Chechnya

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 18th May 2000.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 3:00 pm, 18th May 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been achieved in relations with Russia on the enhancement of human rights and the promotion of a political peace settlement in Chechnya.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, progress on a political peace settlement in Chechnya has been slow. We have consistently urged this on Russia as the only way to resolve the conflict. The Foreign Secretary reiterated our concern during official talks in Moscow yesterday. He also pressed for action on human rights in Chechnya, where international pressure has secured some progress. Russia has agreed to access for international organisations and has set up a national commission to investigate human rights abuses.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does she not agree that the action which has so far been taken is simply to put pieces of machinery in place which could potentially deliver results but that results are so far conspicuous by their absence? Does she not therefore agree that while it is obviously vital to build good relations with Russia and to bring her into the centre of world affairs, the issue of human rights cannot be fudged? Does she not agree therefore that the overwhelming majority of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe are absolutely right to say that, unless action and positive results can be seen, it is impossible to reconcile Russia's action in Chechnya with her continued membership of the Council of Europe?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I understand the concern that the noble Lord expresses, but I say straight away that the process is essential. Having a process which is transparent and upon which we can rely in order to ascertain precisely what has happened, and having an independent element in that process, is critical. Therefore we should not in any way dismiss the importance of the concessions that have already been made in relation to that process. The Council of Europe--the noble Lord is right to give voice to this matter--has considered this matter seriously. It proposed a suspension of Russia. This will be reconsidered in June. Russia has made various comments about offers she is making to address these issues. They will be seriously considered. Russia is very much being put on her mettle. We shall review this issue.

Photo of Viscount Cranborne Viscount Cranborne Conservative

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us a little about the tensions that the Chechnya question presents the Government with in their desire to support President elect Putin? Is it not at least possible that pursuing firmly the views that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, wants the Government to pursue could undermine the stability of President elect Putin within Russia itself? If the Government push the views of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, to the ultimate, how will the Government resolve that potential conflict?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, in relation to all such issues it is a question of balance and also a question of critical engagement. There are many levels on which we are working well with President Putin. He understands the agenda that Britain wishes to push. He also understands that we shall be robust on the matter of human rights. Getting that relationship right so that we can move forward, giving encouragement and enabling the new president to do that which is essential for Russia to be a true partner, must be our focus. At the moment we believe that that balance is being carefully handled by Her Majesty's Government and it is working as well as one can reasonably expect it to.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative

My Lords, following the Minister's reply to my noble friend, what representations have Her Majesty's Government made to the Government of Russia regarding the attack on the Media Most headquarters in Moscow and on NTV Television and the detention of the Radio Liberty journalist, Andrei Babitsky, by the Russian security forces?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, the situation regarding the journalist has been raised with our Russian colleagues. As I said in my initial Answer, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke yesterday to his opposite number, Mr Ivanov. The issues in relation to Chechnya and human rights were raised. We shall continue to raise these issues with them.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister recall that the problems in Chechnya partly grew out of Russian-armed Chechens supporting the separatists in Abkhazia as a means of destabilising Georgia? Is the Minister aware that the Abkhazia situation remains unresolved? Are the British Government bringing any pressure to bear on the Russians to resolve the problems of Abkhazia and thus help to stabilise the Government of Georgia?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I am not able to tell the noble Lord whether that precise dimension of the problem has been raised. However, I can reassure him that issues in relation to regional stability have been a matter of constant concern, both on the part of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers within Her Majesty's Government, together with our officials. The issue of stability in the area remains critical and is very much on the agenda.