The United Kingdom’s relations with Russia Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

UK-Russia relations since 1991: Divergent perspectives

1.From the perspective of Russia, western powers took advantage of a period of relative Russian weakness under Boris Yeltsin in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union to enlarge both the European Union and NATO. From the perspective of western European countries and the United States, membership of political or economic alliances is a matter for sovereign decisions by the applicant countries if they meet the criteria for membership, and Russia can have no veto on such matters. Moreover, both NATO and the European Union believe that they offered the hand of friendship to Russia in assisting in the process of economic and political reform and democratisation. That hand of friendship was rebuffed after President Putin came to power. The different narratives of Russian and western foreign policy thinking have been well documented, including in the reports of our predecessor Committees. Despite those warnings, we do not believe that our policymakers have adequately considered the full implications of the differences between western and Russian understandings of this period of history or have drawn the correct, albeit uncomfortable, conclusions from it. However, given the Russian leadership’s apparent intent to develop a siege mentality, particularly for domestic purposes, it is uncertain to what extent constructive engagement would have been possible. There is also a need to understand why states on the Russian Federation’s fringe feel threatened. Western, including UK, policy must accept a share of responsibility for the current state of relations. (Paragraph 24)

Russia in 2017

2.The evidence that we received on human rights is confirmed by international groups who are concerned about attacks on civil society and disrespect for the rule of law and human rights in not only Russia itself, but Crimea. The Committee shares those concerns. (Paragraph 40)

3.The Kremlin is prepared to be disruptive in foreign affairs. This opportunist, tactical approach to foreign policy means that Russia is already making strategic mistakes and pursuing short-term advantages rather than advancing a long-term, coherent, sustainable vision for its role in the world. Russia rejects international rules as they are understood by the UK and other western powers, and, in an effort to legitimise its approach, it seizes on every example where we have not lived up to our own standards and takes every opportunity to take advantage of weaknesses, problems and differences within eastern Europe and NATO. It believes that it has a legitimate sphere of influence in former Soviet territory in eastern Europe, that it should have a decisive say over those states’ foreign policy choices and that other nations should recognise its sphere of influence. (Paragraph 53)

4.The Russian assertion that it has a sphere of influence is contrary to the development of the international rules-based order over the past 50 years. UK foreign policy is predicated on a rules-based international order, international law and self-determination, as set out in the Helsinki Accords and the United Nations Charter. Russian foreign policy aims to undermine the current world order, prevent self-determination and independent decisions by neighbouring countries, which it sees as regime change, and to promote Russia’s world view as a legitimate alternative to western values. The Russian Government’s indifference to human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law underpins its foreign policy challenge to the international order and lies at the root of the collapse in UK-Russia relations. (Paragraph 54)

Tensions in the UK-Russia relationship

5.Today the UK must not accept or recognise the illegal Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea. This is particularly important because the UK is a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum (see paragraph 55). Ukraine is a sovereign state, and it must be able to choose its own future. The UK national interest would be served if Ukraine had positive relations with both Russia and the West. However, such an outcome cannot be achieved until Russia ends its illegal annexation of Crimea, stops supporting separatist groups in eastern Ukraine and abides by international law. (Paragraph 71)

6.The FCO should continue to work with the EU, Canada and USA on supporting Ukraine. The UK and its allies should pursue a robust policy whereby support is conditional on Ukraine addressing domestic corruption and maladministration. In the long term, the UK and its allies should support Ukraine in developing resilience to further Russian encroachment and in building its social, political and physical infrastructure, which will facilitate further engagement with the West and allow Ukraine to engage with Russia on a level playing field. (Paragraph 79)

7.The £20 million Good Governance Fund seems woefully inadequate to address the task in hand in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ukraine alone would justify the investment of British resources of hundreds of millions of pounds to improve governance, if that were to secure the central objective of supporting Ukraine as an independent country with a liberal European outlook. Support could also be provided by embedding British diplomats and experts into Ukrainian administrative structures. (Paragraph 80)

8.The FCO must clarify whether the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement will apply to UK-Ukraine political and economic relations post-Brexit. If the UK will no longer be a party to the Association Agreement after it leaves the EU, the FCO should begin planning a successor agreement as a matter of urgency, and we invite it to set out the areas that would be covered by this agreement in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 81)

