Living with Putin, again

The Economist

On the margin of the G20 summit later this month Russia’s new (but also old) president, Vladimir Putin, will meet America’s Barack Obama for the first time since his election in March. The atmosphere is likely to be chilly. That is as it should be, for since his decision last autumn to return to the Kremlin, Mr Putin has been stridently negative and anti-Western, most recently over Syria (see article). Such behaviour demands a stiff response from the West.

When Mr Obama came to power, his administration talked of a “reset” in relations with Russia. This new, friendlier approach had some useful consequences. It enabled America to negotiate and ratify a strategic arms-reduction treaty. It helped to bring about a slightly more constructive Russian attitude to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And it secured Russia’s imminent entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Just as with China a decade ago, WTO membership should press Russia to compete more openly and fairly in world markets and to abide more closely by international trade rules.

But the reset was based in part on two misplaced hopes: that Dmitry Medvedev, who had been lent the presidency for one term by Mr Putin in 2008, would genuinely take charge of the country, and that some in his government had sound liberalising, pro-Western instincts. Those hopes were dashed by Mr Putin’s swatting aside of Mr Medvedev last September to allow his own return to the Kremlin, the rigging of elections, his crackdown on Moscow’s protesters and his new Nyet posture.

This should not lead to a total rupture with Russia. Constructive engagement should continue on the economic front. With the oil price falling, stronger economic ties to the West could help to create a business constituency inside Russia that sees the need for greater liberalisation to keep the economy growing. The West should certainly look at introducing reasonable visa rules for Russian businesspeople (Britain’s are absurdly tough). Other cold-war relics, such as America’s Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions, should also go. And why not dangle in front of the bauble-loving Mr Putin the prospect of Russian membership of the OECD rich-country club? Or a free-trade agreement with the European Union?

But if it is right to engage economically, it is also right to condemn Mr Putin’s illiberal autocracy. Mr Obama should bluntly criticise Russia’s poor human-rights and democratic credentials. Western ambassadors should not hesitate to talk to opposition protesters in Moscow just because the Kremlin objects.

In foreign policy, too, the West should stand firm. Russia cannot be allowed to veto America’s missile-defence plans in Europe. Nor should Mr Putin’s continued blocking of UN Security Council resolutions authorising intervention in Syria be treated as an insurmountable bar to action, any more than it was in Kosovo in 1999. G20 leaders should do their utmost to embarrass Mr Putin over his backing for Mr Assad. This week Hillary Clinton, America’s secretary of state, was admirably tough, condemning Russia’s sales of arms to Syria.

Tough on corruption, tough on the causes of corruption

Mr Putin respects toughness, not weakness. This matters when it comes to his government’s more egregious behaviour, such as the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once boss of the Yukos oil company, the killing of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for William Browder, a foreign investor, or the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former security official. In cases like these it is right to try to identify the individuals involved so as to deny them visas and freeze their assets, as a congressional legislative amendment related to the Magnitsky case proposes. Equally it is right to work against money laundering through Western financial centres. Russia should not be singled out, but it should be treated like other autocratic and corrupt countries.

Mr Putin cultivates the image of a popular and admired strongman, but the wave of protests since he announced his return to the Kremlin has exposed his weakness and loss of support. His power base is beginning to erode. Economic engagement with the West, combined with firm criticism of his democratic and human-rights abuses at home and abroad, are the best response. unshaven girl онлайн займ https://www.zp-pdl.com https://www.zp-pdl.com займ на карту срочно без отказа

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