My Lords, we are encouraged by continuing progress in Georgia in building democracy and embedding reform, including the well conducted presidential election that took place on 27 October 2013 and the initialling of Georgia’s association agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit.
Following a period of cohabitation, Georgia now has a new President and Prime Minister, both from the same political coalition. The current political situation is calm but it will be important that parties work across the political divide in 2014 to ensure stability and that the rule of law is upheld.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. As he knows well, under the previous President, President Saakashvili, Georgia was a strongly pro-Europe country with a flourishing economy. The present Government seem a great enigma. Can the Minister enlighten the House with more detail about their political and economic policies? In particular, can he say something about their treatment of associates of the previous Government?
My Lords, the new Government are becoming a little less of an enigma as we get to know them better. There have been a number of exchanges. Their new Interior Minister was in London last week and a number of British Ministers have visited Tbilisi, including myself last year. We are coming to terms with the new Government, which sustain the European and Atlantic orientation of their predecessors. There are a number of worries about the treatment of former Ministers and officials of the previous Government. We are actively concerned with these and make representations to the new Government about them.
My Lords, there are still issues of division and conflict inside Georgia, as there are in Moldova and the Caucasus nearby. These have never been resolved and remain, in many ways, frozen. Do the Government believe that there is any benefit in the UK’s example of peaceful devolution being used to help move along some of the issues that have frozen these conflicts for so long?
My Lords, if it were possible to move towards peaceful devolution with Abkhazia and South Ossetia we would be very happy. The problem is that it is very difficult to get a dialogue going at all, although talks continue now between a new government representative in Georgia and the Russians. As he will know, the approach of the Sochi Olympics and the problems of the north Caucasus also affect Russian policy towards the south Caucasus.
My Lords, will the Minister tell us a little more about the relationship between Georgia and Russia and between us in the European Union and Russia? Russia has a crucial role to play but we hardly ever mention it. It is very hard to work out what Russian policy is in some of these areas.
My Lords, some years ago I said to one of my friends in Moscow that the Russian attitude to the Georgians reminds me very strongly of the English attitude to the Irish in about 1850. There is a certain refusal to accept that Georgia is an independent country, capable of governing itself. The new Government have tried to open a dialogue with the Russians. So far, the Kremlin has not been very open to responding to that dialogue.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as the Church of England’s lead bishop on Georgian affairs. Last year, I had the good fortune to meet the outgoing President Saakashvili and, independently, some of his associates. I then met a number of members of the present Government. The antagonism could be felt in both directions and was seriously affecting stability and development. The previous Government had done some good work on corruption, tax collection and so on. If the economy is to prosper, the next thing that needs to happen is a building up of the infrastructure. Can Her Majesty’s Government assure noble Lords that the new Government will do that?
My Lords, on my last visit to Tbilisi I had lunch with MPs from both the governing party and the opposition party. That would not have been possible in Armenia or Azerbaijan. One has to put these things in perspective. Yes, of course we are assisting with developing the infrastructure in Georgia. The European neighbourhood partnership is putting a lot of money into Georgia and, of course, BP and other foreign investors are also assisting with the development of the country.