Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:22 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Suttie Baroness Suttie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:22, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, with all his experience.

I have five minutes in which to make two points about a part of the world that has not yet been discussed in this debate. My first point is about central Asia, where I believe that increased investment in soft power now could make a real difference. There is a clear appetite there for greater engagement from the United Kingdom. I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register: my work in central Asia since 2017 and, more recently, as a trustee of the John Smith Trust. I believe the UK should be both a reliable long-term partner and a critical friend to central Asia. Geopolitically it is an important region, with a young and dynamic population. For example, more than 60% of Uzbekistan’s well-educated population are under 30 years old. Younger people in central Asia want an alternative to both Moscow and Beijing. They want greater access to our English language and our universities. They want to strengthen their civil society and free media. The Minister will also probably know that, currently, many Uzbek workers help every autumn with our cherry harvest in Kent.

People I speak to in central Asia would also like greater assistance in establishing a genuinely independent judiciary and modern legal structures. These would assist in the fight against corruption and help to embed reforms. I know that many in Kyrgyzstan in particular would welcome this.

We should learn from the lessons of the recent past and from some of our mistakes in the region. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin and the current Russian leadership were able to adopt a pick and mix of unregulated free market economy with pretend so-called managed democracy, without ever allowing genuinely democratic structures and the rule of law to take hold.

Our soft power influence is absolutely key, through the BBC World Service as well as leadership and critical-thinking programmes such as the John Smith Trust and the British Council. For example, having a British Council staff member in the British embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, would make a very real difference very quickly. As I understand it, Kyrgyzstan has just chosen to invest in a 30-year contract with Cambridge University Press for its core school textbooks—we should celebrate that. The Foreign Secretary clearly has many calls on his time, but I strongly recommend a visit to central Asia.

My second point is one that has been mentioned already by many other noble Lords. This is a critical year for Ukraine, especially in the context of the elections in the United States. The series of additional sanctions announced by the Foreign Secretary two weeks ago are very welcome, but we now have to do so much more to inflict real and meaningful damage on the Russian war economy, and I hope that we will continue to work with our G7 and European partners to that effect. Last week, I was at an event in Canterbury with many Ukrainians who asked me whether it was right to continue to provide enough so that Ukraine does not lose but not enough for it to win. I ask the Foreign Secretary the same question.

Putin cannot be allowed to win—that view is shared by all mainstream political parties in the UK. No country should ever have the right to declare that another sovereign country does not have the right to exist. Putin’s world view is based on a distortion of the truth, a reinterpretation of history, populism, authoritarianism and the accumulation of his own personal wealth. It has been hugely convenient for him to use the truly awful wars happening now in Sudan and the Middle East to stir up feelings of resentment against Ukraine in the global South. Just because Putin might not be directly responsible for those other awful wars does not mean that he has not been indirectly involved.

More or less exactly a year ago, I was working in Khartoum, Sudan, just before the dreadful civil war started there. The presence of Russian Wagner mercenaries was clear for all to see; they have caused untold misery for the people of Sudan, so many of whom are now living abroad as refugees. President Zelensky is right to say that this is not just Ukraine’s war; it is now a war against authoritarianism and in favour of the international values of justice, freedom and the rule of law. We must keep supporting Ukraine in this war, however long it takes.