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Published: Sunday, 5/15/2005

Oil greases the skids for talks with West

If you are seeking reassurance about the state of international affairs, my advice is to skip this column and attend a White House briefing instead.

Last week's EU-Russian summit in Moscow, lauded in Russia and in the West as a near breakthrough, was, in fact, a sellout by the pragmatic, energy-conscious European Union to the anti-democratic Putin regime.

The summit was held on the coattails of a pompous Soviet-style celebration of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front attended by President Bush. It yielded a 60-page cooperation agreement. The document covers economy, environment, security and justice, nonproliferation, research, and education.

Most important for Russia, EU leaders, who rely on it for 20 percent of the union's oil and natural gas imports, promised Mr. Putin to keep negotiating with Russia on its accession to the World Trade Organization and visa-free travel to EU countries.

"Russia is not an enemy, Russia is our friend," President Bush declared Wednesday, speaking to members of Congress, a day after returning from his trip to Russia and Europe, Reuters reported.

Russia, maybe; the Kremlin - no way.

Emboldened by his diplomatic success, Mr. Putin unleashed a war of words against three new EU members - the Baltic states that were reannexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II and then occupied until the 1991 breakup of the USSR. Not only did he refuse to apologize for the occupation, but called their claims to part of their territory still in Russian possession "idiotic."

Furthermore, Russia's security czar Nikolai Patrushev claimed last week that his agency has uncovered spy activity under the cover of nongovernmental organizations from the United States, Britain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Patrushev went on to revive a stale Kremlin claim that foreign governments are using NGOs to fund and support changes of power in former Soviet republics.

Mr. Putin has had a grudge against the NGOs ever since he decided to blame them for the recent tide of democratic revolution in Russia's former vassal states.

Moreover, he made a mockery of Mr. Bush's lip service to defending the long-dead "democratic process" in Russia by instructing the government to create "public bodies" that would "make sure that the media adheres to the principle of the freedom of speech" (translation of a relevant quote reported by Russian news agencies is mine).

Indeed, one would think that what constitutes a friend nowadays is an increasingly antidemocratic regime armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. The next thing you know, North Korea will be declared a friend and an ally in the "fight against terrorism."

Mr. Putin's propagandists such as Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma international affairs committee, have already seized upon the newly voiced U.S. leniency toward the Putin regime to vindicate Russia's "individual approach to building a democracy" (a●k●a "controlled democracy" to use Mr. Putin's misnomer). In a recent Izvestia article, he claims that there is no such thing as a value gap between Russia and the West, seeing that both parties are champions of democracy. That remains to be judged by poor Europeans when their countries are flooded by visa-free travellers from Russia, among them probably some organized criminals and spies.

I guess we must be thankful the United States and Russia aren't yet talking about visa-free visitor exchange and that mini-Berlin Walls aren't yet in fashion as the private bomb shelters were during the Cold War.



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