Putin's G-8

There have been calls from various quarters for the Group of Eight industrialized countries to take a stand against the conduct of one of its own members, albeit a new member. That member, which currently holds the G-8 chairmanship, is Russia.

U.S. Sen. John McCain stated on April 2 that the "glimmerings of democracy are very faint in Russia today" and called on the U.S. to take a tough stand against the Putin administration's regressive policies. He pointed to President Vladimir Putin's repression of the news media; his backing for Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, known as "the last dictator in Europe"; and his refusal to cooperate with the U.S. on the issue of nukes in Iran. The senator is so critical of Russia's behavior that he called on President George W. Bush to not attend the G-8 summit scheduled to take place in Mr. Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg in July. Others in the U.S. have echoed the senator's call for a boycott of the summit.

The Washington Post, in an April 23 editorial titled "Imperialist Gas," stated that "Russian foreign policy seems to grow more aggressive with each week that President Vladimir Putin serves as chairman of the Group of Eight." The Post pointed to Gazprom's and Russia's bullying of client states and neighbors over gas supplies, the most striking example of which was the New Year's Day cutoff of gas to Ukraine. Most recently, RFE/RL reported that Gazprom has begun talking about the new price for gas that Ukraine will have to pay come July, adding that price concessions could be considered only if Ukraine agreed to a consortium with Russia for joint control over the Ukrainian gas-pipeline network - a tactic Russia has used with other neighbors.

At the same time, Andrei Illarionov, a former senior economic advisor to Mr. President Putin, has gone on record on more than one occasion as questioning whether Russia should even be a member of the G-8. Writing in The Washington Post on April 18, he noted that Russia "meets only one criterion for membership: the size of its economy." Otherwise, on measures of political rights, the battle against corruption, independence of the judicial system, etc., it doesn't even come close to matching international standards.

President Bush, meanwhile, has stated that he intends to attend the summit because he fears that snubbing ol' Vlad would be counterproductive. "I need to be in a position where I can sit down with [him] and be very frank about our concerns," he explained, adding that he has not "given up" on Russian democracy.

But it's not enough to have a quiet chat with Mr. Putin. Some sort of public demonstration of censure is called for on the part of the seven other members of the G-8. Otherwise, as Mr. Illarionov and others have pointed out, the summit will be seen as a sign of support for the Russian president and his odious policies.

Otherwise the G-8 summit will be Mr. Putin's show.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 30, 2006, No. 18, Vol. LXXIV

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