Your article (Revealed: how the Kremlin got its diplomats to woo the Tories, 1 December) links the activities of Conservative Friends of Russia with Conservative MPs in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. As the Conservative leader in Strasbourg, I can assure you that there is no connection. The report says Sergey Nalobin and Sergei Cristo were instructed by Moscow to deepen co-operation between Conservative and United Russia MPs in the Council of Europe. They have been spectacularly unsuccessful as I’ve had no contact with either.
At the most recent debate in October on Russia in Strasbourg I spoke on behalf of the European Democrat Group in support of the resolution which was highly critical of Russia’s human rights record. The longer online version of your report also suggests we did not support the report on the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008. That is simply not true. There were heated discussions with Russian colleagues on this subject in group meetings, but I spoke and voted for the report, which was again highly critical of Russia. It is also simply not true that Conservatives in Strasbourg have blocked the Sergei Magnitsky campaign. I have advised the campaign and supported the reference of the case to the monitoring committee of the assembly. I believe the death of Magnitsky was a gross violation of human rights and demonstrated a scant regard for the rule of law.
If Russia were excluded from the Council of Europe we would have no leverage over its actions. Russia is legally committed to meet its obligations under the European convention on human rights. Its citizens can, and do, seek redress at the European court of human rights and its government is obliged to abide by the court’s judgments. In the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, dialogue with Russian MPs is essential if we are to secure democratic values, human rights and a respect for the rule of law in that country. Progress is being made, but there is still a long way to go.
Robert Walter MP Leader, UK delegation; chairman, EDG; vice-president, parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe