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Russia

Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2006

In the current financial year we have allocated £5 million to bilateral programmes in Russia. Other United Kingdom funds, available through the global conflict prevention pool and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office global opportunities fund, amount to some £3 million.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but is it right that British taxpayers’ money is given to Russia when last year its defence budget rose by more than 28 per cent? Would it not be better to put that money into areas of real conflict and suffering such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the progress that Russia has made. He will remember that as recently as 1999, when Russia was going through a period of financial crisis, substantial numbers—almost 40 per cent. of the population—were living in real poverty. Since that time, the number living in poverty has declined by almost half. The hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to divert resources to the very poorest countries is well made, and that is one of the reasons why we have taken a decision to close our programme next year. We will remain engaged in a small way in Russia, because there continue to be particular development challenges, not least the issues of HIV/AIDS, but we are increasingly directing more of our resources to the very poorest countries.

As my hon. Friend knows, Russia has the G8 presidency. I wonder what discussions he has had with Russia about taking forward the commitment, in particular of the United Kingdom, to development in Africa.

We have had a series of discussions with the Russian authorities in the run-up to the St. Petersburg summit. My hon. Friend may know that the Russian authorities have prioritised the issues of energy security, education and infectious diseases for discussion at that summit, and we have been working to ensure that there is a development perspective to all those discussions. There will be a report at the summit on progress since Gleneagles. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is expecting to lead a discussion on progress in Africa since then. My hon. Friend may also be interested to know that we have already begun discussions with German colleagues in advance of their presidency next year.

Russia, alongside other eastern European countries such as Ukraine, has significant and escalating HIV and TB epidemics and the fastest growing coterminous infection rate in the world. The G8 summit in St. Petersburg must address infectious diseases, especially the challenging multi-drug-resistant TB. Considering DFID’s strategy towards middle income countries and the Duma’s decision to restrict the operations of foreign non-governmental organisations, how does DFID intend to halt and reverse the incidence of infectious diseases? Will the Minister confirm that he will be working towards a specific commitment at the G8 to endorse and fund the global plan?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight both the rising prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Russia and more generally in central and eastern Europe. The adult prevalence rate is more than 1 per cent. in Russia. Although the epidemic is currently concentrated among high-risk groups, particularly injecting drug users, there are worrying signs that it is spreading into the more general population. We have over the past two years been closely collaborating with UNAIDS. We have a programme of £1 million over this two-year period. We have in recent years seen rising spend and rising recognition, including in speeches by President Putin, by the Russian authorities on this issue.

On the wider point about Gleneagles and specific commitments on HIV/AIDS and TB, we have indicated our support for the global plan. We want it discussed and backed at St. Petersburg and we want the summit also to move on the HIV/AIDS agenda.