9.If the UK is determined to maintain a principled stance in relation to the sanctions on Russia, this may require uncomfortable conversations with close allies. The withdrawal of the existing sanctions should be linked to Russian compliance with its obligations toward Ukraine, and should not be offered in exchange for Russian co-operation in other areas. This approach would avoid ceding moral and legal legitimacy to Russia and departing from UK values and standards. The challenge in this approach is that the practical effect of economic sanctions on Russian decision-making is doubtful. It looks as though it will be increasingly difficult to sustain a united western position on sanctions, not least if they become a bargaining point during Brexit negotiations. The UK faces the possibility of becoming an isolated actor supporting a policy towards Russia that is failing. This could lead to further damage to Britain’s long-term ability to influence Russia. (Paragraph 95)

10.The international community must remain unified in the face of Russia’s assertion of its perceived sphere of influence and its disregard for the international norms in its treatment of Ukraine. The FCO should prioritise international unity on policy towards Russia in talks with the new US Administration, and should continue to work closely with EU partners to maintain support for Ukraine, whether this is delivered through sanctions and/or assistance to Ukraine. (Paragraph 96)

11.The FCO should be open to considering any proposals that the Russian Government may advance to resolve the situation in Ukraine outside the Minsk II process that are in line with international law. Russian actions demonstrating compliance with the rule of international law in Ukraine could be linked to the gradual removal of sanctions and would provide Russia with a route map to restoring positive relations with the West. We invite the FCO in its response to this report to detail the exact responsibilities of Russia with regard to the Minsk II agreement. The measure of success in relation to sanctions is their no longer being needed. It is therefore imperative that the international community recognises the need for an achievable route to rapprochement. (Paragraph 99)

12.There is currently no realistic prospect of the ICC mechanism being used to investigate and address war crimes committed in Syria. (Paragraph 118)

13.The UN inquiry into the air strike on the convoy demonstrated the challenge of establishing the intent behind an attack on a plainly civilian target in order to sustain a conclusive view on whether or not a war crime has been committed. The Russian response to these charges was consistent with its view that it is held to different standards from those to which we hold ourselves. The Government is right to call out the Russian military for actions that potentially violate International Humanitarian Law. However, if the Government continues to allege that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria without providing a basis for its charge, it risks bolstering the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is held to unfair double standards by hostile and hypocritical western powers. Un-evidenced rhetoric from both sides also makes it difficult to implement the practical co-operation measures necessary to deliver lasting peace in Syria. (Paragraph 119)

14.Breaches of International Humanitarian Law—with evidence of clear Russian violations in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria—are unacceptable. Those responsible must be held accountable. Coalition failures in Afghanistan and Iraq do not permit breaches of International Humanitarian Law in Syria. (Paragraph 120)

15.The introduction of powers in the Criminal Finances Bill to allow the civil recovery of the property of individuals involved in gross human rights abuses or violations carried out abroad is welcome and should allow the UK unilaterally to sanction Russian individuals who have committed or who have facilitated the commission of human rights abuses or war crimes in Syria. The Committee invites the Government to present its assessment of how the new powers will be exercised and to report to the House orders made against individuals. (Paragraph 121)

16.Russia and the United Kingdom have a shared interest in combatting Islamist terrorism and extremism. It is difficult to envisage how to progress this shared interest considering the differences between the two countries’ respective definitions and analyses of terrorism, and acceptable methods to defeat it. Any dialogue with Russia must be handled with the greatest care, but it is at least worth exploring. The Government and its agencies should be having a regular dialogue with their Russian counterparts about the causes of Islamist extremist violence and the potential strategies to address it. This shared objective could be utilised to open constructive dialogue with Russia in the area of common shared security and anti-terrorism. That dialogue should be used to improve relations, better understand Russian foreign policy and initiate discussion on freedom of expression, the rule of law and human rights, and the ongoing issues in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. (Paragraph 130)

UK policy towards Russia

17.We visited Russia in May 2016, where we met Russian Ministers, civil servants and parliamentarians. Although those exchanges were occasionally uncomfortable, we judged that some interaction with Russia is preferable to no interaction, if only to maintain the basis for a more positive relationship in future, to clarify areas of disagreement and to de-escalate points of difference. We therefore welcome recent indications that the Government is willing to consider more direct, face-to-face engagement with the Russian leadership. While engagement for engagement’s sake has merit, albeit limited, in sustaining contact, it is not a substitute for dialogue with a purpose. We are not convinced that the FCO and Government Ministers have identified what Russia wants from the UK, or what, if anything, the UK should seek to accomplish through bilateral engagement with Russia. (Paragraph 141)

