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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Heartless Tsar Vladimir Leaves Africa to Starve: This Looks Like a Job for Bonoman

Britain's Daily Mirror reports that Ebineezer Putin has refused to allow the G-8 to discuss aid for starving Africa. Bono is never around when you need him! This reminds us all that Russia is not only not giving away some of its oil largesse to less-fortunate countries, it is not even investing the money in its own disappearing population. Rather it is simply hoarding the money for the Kremlin's own illicit purposes of power and dictatorship, and the Russian people are blithely allowing this to occur.

Tony Blair dared to dream. Bob Geldof, Bill Gates and even Blair's some-time enemy Gordon Brown all believed it was possible to turn Africa around.

But unfortunately, it is not a dream shared by Vladimir Putin.

Probably more than any world leader, Blair had committed himself to grappling with the seemingly intractable problems of poverty, famine, warfare and corruption. Instead of the usual hand-wringing over the dire state of the continent, the Prime Minister had turned his mind to working out a concrete plan which truly would Make Poverty History. Spurred on by the Live8 concerts, their consciences sharpened by Blair's presidency of the G8 group, the world's most powerful economies - Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, Canada and the USA - vowed that no longer would African children be robbed of a future. Aid was boosted, debt cancelled, generous programmes to tackle disease and improve education were adopted, and pledges made to intervene in civil wars and stamp out state corruption.

Perhaps most crucially, the G8 committed itself to signing up to a new world trade agreement introducing a level playing field to international markets and giving Africa a fighting chance.
But just a year later Africa's future looks bleaker than ever. And it's largely down to the Russians.

Vladimir Putin is now in the G8 driving seat and he has problems of his own to resolve before he allows his attentions to be distracted by the miseries of the Third World. And so Tony Blair's dream of being remembered as the British Prime Minister who saved Africa lies in tatters.

Any suggestion that this year's meeting of G8 could be used as a progress check on last year's Gleneagles agreements has run into a massive obstacle. President Putin is chairing this year's talks, which begin in St Petersburg on Saturday. And he has absolutely no intention of allowing Africa to dominate the agenda. If he allows it on the agenda at all.

From the viewpoint of the cynical Russian bear, the crocodile tears shed over Africa were all very well, but the time has now come for serious work. Membership of such a powerful club, which admitted Russia just three years ago, can bring great rewards. And now the gang are meeting on Russian soil for the first time, President Putin believes it is time to bring home the roubles. The transition from communism to capitalism has been a rocky one for this vast nation of 143 million people. Elections are due and Mr Putin, an autocrat by temperament with a somewhat shaky relationship with democracy and a less than spotless human rights records, needs to convince his people that his way is the right way.

He plans to appeal to them where it matters most - their pockets. And Africa, with her 800 million hungry mouths, is a luxury he can't afford. As president of the G8 in 2006, it falls to Putin to draw up the agenda for the St Petersburg talks. Africa isn't on it. Instead, the three principle items are: Energy Security, Education and Infectious Diseases. In a clumsy and patronising move designed to spare Tony Blair's blushes, the British PM has been invited to give a "special talk" on progress on the Gleneagles agreements. Asked why Africa was not on the main agenda, a senior Russian official close to Mr Putin told the Daily Mirror: "We will have Africa. It was very important to the UK presidency and Tony Blair, so we asked him to give a special report on the progress on what has happened since Gleneagles in St Petersburg.
"We understand there is a lack of money for certain projects and the leaders will be talking about that." Diplomat speak for: "We have far better things to do with our cash."

Undaunted, Mr Blair will do his best this weekend to claw back a bit of agenda time for Africa. Asked yesterday at Prime Minister's Question Time why the issue was not on the main agenda at St Petersburg, he said, bleakly and obliquely: "It is important that we reconnect there on the objectives on helping Africa. "One of the single most important issues which will be running through the summit, if not formally, will be the world trade talks. At the moment they are stalled. This weekend may be one of the last opportunities we have got to re-start those talks productively and get the right agreement." It is the words "if not formally" that are telling. Because in drawing up the formal agenda, President Putin made it clear he had far more important fish to fry than Africa - most notably, energy.

With the world's resources becoming increasingly scarce, and the Middle East spiralling out of control, a nervous Europe is wondering how to ensure the lights stay on. As the instability and violence gripping countries from Palestine and Iraq to Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan are made even more toxic by the terrorist threat from al-Qaeda, no large western economy can rely on such a troubled region for its future fuel supply. And Russia, with its vast oil and gas fields, is promising - some would say threatening - to provide the solution. Top of Putin's agenda at the G8 is fuel "interdependence" - that is, my gas is your gas, my oil is yours ... Except that most of it is Russia's.

A Senior aide told the Daily Mirror that attempts by nations to go it alone and ome fuel independent were "egotistical". Exactly what the "egotistical" Blair presumably had in mind with his new generation of nuclear power stations announced earlier this week. For Mr Putin's "interdependence," many read "dependence on Russia". This fear was fuelled earlier this year when tensions rose between the Kremlin and Ukraine after a west-leaning presidential candidate was elected over Moscow's choice. Furious, the Russians pulled the plug on Ukraine's gas supply in the middle of one of Europe's coldest winters when Kiev refused to pay a price hike of 360 per cent.

The Kremlin insisted that far from seeking to bully Ukraine, it was merely ending the practice of subsidising fuel for its former Soviet states. It allowed Mr Putin to put $5billion back into his own economy - money neither he nor the Russian people are prepared to see frittered away on Africa. Whether the rest of the G8 will see matters quite the same way is unclear, but one thing is certain. Amid the high-level power-play, Tony Blair's dreams of bringing hope to poor, blighted Africa don't stand a chance.

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