Posts Tagged ‘litinenko’

June 2012

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?

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