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Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement on 10 September on the conflict in Georgia.

Since then, the Government have been actively engaged in multilateral efforts to resolve the conflict, both in supporting the Georgian Government and people as they try to recover, and in making it clear to Russia that we expect it to abide by its agreement with President Sarkozy. We have supported efforts by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the UN and EU to establish mechanisms that will provide independent monitoring of the situation on the ground in Georgia. I have made clear in discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that we reject unilateral Russian recognition of the breakaway territories and continued Russian military presence in Georgia. I have also visited both Georgia and Ukraine and assured them that the UK stands by their rights as sovereign countries to determine their own futures. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I met the Georgian Prime Minister during his visit on 19 September and discussed specific measures to help the Georgian economy. On 27 September, I met with President Saakashvili in New York and discussed the international peace talks to be held in Geneva on 15 October, reconstruction efforts and the importance of Georgia continuing its domestic reform programme.

We have engaged in intensive discussions with international partners, including through the UN, EU, NATO, G7 and OSCE, in order to help bring peace and stability to the region, to achieve a settlement based on recognition of and respect for Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as to address critical humanitarian needs, which includes the voluntary return of over 100,000 people displaced by the conflict. Whatever the wisdom of Georgian actions on 7 August, Russia’s response was entirely disproportionate. It has been widely condemned by EU, NATO and G7 Foreign Ministers. The encroachment of Russian military forces deep into Georgian territory beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the fighting violated Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russian actions, including recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, breach a number of UN resolutions that Russia has itself signed. The most recent was UN Security Council Resolution 1808, adopted with Russian support in April 2008, which explicitly “Reaffirms the commitment by all member states to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders”.

In the EU, the comprehensive review of EU-Russia relations has begun and will continue up to the next EU-Russia summit in Nice on 14 November. Negotiations on a new EU Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with Russia also remain suspended.

The agreement reached on 8 September between Presidents Sarkozy and Medvedev secured Russia’s commitment to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory outside the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in line with the six-point ceasefire plan brokered with the parties to the conflict on 12 August. Russia committed also to international discussions on future security modalities. On 15 September EU Foreign Ministers agreed to deploy an EU monitoring mission to the region adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That mission is now on the ground. The UK has contributed 19 monitors, two headquarters personnel and four armoured vehicles. The mission has a one year mandate to operate throughout Georgia. Its purpose is to monitor compliance with the ceasefire plan, with the aim of supporting efforts to ensure lasting peace and security in the region. More specifically, the mission will help to ensure the free movement of people and goods, as well as monitoring the human rights situation in Georgia and progress on the return of those displaced by the conflict. As such, it is vital that international monitors are afforded the access they need in order to enable them to carry out their mandate.

This mission meets the EU’s commitment to provide at least 200 unarmed civilian EU monitors to deploy to zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia by 1 October. We expect Russia to meet its commitment to withdraw its forces to their pre-conflict positions by 11 October. The UK is committed to the EU-led conference process due to start in Geneva on 15 October and which will examine ways to ensure security and stability in the region, to ensure protection of civilians, and to settle the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons on the basis of internationally recognised principles and established post-conflict resolution practice.

The UK will continue to work with international partners to ensure that effective support is given to Georgia and towards a lasting, peaceful solution.

I will continue to keep the House informed of developments.