Tim Peake feared being stranded on space station, says Foreign Office minister


British astronaut Tim Peake feared being left stuck in space if the West's relations with Russia deteriorated, a Foreign Office minister has said.

But Tobias Ellwood told MPs he had received assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Maj Peake will not be abandoned on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Tory frontbencher, who said he is a friend of Maj Peake, raised the issue with Mr Putin during the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan.

A Russian Soyuz FG rocket blasted Maj Peake into space in December, and he is spending six months on board the ISS.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on Anglo-Russian relations, Mr Ellwood said: "I had the opportunity to meet President Putin at the Baku Azerbaijan Games last year and wasn't quite expecting to see him, I have to say.

"But I did say to him that a friend of mine had cause to use Russian transport and was a bit concerned about international developments - the East and West - and he might get stuck at the end of his destination and not be able to get back.

"That friend of mine was called Tim Peake, he was using a Soyuz space capsule to get himself up to the International Space Station and didn't want to be abandoned up there.

"Mr Putin grabbed my arm and said, 'Mr Ellwood, tell Mr Peake we will not abandon him'.

"And that gives you an indication to say that it is possible to isolate some of these enormous concerns that we have, the sanctions that take place, that allow us to work on the international stage to tackle some of these areas, but also culturally and professionally and indeed from an industrial perspective, commercial perspective, to be able to continue these relationships."

Tory Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham), opening the debate, said he was very concerned about the "growing anti-Russian sentiment" within the Commons.

He said: "Even by calling for this debate a senior member of the Government called me comrade Kawczynski, I've been accused of being an apologist for president Putin and been criticised for even daring to raise the subject."

Mr Kawczynski read out a personal statement noting he has "deep and personal" reasons to dislike and distrust Russia and its actions due to his Polish heritage and the suffering experienced by his family at the hands of the Soviet Union.

He said: "It would be easy to cling to a prejudice and allow this to colour my view of the world today.

"Yet as a British citizen and a proud member of this House it is my job and my duty, to argue strongly in favour of what I believe will best serve Britain's long-term security, stability and prosperity - even if this means encouraging dialogue with a country that was borne out of the remnants of the oppressive regime that so crippled my grandfather in Poland."

He added Mr Putin is "almost treated as a sort of pantomime villain" in the Commons.