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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

I agree absolutely with that statement. Our discussions with many ambassadors in Moscow last week suggested that there was almost a time warp of thinking at the moment and that people are still fighting the cold war and thinking it is still a reality. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that this is a new era and time for a new relationship with Russia, and that fighting the wars of the past is just not appropriate in the modern world.

We must also think about the UK Government’s position and where the blame lies for the current situation. Right from the start of the current Government, tough rhetoric has emanated from Downing Street and Whitehall. One would think that the UK knew where it was going on Russia, but the reality, the truth, is quite different. If people begin the discussion from the standpoint of seeing Russia as their No. 1 threat, that will not create a sense of trust or understanding with the Russian people or their Government.

In parliamentary answers that I and other Members have received in the past year, we see examples of disengagement at ministerial level. There is a sense that the UK has given up on trying to understand Russia properly. Not only have budgets for the BBC World Service’s Russian service been cut, but there are now only 15 members of Her Majesty’s armed forces who can speak Russian to a reasonable level. Substantial cuts are also forthcoming in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They are aimed at devaluing our ability properly to understand Russia.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham cited the case in which we had discussion about the Syrian ceasefire and our own Foreign Secretary failed even to call his opposite number in the Kremlin. We cannot have it that our Foreign Secretary does not call, does not write, does not make contact with a key player in a foreign policy area. That is simply unacceptable.

The situation is not without positives. We had the NATO-Russia Council a few weeks ago. We hope that something positive will come from that as we reach the Warsaw summit. There seems to be very good news as well on cultural events and business. However, that does not change the fact that we need substantive talks in terms of where the UK is going on direct relationships with Russia. I think that everyone who has spoken so far is of the opinion that those relationships must be improved, and improved very quickly.