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Volume 817: debated on Tuesday 11 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current situation in Kazakhstan.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I declare that I am a vice-chair of the APPG for Kazakhstan.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is deeply concerned by and condemns the violence and destruction of property in Kazakhstan during the past week, particularly in the city of Almaty. We greatly regret the loss of life and send condolences to the families of all the deceased. I spoke directly with the Kazakh ambassador to the United Kingdom on 6 January and then with Deputy Foreign Minister Alimbayev on 7 January. As the situation stabilises, we will continue to engage directly with our Kazakh counterparts to gain insights into the chain of events.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his response. On 2 January, there were demonstrations in Kazakhstan; President Tokayev responded positively and took appropriate measures to rectify the situation. He also made some political changes. It would seem, however, that there were rioters, and violent action was taken by the Government against them. As members of the CSTO, they have asked for help from that organisation. I would add that President Tokayev has announced reforms in the Parliament there today. Will my noble friend comment on what I have said? Furthermore—

My Lords, I recognise the role that my noble friend plays in the region and with Kazakhstan. Of course, as I have already said, we condemn the acts of violence and destruction of property. We have noted, as he did, President Tokayev’s recent speeches, including his recent statement to Parliament and his speech to the virtual summit of the CSTO in which he described the events in Almaty and other cities across Kazakhstan as an attempted coup and gave a detailed outline of the very serious violence perpetrated. We continue to press for ensuring, through the intervention of the CSTO, the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Kazakhstan and the return of all other troops from the CSTO at the earliest opportunity.

My Lords, in light of the bloodshed and loss of life in Kazakhstan, should we not be more cautious about being too admiring of what Mr Tokayev has been saying? Has the Minister seen the reports of the orders given by him to the 2,500 mainly Russian soldiers in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation to shoot without warning?

My Lords, I agree, and assure the noble Lord that in my engagement directly with the Deputy Foreign Minister the importance and centrality of respecting human rights, including the right to peaceful protest, was a point I certainly emphasised. The noble Lord is right to raise the statements that have been made. We are calling for calm and respect for and a return to full rights of protest for citizens in Kazakhstan.

My Lords, Kazakhstan’s President said he expected Russian-led forces to leave in the next 10 days. Bearing in mind what the noble Lord just said, what is the department’s assessment of that statement? Last night, I asked the noble Lord about the public register of beneficial owners of overseas entities that buy and sell property in the UK. A recent Chatham House report showed that the Kazakh elite own over half a billion pounds in luxury property in the UK. When will we act on corruption in this country?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first question, of course it was through the CSTO, of which Kazakhstan is an integral part, together with Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kurdistan and Armenia, that the President invited those troops in. We have been reassured, through our engagement with the ambassador, that there is a scaling down and that a return will begin very shortly. On the noble Lord’s point about those who use London as a safe haven, I assure him that we continue to be very vigilant to this. As he may be aware, we have cracked down on illicit finance through, for example, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and we have already published our ambitious economic crime plan for 2019-22. We will be going further in tackling dirty money. The National Crime Agency, for example, has increased the number of its investigations into corrupt elites, as he termed them, and the Government are reviewing all tier 1 investor visas granted before 5 April 2015.

My Lords, the deaths in the anti-corruption protests are truly tragic but, as was said, the Chatham House report, The UK’s Kleptocracy Problem, highlights in very stark detail the fact that the corruption reaches as far as here in London. It also says that the Government have failed to act. In its fifth summary point, it says that:

“Westminster—and the Conservative parliamentary party in particular—may be open to influence from wealthy donors who originate from post-Soviet kleptocracies, and who may retain fealty to these regimes.”

When will the Government act, and why does Chatham House draw its conclusion about the vulnerability of Westminster and the Conservative Party in particular?

My Lords, our own democracy is protected and robust, and there are specific rules that govern any kind of donations to any party. All parties need to be vigilant and adhere to those. As I have already indicated, the Government have taken direct steps on tackling illicit finance and will continue to do so.

My Lords, have Her Majesty’s Government made any assessment of the impact of this instability on the wider region, particularly given Kazakhstan’s proximity to China, its very strong cultural relationships with Turkey, and its importance for the stability of the southern republics and those nations that lie below it?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to draw attention to the location of Kazakhstan and the impact of the situation on its near neighbours. I have recently assumed responsibility for central Asia in the FCDO and I am seeing how we can work with others, directly and bilaterally with other key alliances and partners, to ensure greater stability not just in Kazakhstan but in the wider region.

Does the Minister agree that this is an example of how regimes that suppress all opposition and brand it terrorism end up creating dangerous and violent outcomes, which are the only opportunity left for dissent?

My Lords, as I have said, we have made very clear through our direct exchanges with my Kazakh counterparts the importance of upholding human rights—the right to free protest and the right to challenge Governments. We have been reassured by statements and comments made recently but, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, it is about not just statements but actions. We are observing the situation very closely.

My Lords, is not one of the drivers behind Kazakhstan’s unacceptable aggression America’s unrelenting desire to foment trouble in former Soviet satellite states? If our policy is to promote democratic values in Kazakhstan, would it not be more effective to foster a very different policy approach from that adopted by the Americans and challenge many of the decisions they are now taking in eastern Europe?

My Lords, my job is to speak not for the American Government but for Her Majesty’s Government. We are engaging constructively on the principles of democracy, and thriving democracy means that all human rights are respected—the rights to media freedom, to freedom of religion and to protest. We make those points consistently in international alliances and directly with countries, as we are doing today with Kazakhstan.

My Lords, where is our moral compass? These are Soviet-style atrocities, yet we are propping up the commercial law regime through our senior judges. The Minister does not appear to be clear enough in recognising that ordinary people are being murdered on the streets of Almaty by a corrupt regime. Should we not be standing against this Soviet-style authoritarianism?

My Lords, I beg to disagree with the noble Lord. We have been very clear; in my statements I have highlighted, most importantly and centrally, the engagement on adherence. Kazakhstan recognises itself as a democracy, which means protecting human rights and the rights of citizens to protest. We have made that point very clearly. The situation remains fluid, if somewhat more stabilised today, and we are observing it very closely. We will continue to exert maximum influence in our relationship with Kazakhstan and build on it.

My Lords, Vladimir Putin suggested that the protesters were external forces. Does the Minister think that Vladimir Putin knows something that the rest of us do not? What does he think the causes of the protests really are?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point this out. Various descriptions have been given of the protests. As she will be aware, they started because of the energy crisis and fuel prices in Kazakhstan. That perhaps demonstrates —the facts are still emerging—other reasons and concerns that the citizens of Kazakhstan have. As to what the protesters’ reasoning is and who they are, we have noted quite carefully the statements made and I have pressed directly that, if there is evidence of that kind of interference, we should be informed accordingly.