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The Times: Menace from Moscow

EXTRACT: Russian pressure on oil contracts came because Shell had struck a “colonial” agreement with Moscow while BP, with its Russian partner TNK, had not met its commitments.

June 4, 2007

Western leaders should listen to Putin and tell him where he is wrong

A year ago a commanding President Putin hosted the first G8 summit held in Russia. This week, as he heads to another gathering of the world’s leading industrial powers, he will find a far cooler reception.

Russia’s behaviour over the past year has irritated and alarmed Western partners: the bullying of Georgia and Estonia; the pressure put on Western investors, especially energy companies, to alter contracts; the unrelenting crackdown on the media, opposition groups and nongovernmental organisations; the challenge to Washington over Iraq, Iran and missile deployments in Eastern Europe; and the refusal to extradite the main suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to Britain. All this has exacerbated worsening East-West relations, which are suffering from a Big Chill, if not a Cold War.

Mr Putin neither acknowledges nor regrets anything he has done, and that has prompted some critics in the West to call for Russia’s expulsion from the G8.

And in a combative interview with The Times, he attempted to turn the tables with sharp attacks on Western policies. The plunge in relations with America, he suggested, was largely caused by US plans to deploy a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

Russian pressure on oil contracts came because Shell had struck a “colonial” agreement with Moscow while BP, with its Russian partner TNK, had not met its commitments. The evidence Britain presented on the Litvinenko case was “stupid, stupid nonsense”, politically motivated and advanced by “those who hide terrorists and thieves on their own territory”. As for backsliding on freedom, Mr Putin accused the West of hypocrisy in criticising Russia while condoning “torture” at Guantanamo and violence against demonstrators in Europe.

Mr Putin has not forgotten his KGB training or the mindset of the old Soviet Union. Whenever communist leaders were criticised for abuses, the retort was to point to supposedly similar cases in the West and accuse Western leaders of hypocrisy. Putin’s focus is sharp: Guantanamo, Iraq and US withdrawal from the AntiBallistic Missile Treaty have been controversial among G8 members. But in his interview Mr Putin, formidably briefed, went further than mere rebuttal: his tone was as coldly menacing as some of his responses. Scorning threats of missile attacks on America from Iran and North Korea, he warned Washington that, if it went ahead with the deployment of interceptors in former Warsaw Pact countries, Russia “would have to respond”. Russia could retarget its own missiles at Europe and tear up landmark Soviet-era treaties on conventional forces and intermediate-range missiles.

His belligerence is explainable partly by the jostling in the Kremlin as he sticks – commendably – to his decision to leave office next year, and partly by the authoritarian mood gripping not just the Kremlin but swaths of Russian public opinion. Dozens of others would be as uncompromising and antiWestern as Mr Putin: there is a nasty whiff of Weimar in Russia nowadays.

Western leaders, to their credit, will not be intimidated, and the Russian leader’s host, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been commendably forthright in telling him so. The West still needs a partnership with Russia, however awkward: Iran, Iraq, energy supplies, the nuclear balance and the struggle against terrorism depend still on Kremlin responses. It is in no one’s interest to expel an angry Russia from G8. His partners should listen to Mr Putin’s well-marshalled arguments but tell him bluntly where he is wrong.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article1878661.ece

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