Writing in the Canadian National Post, pundit Lorne Gunter (pictured) calls for Russia's expulsion from the G-8, something LR has advocated for months now. When the Candians start talking expulsion, you know Russia's gone way over the brink.
Quite frankly, there's not much the world can do to make the Russian government behave civilly toward its own people. Nor can we prevent the kind of brutal repression of peaceful democratic protest witnessed in St. Petersburg over the weekend. But the world's major industrial nations can at least register their disgust at Russia's slide into autocracy. And the best way to do that is by expelling Russia from the G8 and scuttling its efforts to join the World Trade Organization.
It's easier for the West to put economic (and perhaps even military) pressure on a country such as Iran. Sanctions have a better chance of success with countries that rely so heavily on outside trade.
Squeezing a former superpower that still possesses one of the world's largest armies, not to mention thousands of nuclear warheads, is much tougher, though. Still, the Kremlin craves international respect and a place at the table setting trade policy. We should deny it that privilege for as long as it refuses to respect the basic democratic rights of its citizenry.
President Vladimir Putin is afraid of a Russian version of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. In 2004, ordinary Ukrainians, desirous of true democratic freedom, protested night after night for weeks to prevent their country's Russian-allied political parties from stealing an election win. They remained on the streets until they were guaranteed free and fair elections (which pro-Western democratic parties eventually won).
In Russia, over the past few months a number of "Dissenters' Marches" have been held by a loose coalition of anti-Putin parties and organizations calling themselves the Other Russia. Led by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Other Russia casts the protests as the only way to get out the message that Mr. Putin is slowing turning Russia into an oligarchy run by himself and a score of billionaire businessmen. They worry that he might declare the Russian constitution void so
that he may seek a third term as president next spring, something the constitution forbids.
Their protests have been attracting ever greater numbers. So this past weekend, Mr. Putin started to crack down. When Other Russia protesters went ahead with planned demonstrations, even after they had been denied permits, Mr. Putin sent 9,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops into the street of Moscow, and as many as 5,000 in St. Petersburg, to rough up marchers and arrest their leaders.
On Sunday, the police charged into demonstrators in St. Petersburg and injured scores of them with their batons. In all, more than 300 were arrested on the weekend, including Mr. Kasparov and Mr. Kasyanov.Never truly a democrat during in his seven years in office, of late Mr. Putin's dictatorial instincts have become much more brazen. He has pulled the plug on independent broadcast media and closed most independent papers. During his rule, over 80 anti-government reporters have been killed, too. Also, just after Christmas, opposition Web sites began being blocked, although no one in the Kremlin will admit it is behind the move.
President Putin has banned local and regional elections, and centralized all decision-making in Moscow. He has seized the assets of businessmen who oppose him, even jailing those who refuse to relinquish control to him or his supporters. And he has revoked leases granted to foreign natural gas companies. This past winter, he even shut down gas supplies to Western Europe, in part to warn EU nations not to speak out too harshly on his tightening grasp on power or his meddling in the politics of Ukraine,Georgia and Belarus.
The galling things is that Russians themselves seem to like Mr. Putin's strongman tactics. Earlier this year, the EU-Russia Centre think-tank said a survey it had commissioned showed only 16% of Russians favoured the "Western model" of democracy, while 35%, said they prefer "the Soviet system before the 1990s."Mr. Putin's personal popularity is rated near 70%. The West cannot force those attitudes to change. But neither do our governments have to silently accept the slow descent of Russia into a new totalitarianism. Canada and the other nations of the original G7 should tell Moscow that if such state violence is repeated, Russian will be drummed out. And they could warn that Russia's membership in the WTO -- now merely awaiting approval from Vietnam and Cambodia -- will be obstructed by the major industrial nations as well.
That may not stop Mr. Putin. But even if it doesn't, Westerners are under no obligation to consort with the Russians if they won't respect human rights and the rule of law.