Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, it has been an intermittently recurring theme today that some frustration has been expressed by noble Lords about the impact of Mr Putin’s apparent loyalty towards Mr Assad, to the extent that he would block and preclude any restructuring of Syria post this crisis. Yet nobody seems to know the nature of the connection between Mr Putin and Mr Assad. Without knowing that, I do not see how we can have any concept of what might be possible in the future for Syria.
Six years ago, this House may have had an insight into what this mysterious reason was through EU Sub-Committee B, which was at that time chaired dynamically by my noble friend Lord Freeman. I had the honour of being on the committee and our agenda included the question of the Gazprom pipeline into Europe, on which the security of our own European energy resources for the future so much depended. We were deeply sceptical about whether this was sensible, given the power that it appeared to give Russia to control us and turn the lights off any time it wanted to.
The Foreign Office was prevailed upon to find a Russian expert—yes, it has one—and sent along a bright young man to come and talk to us. We told him of all our concerns: Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya all bordered on the pipeline. The scope for interference and blackmail from Russia was terrible. How would we make it work? This bright young man looked at us very tolerantly. He did not quite say, “You are a load of fuddy-duddy old idiots”, but he got very close to it. He said, “You have not understood a thing of what is happening here”. We said, “Tell us”. He said, “The whole point is that the pipeline is in fact going to be the personal financial source going directly into the private hands of Mr Putin and it is going to be the only means by which he will be able to hold on to power in Russia personally, so there is not the slightest risk that he is going to do anything which interferes with the continuity of your supply”.
If that was true then and is still true now, is this the explanation of Mr Assad’s hold over Mr Putin? Mr Assad would be in a position to open up the shores of Syria—in a very narrow band, only about 30 kilometres long—for a new pipeline, which has long since been rumoured, to be created out of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, all merging on the Syrian shore and then crossing to the mainland of our European homeland. This would destroy Mr Putin’s position. Is this what the connection is? If it is, surely we can have a diplomatic initiative with Mr Putin to put his mind at rest as to the impracticality of this and to give him some assurance that we would never entertain it, even if it had to be done at a European Union level. But this is ridiculous as it stands. I believe that this is the barrier for Mr Putin to the reorganisation of Syria and we should be addressing it at this level.