Press release

Foreign Secretary sets out importance of diplomatic progress on Ukraine

William Hague says UK is taking every diplomatic opportunity to try to bring Russia and Ukraine into direct contact.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Following a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and interim Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia in Paris today, Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

Today we are trying to use every diplomatic opportunity to bring Russia and Ukraine into direct contact with each other at a senior level to make sure that the governments of Russia and Ukraine are talking to each other, which the Russians have not been prepared to do at a senior level in recent days. We will make further attempts at this afternoon, and we’ve held a meeting this morning under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum – this is the agreement signed by Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Ukraine in 1994 to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine; not to use armed force against Ukraine. We’ve had those consultations without Russia in the absence of Russia’s willingness to take part in that, and I think there’s a very strong common understanding between the United States and the United Kingdom of what we need to do in terms of now trying to create a contact group or co-ordination group. We will put the case for this to Foreign Minister Lavrov later this afternoon. I’m not optimistic about the outcome of that, but of course it’s right to try every diplomatic opportunity to de-escalate this crisis. If we can’t make progress on that, then of course there will be costs and consequences; as I’ve said before and as the Prime Minister and President Obama have said, for Russia there has to be, for such a violation of the independence and the sovereignty of another nation. But we will at all times keep our channels of communication to Russia open, and today is one of the means by which we are doing that. It will be a test this afternoon of whether Russia is prepared to sit down with Ukraine, and we will strongly recommend that they do so.

Question and Answer session with journalists:

“Mr Hague, is that the test today, that Mr Lavrov has to agree to meet his Ukrainian counterpart, or would you settle for less, otherwise the EU summit tomorrow will go ahead and talk about sanctions?”

Well, the European Council will go ahead tomorrow. I think what happens at the European Council will partly be determined by Russia’s willingness to talk to Ukraine today, so it’s important for them to bear that in mind. So yes, this is the test for, I think… for Russia today. But as you know, Russia argues – quite wrongly, in our view – that there isn’t a legitimate government in Kiev. We say, well, actually President Yanukovych, the former president, fled the country; he left the country. Ukraine, therefore, have had to provide an acting president. They have done so by large majorities in the Ukrainian parliament, including support from the party of former president Yanukovych. So there is a legitimate government in Ukraine. But that is the Russian argument and that is what is… that’s why they’re saying they will not sit down with the Ukrainians. We also say, ‘unless you’re prepared to sit down with the Ukrainians, how do you find the de-escalation? You need to be talking to each other’. So this is the test for the Russians this afternoon.

“Foreign Secretary, what constitutes de-escalation, in your viewpoint? And secondly, if it does come to costs and consequences for Russia, how confident are you of putting together a set of arrangements that will take care of the different concerns within the European Union? Everyone has different sets of priorities – Britain does, France does, Germany does – on how to approach and put pressure on Russia. How do you come up with an arrangement that is… takes into concern everybody’s priorities?”

On the de-escalation, this, of course, is one of the things that a group should be able to discuss together. This is why we want the Russians to join in a contact group, as I described before, a co-ordination group where they would be sitting with Ukraine but with other nations – with France, with Germany, with the UK, with the United States – so that we could all work on this together, and such de-escalation could be discussed. Of course, in our view, a de-escalation should include Russia abiding by the international agreements that it has signed in the past, such as its forces in Crimea abiding by the 1997 agreement on Black Sea bases whereby they would only be outside their bases with the agreement of the government of Ukraine. But that would all be for… de-escalation would be the subject of discussion in such a group. It’s why we want to bring a group like that together. On European measures, well, this is for the… of course for the European Council tomorrow, for the heads of government to discuss. It is true that bringing together 28 nations in agreement on foreign policy, specific decisions, always requires a lot of hard work. Foreign Minister Fabius and I have discussed this. I think the UK and France are very closely aligned. The Prime Minister has held discussions with President Hollande and with Chancellor Merkel over the last couple of days by telephone. So I don’t… it would be wrong at the moment for me to speculate about what the… what will come out of the European Council, and it will, in any case, depend partly on events today. But I have no doubt that the European Union can come together on important measures if the need is there, and it may well be there.

“Just to pick up on something that you said in reply to the last question, and that is the desire that the Russian military will return back to their bases in the Crimea; realistically that is not going to happen in the next 24 hours. Would you be prepared to lower your threshold to reach this state of de-escalation, as you put it? And “costs and consequences” we’ve heard a lot of over the last few days. I mean, presumably tomorrow is the day, if nothing changes.”

Yes, well, again, on the first point, what we’re really trying to do here today is to bring the Russians in to a diplomatic process, and that is what we really want to see – at least the start of that. And I think that’s right to try every diplomatic opportunity. Our focus has been very strongly on trying to make diplomatic progress so that Russia and Ukraine can work together, can discuss things together. And this is really the threshold here; if we’re looking at the threshold, we want to see this process begin so that we can then put hard work into it over the coming days. And yes, it is important for the… on your second question, for the European Council to demonstrate that there are costs and consequences to Russia. Some of those have already started in the short term. They are diplomatic consequences: preparations for the G8 and things of that kind. Some of the most important consequences could very well be in the long term, because here we have seen Russia do in the Crimea what has happened in Georgia some years ago, what’s happened in Moldova, and it becomes a long-term pattern of behaviour that I think will change the relationship between European nations and Russia. And that is something that Russia has to really take into account.

Further information

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Published 5 March 2014