EU: Defence Pact with Russia — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:19 am on 18th November 2010.

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Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 11:19 am, 18th November 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of a possible defence pact between the European Union and Russia.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that increased engagement between the EU and Russia is a positive development. There are several strands of discussion on developing and enhancing security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area, including in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe-the OSCE-and the NATO-Russia Council. There is, however, no proposal for an actual defence pact between the EU and Russia, and we do not consider such a pact either desirable or likely.

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour

I thank the Minister for that Answer and for the positive note that he struck-at least, at the beginning. Does he agree that collaboration to contain international terrorism could be one basis for future further collaboration between the EU and Russia?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

Yes, I certainly do. I think that these issues will come up at the NATO summit, which is beginning on Friday, and indeed we look forward at that summit to the possibility-indeed, the probability-of a text that will reflect a new era of co-operation and engagement between the whole of NATO and Russia. Therefore, the problem that the noble Lord has referred to is very relevant and it will be at the centre of our discussions.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

Does the noble Lord agree that, however important the negotiations with Russia about defence and security matters-and no one discounts that-it is crucial constantly to keep in mind the behaviour of Russian military in places such as the North Caucasus, where, with insensitivity and brutality, they have arguably accentuated the problems of world security by driving people into the arms of extremists?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

The noble Lord is absolutely right and I expected that kind of profound comment from him. We are under no illusions about the human rights situation in Russia and in relation to the various operations of the kind to which he referred. Human rights and the progress of Russian democracy are high on our agenda, and we certainly do not shy away from making our concerns known on all these aspects at every opportunity.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Chair, EU Sub-Committee F - Home Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the key point in this area is that the autonomy of decision-making by NATO and the EU should not be impaired by any agreements or arrangements made with Russia? It is highly desirable to consult more with Russia and it may be highly desirable to work with it on missile defence, but it would be a great mistake if we allowed the autonomy of decision-making of those two organisations, on which our security depends, to be impaired.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

I agree with the noble Lord, and indeed that was the implication of my first Answer. We do not look for an actual defence pact or any kind of development which would, as the noble Lord says, impair the integrity of NATO operations. Nevertheless, there are all sorts of strands of increased co-operation. I have mentioned the NATO-Russia Council. There is also the Meseberg initiative and the modernisation pact, and there are other opportunities in fora where we can carry forward good relations with regard to that part of Russian policy with which we can work in a positive way.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

Does the Minister agree that, when the general normality of relations is based on dialogue, we should really be looking at a few areas where we do not talk so as to avoid misunderstandings in the future?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

Yes, I agree with that. I repeat that we would like to see operations such as the Meseberg initiative developed, as they are fora where that kind of approach can be adopted.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat

Does my noble friend agree that the sombre reality is that there is also a need for good EU relations with Russia partly because, sadly, the United States is recklessly destabilising the Middle East as a result of its amazingly obsequious attitude to Netanyahu?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

With respect to my noble friend, that point is slightly "yesterday". There are definite signs of an improvement in US-Russian relations. Of course, there are all sorts of collateral issues, of which he has mentioned one, but the general trend is in a positive direction with the START negotiations moving to a signature and a whole variety of other developments. Therefore, I do not think that the situation is quite as bad as my noble friend suggests.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I believe that there was a suggestion a while ago that there would be Russian observers or visitors to the forthcoming NATO summit. Indeed, I think it was even suggested that the Russian President might be invited. Can the noble Lord tell us whether there will be any Russian observers at the summit? Can I also press him a little further on his answer to my noble friend Lord Judd? He talked about the importance of human rights. Can he tell us whether that issue has been raised specifically in the context of security discussions? It is in the balance between security and human rights that the problem so often lies.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

The answer to the noble Baroness's second question is yes, we do combine. Concern for human rights and the rule of law are two facets of the same issue. Upholding the rule of law and the broader security issues are all one ball of wax, if I may use that phrase. As to Russian involvement, President Medvedev has said that he will go to the NATO-Russia Council summit in Lisbon on Friday. So, he will attend-that is what my brief says and I am glad to learn it.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

Is another area of potential mutual co-operation, although with some difficulty, the Arctic and the whole question of the North East Passage and mineral resources in that area?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

Yes, this is a vast and vastly important area in which of course our partners and allies such as Norway and indeed, Canada, as well as Russia are involved. There have been extensive disputes over the years, particularly in Russia and Norway, as to which parts of the Arctic are under which territorial direction, and there was the dramatic planting of a flag at the North Pole by some Russian underwater vehicles. I understand, although it is not in my brief, that considerable advances have been made in agreeing the border lines between Norway and Russia, which opens the way, provided that costs and technology allow, for a vastly greater exploitation of the huge oil and gas resources-mostly gas-under the Arctic Circle.