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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 6:44 pm, 13th October 2008

I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that comment, as it is absolutely outrageous. I am not apologising for anybody. I am simply saying that the behaviour of the Georgian Government in August, when they were advised not to take the action that they did, played into the hands of Putin and allowed the pre-planned package of rapidly moving forces to annex those two areas in Georgia. We can go into the long history of the situation, but interestingly South Ossetia and Abkhazia had autonomy when the Soviet Union broke up. In 1991, the first President of Georgia, Gamsakhurdia, cancelled that autonomy. Since then, it has been a so-called frozen conflict. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers—some Russian, some Georgian—were there but made no real efforts to resolve the conflict, so it festered.

There are other frozen conflicts: Transnistria; the conflict between Nakichevan, Armenia and Azerbaijan; and, of course, Nagorno-Karabakh. Many conflicts, which could explode at any time, are consequences of the break-up of the former Soviet Union. We need to be aware of them, and as Europeans we need to be more active in doing something about them, especially as they border our continent or form part of it. The Russians need to be condemned and criticised and we ought not to pull our punches. If small countries decide to poke the bear and it lashes out, they should be told to be a little calmer, otherwise there will be consequences that are dangerous for the rest of the world and for the people in those countries.

We can have that discussion another time, but those of us in NATO and in the European Union should be cautious about taking simplistic positions and saying, "Once you're a democracy, you are automatically part of our family and regardless of what you do, or how you behave, there is an article 5 guarantee. We will sign up to defend you whatever you do." That is extremely dangerous and as Europeans on the western side of the continent we need to tell some of our fellow Europeans on the other side of the continent that although we understand their situation and are concerned about it, they should not behave in a short-sighted and dangerous way.

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