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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

EU,US, Baltic States These countries have become the enemies in the new "chilly war" being waged by Russias authorities. At the same time, new friends have emerged in the shape of the leaders of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Iran, Algeria, Venezuela, Burma and Hamas. A quite different G8.  
Why G8 could jeopardise the fate of democracy in Russia  
Telegraph, 24 May 2006  
Russia meets only one criterion for membership of the Group of Eight of the leading industrialised democracies: the size of its economy.  
In terms of political rights, Russia ranks 168th out of 192 countries, according to Freedom House. In terms of corruption, Transparency International puts it 126th out of 159.  
The World Economic Forum calculates that when it comes to favouritism in governmental decisions, Russia rates 85th of 108; protection of property rights 88th of 108; and independence of the judicial system 84th out of 102.  
Abroad, the original G7 countries and Russia take opposite approaches to nearly every essential issue on the global agenda. Instead of trade negotiations, Russia wages trade wars against its neighbours over visas, electricity, natural gas, wine and even mineral water.  
Russias official media have whipped up propaganda against the hard-won democracy chosen by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, as well as against the Baltic countries, Europe and the US.  
These countries have become the enemies in the new "chilly war" being waged by Russias authorities. At the same time, new friends have emerged in the shape of the leaders of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Iran, Algeria, Venezuela, Burma and Hamas. A quite different G8.  
In recent months, Russian state-owned energy companies have been eyeing western Europe, provoking outrage in the media - but, curiously, not among European leaders.  
The reaction - or lack thereof - from Western leaders raises the issue of whether they will be courageous enough to defend the values they say their countries represent.  
The question now occupying the minds of leaders of the G7 countries is whether to participate in the July G8 summit in St Petersburg.  
Idealists - including the influential US senator John McCain - have proposed a boycott. Pragmatists oppose that approach. In either case, a bad outcome is inevitable.  
Pragmatists want energy security on the agenda, along with another attempt to persuade Russias government to accept universal democratic values. But it would be naive to expect substantial results.  
The Russian authorities have demonstrated how they understand energy security.  
Instead of liberalisation and privatisation of energy assets, they are opting for nationalisation of private companies, cementing state control over the electricity grid and pipeline system and, on the international scene, attempting to use non-market methods to manage international energy resources. Is this something the G7 leaders are ready to accept?  
Who really thinks that the Russian authorities are going to opt for radical change after listening to their G7 mentors? Will Russian leaders cease their destruction of civil-society organisations? Reverse anti-democratic laws adopted in recent years? Allow free and fair campaigns and elections in 2007 and 2008? Give up control over the judicial system or the media? Return fired journalists to their posts? Cease interfering in business? Refund confiscated property and fines of citizens and companies? Return billions of dollars of state assets? Launch investigations into bureaucrats, judges and prosecutors who have made illegal decisions?  
The very suggestion that foreign leaders are being urged to speak "frankly" about Russias domestic affairs confirms that Russia is not considered a fully fledged member of the G8, even by those who intend to come.  
But what is most important is the way the summit will be perceived and how it will be used.  
The G8 summit can only be interpreted as a sign of support by the worlds most powerful organisation for Russias leadership - a stamp of approval for its violations of individual rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law, its discrimination against non-governmental organisations, nationalisation of private property, use of energy resources as a weapon, and aggression toward democratically oriented neighbours.  
The summit will provide the best possible confirmation of what the Russian authorities never tire of repeating: that there are no fundamental differences between Western and Russian leaders.  
Like us, Russias leaders will say, they are interested merely in appearing to care about the rights of individuals and market forces; like us, they merely talk about freedom and democracy. The G8 summit will serve as an inspiring example for todays dictators and tomorrows tyrants.  
True, Russian patriots favour Russias membership of the G8 - but a free, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Russia. By going to St Petersburg, the G7 will demonstrate their indifference to the fate of freedom and democracy in Russia.  
It becomes clear that the major differences between Russia and the G7 relate not so much to military, political or economic power.  
A far larger battle looms over the survival of the Wests basic institutions, such as the market economy, liberal democracy and human rights, which have been developed and preserved over centuries and made the West what it is.  
St Petersburg is the first serious public test of whether Western leaders are serious about defending these institutions or whether they will bow to the caprices of the new energy tsars.  
© Copyright of Telegraph Group  

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