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Roundtable on Eastern European Security

On 17 June 2015 BGIPU hosted a roundtable on Eastern European Security that brought together Members from both Houses, Ambassadors and Embassy representatives from relevant countries and academic experts. Chaired by Steve Pound MP, a delegate on both the Armenia and Poland BGIPU outward visits, the event gave Members who had recently participated in BGIPU visits to the region (Armenia, Georgia, Poland and Ukraine) the opportunity to report back and highlight some of the outcomes and issues discussed, as well as allowing Ambassadors from the region to give an update on the current situation and priorities in their respective country.

It became clear that all the countries visited had seen repercussions of the crisis in Ukraine and Members commented on how valuable it had been to meet with Ministers and parliamentarians in their countries to hear their views on the situation. The Earl of Sandwich noted the importance of engaging with Georgian counterparts to hear first-hand how the country continues to look to Europe for its future and hear their concerns about Russian aggression against their country, particularly the invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, which was echoed in the Georgian Ambassador’s remarks. Lord Davies of Stamford, who went to Ukraine in February 2015, noted how moved he was by the patriotism Ukrainians demonstrated, no matter whether their native tongue and ethnicity was Russian or Ukrainian. Regarding the country as divided or as “two Ukraines” was simply not true, and did not reflect the very complex reality.

All Members agreed that participating in the visits had “opened their eyes” and debunked some myths about the countries they visited. Lord Faulkner noted the frank assessments provided by Armenian colleagues on how their national interest needed to be foremost in balancing their relations with Russia and the EU and on how they addressed the tensions that exist in and outside the country on this issue. The Estonian Ambassador HE Lauri Bambus used the opportunity to invite Members to visit his country later in the year, as he felt that there existed little knowledge and outdated perceptions about his country. This was welcomed by Chair Steve Pound MP, who noted that this was after all the essence of BGIPU’s inter-parliamentary work: to correct misperceptions and to gain a better understanding of other countries’ perspectives.

There was consensus around the table that relations with Eastern European countries and in particular the links with their parliaments needed to be strengthened. Jonathan Djanogly MP, who went to Poland in early April 2014, said that especially in light of the significant group of Polish immigrants in the UK UK-Polish ties should be much stronger. This was welcomed by the Polish Ambassador HE Witold Sobkow, who explained that the recent presidential elections had not changed the direction of Polish politics, and that even a change of government in the autumn would not alter Poland’s strong commitment to NATO and the focus on the Warsaw Summit in 2016.

Although Jonathan Djanogly MP argued that we should indeed be more robust against Russian aggression, Sir Gerald Howarth MP, the new Chair of the Ukraine APPG, pointed out that Central and Eastern European countries should be careful not to rely too much on NATO’s Article 5. Public opinion in many European countries showed that a majority was not prepared to fulfil this obligation, as President Putin’s impunity for invading both Ukraine and Georgia had shown. In the ensuing discussion Members noted that there was a need for a debate on what risks and actions we are prepared to take, and that we should not always let Russia take the initiative, but instead be more bold and creative in our approach. Steve Pound MP ended by confirming BGIPU’s commitment to work with parliaments in this key priority region with further planned inward and outward visits (Ukraine and Estonia) and a potential seminar with Wilton Park in early 2016.

Delegation reports from recent BGIPU visits