- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The World Cup of international politics is the G-8 summit. But instead of cleats and a ball, the issues were batted about by the world’s most powerful men and women. Certainly, there was a little diving and tackling and even a yellow card or two. (Mainly to President Bush for his off-color language, used when he thought the microphone was off.)

This annual meeting — attended by leaders from eight nations — was closely watched by observers who no doubt deciphered the body language and words of the world’s leaders. Italy and France met for the first time since the World Cup final, but there was no head butting. Great Britain joined Japan, Germany and Canada for the discussions held on the political pitch in St. Petersburg.

The European Union has often acted as a referee between conflicting countries, and should be applauded for its tireless efforts to promote human rights issues and solve thorny problems. No wonder post-Soviet countries yearn for membership.

Let’s start with Russia. The country is poised to play a critical role in world politics in this century, especially with issues regarding energy resources, nuclear proliferation, economics and military power.

The civilized world still holds the same opinion about Russia as it did during the Cold War, as President Vladimir Putin pointed out the other day in a news conference in Moscow. Though it was decided the country is not ready for the Word Trade Organization, they could eventually prove well qualified to play in the game.

Unless Russia is taken seriously, this vast and powerful country will pose a serious counterbalance to the Western Hemisphere. Russia yearns to be a member of the family, and that includes the European Union and close cooperation with NATO. The modern world simply cannot afford to exclude Russia in decisionmaking.

There are two choices: Either distant ourselves from Russia or do our best to have it as an ally. Imagine the results of such a connection.

Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin have had their differences. As Mr. Putin mentioned, he opposed the war in Iraq. He dismissed Vice President Dick Cheney’s criticisms with a joke about being a bad shot. Terrorists recently brutally murdered five Russian diplomats in Iraq, and the killings deeply affected the country, not unlike the effect on American families of losing loved ones overseas.

Terrorists know no boundaries; they strike at everyone. Russians are familiar with terrorism, having lived with the threat of Chechen violence for the last decade. Innocent children were slaughtered at Beslan, and everywhere in Russia the threat of terrorism is real. Vladimir Putin joined with President Bush in condemning the recent actions of Hezbollah against Israel.

Americans lived through September 11, 2001. Russians suffered through September 2000 when the Chechen terrorists blew up several buildings in Moscow and hundreds of innocent citizens died.

There is no doubt Russia still has a less-than-ideal government. America needs to impress upon Russia that democracy is not just a dream but is a reality. In this century, all people want free elections, free media, reliable infrastructures and stability. Whether Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin will play ball is crucial to the world. Iran is one hot spot, as well as North Korea and the Middle East.

Overshadowing the G-8 was the threat of terrorists killing innocent Israelis. Suddenly, Messrs. Putin and Bush were on the same team.

We need Russia as a partner, not an enemy. Even a “friendemy” is not enough.

America should admire President Bush for his determination to bring democracy in countries that have been downtrodden by dictators and bullies and threatened by terrorists. He cannot achieve this on his own.

He needs international partners and Russia would be the most powerful one.

The threat of terrorism might just be the mutual point at which both countries recognize their vulnerability. After all, it is a common enemy. Al Qaeda threatens Russia’s security as well as America’s. Those diplomats who were murdered in Iraq were martyrs. What was the cause? The killers demanded that Russia withdraw troops from the rebel outpost of Chechnya.

The same killers are demanding America pull out of Iraq and stop all humanitarian efforts building schools and hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Russia and America, though rivals in so many ways, have more in common than not. They want to restore calm in the Middle East.

Let’s just hope now the G-8 summit has ended, President Putin and George Bush have exchanged jerseys with a warm pat on the back. And a common goal.

Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of the Republic of Georgia’s parliament and is writing a book on post-Soviet emerging democracies.

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