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Daily Telegraph: We must stand up to Russian autocracy

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 19/02/2007

One of the most basic – and commonsensical – principles of foreign policy is that if you appease a nasty regime, it will get nastier. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is such a regime: an increasingly unsavoury, disruptive and anti-democratic member of the international community.

And yet every time it flexes its muscles – over its relations with its neighbours, or its attitude towards human rights, or now, with a $183 billion armaments programme, its military capability – it is met with a timorous response from a West addicted to Russia’s energy supplies.

Greatly to their credit, the Conservatives, and especially the shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox, have consistently warned that Russia is becoming as much of a threat as an ally. Yet the Government’s response has been pitiful: a spokesman today reiterated that Russia was “a key partner” of Britain’s on the international stage.

A better word to describe our relationship with the Kremlin would be “accessory” – an accessory to Russia’s brutal human rights abuses in Chechnya; to its energy-based blackmail of its “near abroad”; to its maintenance of semi-criminal enclaves such as Transdniestria in Moldova; to the harsh treatment of those, such as former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who dare defy President Putin.

Russia is hardly the only nation exploiting a commodities boom to arm itself to the teeth – as The Sunday Telegraph reported earlier this month, the Gulf states are laying out billions to protect themselves from the mullahs of Teheran.

As we have said before, this is a world that is becoming rapidly more dangerous, and it is alarming that the Government refuses to finance our military to anything like the extent required.

Yet our position with respect to Russia is particularly problematic, given that Britain has, through the accident of the concentration of Russian emigrés in London, become both a nexus of hostility to Mr Putin and a target for his anger.

Nobody wants to see our generals dusting off their Cold War strategy folders. But there are concrete actions which the British Government can take to stand up to Russian autocracy – thereby, incidentally, improving the lot of ordinary Russians by promoting democratic values.

The first is to insist that detectives investigating the killing of Alexander Litvinenko meet with no Kremlin-inspired obstacles, and can prosecute and extradite as the evidence demands. The second is to end the absurdity whereby Russia sits as a member of the G8.

Whether you set the membership criteria by virtue of democratic legitimacy or economic development, Russia does not deserve to be there – and such a slap in the face would send a clear message of disapproval. Above all, the West’s policy should be to make it clear that Mr Putin’s claiming a constitutionally prohibited third term in office, or acting as puppeteer to a hand-picked successor, would be utterly unacceptable. Russia is still, theoretically at least, a democracy. Our goal should be to make sure that it acts like one.
 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml;jsessionid=4BPEEJR3O0SBFQFIQMGSFF4AVCBQWIV0?xml=/opinion/2007/02/19/dl1901.xml

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