First, a question. Why is Russia in the G8? It is far from being a consolidated democracy where press freedom and other liberties are fully guaranteed. It is even farther from being a fully developed economy, with Putin’s domestic support based on high oil and gas prices more than on much-needed reforms. If Russia merits association with the rich, India, Brazil and Spain do as well.
Indeed, Russia is part of the group as a result of two fears. European countries are afraid of Russia’s size. It’s like living next door to the biggest kid on the block, the one with a noisy motorbike who plays hard rock after midnight... But nobody says anything, waiting for the boy to become a (convenient) adult. The U.S., on the other hand, is afraid of the old soldier who keeps an arsenal at home. Now a peaceful citizen, or so it seems, but what happens if he becomes crazy again?
Putin, a determined leader, has taken advantage of our fears in order to restore Russian prestige abroad and consolidate a paternalist democracy at home. He has discovered that gas can be used as a weapon -- it is the politically correct version of a nuclear arsenal. He is also trying to maneuver back into the Middle East by selling nuclear technology to Iran, after losing influence in the region with its withdrawal from Afghanistan almost two decades ago.
Western leaders should respond to Putin’s challenges by putting more pressure in its human rights record, helping NGOs, opposition publications and political groups inside Russia. A fully democratic Russia is not only a good thing for Russians, it is the only real guarantee that our neighbor will become a friend. On the other hand, Russia’s point of view should be taken into consideration on issues sensitive to Moscow: Kosovo is a clear example. Bush made a potentially dangerous mistake in Albania by promoting Kosovo’s independence.
Since he is already admitted to the club, let's try to convert Putin into one of us.
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