Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:11 pm on 8th December 1999.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 3:11 pm, 8th December 1999

My Lords, I have no hesitation in giving the noble Lord the assurance that he seeks. Her Majesty's Government are working energetically in relation to this issue. We take the same stance in response to the Chechen position as we take in relation to any humanitarian difficulty.

The Russian military action in Chechnya is leading to a humanitarian crisis on an appalling scale. The ultimatum to "quit or die", given to the citizens of Grozny, is, indeed, horrifying. However, we have taken some comfort. We have seen very recent reports from Moscow that the ultimatum may not have been issued by the Russian Government but by a Russian commander acting on his own initiative. It is clear that the Russian authorities responded with vigour to the concern expressed by ourselves and our partners. There is now a clear distancing between the statement contained in the leaflet and the professed Russian policy. We hope that the leaflets were part of a psychological warfare campaign and not a firm declaration of military intent.

We continue to seek urgent clarification. The strength of the reaction of the Russian leadership shows that it is determined to keep full control of its policy in Chechnya. Our complaints are having some effect and are being responded to.