Leading article: The hard politics of Russia's new global power

Share

Russia's assumption of the G8 presidency this weekend could not come at a more sensitive time for its Western colleagues in this group of rich states. Just as the organisation tries to expand its economic remit to include human rights and global poverty, a country that is increasingly condemned for human rights abuses becomes its leader.

The inclusion of Russia in the old G7 was always an odd business. The decision was essentially political - a carrot held out to Boris Yeltsin's chaotic but friendly state which was supposed to turn into a cuddly democracy once teething problems associated with its particularly unsavoury brand of Wild West capitalism had been ironed out.

It never worked out that way, and now the Europeans find themselves uneasily joined under the same canopy by a leader whose authoritarian and anti-democratic instincts are revealed with growing clarity. An additional problem is that Vladimir Putin's Russia is using its vast reserves of energy to strut the world stage. Flinging off the role of the West's docile pupil, the Kremlin has formed a close, effective partnership with China, another restive and authoritarian state.

The ramifications of what one might call the Putin Doctrine can be seen at home and in what many Russians regrettably call the near-abroad, by which they mean the old Soviet Union. At home, Mr Putin's indifference to Western criticism has allowed him to steamroller over his opponents, be they independent television stations, oligarchs with political ambitions of their own, independent-minded regional governors and - lately - foreign-based NGOs. Their very existence is imperilled by the expected passage of new laws curbing their finances and political activities. Most recently, Andrei Illarionov, a former close adviser to Mr Putin, has resigned from the Kremlin, saying Russia is no longer politically or economically a free country.

Abroad, Mr Putin's oil and gas-powered assertiveness has revealed itself in an attempt to interfere with the democratic process in Ukraine, to intimidate those Baltic states that rely on Russia for energy, and to reassert Russian control over the ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus and central Asia.

This presents the rest of the G8 with a dilemma. How are they to reconcile their newly honed idealism on human rights and democracy with the Russian leader's disinterest, or hostility, to those same issues? The forthright answer of some American senators is to call for the United States to boycott the G8 summit next summer in St Petersburg. Human Rights Watch, whose activities may soon be curtailed under the new law on NGOs, wants other G8 members to put this issue at the top of their agenda when they meet Mr Putin.

Neither the NGOs nor the senators are likely to receive much satisfaction, for the demands imposed by America's war on terrorism have made it very indulgent of Russia's own campaigns against what it pleases to call Islamic terrorists. As for the Europeans, they are now so dependent on the world's largest supplier of natural gas that they are equally unlikely to rock Mr Putin's G8 throne in 2006. This is unfortunate, for if 2006 is not to see the reassertion of brutal power politics at the expense of human rights, Europe has to hold out the carrot and stick to the Kremlin using the bargaining counter of trade.

If this is not to happen, then the least worst outcome would be for the G8 to withdraw from the rights arena altogether and return to its original brief of pure economics. That at least would save us from the prospect of Mr Putin distorting the G8's human rights policies to fit the Kremlin's own world view.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition