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Gordon Brown's neglect of foreign policy exposed in Westminster Hall debate on Russia

Greg-hands_415x275 In a Westminster Hall debate yesterday Greg Hands MP noted that Gordon Brown has not met Vladimir Putin since he entered 10 Downing Street:

"Incredibly, to the best of anyone’s knowledge—this seems to be confirmed in parliamentary questions—our Prime Minister has never met Vladimir Putin since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister two and a half years ago. The last time that we can be sure that the two men met was in 2006, at a meeting of the G8 Economic Ministers in St. Petersburg. We cannot be entirely sure on this, because 10 Downing street seems to have had a policy in recent times, under the current incumbent, of not answering parliamentary questions about visits or meetings."

In an intervention Labour MP Tom Watson protested that "the President of Russia is actually President Medvedev".  Mr Hands insisted that Putin remains the real power in the nation:

"Of course it is important also to engage with the current President, but no one should be under any illusion as to who is really in charge in Russia. I was going to say that our Prime Minister has met President Medvedev at perhaps three different international summits in the past two years, but to the best of my knowledge, there have not been proper bilateral meetings at any of those summits."

ObamaPutin He went on to contrast Brown's neglect of UK-Russia relations with the activism of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel:

"The 10 hours that Obama spent with Medvedev is in sharp contrast to UK-US relations, with our Prime Minister’s approaches for a short joint press conference with President Obama being spurned five times after the Prime Minister’s deft handling of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, in August. No one is saying that all is perfect in US-Russia relations, but there is progress and there is dialogue. President Obama also took the opportunity in Moscow in July to spend almost a full day engaging with Russian civil society and business leaders, and he pressed especially for greater press freedom, which has been terribly eroded under Vladimir Putin in particular.

A few days later, Medvedev flew to Munich for similarly extensive head-to-head talks with Angela Merkel. Der Spiegel pronounced: “Medvedev Charms Merkel at Munich Summit”. To her credit and in contrast with the rather fawning approach of her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, Merkel raised various human rights cases, notably the recent murder of Russia-Chechen human rights activist, Natalya Estemirova. Merkel had previously raised with Putin crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators and other cases. Medvedev actually pronounced in Munich his deep shock at the Estemirova murder. He even called her a model for future generations."

Greg Hands listed five big issues that could be addressed in a UK-Russia summit meeting:

"The first would be progress in investigating the heinous murder of Alexander Litvinenko in November 2008 and other incidents that put UK-Russia relations in a deep freeze at that time. Second would be the continued detention without proper trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and others in relation to the break-up of Yukos. Third would be the continuing downgrading of the BBC Russian service at the World Service, partly thanks to actions taken by the Russian Government in recent years. Fourth would be operations of the British Council in Russia, and fifth would be Britain’s conflicting and often counter-productive approach to visitors’ visas for Russian nationals."

Nigel Evans pointed out in another intervention that "the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Russia in November is the first visit by a British Foreign Secretary since 2004."

> Read Greg Hands' full Westminster Hall speech.
> Read Mark Field MP's recent ConservativeHome article on UK-Russia relations.


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