Solidarity with Ukraine debate: First Minister's statement - 24 February 2022

Statement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opening the debate, Solidarity with Ukraine in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, on Thursday 24 February 2022.

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Presiding Officer,

Today we woke to the horror of an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and a reality that we all hoped had become unthinkable – a land war in Europe, and today, literally as we speak, that horror in Ukraine is intensifying

Much discussion will focus rightly on the geopolitical impact, but as ever, when so-called ‘strong men leaders’ flex their muscles, it is the innocent and most vulnerable who suffer the most.

At the sharp end of any conflict are men, women, and children – civilians, who have the right to go about their daily lives in peace, but who will inevitably bear the brunt of this full-scale invasion.

Many will be terrified and are fleeing.

Our thoughts are with them in this darkest of hours, and we must provide them with practical support, aid and refuge.

This is arguably the most serious moment the world has faced since the end of the Cold War, and one of the most dangerous since World War II.

By launching this invasion of a sovereign, independent nation, Vladimir Putin has committed an illegal act of aggression, which has no conceivable justification.

His warped rewriting of history, underpinning his imperialist delusions, is no justification.

His claims about the actions of Ukraine’s government are false, and offer no justification.

And notwithstanding different opinions here and elsewhere about the role and objectives of NATO, his assertions about its so-called Eastern expansion and threat to Russian security lack credibility. They are an excuse, not a reason and certainly not a justification.

His motives are simpler. Imperialist expansion, coupled with a fear of allowing democracy to flourish on his borders, in case it finds its way into Russia.

And if these are his motives, no one should doubt his ultimate intention. He wants to end Ukraine’s very existence as an independent, democratic state.

This is a moment therefore of genuine peril. First and foremost for the people of Ukraine but also for the world – and it is a time for all democracies, and all countries that believe in the rule of international law to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty, and to stand against Russian aggression.

That is why I believe it is important for Parliament today to condemn Russia’s actions unreservedly, to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and to support Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

That of course is the right thing to do for all countries.

But I know in expressing our solidarity with Ukraine, many of us are mindful of the strong ties between Scotland and Ukraine.

As just one example, our capital city Edinburgh is twinned with Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

And of course, there are several thousand Ukrainian citizens living in Scotland. They are valued and welcome members of our communities.

For all of them, especially those with family and friends still in Ukraine, this will be an especially anxious time, and the Scottish Government will do all we can to support them, and we will work with the Foreign Office to support enquiries from any in Scotland who may be worried about loved ones in Ukraine.

We are also working with the UK and other devolved governments to ensure support is available if needed, to Ukrainian British nationals returning to the UK.

I discussed the concerns of Ukrainians in Scotland yesterday with both the Acting Consul General and with Linda Allison, the Chair of the Ukrainian community here. I made clear to both of them, the Scottish Government’s condemnation of Russian actions, and our support for and solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

In addition, I made it clear that Scotland stands with those members of the international community who have opposed Russian aggression by imposing sanctions.

After all, expressions of solidarity with Ukraine – welcome though they are – are not sufficient in this moment of great peril.

Firm and decisive action is needed.

It is particularly needed, because this week’s atrocities by Russia are not isolated – they are part of a pattern of this Russian regime’s aggression, which of course includes the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.

Now I deliberately say the ‘Russian regime’ because it is important to be clear that the crimes, and I also use that word deliberately, now being committed by Putin should be laid at his door, and at the doors of his kleptocratic cronies.

They should not be laid at the door of the people of Russia wholesale. Nor should they be laid at the door of Russians or people of Russian background now living here in Scotland.

But these crimes cannot, and they must not, go unanswered.

We cannot have a situation – as arguably did happen with Crimea – where the world expresses shock and outrage for a period of time, but then allows the Russian regime to consolidate its gains, with relatively few consequences and then plan further aggression.

If we are to deter Putin this time, sanctions must hit him and his allies hard, with severe and lasting consequences – he must pay a heavy price for aggression.

I therefore welcome the EU’s intention to impose a package of what it calls ‘massive, targeted sanctions’, the detail of which I know we should learn tonight.

The UK of course, sadly, will now not be in the room when those sanctions are being discussed and decided.

But as the Estonian Prime Minister said this morning, the most effective response to Russian aggression is unity. So I hope we will see coordinated action across the international community. 

We welcomed the sanctions the UK government announced on Tuesday. But as I said at the time those measures against just five banks and three individuals, were too limited.

There is no case at all, in my view, to delay tough action now.

The experience of recent years shows that softer action does not encourage better behaviour on the part of Putin, it simply emboldens him in his aggressions.

The UK government therefore must announce further, much more significant steps as quickly as possible, and I am hopeful they will do so.

It must also address the fact – and it is a fact, that the city of London is awash with Russian money.

Its response must therefore include a ruthless and comprehensive attack on the wealth and assets of the Russian regime and its backers.

This demands a serious and systematic approach, and the Scottish Government will strongly support further moves by the UK Government in that direction.

The Scottish Government will also work with the UK Government and other partners, including the UK National Cyber Security Centre, in staying vigilant against any direct threats that Russia might present to Scotland, for example through cyber-attacks.

The National Cyber Security Centre is closely monitoring the threat to the UK as a priority and I have in recent weeks, in addition to briefing from the National Security Adviser, been participating in four nations discussions on how we deal with the range of domestic impacts that we may experience.

Presiding Officer,

The final point I want to make today is this – this crisis is fundamentally about Russian aggression against Ukraine, but there is also a far wider international and indeed moral dimension to this crisis.

Putin wants to dismember, essentially to obliterate, Ukraine as an independent, democratic nation.

If he is allowed to get away with his aggression, the international community will have failed – and that failure will give encouragement to other countries, and other so-called ‘strong man leaders’ who consider acts of aggression in future.

So this crisis is a test for all nations. It is a test of how prepared we are to support not just the principle, but the reality of an international order based on law, rules and peaceful co-existence.

It is a test of how prepared we are to protect freedom, peace and democracy.

All of us must speak out against Putin’s aggression and we must stand up for the values of democracy, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and peace.

First and foremost as the best chance of deterring aggression against Ukraine, and standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. But we must do so also for the sake of other countries across the world, we must do so for the sake of our world.

We must not accept this as a moment that bloody and prolonged war returns to our continent.

Today Parliament can add Scotland’s voice to all of those now standing up for peace, freedom, and democracy.

We can add this Parliament and Scotland’s voice to all of those standing with the people of Ukraine, in this, the darkest of hours.

For that reason, Presiding Officer, with a sombre sense but with pride, I move the motion in my name.  



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