Putin’s power

Russia’s meeting on July 15 with leaders of the world’s richest democracies requires an important historical footnote. President Vladimir Putin will welcome the Group of Eight to St. Petersburg, where leaders are expected to talk about energy, Iran and terrorism. He has to put Russia’s post-Soviet power and progress on display. But the international acceptance that Putin craves will disappear if the Kremlin continues its march toward what critics call a “staged democracy” instead of a real one.

The free press that erupted after the end of the Soviet Union is mostly gone now. Then there is the upcoming presidential election in 2008. Putin’s term is up. But there are already troubling signs that if his loyal Parliament cannot find a way to keep him on, it will anoint his choice for successor. NGOs have come under attack for criticising Putin’s record on human rights and the treatment of ethnic minorities. In the name of fighting extremism, Putin’s government has enacted a new law that can be used to harass almost any activists who criticise the powerful.

Russia clearly has the economic clout to sit with France, Germany, Japan, the US, Britain, Canada and Italy. But the leaders of this club need to make it clear to Russia that membership demands not only the power of wealth but also a democratic government to go with it. — The New York Times