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Russia: Alexei Navalny

Volume 811: debated on Thursday 22 April 2021

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Russia regarding the treatment of imprisoned Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

My Lords, on 19 April the Foreign Secretary underlined that Russia is responsible for Alexei Navalny’s deteriorating health, and that Mr Navalny must be given immediate access to independent medical care and released from his politically motivated detention. We continue to raise Mr Navalny’s case regularly with Russia, most recently through the British embassy in Moscow on 15 April, and to work with partners to hold Russia to account in multilateral fora, including via the OPCW.

I thank the Minister for that Answer but let us be clear what is happening here: Vladimir Putin is directing the slow murder of his main rival as the world looks on. This is not simply an internal matter. The Russian troops amassed on the Ukraine border point to the consequences of letting Putin think he can trample on the rule of law without comeback. Will the Government undertake to increase the number of individuals—Putin’s cronies—being sanctioned by the UK every day until Mr Navalny is released?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. It is a rather perverse situation, with the ruling of 2 February meaning that the very person fighting for democratic rights, who was himself a victim of a direct attack by the Russian state, is now being imprisoned. I agree about increasing pressure and we are doing just that bilaterally and through multilateral fora. On the specific issue of sanctions, I cannot speculate on the future but, as the noble Lord will acknowledge, we have already taken quite specific sanctions against six individuals and an institution because of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.

My Lords, Alexei Navalny’s life is in danger for his campaign against corruption. Up to half of all money laundered out of Russia is still done through the United Kingdom. We have a responsibility, yet there has been no action on golden visas nor powers to sanction corrupt officials and, three years after the Salisbury attack, the Government have failed to fully implement any of the recommendations set out in the Russia report. Also, is the Minister not concerned that, from when David Cameron became leader of his party, almost £5 million has been received by it in Russian-linked donations?

My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, we are taking quite specific steps to fight corruption and illicit finance. Indeed, he will be aware that we are in the process of looking at broadening the sanctions application to include illicit financing and corruption. On the specific issue of the Russia report, among other steps, I assure him that we will introduce new legislation to provide Security Service and law enforcement agencies with the tools that they need to tackle the evolving threat. On visas, we are reviewing all tier 1 visas granted before 5 April 2015.

My Lords, what liaison are the Government having with our European allies over Mr Navalny’s case? Does he agree that we must ensure that sanctions are comprehensive and effective, and that at the moment they are neither?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the sanctions that have already been imposed on the individuals that I mentioned in my response to an earlier question were done in conjunction with our European Union partners. We continue to sustain those sanctions. I think the fact that Russia has taken note and looks to react to this shows the effectiveness of those tools. I repeat once again, and I know the noble Baroness agrees, that whatever we do with sanctions we must continue to work with our close allies, including those in the EU.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walney, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. I want to ask a question that is a variant of the one that I asked on Monday about Hong Kong: what practical and effective steps can the United Kingdom take, both alone and with our allies, to ensure that, first, Mr Navalny is not murdered or left to die in prison; secondly, that Russia’s nascent democracy is not snuffed out; and, thirdly, that the Russian Government are not tempted to distract from their domestic, political and economic problems by foreign adventures calculated to destabilise their neighbours?

My Lords, my noble and learned friend raises some important points. I assure him that the United Kingdom is taking actions quite directly, including, as I have alluded to, with sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans. We are acting with our key partners to ensure that a clear message is sent to the Russian state, most recently on 19 April. The Foreign Secretary issued a statement asking for the immediate release of Mr Navalny from detention. We are working through key multilateral organisations. The UK led a G7 statement. Today we are awaiting statements due to be issued as a response at the OCPW. There are OSCE statements today on Mr Navalny and media freedom, and a European human rights ambassadors statement today covering this issue.

My Lords, will the Minister spell out in detail what new steps are being taken to stop money laundering from Russia through London? That, more than anything, will probably hit hardest those who need to have their minds focused by this outrageous issue.

My Lords, I have already detailed some of the steps that we are taking and will continue to take. I agree with the noble Lord that far too much of such money comes through the City of London, and we must seek to ensure the robustness of our regime so that such illicit finance and money does not pass through our country’s capital.

My Lords, while I acknowledge, as we must, that Mr Navalny is a political prisoner, does the Minister none the less accept the relevance of the proposition that

“the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”?—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/1910; col. 1354]

If so, he will be in very good company; it was first articulated by Winston Churchill in July 1910.

My Lords, following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Walney, when he asked his Question, why do we not take sanctions against a given number of people every week until Navalny is released from his appalling jail? Although we know that the Russians veto things at the Security Council, that is no reason for not having an internationally publicised debate on this issue.

My Lords, on my noble friend’s second point, we are doing just that, if not necessarily at the UN Security Council. I mentioned the OPCW earlier. There is a specific debate with the Russians, in a constructive fashion, saying: “There was a poisoning of Mr Navalny. Answer the case.” The Russians have not been forthcoming. On the issue of sanctions every day or what may happen in future, there are good reasons why we do not speculate, one of which is that an evidential threshold needs to be met. Anyone or any institution that is sanctioned has the right to appeal, and we need to ensure that the sanctions we impose are robust.

My Lords, UN human rights experts have urged Moscow to let Alexei Navalny be medically evaluated abroad. Can the Minister confirm what discussions are being held with the United Nations to ensure that all pressure is put on Moscow to allow an external medical evaluation to take place?

My Lords, there are two points in response to the noble Baroness’s question. First, we are calling for that kind of independent access to make that medical assessment with our key partners, within the context of our various representative bodies, such as the UN and the OPCW, as I suggested. Secondly, Russia is part and parcel of the Security Council. It is a P5 member. It has signed up to its responsibilities. It now needs to be seen not just to act but to act in this instance.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked some very good questions and the Minister outlined some measures that may be taken. What is the timetable for undertaking the measures he outlined? Secondly, one person’s political prisoner is not necessarily another’s. Can the Government have a quiet word with the Russians and point out that it is not a particularly good image if people die in custody, as I found out when I served in the European Parliament and Bobby Sands died?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, it was particularly interesting to hear the Russian Ambassador on UK media saying that Russia would do its utmost to ensure that that would not happen. On the specifics of the earlier question, I acknowledge that all the questions I get from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, are extremely good and challenging and that is the way it should be. I alluded to the fact that we have taken specific actions, including the review of tier 1. In pointing to the future, I have said that there will be specific legislation and when that is timetabled I will, of course, share that with my noble friend and your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, the mistreatment of Alexei Navalny on what appear to be trumped up charges ironically mirrors the treatment of Mr Magnitsky himself, after whom the sanctions are named, and could end with the same result. Resolute and firm action is required in conjunction with our many democratic allies throughout the world. Can the Minister confirm that such discussions are taking place and that the message is given to Russia in no uncertain terms that such behaviour has consequences?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and assure him that such discussions are taking place. We have seen co-ordination through the OSCE, work through the G7 and today at NATO there was a statement on a related subject: the expulsions by the Czech Republic of the Russian diplomats implicated in actions there. The individuals identified by the Czech Republic are the very same ones who carried out the Salisbury attack, so there is a lot of co-ordination.

Let us not forget that it is not just the international community. We have seen protests in 100 cities across Russia. The protests continue to be suppressed. We also need to stand up for the people of Russia: they are also asking for Alexei Navalny to be released. It is about time the Russians listened not only to the international community but to their own citizens.

My Lords, I am afraid we must wait until the time shown on the Order Paper for the next business. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn for two minutes.

Sitting suspended.