HC Deb 15 July 2002 vol 389 cc18-9
15. Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

If he will make a statement on steps he is taking to improve the relationship between Russia and NATO. [66972]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The United Kingdom, especially my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has taken a leading role in the recent historic transformation of NATO's relationship with Russia. The UK will continue to work to make the new partnership a success. Indeed, the fact that I am leaving for St. Petersburg this afternoon to meet my opposite number, Sergei Ivanov, shows the importance that I personally attach to developing the relationship with Russia. We are building on the existing range of successful bilateral contacts and initiatives, including ship visits, our military resettlement programme, and our contribution to Russia's chemical weapons disposal programme.

Mr. Atkinson

Does the Secretary of State recall that, less than three years ago, NATO was rightly condemning Russia for using disproportionate brutality in the second Chechen war? Does he agree that, for Russia's relations with NATO to become ideal, Russia must be required to hold to account those responsible for such war crimes, and to introduce a political solution that will restore peace, democracy and human rights to Chechnya?

Mr. Hoon

One of the advantages of having a mature and sophisticated relationship with Russia is that a range of issues, including the situation in Chechnya, can be properly and effectively discussed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of Russia, will recognise that it is much better to talk to Russia about these issues than simply to have the kind of stand-off that was characteristic of the cold war.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Does my right hon. Friend know that, last week, a number of Members had the pleasure of hearing Mikhail Gorbachev speaking in Committee Room 10? Does he not agree that it is fantastic that the vision of a common European home that Gorbachev was putting forward in 1986 is at last beginning to be established through the good relations between NATO and Russia?

Mr. Hoon

I, too, had the privilege of meeting Mikhail Gorbachev, and it is certainly my view that he has never been given the credit that he deserves internationally for the efforts that he made at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is also a man who is not properly regarded in his home country, and perhaps he has had to come here to the United Kingdom to receive the recognition that he rightly deserves.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Before my right hon. Friend visits St. Petersburg, will he discuss with the Foreign Secretary the problems relating to Kaliningrad? What is being proposed by the European Union is equivalent to United States citizens travelling from Alaska to Oregon, and needing to have a visa to go through Canada. Does my right hon. Friend not realise that that is quite unacceptable, grossly unfair to the Russian federation, and needs to be addressed with some urgency if we are to promote good relations with our friend, the Russian federation?

Mr. Hoon

As I said earlier, I will be going to St. Petersburg this evening. The Foreign Secretary is somewhere in the far east—in India, I think—at the moment, so I cannot give my hon. Friend the assurance that he requires just at the moment. The Foreign Secretary and I discuss these matters, however, and I have certainly had the opportunity to discuss Kaliningrad during my visits to each of the Baltic states. I recognise that there are issues still to be resolved, not least in relation to whether the Baltic states may enjoy membership of the European Union.