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Oleg Gordievsky

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 7 March 1996

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3.10 p.m.

What representations they have made to the Government of the Russian Federation about the death sentence passed against Mr. Oleg Gordievsky by the Soviet authorities in 1985, which remains valid today even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, Mr. Gordievsky is a British citizen, and Russia is a member of the Council of Europe.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we have made no representations to the Russian Government about the death sentence passed on Oleg Gordievsky, nor has Mr. Gordievsky asked us to do so.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. But does she share my view that the Russian Federation's willingness to cancel the death sentence and indeed to pardon Mr. Gordievsky would be seen as a measure of the new Russia's willingness to live in peace with the western world, with Partnership for Peace, and with the principles of the Council of Europe? Does she think it would be very desirable that the Russians should do away with that death sentence?

My Lords, the whole question of whether the Russians should give it up or not is entirely for them. But we expect Russia to respect the conditions imposed by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and we expect Russia to meet its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. We shall work with Russia to help achieve its goals there.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Mr. Gordievsky served our intelligence services with great courage? Is it not anomalous that the authorities should maintain a sentence of death on him? Will she go further and ask the Russian Government to consider that point?

No, my Lords. The Government take the view that any decision to maintain and implement the death penalty is a matter for each state. We do not believe that there is a problem for Mr. Gordievsky now.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there have been any representations regarding other defectors—not connected with the KGB, but soldiers and others who are afraid to go back home—and whether a general amnesty might be considered?

My Lords, to the best of my knowledge there has been no such application for an amnesty. I shall look into the matter and if there is further information I shall let my noble friend know.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the death sentence cannot be a matter for the Russian Government only? Mr. Gordievsky is a British citizen.

My Lords, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and the member states' governments will monitor progress on Russia's compliance with commitments. But, as I said earlier, I do not believe that this matter is now the problem that it was in 1985 when the situation in Russia was extremely different and indeed when Mr. Gordievsky had not qualified to become a British citizen.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as a consequence of accession to membership of the Council of Europe, Russia will be monitored carefully over an initial three-year period by the Legal Committee of the Council of Europe? Is she further aware that the Russian authorities have said to the relevant authorities in the Council of Europe that on the issue of capital punishment this is to cease forthwith?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the information in the second part of his Question, which I shall not repeat. The situation in Russia has changed dramatically. Long may that change continue and the country continue to modernise. In the same way the situation of which we now speak, some 10 years on, has greatly changed. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the Minister said that Mr. Gordievsky had made no representations for help from the British Government. Can she reveal whether or not there has been any contact between the British ambassador or a member of the embassy with Mr. Gordievsky?

My Lords, there is no reason why that should be so. As my noble friend knows, this is a matter for a British citizen now. If he had any representations to make they would be made here in London.