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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living