William Hague: Ukraine shows us we must stand up for democracy

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IT is time to shake off a decade of doubt, while learning all its lessons, and to rediscover confidence in the power and longevity of our values.

There is an obvious and immediate challenge requiring strength and unity from not only western nations but many others, and that is the crisis over Ukraine.

Last month Russia, a European country, annexed a part of the territory of its neighbour on trumped-up pretexts and through an illegal referendum held at the end of the barrel of a gun.

By this act Russia violated the fundamental principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right of every democratic country to choose its own future. These principles have been built up over 70 years to avoid a repeat of the terrible conflicts of the 20th century that inflicted such grave suffering on Europe, particularly on Russia.

If we do not defend those principles in Ukraine, they will be threatened elsewhere in Europe and around the world. This would be immensely damaging for the long-term prosperity and security of all nations – including Russia – which ultimately depend on a rules-based international system. We have to maintain strength and unity and confidence now, or our resolve could be tested even more severely in the future.

That is why in the European Union we agreed to expand sanctions and to complete preparations for far-reaching economic, trade and financial sanctions whenever necessary.

In recent days, Russia has deliberately pushed Ukraine to the brink, and created a still greater risk of violent confrontation. We call on Russia to stop these actions and to condemn the lawless acts in Eastern Ukraine.

We are at a crucial moment in this crisis. Russia must choose whether it is open to diplomacy and de-escalation, and if it decides otherwise, we must be ready for a different state of relations with Russia in the next 10 years than in the last 20.

Ukraine can be a bridge between East and West and be able to have good relations with Russia. But that does not entitle Russia to send in its armed groups, thinly disguised, to spearhead the occupation of buildings in Ukrainian cities, to try permanently to destabilise the country and dictate the terms of its constitution.

My message to Moscow is that if anyone thinks they can do these things without serious long-term consequences they are making a grave miscalculation.

Russia is already paying a serious price for its actions. And the longer its breaches the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, the heavier the price it will pay.

First, we have already seen the flight of over $63bn in capital out of Russia and the fall of the Russian stock market, as investors draw their own conclusions about the long-term implications for the Russian economy.

Second, President Putin’s top objective in foreign policy is the creation of a Eurasian Union that would lock Russia’s neighbours into its own economic and political orbit. But now all countries in the region can see the risks of reliance on a bullying neighbour that shows no respect for the sovereignty of other nations. So the Russian government is undermining its own foreign policy, including alienating the vast majority of the people of Ukraine for decades to come.

Third, their actions will only strengthen the unity, relevance and common purpose of Nato for the long term. Already we have agreed increased Nato’s peacetime Baltic Air Patrols to reassure our partners.

Fourth, it is now much more likely that European countries will take action to reduce energy dependence on Russia. The UK will advocate the diversification of gas supplies to Europe, the boosting of investment in gas interconnections and terminals, and the development of indigenous energy supplies such as shale gas. We will urge the EU to take action to help Ukraine and neighbouring countries to ensure more resilient energy supplies.

And fifth, Russia’s behaviour has laid bare the danger of the creation of concentrations of Russian economic, political and media power that subvert democratic institutions, particularly in South-Eastern Europe. We will increase our focus on supporting those institutions in European countries vulnerable to the pressure of creeping oligarchisation.

The Russian people stand to lose most of all, if their government continues on this path. As these events show, we are probably heading for a period of greater instability and sometimes greater dangers in world affairs.

Faced with such pressures, the circle of countries bearing responsibility for upholding peace and security in the 21st century has to widen.

Countries that now play a bigger part in the world economy, particularly those aspiring to join the United Nations Security Council, have broad enough shoulders to take on a greater share of the burden.

But nonetheless, it will remain vital that Western nations do not shrink from world affairs, and retain and reinforce their sense of purpose.

We must demonstrate renewed confidence in the strength and longevity of our values.

William Hague is the Richmond MP and Foreign Secretary.