Russia's Political Bomb

Article excerpt

Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Russia has come a long way since the fall of the Soviet Union, and Vladimir Putin, like his predecessors, strives for democracy. The Ukraine incident, although disappointing, is one of a string of energy cutoffs in Russia's history ("Europe spurs Russia to turn on gas," Page 1, Tuesday). When Russia's oil companies were privately owned, taps were turned off on residents, who in one year alone reported 3 percent electricity cutoffs in metropolitan areas, 8 percent in large cities and 14 percent in small cities.

In December 2000, Russia's gas and electricity to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, were cut off for a day, leaving 1.2 million people in the dark without heat. The Russian mentality is, "Why should the owner pay the bill?" Europe and North America's mentality is different because their circumstances are different. They can pay the bill, and financial aids are in place in case they can't. Russia's circumstances are episodes of unpaid bills and the absence of safety nets. Hence, they repeat history by turning off the taps.

They need to iron out these issues, but until they do, like Margaret Thatcher once remarked: "I like Mr. Gorbachev - we can do business together," so should we with Mr. Putin, and not let this incident determine his future reliability.

ROSELAINE PENNINO

Paris

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As President Vladimir Putin assumed his tenure on the first day of 2006 as rotational head of the Group of Eight democratic and industrialized nations promising to promote global energy security and stability, Russia was cutting off gas supplies to both Ukraine and Europe in what could only be called economic blackmail, thus creating an awkward, ironic political situation for the other G8 members.

Le Monde in Paris called this action "the first declaration of war in the 21st century."

The Russian Federation can no longer be called a truly democratic nation like the other G8 countries nor widely industrialized like even members of the Group of Twenty nations (excluding the center, of course, Moscow and St. Petersburg).

Andrei Illarionov, who up until last week was Mr. Putin's economic adviser, resigned in protest. He has publicly warned that democracy has been rolled back so far under President Putin that Russia would be refused entry to the club of leading industrialized nations if it applied for membership today.

Russia's retreat from democratic reforms and principals, including legislation to limit the freedom of all foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia that criticize the Kremlin's policies; the curtailing of all independent sources of opposition in the media, parliament and in the regions; the cancellation of regional elections; the support of autocratic regimes of Belarus and Uzbekistan; Russia's stationing of troops in Transdniester, a separatist region of Moldova, despite commitments to withdraw them back in 1999; and the sale of weapons to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran, all challenge not only Mr. …