Anglo-Russian Relations

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:15 pm on 4th May 2016.

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Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Scottish National Party, Dunfermline and West Fife 5:15 pm, 4th May 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank Daniel Kawczynski for bringing this important debate to the Chamber.

As we approach the end of President Obama’s presidential term, it is helpful to remind ourselves that he started his presidency by looking for a reset of US-Russia relations. Before we move on to consider how the UK and NATO might be responsible for a share of the current crisis, it is worth noting that Russia could have been the principal beneficiary of any reset initiated by the American President, but instead pursued a policy that has made such thinking difficult.

From the occupation of Crimea to similar provocation in eastern Ukraine, Russia has shown scant respect for or acknowledgement of Ukraine’s sovereignty, something it had to agree under the Budapest memorandum. However, I have just returned from Moscow and the Kremlin and it is clear that the Russians see themselves as merely defending their own backyard. There have been many incursions into UK waters and air space. For those of us in Scotland where no Royal Navy ships are based, the feeling of exposure is real.

We have witnessed military exercises simulating invasion of the Baltic states. Do the Russians intend to intimidate peoples who peacefully asserted their right to self-determination and have gone on to become valued members of the European Union? We note these developments because it is vital to us as a NATO member and as a member of the international community to ensure that these small states are protected from any undue influence on Moscow’s part and that their sovereignty is protected. We do that not because we are allied to these states, but because small states play a vital role in the international system. They have consistently expanded international law to bring about the norms that are so important today.

Russia sees itself as a world power along with China and America and its view of Ukraine, the Baltics and the High North is that it is simply protecting its interests and its economic resources. However, we must not let the deterioration in Anglo-Russian relations, whether our fears are real or imagined, cloud our judgment of the new phase in our relationship with Moscow.

The Defence Committee, of which I am a member, has recently undertaken an inquiry into UK-Russian relations and it has become increasingly clear to me, the more evidence we hear underlining the threat that Russia poses to the west, that the debate is down to our inability to understand correctly where we stand as a nation. Although we may not agree on everything in this debate, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has taken a vital step along that path.