- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

If other leaders in the Group of Eight had hoped for any symbolism in the decision to host the 2006 summit in St. Petersburg, which was founded by Czar Peter the Great as a Western-oriented Russian city, this weekend would have shredded any such myth. “I believe that the G-8 nations will demonstrate convincingly their cohesion in St. Petersburg,” Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote in an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune before the summit, but Mr. Putin’s conduct this weekend disproved his own bromide. Mr. Putin has shown that Russia is more incompatible with the other members of the G-8 now than in 2002, when those leaders agreed to give Russia the 2006 presidency.

The G-8 leaders issued a communique Sunday calling for an end to hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. Not specifically named in the statement, however, are Syria and Iran — although the United States wanted a statement that faulted both countries for their support of Hezbollah. As President Bush said before meeting with India’s prime minister, Syria “housed and encouraged” the terrorist organization. Six other nations supported such a statement, according to reports, but Russia blocked it. That Mr. Putin, in his position as president of the G-8, barred such language from the resolution should be seen as unacceptable by the other G-8 countries.

Mr. Bush went out of his way to be circumspect in his statements about the deteriorating state of Russian democracy. Mr. Putin, on the other hand, smirked during a joint press conference as he fired off the sarcastic remark, “We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I can tell you quite honestly.” The Russian president’s snide comment marred a press conference that should have been an affirmation of a strong mutual interest in stopping nuclear proliferation and extremist terrorism.

The United States will continue to block Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, standing firm on issues such as intellectual piracy. Following Mr. Putin’s example, Washington should show no willingness to concede any ground to Moscow in these negotiations.

Mr. Putin’s serious disruption of the composition of the joint statement and his gratuitously hostile sarcasm during the press conference cannot be overlooked as the United States recalibrates its relationship with Russia. In light of its geopolitical importance and steady development into the energy superpower that Mr. Putin has touted, the United States owes it to itself to have the best relationship possible with Russia. But we owe nothing to Russia.

With its performance this weekend, Russia has moved a step closer to being the odd man out in the club of industrialized democracies. Russia’s usefulness in the G-8 should be seriously questioned, and we wonder if Mr. Putin deserves an invitation to the summit next year in Germany.

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