The first part of last week was spent in Brussels at a NATO meeting. I lead the UK delegation of members of the House of Lords and Commons to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We were there to hear from the Secretary General, the American Supreme Allied Commander and other leaders of the Alliance about how NATO is facing up to new challenges. The Alliance endures and it is arguable that it has never been more needed. Russia has invested heavily in new military hardware. It has taken control of sovereign territory in Ukraine and has threatened countries all along its western borders. There is irrefutable evidence that it has interfered in elections in the USA and Europe, tried to promote a coup in the Balkans and has murdered its enemies at home and abroad, including on the streets of London.
Following the end of the Cold War most NATO states reduced defence spending and there are now herculean efforts to increase spending to at least 2% of Gross National Income. As things stand, the USA remains the biggest contributor. Around five countries in the 29 member Alliance spend over 2%, the UK being one of them. Spending across the Alliance has increased but many are not shouldering enough of the burden. Interestingly, after the UK leaves the EU next year, around 80% of NATO’s resources will come from non-EU countries.
I returned to Westminster on Wednesday in time to chair a packed meeting on Russia. On the panel we had Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former CEO of the Yukos oil company, who was one of Russia’s richest men until he fell foul of the Putin regime. He was jailed for 12 years and now lives in the West and campaigns for a fair democracy in Russia. We also had Bill Browder, a former financier in Russia who also came up against state sponsored tyranny in Russia. He saw his company stolen from him and his lawyer and friend Sergei Magnitsky, arrested, tortured and then murdered in prison. Their witness to what has happened and what is needed to stand up to Russian corruption and lawlessness is based on a deep love of Russia, its culture and its people. I am looking for the right opportunity to improve our laws so that it is impossible for dodgy money from Russia or anywhere to find a safe haven in the UK or its overseas territories.