My Lords, UK Ministers and officials frequently discuss relations with Georgia and Ukraine with French counterparts in Paris, Brussels and in the region. In addition, there are intensive consultations at EU level. The Foreign Secretary most recently discussed Georgia and Ukraine with his EU counterparts at the European Council yesterday and the Prime Minister is likely to discuss this subject at the European Council today.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is the position on financial and economic matters and on foreign policy now much more coherent and unified in the European Union as a result of recent ministerial meetings, and in this field with the very successful meeting—so they say, anyway—between President Sarkozy and President Medvedev at Evian on 8 October? Given the perfectly valid enthusiasm of both Georgia and Ukraine to have stronger links with the European Union, can that be achieved without offending Russian sensitivities as regards its own backyard?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s analysis of recent improvements, but it must be remembered at all times that both Georgia and Ukraine are independent countries which must be allowed to request their own futures in terms of organisations they want to join. There are various difficulties, as is the case with many countries which want to join NATO or the EU. It is very important that these countries should have the ability and the right to make their applications in the normal way and not feel threatened or under pressure not to do so.
My Lords, I have just returned from a visit to Ukraine as a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation. Is the Minister aware that Ukraine is wildly enthusiastic about joining both the European Community and NATO? The only difference as regards the views expressed in different parts of Ukraine and by different speakers seemed to be which one they considered more important to join first. However, I understand that there is a major problem with Ukraine’s gross domestic product. We should do everything we can to encourage Ukraine in that regard to improve people’s lives. I understand that British firms are improving land use in Ukraine.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. Ukraine is a huge country; it is the largest country in Europe in land size and it has a population of 46 million, so obviously British trade interests are very much involved. It is interesting to hear how keen the noble Baroness found Ukrainians were to be members of those organisations that we are members of. One of our concerns is that the political crisis in Ukraine makes it more difficult for it to carry on with the excellent work that it is doing on economic and political reform. We very much hope that the political crisis will be resolved by the use of democratic norms, and we are pretty sure that that is what will happen.
My Lords, as another member of the IPU delegation which visited Ukraine in September, I can confirm that the Foreign Secretary’s speech to the Ukraine the previous week was very well received. What view does my noble friend take of the forthcoming elections, where I am afraid that personalities rather than policies hold sway and are unlikely to change the jigsaw of the parties that will come to power? There will be a need to find solutions that take Ukraine forward, and I hope that the United Kingdom will play a vital role.
My Lords, my noble friend tempts me, but I must resist all his blandishments to comment on the political situation in Ukraine. It is for the Ukrainians to resolve their political issues. I made the point in answer to the previous question that the sooner the political crisis comes to an end, the quicker Ukraine can move on with the political and economic reform that it has achieved so far.
My Lords, does the EU civilian so-called peacekeeping mission in Georgia, which I think is mainly French and Italian-staffed, have access to the regions to which it needs to have access, or is it still being barred by the Russians? On a wider basis, is it our Government’s view that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should still be part of Georgia? Do we reject the Russian support for their independence? Is that also the French view? Is there a common EU view on these matters or is there some rather deep division about how one should face the Russian demand for their independence?
My Lords, our view is clearly that we will not support the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We believe that they are integral parts of Georgia. As I understand it, that is the view of the EU, and the Russian declaration of support for their independence was not at all in line with EU thinking. I understand that the monitors are enjoying freedom of movement.
My Lords, will the Government exercise extreme care in distinguishing between membership of NATO as opposed to membership of the EU? There is a great danger of provoking the Russians if membership of NATO was allowed to go through without consideration of the obligations of the existing members of NATO to defend any incident in the Ukraine or Georgia.
My Lords, as always, my noble and learned friend makes an excellent point. NATO membership and EU membership are two hugely different topics. The British Government are very well aware of the differences between them. In general terms, we are in favour of NATO membership for both countries. That is the general decision that was taken at the Bucharest summit. The issues that arise are when and how.
My Lords, given what has happened in the present conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are the Government doing their best with their European Union partners to make sure that the present conflict in Moldova with Transnistria is resolved? Transnistria is a semi-criminal non-state with all sorts of things being smuggled through it, just as South Ossetia has been. The conflict has been badly neglected by west European Governments. Are we now going to move as fast as we can to try to resolve that conflict in eastern Europe?