Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#10 - JRL 7220
The Guardian (UK)
June 12, 2003
Putin comes in from the cold in a climate of global cynicism

The way the United States and Europe have been treating the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will surely go down in history as a model of realpolitik: it is hard to think of another case where leading powers have shown such blatant cynicism or have so flaunted their lack of scruples.

Putin must be delighted with the festivities he organised on May 31 and June 1 on the banks of the Neva river to celebrate St Petersburg's 300th anniversary. Distinguished guests, who included President George Bush and the heads of state and of government of the European Union, gave Putin the ultimate seal of approval before inviting him to the G8 summit on June 2. Bush, whose voice trembled with emotion as he described the monstrous violations of human rights perpetrated by the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, hailed Putin as a "good friend". The Russian president was forgiven for having been so bold as to oppose Washington's policy on Iraq.

Bush was forgetting that the armed forces of his "friend" have for years been committing in Chechnya what all human rights organisations - including Russian ones - describe as large-scale "war crimes".

Bush was also forgetting that those same armed forces are meting out on the Chechens the same kind of treatment that Saddam's regime inflicted on the Iraqi Kurds. Washington's indignation is based on double standards: it is extreme when US interests require it to be so, and non-existent when they do not.

In a joint Russian-European communique confirming the existence of a "strategic partnership" between both sides, the EU approved the pretence of a political process that Russia claims to have initiated in Chechnya, namely the referendum organised there in March, which the Russian press refused to take seriously, so reminiscent was it of the Soviet era.

When President Jacques Chirac visited St Petersburg he argued that "Russia is in the first rank of democracies, because of its respect for its original peoples, its dialogue of cultures, and simply its respect for other people. That is a very strong message addressed to the democracies of the world, which did not hear it."

The Chechens, who are no doubt a little deaf, "did not hear it" either, and must regret that they do not qualify as an "original people".

The case put by the Americans and Europeans is as follows: we are fully aware of the atrocities suffered by the Chechens, but our relationship with Russia cannot be dictated by the situation in Chechnya.

One can take on board part of that argument, and yet fail to understand why the US and Europe displayed such obsequious indulgence towards Moscow, refused to accept the reality of the situation and decided against trying to exert any pressure on Putin.

That policy has been going on for far too long and has produced no results: the war continues in Chechnya, and the suffering with it. June 3

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