HL Deb 26 February 1996 vol 569 cc1224-5

2.52 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What actions they are taking, together with their partners in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to reinforce the independence of Ukraine and to strengthen its political and economic links with the West.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the UK is committed to an independent, democratic and prosperous Ukraine. Britain gives aid to Ukraine through the know-how fund, the IMF, the World Bank and the EBRD. Britain also supports Ukraine in the framework of the EU through TACIS and balance of payments aid. Ukraine is an active member of Partnership for Peace and the North Atlantic Co-operation Council. We plan further co-operative links. There are frequent high level contacts and visits.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very helpful reply. Does she agree that the independence of Ukraine is crucial to the future stability of Europe? Does she agree also that, if it were to gain closer hegemony over the Ukraine, Russia would again become an empire? In view of that, does the Minister accept that we must maintain the closest possible links with Ukraine, including, in spite of our diminished aid programme, keeping Ukraine among the top 20 states to which we should provide assistance?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

s: My Lords, there is no hesitation on the part of the Government to maintain the know-how fund and indeed to increase it from £5 million in 1994–95 to £7 million in 1995–96 and under the proposed Aid Framework to £9 million in the coming financial year. That is a threefold increase in the know-how fund programme for Ukraine since it began. We are also supporting major projects in all the fields where it most needs help. Therefore, the noble Lord cannot get away with his implied accusation on that score.

As regards the relationship with Russia, we believe that the improvement in relations between Ukraine and Russia is not only very welcome but is likely to continue. President Yeltsin's visit to Kiev at the beginning of April should be another step forward. I know that there are remaining issues under dispute, but I believe that they can be settled in a spirit of co-operation and on the basis of respect for the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine, about which the noble Lord so clearly cares.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, will the Minister comment on recent newspaper reports that the Ukrainian Government are selling military cargo aircraft to drug traffickers in Colombia? Does she agree that that highlights the need for more western help with dismantling and running down Ukrainian military production, neither of which she mentioned in her earlier answers?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, I do not suppose that it is the Ukrainian Government who are selling off aircraft to anybody in the way that the noble Baroness described. I have not seen the newspaper reports and I shall investigate them. But the noble Baroness knows that we already give a great deal of assistance to counter drug trafficking and to stop money laundering. We do that not only with the Commonwealth countries, with which we have a special arrangement, but also with all others with which we have a development programme.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the noble Baroness say whether British expertise is being made available to Ukraine both in coal-mining and agriculture?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, that is certainly being done in agriculture. Indeed, we have given advice on coal-mining. We are deeply involved in the whole question of the restructuring of energy resources. Where we can help, we do, both bilaterally and through the European Union and the other bodies which I mentioned in my main Answer.