Ukraine in his heart at all times.

Simon Hughes: Many Ukrainians in Britain, and Chelsea supporters, are aware of who he plays for, and he is indeed a great player. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am not a Chelsea supporter, but my team did get to the FA cup final four years ago.

Stephen Pound: And lost.

Simon Hughes: And lost; I am a Millwall supporter. I am not suggesting that we make our winning British club teams even less British by importing more people from abroad, but players from Dynamo Kiev and elsewhere are very welcome, if they can be afforded to come and join us.

My third topical point is that as we all know, we have elections tomorrow, not just here in London but in the whole of Wales and England. One thing that has brought Ukraine to the attention of the British public has been the democratic process, which has been very exciting and dramatic. I want to give a little quiet encouragement. Of course things have been difficult, such as the constitutional arrangement, which has changed and developed since 1991. In a new and evolving independent democracy, that is what one would expect. We are not without our difficulties in our country when it comes to elections, as you well know from your part of the world and elsewhere, Mrs. Anderson. We do not do everything perfectly and we do not get it all right.

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