Anglo-Soviet Relations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:25 pm on 14th March 1991.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:25 pm, 14th March 1991

The point I am making is simply that in my judgment those changes could not have come about had it not been for the personal commitment of President Gorbachev. It is an example of the influence of an individual on history, not of the effect of the interplay of some anonymous swirl of forces in the economic substructure. We can continue that theoretical argument elsewhere, at a different time.

We are seeing the emergence of a new world order. The Gulf crisis showed that there is probably now only one super-power, at least politically and militarily—the United States, joined on the economic front by Japan and Germany.

We are also witnessing a period of rapid change within the Soviet Union and one is bound to ask how permanent it is. Is the present period of indecision merely a pause or smoking break, is it irreversible, and is there a real danger of a stepping back, as the darker forces of the KGB and the Russian army take over whatever reforming impulses President Gorbachev may yet have?

Who knows what shape the USSR will eventually assume? It is generally acknowledged that, as a consequence of the Soviet Union's policies of the past five years, the genie of reform is out of the bottle and there is no way that a more repressive regime could squeeze it back for any length of time. That is the context of change in the Soviet Union, within which we must formulate our bilateral policy.

My hon. Friend spoke of a bilateral relationship between England—I would prefer to say Britain—and the Soviet Union, but in no wise did he refer to the European Community. We must surely accept that is now the forum in which much of our policy is formulated.

The Community responded speedily to the killings by forces loyal to the Kremlin in Vilnius on 13 January and in Riga on 20 January, by suspending the aid package of food and technical assistance for the Soviet Union that it had prepared. If Britain alone had taken that action, it would have had very little effect; because it was taken with the full weight of the Community behind it, the effect was substantial.

One looks back over 10 years to the beginnings of the new cold war and of the concept of the evil empire and forward to the next 10 years of a highly uncertain and possibly unstable Soviet Union. The balance within the USSR may change. Some argue that, over the next decade, its present nature will alter dramatically, and that there will only be left the core of the Russian federation—Byelorussia, the Ukraine, and Khazakstan—with not only the other existing republics, including the Baltics, but the Asian republics forming a looser confederation that may have no relationship with the core.

What will be the relationship of that core Soviet Union with the new Europe? We cannot attempt to answer that question tonight, but, in terms of our bilateral relationships, it is in our interests to respond sensibly to the major internal changes that are now under way in the Soviet Union. It is not in our interests to promote instability. The picture of a series of loose cannons jolting and knocking around the deck will make anyone who is seriously concerned about the future of our continent shudder.

As a country, and as part of the European Community, we have every interest in seeking ever closer co-operation with the Soviet Union, but that must be a conditional co-operation—conditional on the acceptance of basic human rights within the Soviet Union. That was our theme two weeks ago—the European Community and its relationship with eastern Europe and the USSR. The consensus in the House was that we supported Gorbachev the reformer, but not Gorbachev the man no matter what he may do. Therefore, a strong human rights theme underpins the development of our policies towards the Soviet Union.

Clearly, a strong effort needs to be made in this country to understand the Soviet Union more. I recall—I think that it was in the 1960s—that the policy formulators created the Hayter fund in our universities. Alas, within our educational structure, the commitment to the Hayter fund seems to have waned substantially. Whether we should seek to breathe new life into the academic study of the Soviet Union and other exchanges is a matter for our policy makers to consider. Clearly there has been a decline in that relationship.

Wherever possible we should seek to encourage co-operation and dialogue. In the internal debate within the Soviet Union, especially in relation to the Baltics, we must try to understand, and to be respected by both sides. So far as we are able, we must try to play a constructive role, recognising, for example, the complexity of the problems relating to the Baltics and the substantial Soviet interests which remain in those republics because of the military and economic integration which has taken place, for good or ill, in the past 50 years.

There are major things that we and our European partners can do, which the United States, because of its history and geography, would never be able to do, as we seek constructively to define the common European home, to which President Gorbachev alluded. Clearly, that common European home was not possible when, as one hon. Member said, there was a wall through the front room—through Berlin. Now that the Berlin wall has gone, there are possibilities for much greater co-operation.

Within that common European home which will evolve—and evolve constructively—as we try to understand the Soviet Union, its problems and the internal changes, we believe that we can live together, work together and trade together in a constructive and positive way.