Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Russia and the West at St. Petersburg

In one of the previous post, I took up an article by Anders Åslund, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As a former diplomat of Sweden, he insisted that the St. Petersburg Summit was a good opportunity for the West to demand more democratic changes in Russia, because it chairs the meeting of top Western democracies. Things are evolving as he says? A key player on Iranian and North Korean issues, the West needs to understand political ad economic changes in Russia.

Since then, Åslund has moved to the Institute for International Economics as a senior Fellow, and published a policy brief to question Russia’ s qualification for the Summit membership. Last year, Republican Senator John McCain and Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman requested President George W. Bush to suspend Russia’s membership to the Summit until the Kremlin accepted "the norms and standards of free, democratic societ­ies as generally practiced by every other member nation of the Group of 8 nations." Åslund worries that G8 chairmanship would legitimize Putin’s authoritarian rule. In addition, Russian economy is almost the same size as Brazil and Mexico. Judging from these, Russia’s qualification for the member of the club of prestigious democracy is questionable. Moreover, he warns that Russian membership would lead to further expansion of the Summit. If China, India, Brazil, and South Africa are admitted, the meeting of top industrialized democracy will be diluted.

How should the West deal with Russia? The International Herald Tribune presents completely opposite viewpoints in the editorial on July 13.

Former US Vice Presidential Candidates, John Edwards of Democratic Party, and Jack Kemp of Republican Party, insists that the West be tough with Russia. They recognize that the West needs a strong relationship with Russia to handle global challenges including terrorism, WMD proliferation, climate change, infectious disease and so forth. However, they are concerned with substantial disagreements between Russia and the West. An authoritarian Russia balks American security policy in the Middle East and Central Asia. They argue the West lead Russia towards more democratic, open, and transparent society.

On the other hand, former British ambassador to Russia Sir Roderic Lyne insists that the West be patient with Russia. He mentions that current Russia is in transition in the post-imperial era. In security, Russia is trying to prevent further erosion of influence in the former Soviet republics, but it is not looking for confrontation with the West. Just recently, Russia has attempted to change Ukrainian policy towards pro-Russian by cutting gas supply. However, Lyne says that “energy superpower” is a slogan and bluff, and Russian leaders understand their growth depends on foreign capital and partners.

I agree that Russia is still in transition. However, I wonder why the Kremlin shows czarist attitude. In foreign policy, Russia develops further strategic cooperation with China, as if it were trying to counter the West. Resurgence of KGB authoritarianism is an obstacle to improve Russo-Western relations. These are not the case with nations in New Europe. The global community understands how pro-Western and democratic they are.

The St. Petersburg Summit is a landmark in post Cold War international politics. This is the first time for Russia to chair G8. Unfortunately, crisis in Palestine and North Korea have put issues like further reform in Russia and security in the Former Soviet Union, aside. These points are vital to define the relationship between Russia and the West. As witnessed in the North Korean crisis, Russia allies itself with authoritarian China. Will the Northern Giant be a partner or adversary to the Western democracies? This summit failed to illustrate this point.