The West Must Not Turn Its Back on RussiaBy Andrew C. Kuchins
Russia's ties with the West have been experiencing growing tension of late. The Yukos affair, the conduct of the parliamentary and presidential elections, increasingly Soviet-like national television and other developments have contributed to what U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and others have diplomatically alluded to as a "values gap." Debates about Russia and its place in international institutions have become more heated. Similarly, Russia's stances toward the United States, NATO and the European Union have also become more contentious. Unfortunately many of these discussions are replete with dubious interpretations of revisionist history and patently unconstructive approaches from both sides. This has been especially true concerning the future of Russia's role in the G-8 as well as its ties with the newly expanded NATO.
Bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, House Resolution 336, introduced by Democrat Tom Lantos and Republican Christopher Cox, calls for throwing Russia out of the G-8 if it does not make significant progress on a number of issues, including: the rule of law, including protection from selective prosecution and protection from arbitrary state-directed violence; a court system free of political influence and manipulation; a free and independent media; a political system open to participation by all citizens and that protects freedom of expression and association; and the protection of universally recognized human rights. This resolution follows similar legislation introduced into the Senate by Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican John McCain in the fall, after the arrest of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
There is no question that all of the above points are laudable issues. I and many of my colleagues in and out of government have expressed concern about them over the years and increasingly in the last six months. There is also no question that Russia is deficient on these points in comparison with other G-8 member states. But there are no formal membership criteria for the G-8. Informally, the criteria are that member countries be developed market democracies with large and influential economies. When Russia was invited to become a formal member of the G-8 in 1997, it did not meet any of the above criteria. Even today it really meets only one of those criteria since it was recognized as a market economy by the United States and the European Union in 2002. Even now, into its sixth year of economic growth, Russia is not one of the 10 largest economies in the world. And while Russia was hardly a perfect democracy in 1997, it would be difficult to posit the argument that positive progress has occurred on this front.
So if Russia didn't come close to meeting the loose membership criteria, why was it let in? Well, it was pretty simple. We wanted things from the Yeltsin administration, and membership in this prestigious international club...