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House of Commons Hansard
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Russia: Diplomatic Relations
15 May 2018
Volume 641
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9. What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s diplomatic relations with Russia. [905289]

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Russia’s use of an illegal nerve agent in Salisbury was met with an unprecedented global, diplomatic rebuff, in the sense that 28 countries expelled a total of 153 diplomats. The House will understand, therefore, the balance between the UK and Russia in expulsions of operatives: we lost a handful of people involved in the security side, while they lost about 153 across the world—a massive net loss for Russia and a significant gain for the UK. But we remain committed to a policy of engaging with Russia, while being wary of what they do.

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Despite the fact that oil and gas exports make up 70% of Russia’s international trade, they are not currently covered under the EU sanctions regime due to the high reliance of the EU on Russian gas exports. After our exit from the European Union, would that be a sensible extra measure for us to take that might assist with our diplomatic efforts?

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We will, of course, consider all possibilities once we exit the European Union and take back control of our sanctions policy.

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At the European championships in 2016, Russian hooligans showed themselves to be organised, well armed and extremely violent. British fans’ safety must be our top priority at the World cup. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the British diplomat responsible for fans’ safety at the World cup was expelled by Russia? If so, how can the Government even contemplate relying on Russian reassurances that our fans will be safe?

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We are not actively trying to dissuade fans preparing to go to Russia for the World cup, as we do not think that would be right. They should look at our “Be on the Ball” website and the risks that we believe may be associated with any particular venues. But it is up to the Russians, and on their honour, to guarantee the safety of not just British fans, but fans from around the world.

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21. Does my right hon. Friend share the widespread concern about Nord Stream 2, the proposed Russian gas pipeline? Does he agree that there appears to be no economic justification for it? It is instead a political project, designed to increase European dependence on Russian gas and weaken Ukraine. Will he press that point on our allies—particularly Germany and Denmark? [905301]

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I assure my right hon. Friend that we in the UK Government are well aware of the deep controversy surrounding Nord Stream 2. We raise it not just in Ukraine but with other European friends and partners.

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Earlier, the Foreign Secretary indicated the diplomatic headcount exchange. How would he describe current diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Russia? Are they likely to change in the near future?

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I can sum up our policy, which I repeat to the House: engage but beware. We will continue, where necessary and possible, to engage with Russia diplomatically and culturally across the field. But relations are currently, of course, difficult.

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In firmly supporting the Government’s robust response to the malign actions of the Putin regime, may I remind my right hon. Friend that in the cold war we had the best civil servants and an enormous infrastructure based on preparation for strategic arms limitation talks? That kind of engagement is as vital today, and I hope that the Government are putting equal resources into it.

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My right hon. Friend raises an extremely good point. As I think he is indicating, we are increasingly concerned about a Russian breach of the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. There will have to be much more international engagement to keep that treaty intact.