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Parting With Delusions

Obama, Medvedev, and Putin.

12:00 AM, Jul 8, 2009 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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But if the Russian leadership is living in a fool's paradise, western nations have been the worst sort of enablers. Collectively they have outdone themselves in obsequiousness by granting Russia membership in international organizations and seats on major multinational bodies that it has no business even being considered for.

As a gesture of goodwill, although it didn't meet the qualifications at the time, in 1998 the G7 group of industrialized nations was made the G8 in order to include Russia. Eight years later in 2006, the G8 examined Russia's qualifications for membership. The resulting audit reads like Delta Fraternity brother John Blutarsky's (played by the late John Belushi) mid-term grade points in the National Lampoon film "Animal House."

The report gives scores from 1 to "broad compliance with G8 norms," to the failing mark of 5, which means "total failure to comply with G8 norms." Ratings are given not just for economic performance, but also for "openness and freedom of speech, political governance, rule of law, social capital, economic weight in the world, inflation, economic stability and solvency, unemployment, trade volume, level of protectionism, energy market conditions, and discernible stance on key international issues."

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with today's Russia will not be shocked to learn that the nation did not score above 3, which rates as "sporadic compliance with G8 norms," in any category. The report's key findings stated that "the size of Russia's economy does not merit its inclusion in the G8; Russia is neither politically nor economically free; Russia's presidency of the G8 is correspondingly anomalous; the other G8 nations must develop a concentrated policy to force [then-President] Putin to live up to his international obligations." None of these indicators have changed since 2006, except possibly for the worse, so why is Russia still a G8 member?

Russia was equally unqualified to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), which may explain why PM Putin appeared to overrule his own president and decided that the whole WTO effort should be abandoned in favor of a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. This is perhaps the clearest signal that Moscow has no real interest in being a partner with the West--and that on more than one issue Medvedev's authority as president is little more than ceremonial.

Plus--once again--the needs of the already-driven-to-drink ordinary population are being subjugated to the interests of a few in the Kremlin. The Russian people might do well by joining the WTO, but this carries no weight when those around Putin and Medvedev see little personal gain for themselves in the process. They have turned away from the WTO for the simple reason that they can instead earn a cornucopia of kickbacks by forming an economic bloc with the kleptocracies of their former Soviet brethren.

Such a bespredel, which is Russian for "lawless disorder," is completely at odds with the status that Russia enjoys in the international community. This façade of a civilized nation of laws that Russian diplomats, politicians and oligarchs arrogantly thrust in your face has all the true substance of a Hollywood plywood set.

What raises the question if the central goal that Obama took great pains to emphasise during his address to the Moscows New Economic School on Tuesday--Russia's assistance in preventing nuclear proliferation--has not come a cropper from the outset.

Investigative journalist Ron Suskind reported that in 2003, a Georgian source working with the CIA intercepted a delivery of 170 grams of 93 percent enriched uranium (65 percent is considered good enough for weapons grade) that had originated at nuclear production facilities in Novosibirsk. The package was intercepted while being smuggled from Russia to Georgia, but the ultimate customer was "a Moslem man."

The Russian government was informed of the incident--then-President Bush spoke to then-Russian President Putin about the matter personally. Putin gave his unequivocal assurances that the smuggling ring had been rounded up and that there would be no more such incidents.

Except that Putin turned out to be completely wrong. In February 2006 another illegal shipment was seized--again coming from Russia to Georgia and from the same smuggling ring that originated in Novosibirsk. Clearly, even dictates from the highest levels of the Russian government mean nothing, and any promises they make to Obama about being equally committed to the goal of non-proliferation mean even less.