- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

Members of the world's most exclusive club the developed, democratic Group of Eight will shortly be travelling to the rural outpost of Kananaskis, Alberta, to meet with each other.

Their agenda is full to bursting. Security is paramount counter-terrorism, Afghan-istan, India and Pakistan, the conflict in the Middle East, nuclear disarmament. The global economy remains fragile; the trajectory of the dollar, the euro and the U.S., French and German stock markets will be feverishly discussed.

When it comes to Russia, events on the fringe of the former Soviet Union are doubtlessly monitored by the G-8, which is made up of the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, Italy and Russia. But events inside Russia are more remote to the concerns of Kananaskis or if not remote, then G-8 leaders are turning a blind eye in the interests of unanimity. After all, the business of the G-8 is global stability and crisis management, not the problems and policies of individual states.

In this regard, the G-8 makes a mistake. The G-8 meeting will only be a partial success if the leaders fail to push their newest member, Russia, towards greater democracy.

The world's largest industrialized economies belong to a "magic circle" built on a common commitment to liberal democracy, capitalism and the free market. These principles underpin any workable consensus on trade and social and multilateral issues.

Few would question Russia's membership in the magic circle on geopolitical grounds alone; despite having an economy the size of Holland, with scarcely 10 years' experience with democracy, Russia shares much in common with the West, including the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and a stake in stable world oil prices. There is no question that the world is safer for democracy and capitalism with (to paraphrase Lyndon Johnson) Russia inside the tent "pointing" out rather than outside the tent "pointing" in. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a realist, a man who as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev we can do business with.

But this should not exempt Mr. Putin from constructive criticism of the club not when stability in Russia is being bought at the expense of democracy.

Ultimately, Russia cannot be stable if it is not democratic. Russia's embrace of the market economy is now irreversible, but its commitment to democracy is drifting and, on the strength of the evidence, tilting towards authoritarianism. In this respect, Mr. Putin is failing in his stewardship of Russia.

Clearly, he has done some things well. His efforts to normalize relations with the United States, Europe and NATO are particularly important to global stability in a post-September 11 context. Domestically, he has pushed through a series of reforms since the beginning of 2001 that should drive Russia toward the creation of a fully functioning market economy. The decision of the European Union and U.S. Commerce Department in recent weeks to grant Russia market-economy status is another stepping stone in the country's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

But political and electoral control still resides with a small elite, and Mr. Putin has further centralized this control by curbing the powers of regional governors. Crime, corruption, a weak judiciary, a lack of transparency, poor corporate governance and a shadow economy fueled by billions of dollars in bribes continue to thrive in Russia. State bureaucracy is considerably worse than it was under Soviet rule.

Moreover, Russia's record on human rights has become worse, not better, since Mr. Putin began polishing his relations with the West. He has wiped out the free press. He has made war on the Chechens when he might have made peace with them. And there is evidence to suggest that, to justify that war, he condoned the murder of Russian civilians by his security forces. In Chechnya, people disappear, they are tortured, there have been massacres, and hundreds are held without trial. Now, Mr. Putin uses the international counterterrorist imperative to screen his government's actions from international scrutiny.

Imagine if Canada, or Japan, behaved in this way. It would be unthinkable. They would be blackballed.

For decades the G-7 (now G-8) has been one of our most effective guarantors of global stability. But this shared commitment to international security is endangered when a member state does not conform to the basic conditions for membership and the prime ones are liberal capitalist democracy and human rights. Mr. Putin's anti-democratic policies undermine Russia's efforts to join the West in partnership and build stronger relationships with the other leaders of the G-8. In backing away from his democratic responsibilities, Mr. Putin fails both Russia and the stability of the global order.

The world has to deal with Mr. Putin, whose position at home and abroad is largely unchallenged. But with the basic rights and freedoms of Russian citizens still not secure, his peers in the G-8 have a duty to themselves and their mandate to remind him quietly of his failures and encourage him in the ways of Russia's development and democratic freedoms. The G-8 leaders must take that opportunity in Kananaskis.


Boris Berezovsky, a former adviser to Boris Yeltsin, is co-chairman of an opposition party, Liberal Russia. He lives in exile in London.


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