FOR 25 years, we, and Nato, have put out a hand of friendship to Russia in the belief that a strategic partnership with Russia could yield enormous benefits for their citizens and ours.
We sought to realise the benefits of a Nato-Russia partnership by burying the legacy of the Cold War, and the sterile concept of a zero-sum game between Nato and Russia.
Tragically, those potential benefits have been put beyond our reach, for now at least, by Russia’s decision to violate the national sovereignty of its neighbour, Ukraine. Our trust in partnership has been betrayed.
Russian troops seized Crimea by force, and now the Russian government apparently expects the international community to believe that the “spontaneous” appearance of heavily armed, well-trained, uniformed militias has nothing to do with Russia.
They also ask us – quite incredibly – to accept the outcome of Potemkin referendums in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Are we really expected to believe that the human rights of 97 per cent of Crimea’s population were in imminent danger from an oppressive three per cent?
One of the things which struck me forcefully when I visited Kiev in February, just before former President Yanukovych fled, was that a third of the activists in the Maidan protests were Russian speakers. For them, as for Ukrainian speakers, the choice was not between East and West, but between the old style of autocratic government, and a new politics of democracy and accountability, which I hope Ukraine has now found with the election of President Poroshenko.
Our Assembly’s relationship with the two Houses of the Russian parliament was pushed to breaking point not by the Russian government’s actions but by the parliament’s decisions, by huge majorities, to give President Putin authority to use military force in Ukraine. We cannot continue business as usual with Parliamentarians from a Nato partner country, Russia, when they vote to use military force against another Nato partner, Ukraine.
Our Assembly’s standing committee decided, with a heavy heart, at its meeting in Latvia in April to withdraw the Russian parliament’s associate membership of the Assembly. A number of members of the Committee posed the question if Russia’s actions in Ukraine do not constitute grounds for removing its associate membership, what action would?
At the start of the crisis, I wrote to the leaders of the Russian delegation to propose an urgent meeting. I am sorry to say they prevaricated.
The standing committee decided that Russia can no longer be a member of our Assembly, but they gave me a mandate to write to the Russian delegation to offer to meet to discuss our decision, and to explore whether they wish to maintain dialogue in some form outside of membership. That offer remains open.
The West may have won the economic arguments about the benefits of a liberal economy, which Russia now broadly shares, but it is clear that the ideological argument, the battle of ideas, about individual liberty, freedom and human rights, is still contested.
Russia’s invasion and destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine is a tragedy for the Russian people.
For some time, there have been concerns about the Russian government backsliding on democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the press, and human rights.
Those doubts have been reinforced by Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and sanctions, and the response of free markets to Russia’s isolation, have hit Russia’s economy extremely severely.
The IMF estimates that the Russian economy is now in recession and capital flight from Moscow totalled $65bn in the first quarter of 2014.
Like all countries, Ukraine has the right to determine its own fate and its own affiliations.
We should as good neighbours offer advice and assistance, in entrenching the values of human rights, individual liberty, democracy and the rule of law.
We should also help Ukraine shake free of its energy dependence upon Russia.
And we, ourselves, must address the security of our energy supplies as an urgent priority. That means diversifying sources of supply, redoubling our efforts in energy efficiency, and developing Europe’s internal energy market and infrastructure.
Hugh Bayley is the MP for York and president of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly in which he delivered this speech in Lithuania. This is an edited version.