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House of Commons Hansard
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18 October 2016
Volume 615
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2. What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s relations with the Russian Federation. [906638]

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Of course it is right that the UK and the Russian Federation should continue to co-operate and to engage in all the areas where we have common interests, but in view of the ruthless and brutal behaviour of the Russians in Ukraine and in Syria, I hope the House will agree that it is right that the UK should be in the lead in keeping the pressure on sanctions, and it cannot be business as usual with Russia.

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I agree. Putin’s behaviour has been despicable: murdering his own opponents—assassinating political opponents such as Boris Nemtsov—as well as the invasion of Georgia and Crimea, and now the despicable behaviour in Syria, where he tries to draw a moral equivalence between British and American bombing of military installations run by Daesh and Russia’s and Assad’s bombing of innocent civilians in hospitals in Aleppo. This is immoral. I am not sure that demonstrations outside the Russian embassy will make any odds, but what might make a difference is if we stopped Putin’s cronies coming to London. Why on earth do we still allow those who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky to come to this country? Will the Foreign Secretary go and demonstrate against the Home Secretary to make sure she changes the rules?

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I am grateful for the question, because the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that there is no symmetry whatever between the actions of the Russians and the Assad regime, and the Americans and others on the other side. Just in the last 11 months, Russian bombing alone has been responsible for the deaths of 3,189 civilians, of whom 763 were children. In those circumstances, it is absolutely right that we should be keeping up the sanctions regime not just on Russia but on key members—key associates—of the Putin regime.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the particularly vile activities, which he has so eloquently described, of Russia in Syria have been allowed to happen because of several years of weakness and inconsistency in western policy towards that area? Does he further agree that if we want to hold the ring, the importance of being seen to be absolutely solidly behind NATO has never been stronger?

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My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right to say that the vacuum left by the decision of, I am afraid, this House and, indeed, the Obama Administration in 2013 not to oppose the Assad regime has allowed the Russians to move into that space. It is vital that we keep up the pressure not just with sanctions but with the threat of justice in the International Criminal Court.

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Is it not unfortunate that, in Russia itself, print and social media are being gagged? Hence the reason I have little sympathy for the complaints made today by Russia Today, which is undoubtedly a form of propaganda constantly used by Putin and his gang. What is now happening as far as the media are concerned is surely the same as happened under communism and, before that, tsarism: repression at home, and hostility and aggression abroad.

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I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I noted the decision of NatWest bank to withdraw support for RT. That was a wholly independently taken decision, I wish to assure the House, in spite of what we may have heard this morning from Moscow. One of the things we are doing to promote free and fair information in Russia is, of course, to support the BBC World Service.

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Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian film maker imprisoned for 20 years in Russia for his pro-Ukrainian views. Will the Government send a strong message to the Russian Government condemning Sentsov’s imprisonment and demanding his immediate release?

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We are indeed concerned by the number of Ukrainian nationals who have voiced their opposition to what has happened—the illegal annexation of Crimea—and who face lengthy jail sentences, including Mr Sentsov and Mr Oleksandr Kolchenko. We are appealing to the Russian authorities to release them immediately.

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Last March, President Putin was praised for his ruthless clarity in retaking Palmyra. By August, the Foreign Secretary had said that he wanted to normalise relationships with Russia, and last week he called for the people to demonstrate outside the Russian embassy in London. Where is the political consistency, and how does this approach build trust in the diplomatic community?

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I think the House will have heard very clearly that on matters where we can co-operate with Russia it is absolutely vital that we do so. On the point about demonstrations outside the Russian embassy, I merely draw attention to the paradox and the peculiarity that the Stop the War Coalition has never seen fit to demonstrate against the barbarism taking place in Aleppo.

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Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to welcome the visit this week of Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is meeting the Queen? I know a bit about Russian Orthodoxy, having been married within the Church. The Russian Orthodox Church has suffered appallingly, particularly in Soviet times, but it is growing now. This is an opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to make it clear that whatever our differences with the Russian Government at the moment, we have absolutely nothing but support for the Russian people and her faith, and their perseverance in times of trial.

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I defer to my hon. Friend’s knowledge of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is important that we keep open all lines of communication. Archbishop Kirill may have some interesting points to make. It would be even more important if he took back a message from the UK that we do not tolerate what is happening in Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, and, above all, in Syria. I hope that his visit will be a factor for change in the Kremlin.