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Official Visits

Volume 202: debated on Thursday 23 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his visits to Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia.

I visited Alma Ata (Kazakhstan) on 18 and 19 January, Kiev (Ukraine) on 19 January, and Moscow (Russian Federation) on 19 and 20 January.In each country, I held talks with the President and with Ministers responsible for foreign affairs and economic matters. I also met the Ukrainian Defence Minister, and Marshall Shaposhnikov, Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States.The main objectives of my visits were to discuss problems affecting stability and security, including the secure control and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology; to assess the economic situation in preparation for the Washington conference which I shall be attending on 22 and 23 January; and to develop bilateral relations in their new form following the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and recognition of former republics as independent countries.In all three capitals, I was assured that the agreements of Alma Ata and Minsk of the Commonwealth of Independent States for strategic weapons and forces to be held under central control on behalf of that Commonwealth were being maintained. Russia, continuing the international responsibilities of the former Soviet Union, is a party to the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I discussed with the leaders of Kazakhstan and Ukraine the importance of the early accession of their countries to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty as non-nuclear weapon states. The leaders of both countries reiterated their commitment to the eventual removal of all nuclear weapons from their territories. Russia is co-ordinating the centralisation of tactical nuclear weapons before they are destroyed. For the removal of strategic weapons to Russia a deadline of 1994 has been agreed. This is a considerable task, but I was reasonably encouraged by what I heard.I was pleased also to be told that progress is being made in negotiating agreed solutions to complex problems over the division of forces, although the process clearly has some way to go.My interlocutors were conscious of the critical importance of all of these questions for future stability within their countries and more widely. I have told them of our readiness to provide advice and assistance. NATO Ministers agreed in December on the principle of offering such help. I think that the leaders I met would welcome help in the safe disposal of surplus weapons.All the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States face an acutely difficult economic situation. I expressed support for policies of economic reform, and underlined the importance of moving towards integration into the world economic system, including membership of the international financial institutions. I expressed concern about the risk of protectionism and trade barriers between the member states of the Commonwealth and was given detailed accounts of problems arising from the legacy of the command economy, from price liberalisation, and from shortages of food, animal feedstock and consumer goods. My interlocutors expressed appreciation of the support being given by the United Kingdom and the European Community, and pressed for these efforts to be sustained and reinforced. They hoped that the Washington conference will lead to further international action.In Kazakhstan, I issued with the Foreign Minister a joint statement on the development of bilateral relations. We agreed to exchange diplomatic missions, and to build on the contacts which have already taken place, including commercial exchanges. In Ukraine, I introduced the new British charge d'affaires, and discussed prospects for the opening of embassies in Kiev and London. In Moscow, I prepared in my talks with President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Kozyrev for the visit to London by President Yeltsin on 30 January, at the invitation of the Prime Minister. We also discussed the meeting of the United Nations Security Council at summit level, which is to take place in New York on the following day.It was helpful to have this early opportunity to discuss with the leaders of the three largest states in the new Commonwealth the massive political and economic transformation which they are undertaking. It is not surprising that there are strains within the Commonwealth, and much hard bargaining is taking place; but there is also a willingness to find answers. We are developing a close dialogue with the different leaders. They are following a tough-minded approach to political change and economic reform. However difficult the road, they seem determined to continue their course. They need the help of the international community, and it will be in all of our interests to continue to offer this. I therefore assured the leaders of these three countries of the determination of the United Kingdom to build close relations with them.