Georgia and the War in Ukraine

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:02 pm on 24th May 2022.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 5:02 pm, 24th May 2022

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point to that history. It is of course the history of many others in the near orbit of Russia, including in the Baltics. Now, yet again, we see a false, so-called referendum being used next month to attempt to formally bring one of those illegally occupied regions into union with Putin’s Russia. The ceasefire agreed back in 2008 was undoubtedly tipped in favour of Putin and, in the weeks and months that followed, I am sorry to say, the west went back to a business-as-usual approach in its dealings with Moscow. We failed to implement tough enough sanctions or to punish such egregious behaviour. Indeed, the US led the way in “resetting” relations with the Kremlin, and continued to treat Russia as a wayward partner rather than a belligerent adversary.

We cannot continue to make these mistakes if we are to end this diabolical trend of interference and invasion. And, of course, let us not forget the human cost. We saw the persecution of ethnic Georgians in Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the indiscriminate killing of civilians and the deliberate targeting of urban centres, the waging of a concerted information war to skew and misrepresent the actions of the invaders, and the displacement of 200,000 people. Does any of that sound eerily familiar? It is exactly what we are seeing yet again, so the warning signs were there and it saddens me greatly that we ignored them. We cannot afford to do that again and again.

Rightly, since 2008, Tbilisi, under different Governments, has pushed strongly for closer links with the EU and NATO, to attain the diplomatic and military assurances that it would be protected should it face such threats again. Obviously, membership of either organisation is unlikely in the immediate future, despite the clear attitudes of the population, which have rightly been referenced, and the passion there for close alliance with us. We need to do all we can to facilitate that dialogue and direction.

Georgia has been forced into a very difficult position when it comes to the war in Ukraine, but, despite the expected tension between Kyiv and Tbilisi, I was encouraged to see Georgia’s support for the 2 March UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s illegal attack; support for Russia’s expulsion from the Council of Europe; and backing for the International Criminal Court probe into war crimes against the people of Ukraine. Those are encouraging signals, and we should absolutely recognise their significance. I certainly hope that Georgia can go further, but that requires us also to get involved and to proactively and consistently support all those who face these very difficult choices, particularly in the near neighbourhood of Putin’s Russia, and who need our support economically, diplomatically and in security terms.

I read the article by the hon. Member for Huntingdon that gave us a preview of his speech. It was a very interesting and important article. Fundamentally, if Georgia is to have the confidence to definitively support Ukraine’s resistance, and if the international community is to speak with one voice, clear assurances must come from countries such as the United Kingdom and others of support in multiple domains. If we want to ensure a network of liberty, democracy and peace, we have to invest in it urgently. With that, I have three questions, in conclusion, for the Minister. Can the Minister say what additional measures the UK is taking now to support Georgia diplomatically, economically and, crucially, in terms of security guarantees?

The focus has rightly been on Moldova in recent days, given the imminent threat that country faces. However, we know that the threat can be anywhere in the near neighbourhood of Russia at any time, as seen in Putin’s actions. What is our medium and long-term strategy for the likes of Georgia or, indeed, as mentioned, the western Balkans? What are we doing to reopen the Black sea fully? It cannot be right that Russia alone is able to dominate that crucial maritime domain.

We have heard about the impact on grain and trade, which affects Georgia and other countries bordering the Black sea. We have seen the despicable alleged theft of Ukrainian grain by the Russians in recent days, which has much wider consequences for the rest of the world, as rightly identified by the hon. Members for Huntingdon and for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). What are we doing to block the sale of that illegally seized grain, get the Black sea back open for trade, and ensure that Ukraine and others, including Georgia, can access their trade routes? Finally, what are we doing to build on and enhance the historic friendships and bilateral trade between the UK and Georgia? We have heard so much about that positive relationship. It is clear, in all the relationships that many of us have enjoyed, that the appetite is there from the UK and Georgia, and it is needed more than ever in these difficult times.