Skip to main content


Volume 778: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of the change of administration in the United States, they intend to re-evaluate United Kingdom relations with Russia.

My Lords, the Government’s objectives on Russia have not changed. They remain to protect UK interests and those of our allies, uphold the rules-based international order in the face of Russian challenges, engage with Russia in key areas of shared interest, promote our values including the rule of law and human rights, and build stronger links between the British and Russian peoples. The new Administration in the US do not alter these objectives.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. Do the Government understand that there was considerable anger in the United States at what was seen as Europe—not Britain, but Europe—not pulling its weight, particularly in defence matters? People in Louisiana cannot see why they pay 3.3% while people in Latvia, in return for an Article 5 guarantee, pay 1.1%. Therefore it is not unreasonable that the new United States Administration may be seeking a further means of détente. Will we support them in so far as we can?

My Lords, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met President Trump last week, she confirmed not only that they had agreed to lay the groundwork for a future trade deal but that he had confirmed that he was 100% behind NATO. However, it is right that all members of NATO pay their fair share. We shall certainly encourage other members to do so. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister also advised clearly that in relations with Russia, it is a matter of “engage but beware”.

Would we not send the most dangerous and perverse signal to Russia, and indeed to any potential aggressor anywhere in the world, and greatly undermine the credibility of the western world if we were to lift sanctions without Russia having begun to fulfil her obligations under the Minsk agreements?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that we will support the continuation of sanctions until and unless all the aspects of the Minsk agreements are met. That is essential.

My Lords, do the Government agree that the treatment of Russian minorities in the Baltic states has been unhelpful to harmony with Russia? If so, what are they and the multicultural but ineffective European Union doing about it?

My Lords, I would say many things about the European Union, but I would never call it ineffectual. It is because of some of its effects, perhaps, that the British people decided that they wished to leave the European Union when they cast their votes last year. With regard to the specific issue of ethnic minorities, as I made clear in my Answer, we are a strong supporter of human rights. We will continue to argue that point in our relationship with Russia.

My Lords, given the importance of co-ordinating our relations with Russia with our European partners, particularly with regard to Ukraine and the other countries round Russia’s western border, how do the Government intend to maintain that close co-ordination as we withdraw from the mechanisms of European foreign policy co-operation?

My Lords, on a previous occasion I have been able to make it clear that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is already putting in place the opportunity to expand our network throughout the other member states of the European Union. Our bilateral relationships should therefore remain strong and develop to be even stronger as and when we leave the European Union.

My Lords, would it be helpful if the Government, in the Security Council, resolved to endeavour to complete uncompleted Wilsonian principles as to when the right of self-determination supersedes that of territorial integrity, to remove all question of doubt?

My Lords, we can learn from history. We can certainly learn to engage with Russia and to engage even more closely with our allies in the United States, as I mentioned yesterday. Sometimes it seems at the moment that policy development is, in the polite phrase that I think I used, evolving and rather confusing. That makes it difficult to be able to give the noble Viscount a satisfactory answer at this particular moment.

My Lords, will my noble friend take this opportunity, amid all the media froth, to emphasise the importance of the commitment which the Prime Minister obtained from President Trump to NATO, on which the security of Europe and indeed the West depends?

My Lords, as I mentioned a moment ago, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister indeed raised that very issue in the press conference. It is absolutely vital that we have that commitment, and it has been given by President Trump.

My Lords, if we can learn from history, as the Minister states, could she say whether her department does an assessment and evaluation after state visits? Did it do so after President Putin visited the country and might it repeat that in the future?

My Lords, matters relating to state visits are decided by a committee whose members come from across Whitehall, including of course from No. 10 Downing Street. I am sure that all departments reflect on the success of every single state visit.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the things that international diplomacy should seek is common ground between all these countries? In the case of the United States and Russia—and of course us—one important bit of common ground is fighting ISIS. We can also bring in the other two permanent members of the Security Council, France and China, on that. But apart from the military aspect, the aim should be to ensure secular rather than theocratic Governments. That is the only long-term route to peace.

My Lords, we of course work towards the principle that it is for the people of the country to decide the status of any Government in free and fair elections, which should include votes for every single person qualifying and involve no duress. I would not say that I would ban one particular type of democratic government, if properly chosen. With regard to the unity of the strongest powers in the world—as the P5 at the UN may be defined—it is essential that we find common ground to resolve conflicts. I am delighted that Russia, Turkey and Iran all recognised, at the Astana talks on Syria, the primacy of the UN in resolving those issues.