HC Deb 04 March 1992 vol 205 cc306-8
11. Mr. Macdonald

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further assistance he is providing to help political and economic reform in Russia.

13. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on British relations with the Russian Federation.

15. Mr. Quentin Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how the United Kingdom is assisting the process of political and economic reform in Russia.

Mr. Hurd

Our relations with the Russian Federation are excellent. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office will visit Russia on 9 March. We have strongly supported Russia's application to join the IMF. We have pledged more than £80 million in bilateral aid to Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union. I have already given the House the details about Community aid in which we participate.

Mr. Macdonald

Will the Foreign Secretary also help to provide a breathing space for the Russian Government, by supporting their call for a suspension of interest payments on the debt? Would not it be a disaster if Russia ended up having to pay as much in interest rates as it received in aid? Would not that fatally undermine the radical, bold and much-needed programme that President Yeltsin is now trying to push through?

Mr. Hurd

The crucial factor is that Russia and the other republics should be eligible for macroeconomic aid on an IMF basis. For that to happen there has to be an arrangement about the former Soviet Union's debts. An agreement has been reached. It is important that it should be honoured and that republics such as the Ukraine, which have not yet found a way of doing so, should join in the process. That is a necessary part of providing the kind of aid for which there is an increasingly strong case.

Mr. Arnold

Is not one of the problems of Russia in its current economic difficulties that the country might turn in on itself and revert to its usual historic xenophobic tendencies? Is not it our job to keep open the window on the west? What are we doing in terms of establishing contacts right across the range with Russia, to keep it closely tied in with western Europe?

Mr. Hurd

We are doing more and more, with all kinds of projects. I shall name just the latest, launched yesterday evening—the British Emergency Action for Russia and the Republics Trust, founded by Lady Braithwaite, the wife of the ambassador--which is trying to bring together in an imaginative way charities and non-governmental organisations in this country to make contacts and help to build up that kind of self-help in Russia. That kind of spontaneous effort, by all kinds of people in this country, will he just as important in the long run as what Governments do.

Dr. Kim Howells

Does the Secretary of State agree that until now, there has been little to encourage the new democracies of central and eastern Europe to change their minds about the EC being a rich man's club? Will he do all that he can to ensure that within the EC, there is some agreement about how we shall tackle the enormous problems, which will not be tackled by charity, however welcome that is? If we do not do that, shall not we see hordes of people sweeping from eastern Europe into western Europe simply looking for jobs?

Mr. Hurd

That is right and that is why we have pressed energetically for almost two years for the association agreements, which include trade and political discussions, with Poland, with Hungary and with Czechoslovakia. That is why we are now pressing for trade and co-operation agreements with the republics further to the east. Effort on all those fronts, including trade and being willing to open our markets to goods from those republics, is necessary. We shall continue to press for that and, as I have said, it is one of the priorities of our presidency.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial to persuade Russia that its political stability depends on the stability of the region as a whole, especially its neighbours? To that end, will he encourage Russia to use its good offices to intervene in the appalling situation in Nagorny Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan, if Russia is to win its spurs as a member of the Security Council and ultimately as a member of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe?

Mr. Hurd

I urged especially Mr. Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, to persevere with his efforts. Realistically speaking, it will be a little time before there is an answer to the terrifying question between Armenia and Azerbaijan. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will go to that part of the former Soviet Union next week and I look forward to hearing what he recommends.