18.The FCO should clarify what the UK wants to achieve in its bilateral engagement with Russia. This should involve dialogue on specific issues, such as counter-terrorism, cybersecurity or aviation security, in order to establish both points of agreement and points of difference. Having established its terms of reference, the FCO should conduct a meaningful and regular political dialogue with the Russian Government, including at the highest ministerial levels. Ministers should conduct this dialogue in a spirit of frankness and honesty, based on clear analysis of the UK’s immediate and long-term strategic goals for its relationship with Russia. There is also scope for facilitating non-governmental contact in partnership with the EU and other allies. (Paragraph 142)

19.The UK Government must explore ways constructively to engage with Russia in order to improve its record on human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law. The FCO must also work closely with other international partners and through the UN Security Council better to understand and to respond to the current Russian foreign policy and its ‘sphere of influence’ strategy. (Paragraph 143)

20.The UK should give further consideration on how to respond, including with others in the international community, more robustly to Russia’s indifference to human rights and rule of law, which undermines the international rules-based order. (Paragraph 144)

21.Individuals associated with the Putin regime who are reportedly responsible for gross human rights abuses or violations use British financial and legal services, invest in British property, holiday in the UK and send their children to British schools. The UK Government could influence those people’s behaviour by introducing and utilising the civil recovery powers set out in the Criminal Finances Bill to seize assets held in the UK. The introduction of such powers would deter other Russians from committing or commissioning gross human rights abuses or violations. (Paragraph 147)

22.Sanctions imposed on Russia owing to its actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea are currently agreed and applied by EU Member States. The FCO must clarify how the UK would impose sanctions post-Brexit, explain whether Brexit would entail changes from the current sanctions regime and analyse the costs and benefits of the possible models for future UK-administered sanctions. We expect the FCO to publish its analysis of how the UK would impose sanctions post-Brexit by March 2018. (Paragraph 148)

23.The rise of fake news in the UK is a real concern. Key questions as to RT and Sputnik’s impartiality, integrity and actual news stories remain unanswered. The UK regulator should continue to take action against examples of outright falsehoods in Russian state-sponsored broadcasting. But the ability of broadcasters such as RT and Sputnik to operate in the UK should be considered a sign of British strength. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are core British values in which the UK has justifiable confidence. These values lie at the heart of Britain’s soft-power challenge to the current Russian regime. Conversely, restrictions on the operation of international and domestic media in Russia reveal the Kremlin’s fear that its narrative will not prevail in free and open debate. (Paragraph 153)

24.We welcome the increase in funding for the BBC World Service to enhance its broadcasting into Russia and neighbouring states. Looking beyond such broadcasting, the FCO should also increase its support for independent media in order to provide the Russian people and those living in neighbouring states with a broad range of perspectives. (Paragraph 156)

25.UK withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights would risk sending a signal to Russia that it can freely disregard international human rights norms at home and abroad, and would undermine UK support for the work of human rights groups in Russia. It would also deprive the UK of a key source of soft power and influence among reformers and human rights activists in Russia In order to maintain international standards on human rights, the UK Government should not withdraw from the ECHR and should make it clear that no such step is contemplated. (Paragraph 160)

Future engagement

26.The UK Government should reconsider the decrease in its grant to the British Council for its work in Russia, given the valuable work that the British Council does. (Paragraph 165)

27.With respect to the World Cup 2018, the FCO should:

28.The FCO must once again invest in the analytical capacity to understand Russian decision-making in order to develop effective and informed foreign policy. This should involve engaging with think-tanks and universities that study Russia, recruiting and training FCO Russia specialists and developing Russian language skills in the FCO. The FCO must set out detailed plans on how it will develop its internal capacity and harness external expertise, and how that will feed into policymaking. (Paragraph 176)

29.The portfolio of the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the FCO is too broad to be covered effectively by any single individual. Our impression is that active policy responsibility remains principally the preserve of the Foreign Secretary and it would have been fairer for him to give evidence to the Committee on behalf of the Government. Bearing in mind the ongoing tensions in the UK-Russia relationship and its long-term importance to our security, the policy area would merit the appointment of a junior FCO Minister with more specific responsibility for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with sufficient resources to carry out the role. (Paragraph 180)

30.The FCO must look beyond President Putin and develop a long-term strategy to engage with the Russian people and to articulate a credible, positive vision of the relationship that the UK would like to develop with Russia. In particular, the FCO should resource more fellowships and exchanges between British and Russian academic institutions, as well as organisations for young professionals, to promote the development of shared values and mutual understanding between British and Russian people. The UK should also build links with Russian SMEs and entrepreneurs with an eye to promoting closer economic co-operation with Russia when the time is right. A people-to-people strategy building bridges with the next generation of Russian political and economic leaders could underpin improved UK-Russia relations in the future. (Paragraph 187)

28 February 2017