Georgia: Territorial Integrity

– in the House of Lords at 2:49 pm on 14th September 2004.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 2:49 pm, 14th September 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking, with their European Union partners, to support the Georgian Government's efforts to restore their territorial integrity.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, President Saakashvili visited the United Kingdom in July for talks with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who confirmed his support for the territorial integrity of Georgia and for Georgian government efforts to re-establish this by peaceful means.

An EU policy statement of August, to which we actively contributed, also restated this principle. We will continue to work closely with our EU partners on this issue.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement. Is she aware that in the past few weeks the situation has in many ways become a great deal more delicate? We are all aware of problems in the North Caucasus, which look increasingly explosive, and of the potential overspill from the North Caucasus to the South Caucasus. We have seen reports of President Putin's suggestion that Russia is entitled to take pre-emptive action across the borders. Does the Minister think that there is merit in the proposal that international monitors from the OSCE, for example, or the EU should be invited to play a much more active role in patrolling and monitoring the borders of Georgia with Russia in order to ensure that allegations which are flying backwards and forwards at present about cross- border intrusion and arms smuggling are properly assessed?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am indeed aware of the fact that the situation has become more delicate, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, put it, and of course Russia has some very immediate concerns about the North Caucasus area. The noble Lord is right to point out that, given the geographical proximity, there are bound to be some shared interests, particularly in view of what happened recently with the terrorist outrage and the possibility that the terrorists themselves may move around between these areas.

Quite honestly, Her Majesty's Government will consider any serious, well thought-out initiative to promote dialogue and regional co-operation on security issues, including the very important issues of counter-terrorism. Whether or not having international monitors on the borders is the right thing to do at present is a matter that will be open to much dispute. We are talking about distinct problems in the North and South Caucasus, but Her Majesty's Government do not want to shut the door on anything constructive if there is a possibility of taking it forward.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, have the Government yet replied formally to the recent Russian doctrine of pre-emption?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I think that the question of pre-emption was dealt with by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General when he had to address these issues recently. With regard to this matter, we have said that there may well be times when pre-emption is appropriate. The position was set out by my noble and learned friend on 21 April when he said that it is the Government's view that,

"international law permits the use of force in self-defence against an imminent attack but does not authorise the use of force to mount a pre-emptive strike against a threat that is more remote. However, those rules must be applied in the context of the particular facts of each case . . . The concept of what constitutes an 'imminent' armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats".—[Hansard, 21/4/04; col. 370.]

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Abkhazians broke off the negotiations in Geneva when a peaceful commercial vessel attempting to enter the port of Sukhumi was bombarded by a Georgian warship? Does she not think that a better atmosphere would be created, in which dialogue could take place between Georgia and Abkhazia, if the blockade of Abkhazia were lifted and the airports and ports of Sukhumi and the railway line between Moscow and Sukhumi were repaired and opened for international communications?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, things which facilitate international communications are very important. However, at the same time, these blockades are sometimes in place because of the fear of international terrorism. Only in the past week or so, we have seen how justified that fear has been, although obviously the incident in Beslan was in the North Caucasus and not in the South Caucasus.

The whole question of trying to get dialogue going on this issue is enormously important. However, there are three distinct conflicts in the South Caucasus: that between Georgia and Abkhazia; that between Georgia and South Ossetia; and of course the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. When we talk about these things altogether, it may bring the problems together in a way that allows us to talk, but it is very difficult to see what the right package of solutions would be in those circumstances.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Affairs

My Lords, what pressure is the Prime Minister putting on President Putin to honour the 1999 OSCE commitment from the summit in Istanbul to remove Russia's military bases and troops from Georgia, as it did from East Germany and Poland?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, these matters have been discussed with our friends in Russia, as has the point about the relationship of Georgia to the two provinces in question—South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In his exchanges with the Russian President, the Prime Minister has made it very clear that we should like to see far greater dialogue. The OSCE is already one of the means for that dialogue, but that is principally a dialogue between Georgia and South Ossetia, and of course there is also a UN role in relation to Abkhazia.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether at present there are any OSCE observers inside Abkhazia, and do the Government form any view on the extent of Russian support for the Abkhaz people when Russia refuses any consideration of autonomy or independence for Chechnya?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the OSCE role is in relation to South Ossetia and not in relation to Abkhazia. It may be possible for a security position in North Ossetia to develop, but the OSCE role is specifically about Ossetia. The UN has the role in relation to Abkhazia, and a UN observer mission in Georgia was established in 1993 to verify the ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia. It did not relate to Georgia and North Ossetia.