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Friday, September 22, 2006

Russia’s Report Card Shows it Needs to Repeat a Century, not Skip One

A string of high-level surveys of social development over the past year have equated Russia’s level of achievement with that of the African nation of Niger, a landlocked sub-Saharan state of 14 million roughly half of whose national budget is derived from foreign aid.

In October of last year the “Corruption Perceptions Index” from the German think tank Transparency International surveyed 159 nations and found that only 30 (less than 19%) were less corrupt than Russia. Russia found itself tied for 9th most corrupt nation in the world with Niger and Sierra Leone.

Then in June, Foreign Policy’s “Failed States Index” for 2005 identified sixty such “failed states” based on various indicators of instability, and Russia was named as one of them. Only 43 nations in the world are bigger failures than Russia according to Foreign Policy. Laos was a slightly bigger failure than Russia, Niger slightly less. Criteria such as human rights, distribution of wealth, flight, police corruption and elitism were reviewed.

And now last week came the World Bank with its “World Governance Indictors” reports, providing results eerily similar to those of TI. The WB study covered over 200 or more countries and territories in each of several categories. Only 57 nations out of 208 surveyed (less than 28%) had lower scores in such areas as voice and accountability, political stability, effectiveness of the government, the quality of regulatory bodies, the rule of law and control over corruption. Here, Russia was trailed Zambia (148), Uganda (149) and Swaziland (150), with Niger (152), Kazakhstan (153) and East Timor (154) just behind it.

When three different studies from three different well-respected organizations spanning the globe all find that Russia’s government and that of Niger are closely linked in terms of their level of accountability and systemic corruption, you know they are on to something. And a question inevitably arises: Is it an oversight that Niger has been excluded from the G-8, or is it an oversight that Russia has been let in?

To be sure, Russia has nuclear weapons. But so do India and China, and they aren’t members of the G-8. True, Russia has oil. But Saudi Arabia pumps out just as much, and its reserves are far larger than Russia’s and far easier to reach. Yet, Saudi Arabia isn’t in the G-8 either. If every nation with some type of claim is admitted, the G-8 will become the United Nations.

Why then admit Russia, especially when so many Russian actions betray hostility to the organization principles of the G-8? Russia is providing nuclear technology to Iran, assault weapons and attack jets to Venezuela and financial support to Hamas. It has obstructed the efforts of the other G-8 nations to impose sanctions on Iran and it has obstructed their efforts to deal with the terrorist uprising in Lebanon directed by Hezbollah. Russia refuses to recognize either Hamas or Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. Russia provided U.S. military secrets to Sadaam Hussein during the war against Iraq and it is violating its treaty with the U.S. concerning nuclear missiles on submarines. It is seeking to oust U.S. oil interests from Russia, most recently those of Exxon. It has been condemned by a resolution of the U.S. Senate for its failure to protect the civil rights of journalists and it recently announced that it will not bow to the United Nations within its sphere of influence in the former USSR. It is brazenly interfering in the domestic politics of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine as well as those of Belarus and the Baltic nations. Violent racism is running rampant (incidents increase by 20-30% each year) and Soviet-era ideology is on the rise. Russian energy monoliths, particularly Gazprom, are being used for political advantage without regard to the economic rights of their shareholders.

It’s time to wake up and realize that there is a fox in the G-8 chicken house. Saying that some sort of leverage may be gained over Russian policy if it is “at the table” might just as well have justified admitting the USSR to NATO or the Cosa Nostra to the College of Cardinals. It’s time to understand that the old canard about Russia needing “time” to develop into a progressive state has been repeated for centuries now without results. Not only won’t time heal any wounds in Russia’s case, but even if it could it’s a luxury Russia can’t afford. Every year the country’s population gets smaller and more unhealthy (by 2020 10% of the population will have HIV), so by the time sufficient time has elapsed there may be nobody left to benefit from the changes.

Instead of demanding that Russia repeat the grades it has failed, we are allowing Russia to skip grades it isn’t even ready for and go from elementary school to MIT. No good can come of that. Russia’s low scores come in a climate of rising oil prices and impressive GDP growth; when the business cycle strikes Russia and the Kremlin is forced to play hardball to keep control, Russia’s scores will be off the charts and the world will have a disaster on its hands.

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