Georgia and the War in Ukraine

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 24th May 2022.

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Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:57 pm, 24th May 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Mark. I commence by warmly praising Mr Djanogly for securing this debate, and I congratulate him on an excellent speech. We often say that, but it is nice to mean it today; he gave a genuinely balanced introduction to the subject. It is also a pleasure to take stock of the many contributions about where Georgia is at present, where it has come from and the wider pattern of behaviour from the Kremlin and the Russian state.

I was particularly struck by the hon. Member’s introductory comment that there is no doubt that Georgia faces west. That was my very strong impression on my first visit to Georgia, back in 2007. Georgia aspires to membership of the international order and to be a western country. It has its own legacy dealing with the toxic impact of empire, after many empires have left legacies, good and bad, within its territory. The Georgians are a fantastic people. They are very hospitable, and they have some of the best wine I have ever tasted. They also have some of the most beautiful scenery—for a Scotsman to say that is really a compliment indeed. It is a wonderful country that should be doing so much better; without outside interference, I suspect it would be.

I always strive for consensus, so let us all agree that Georgia has a right to its independence and a right to live without fear of its neighbour. I hope we can all unite on that point. I hope we can also unite on the fact that it has the right to choose its own associations and to apply for NATO and EU membership. There is a clear demos within Georgia that wants western adhesion and co-operation to rebalance its history and the interference that it is suffering. I am glad there is widespread support around the House for that today.

During my time at the European Parliament, I was always strongly in favour of a wider European Union. I was strongly in favour of the EU accession process as a huge impetus for peaceful democratic reform, transparency and financial reform within applicant countries. I am still strongly of that view today, especially for Georgia and its neighbours. There could be a huge advantage in the UK being a voice—albeit from outside, because we are not going to change geography—for that accession and the wider European project.

Sadly, the Georgians are victims of a wider pattern of behaviour; the playbook from which the Kremlin is operating is pretty clear. I endorse the comment, made by Members on both sides of the House, that we sold the pass with the annexation of Crimea and with the initial invasion of Georgia. Because the international community did not provide a unified front and did not act on the facts, there was extreme moral hazard, and that is why we are in the mess that we are today with Ukraine.

We see the Kremlin’s activities in Ukraine and Georgia, but we also see moves in Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkans. Sadly, Russian state and non-state actors interfere in the internal politics of many other countries, always with the aim to destabilise, and to create and foment division. I strongly echo the calls made by Jessica Morden for stronger action on dirty Russian cash in our own domestic discourse. We have had many discussions about that in relation to Ukraine, but I suggest it is a good thing to do for a lot of reasons beyond what is happening in Ukraine. We see far too much dark money and money laundering in UK politics and property, and we need much stronger action on it.

A couple of points have been made that I hope the Minister, for whom I have great respect, will address. Surely, we need to be much clearer on our definition of the territories occupied by Russia in Georgia, and the consequences of that continued occupation. Work is going on to support to the Georgian authorities against disinformation by Russian and non-state actors, but I think we need to do a lot more. That applies to Bosnia and other places as much as it does to Georgia, but I think in Georgia there is a need for more.

My party’s position on the integrated review is fairly clear. The Scottish National party does not believe that an Indo-Pacific tilt makes a lot of sense for Scotland. I do not think it makes a lot of sense for the UK, either. I can understand why the US is doing it, but an Indo-Pacific tilt has been shown to be a toothless tiger in international affairs with the invasion of Ukraine. We submitted a lot of constructive suggestions—we do try to be constructive —to the integrated review. I reiterate that it is badly out of date and needs to be reassessed wholesale in the light of the situation in our European neighbourhood. I am glad that there has been wide agreement on that today, and I again commend the hon. Member for Huntingdon for securing this debate.