Timely UK Parliament visit to Ukraine
A small delegation from the BGIPU visited Kyiv for 3 days in mid-February. As Chair of the Ukraine APPG, I led the delegation and was accompanied by David Morris MP, who had not visited the country before, and Lord Davies of Stamford who had not been for many years. We were ably assisted by Anja Richter from the BGIPU Secretariat and by HE Simon Smith and his team at the British Embassy who helped put together an excellent programme.
The original purpose of our visit was to establish links with new members of the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament), to help establish a British Friendship Group and to discuss how our two Parliaments might work more closely together to strengthen Parliamentary democracy and the accountability of Government in Ukraine. In our few days there, we made good progress towards these aims. However, our visit and meetings were inevitably dominated by the more urgent issue of the war in Eastern Ukraine and the fragile ceasefire that had been agreed in Minsk shortly before our trip.
After a briefing from the Embassy in the evening of our arrival, we spent a day meeting members of the Administration including the Minister for Europe, the Deputy Defence Minister, and the Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. We also saw Mayor of Kyiv, Vitaly Klitschko and obtained an international perspective from EU Ambassador, Jan Tomblinski, and US Ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt. All were in no doubt that the separatists controlling the two regions of Donbas in the East were being supported by Russian troops, weapons and armour. The Ukrainian Government representatives made clear that they were not optimistic that the ceasefire would hold and that they believed that the Russians had further ambitions in the country. Throughout our visit, heavy fighting was continuing in Debaltseve, despite the ceasefire. The Prime Minster told us that he regarded Britain as one of Ukraine’s strongest allies and was very appreciative of the help already given. However, he was very clear in asking for the supply of military equipment for the Ukrainian armed forces including lethal defensive weapons. We discussed with the defence ministry what specific items they needed and promised to relay this to the British Government.
The two other major challenges facing Ukraine are the state of near collapse of the economy and corruption which is endemic at every level. Financial support to address the first problem inevitably depends on action being taken to tackle the second. All who we spoke to accepted the importance of this and assured us that measures were being taken. However, they also recognised that there needed to be much faster progress.
Our second full day was spent almost entirely at the Rada (Parliament). We had 7 separate meetings with groups of MPs. We were welcomed by the Deputy Speaker, Mrs Syroyid, and talked to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the European Integration Committee, the National Security and Defence Committee, the Anti-Corruption Committee, and the Fuel and Energy Committee. We were also entertained to lunch by former Foreign Minister, Boris Tarasiuk. In addition, we met a number of members of The “Euro-optimists”, a cross-party group of about 30 largely young and newly elected MPs. With backgrounds in civil society, journalism, business and academia, they were united in their determination to see real change in their country and further progress towards the adoption of Western European values and democratic principles. Many had strong connections with the UK and a number were already in the process of establishing a British friendship group.
We came away from Kyiv in no doubt of the enormity of the challenges facing Ukraine but encouraged by the fact that there is a new generation of political leaders emerging who recognise what needs to be done and are determined to make it happen. We in turn made clear our wish to assist in whatever way we can.