[JURIST] American and European officials meeting in Munich Sunday at the annual Conference on Security Policy [official website] criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] for backsliding on his protection of human rights. US Senator John McCain [official website] went so far as to suggest an international boycott of the upcoming G-8 [US State Department backgrounder] summit to be hosted by Putin in St. Petersburg [summit website] in June, saying in a speech [text]:
The Kremlin...continues to pursue foreign and domestic policies strongly at odds with our interests and values....It continues to prosecute a brutal war in Chechnya that has killed as many as 200,000, radicalizing the Muslim population, and it actively supports dictatorships in Central Asia. As one journalist recently catalogued, the broadcast media are Kremlin-controlled, as are parliament, provincial governors, and the judiciary. All of these were free and independent when Mr. Putin took office. Andrei Illarionov, Mr. Putin's former economics advisor, said upon resigning, "It is one thing to work in a partly free country, which Russia was six years ago. It is quite another when the country has ceased to be politically free."Russia currently holds the rotating presidency of the G-8 and will assume leadership of the Council of Europe, charged with monitoring compliance with human rights, later this year. Putin's government has most recently come in for sharp international criticism [JURIST report] for its tightened regulation of NGOs [JURIST report], including major human rights groups. The International Herald Tribune has more.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, the West invested resources, political capital, and above all hope in Russia. We wanted to see a reformist, democratic, capitalist Russia acting in partnership with the West. But let's be honest with ourselves - everything we see today indicates that the Russian government has chosen its path, and it is not ours. The Kremlin seems to prefer the pursuit of autocracy at home and abroad, to prefer blocking concerted action against rogue states, to prefer weakening what it views as democratic adversaries. This is a Soviet mindset, not a post-Cold War one. Under Mr. Putin, Russia today is neither a democracy nor one of the world's leading economies, and I seriously question whether the G8 leaders should attend the St. Petersburg summit.