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Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what involvement her Department has had in the efforts of the Finnish presidency of the EU to obtain a long-term agreement with Russia on energy supply and trade with the EU. (97893)

The Government welcome the priority the Finnish EU presidency has attached to energy security and has worked closely with it and other EU partners on this issue.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister informed the House in a written ministerial statement on 23 October 2006, Official Report, columns 71-72WS, at the 20 October informal meeting in Lahti of heads of state or Government and President Putin, there was a constructive discussion of the EU’s external energy relations, in particular our relationship with Russia. There was unity among EU partners on the need to build a close and legally binding partnership based on mutual, long-term benefits based on the principles of the energy charter treaty and the declaration agreed at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg in July this year. These principles include market-based rules, market opening, and transparency and reliability across the whole of the energy relationship. The EU will shortly start negotiations with Russia on a new comprehensive agreement to replace the 10-year-old partnership and co-operation agreement. The EU agreed that these principles should form the core of any new agreement. The Government stand by and will apply these principles firmly, and are counting on Russia, as a key energy supplier to downstream markets, to do the same. The Government see the energy relationship with Russia, and the way in which this relationship is likely to develop, including its EU dimension, firmly within the context of this principle-based relationship. For his part, President Putin stated his conviction at Lahti that energy co-operation should be based on principles of predictability of the energy markets and the mutual dependence of suppliers and consumers.

Russia applied to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1993. The European Commission negotiates in the WTO on behalf of the EU. Although the EU and Russia have concluded the terms of a bilateral agreement on market access arrangements for goods and services, other WTO members have yet to do the same. There are also a number of issues that need to be resolved before Russia can accede to the WTO on the right terms and conditions to enable Russia to meet her obligations as a WTO member. It is unlikely that any long-term EU/Russia trade agreement will be negotiated before Russia accedes to the WTO.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received on the recent expulsion of Georgian (a) students and (b) others from Russia. (97894)

Our embassies in Moscow and Tbilisi provide regular updates on the situation regarding the treatment of Georgians within Russia, as they regularly do on human rights issues. We are aware that there have been a number of flights that have been used to deport Georgians. We have asked both sides to de-escalate tensions. In this regard, we have directly raised with the Russians the desirability of their lifting the measures taken against Georgia and have urged Russia not to pursue measures targeting Georgians.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions her Department has had with the Russian government on freedom of the press and media organisations. (97293)

We regularly discuss the progress of democratic reforms in Russia, including freedom of the press, with the Russian authorities. We have regular consultations on this question as part of our human rights dialogues, both on a bilateral basis and through the EU. This issue was raised at the EU-Russia Human Rights Consultations in Vienna in March 2006 and will form part of the next EU-Russia Consultations in Brussels on 8 November. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attended the informal Heads of Government meeting in Lahti on 20 October where the EU expressed its concerns about media freedom in Russia following the tragic murder of Anna Politkovskaya.