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Volume 788: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking with the international community to ensure that Russia respects the territorial integrity of Georgia and withdraws its troops from Georgian soil.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed Georgia with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow. The UK is a staunch supporter of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Last year we supported two UN resolutions on Georgia’s breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia using OSCE statements to call out Russian activities; we have funded secondees to the EU monitoring mission and contributed to NATO and other international efforts to build Georgian resilience to Russian pressure.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. It is coming up to 10 years since the Russia-Georgian war, and after all that time Russia is still in control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia while its troops are camped only 20 miles from the capital city, Tbilisi. Furthermore, it was reported last year that Russia has been moving its control points forward by several hundred yards, to the dismay of local farmers. Does the Minister not agree that this position is totally unacceptable and that it would be fatal for the international community to acquiesce to it in any way? We need new initiatives to get Russia to respect Georgian integrity.

The noble and right reverend Lord is of course right to point out the recent attempts by Russia to further strengthen its intervention in the breakaway regions. I assure all noble Lords that the Government continue to use all their international influence. Most notably, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met with the Georgian Prime Minister in the margins of a recent meeting in Brussels, where the integrity of Georgia, concerning specifically the two regions the noble and right reverend Lord mentioned, were discussed and prioritised. We continue to support that. We of course continue to support the efforts currently under way in Geneva in this respect.

My Lords, obviously next week the NATO military committee will meet to discuss defence resilience in Georgia. Also, just before Christmas the EU high representative made a statement on the situation, particularly on the peacebuilding efforts of the EU. Will the Minister tell us how much the Government are involved in those peacebuilding efforts to ensure we have a solution that does not involve more war?

The noble Lord may well be aware—I have already alluded to it—of a recent bilateral meeting between our Prime Minister and the Georgian Prime Minister. We continue to support Georgian efforts within Georgia itself on the specific issues he raised on enhancing and securing the democracy that is currently in play. We want to further ensure its sustainability. Indeed, we are providing additional funding in the region of £5.5 million to support it. We stand behind Georgian integrity. We make that point to the Georgians bilaterally and we have made it clear in our interactions with the Russians. We continue to do it through all international engagement, including in the EU.

My Lords, does the Minister recall how much British policy towards Georgia in the 26 years since it became independent has been closely co-ordinated with other EU member states? I recall, on one visit to Tbilisi, being invited by the British ambassador to sit in on one of these meetings in which EU ambassadors were drafting a joint report. I know that they had joint meetings with local Russian representatives, with the OSCE and with the Georgian Government. When will the Government explain to Parliament how they will organise continuing co-ordination with our European partners, with whom we share very common interests in this area, after we leave the European Union?

As the noble Lord will be aware from his own experience, it is not just our relationship through the EU. That will remain important once we leave the EU, but those relationships continue through other fora as well, such as membership of NATO—there are alliances there—and through the Security Council. France is a notable and permanent member and we can have candid discussions with other permanent members, such as Russia, which has a key influence in Georgia. I assure the noble Lord—indeed, the whole House—that we will continue to strengthen our international relationships, not just in Georgia. Where we need to work constructively, progressively and proactively with European partners we will continue to do so.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that we need to tread with great care here? One of the reasons for the tension and difficulty is the very loose talk there was some years ago about Georgia becoming part of NATO and the threat that that was to Russia as it stood at the time. We need to be extremely careful not to make this a real cause célèbre. We need to try to defuse some of these areas because the tension between Putin and ourselves is too great anyway.

The noble Lord raises an important issue. It is why we have been working on not just restating the importance of the territorial sovereignty of Georgia, but building sustainable democracy in Georgia. The noble Lord is also quite right to point out the importance of the Russian relationship. Therefore I was delighted, as I am sure all noble Lords acknowledged, that for the first time in almost six years we had a Foreign Secretary visit Russia. He had a very constructive and open dialogue with the Russians on a variety of issues, including the current situation in Georgia.

Could the Minister identify those sovereign states that specifically guaranteed the integrity of this country upon it achieving statehood? Is that not an agreement binding in public international law still?

All noble Lords will be aware that, with the exception of Russia, as I mentioned, there are only, as I understand it, three countries—Nicaragua and Venezuela are two—which have actually recognised the two breakaway republics. To answer the question in reverse, all countries with the exception of those four recognise internationally the territorial sovereignty, including that of Georgia, over the two breakaway regions.

My Lords, do the Government agree that your Lordships’ collective wisdom would be of value to them in the controversial area of our relations with Russia generally? If so, will they consider arranging a full debate here before too long?

The collective wisdom of your Lordships’ House is of great value to the Government in all instances. As for a debate on Russia, I am sure that the appropriate usual channels will accommodate that request.