The meeting in St. Petersburg ought to be the last meeting of the G8. Russia doesn’t belong in this organization. Putin’s Russia is not a part of the “West,” and has set its own decidedly non-Western course in terms of domestic institutions and foreign policy. Domestically, Russia is returning to authoritarianism and rule by a strongman. Putin’s regime is effectively eliminating free media and freedom to organize political opposition in Russia – Russia hardly qualifies as a democracy today, reason enough to remove it from the G7. In terms of foreign policy, Russia is continues to view neighbors such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova as escaped colonies, and actively sabotages their independence. It actively supports Lukashenka’s brutal dictatorship in Belarus. It also tries to play its own games – incompetently, I think its clear – with Hamas and Iran. The Russian economy is built on natural resources – especially energy – and dominated by state monopolies in this sector – a very poor basis for long run economic performance. In short, there’s little about Russia that qualifies it as a modern and advancing country. But this isn’t a return to Soviet times, either – it is much more akin to Russia’s Tsarist traditions.
What Russia does
have going for it is that it is big, and nuclear. No doubt the first world will continue to try woo the Russian government with continual moral lectures and political concessions (such as membership in the G8). Just as in 1997 when Russia was called “too big to fail” (and hence additional IMF tranches were thrown away in a futile attempt to stave off Russian default), Russia is today seen as “too big to let go” even though it has already left the advanced countries and set off on its own, purely Russian course – advancing steadily towards the 19th Century. It’s unfortunate that Western leaders have so little backbone – the proper way to deal with the Russian regime isn’t confrontation – but neither is it capitulation and accommodation. In particular, Russian participation in things such as G8 and WTO should be conditional, not automatic, and conditions should certainly include staying the hell out of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and an end to active support for the Iranian nuclear efforts.