Friday, July 20, 2007

Financial Times Editorial Comment: To win respect, Moscow must itself respect the rule of law

Financial Times Editorial Comment: To win respect, Moscow must itself respect the rule of law
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 19 2007 22:32 | Last updated: July 19 2007 22:32

Moscow’s ejection of four British diplomats in response to the expulsion from the UK of four Russians looks like an attempt to draw the line in a nasty diplomatic dispute.

In a narrow sense, this is is welcome. The tit-for-tat gestures display carefully calibrated levels of pride and anger – but do little to tackle underlying difficulties.
But, in a broader sense, the apparent end of this particular diplomatic duel does not change the fact that Russian-British and ­Russian-western relations remain at their lowest ebb since the end of the Soviet Union.

The west has contributed to this gloomy situation by failing to pay enough attention to Moscow’s concerns on some important issues: the US should, for example, have spent more time preparing the ground for its controversial plans for missile defence bases in eastern Europe.

But the blame for deteriorating east-west relations lies largely with Russia. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has developed an increasingly belligerent approach to the rest of the world. It bullies its neighbours, especially over energy supplies. And it puts extreme pressure on its political opponents – at home and abroad. Mr Putin cannot be held criminally responsible for Alexander Litvinenko’s grisly death. But he is morally responsible for creating an atmosphere in which political scores are settled by murder. Any hope the Litvinenko killing might be a one-off attack was this week dispelled by news that Boris Berezovsky, the UK-based oligarch, was also the target of a murder plot.

It is understandable that Moscow should want to recover some of its Soviet-era superpower clout. But Russia must accept it cannot win respect by spreading fear. Respect for the rule of law and for human rights – especially the right to life – is fundamental.

To be sure, western countries sometimes fall short of these standards, even to the point of resorting to extraterritorial plots, as with the CIA’s proposals for assassinating Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader. But that does not excuse Russia. If the Kremlin wants good relations with other countries it must start by ensuring that Russian citizens, whether government agents or not, respect the law.

In the meantime, the UK and other western states must co-operate with Moscow in pursuing their interests. Russia will want to do the same. Much of mutual benefit can be achieved, notably in energy. But such exchanges cannot lead to a more fundamental rapprochement without fundamental changes in Russia’s approach to the world.


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