TCS Daily


G7 + 1 Autocracy?

By K. Caldwell Harmon - July 14, 2006 12:00 AM

On July 15, the leaders of the free world will descend upon St. Petersburg, Russia to commence the annual G8 Summit. Given the meeting's location, it seems appropriate to address Russia's place among the Group of Eight. More precisely, the upcoming summit presents an opportunity for G8 member countries to examine whether Russia deserves membership in a group intended to represent the developed, free world.

When Russia joined the G8 in 1997 most developed nations were still optimistic about the former Soviet hegemon's prospects. The fall of the Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Evil Empire were supposed to herald in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity -- some even ambitiously prognosticated an end of history. Unshackled from sclerotic bureaucracy, and equipped with democratic capitalism, Russia was destined to spring into the 21st Century a modern, developed nation.

Nearly a decade later, the sanguine predictions about Russia's bright future no longer exist. Although the economy has expanded remarkably -- GDP, income, the stock market, and foreign exchange reserves have all grown exponentially -- political freedom under President Vladimir Putin has been heavily curtailed.

What's more, consider the following problems Putin's Russia today:

  • Russia is richer, but clearly not rich. Perhaps more importantly, the country's economic growth is primarily a function of high oil prices. Growth in commodity-based economies rarely obtains, but rather stagnates over time. One need only look to the Middle East for ample evidence of this process. Therefore, the current economic growth exists on a tenuous foundation.

  • With population declining annually by more than 750,000 people and male life expectancies hovering near 50, Russia demographically resembles a backward nation at war more than a modern developed state. It seems that the Russian people are getting little more than nominal macroeconomic growth in exchange for their liberty. The overall quality of life in Russia, especially when compared to the rest of the G8, is quite simply abysmal.

  • Russia has been down this path before. Stalin established military-industrial strength at the cost of political freedom and millions of lives in the 1930s. While Western economies languished during the Great Depression, many foolishly looked to the Soviet Union as hope for a brighter future. Ruling with an iron fist, Stalin was able to transform backward Russia into a literate, technologically advanced superpower. The means by which he achieved this transformation, however, also precipitated the Soviet Union's later decline and collapse. In short, Stalin's authoritarianism produced diminishing returns over time. Although Mr. Putin is hardly a sadistic Stalin, his current authoritarian policies may realize similar diminishing returns. As a result, the prosperity promised to Russians in exchange for their liberty may never materialize.

Former Putin aide, Andrei Illarionov, in a recent New York Times article lamented the squandered opportunities for economic and political freedom. In 2006, Russia once again politically resembles the dreary land that revolted against the tsars in 1905 and 1917, and threw off the shackles of communism in 1991. Clearly, the Russian people are still responsible for choosing freedom for themselves. In this regard there is little that the G8 can do over a weekend to alter present circumstances. G8 members can, however, use this Summit as a venue to hold Mr. Putin publicly accountable for his policies. Pressure to free the press would be a good start.

K. Caldwell Harmon is a writer in Washington, DC. He contributes to the weblog Port McClellan.

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2 Comments

G8
Yeah, and how did somebody say it, " Russia is a former superpower that discover it was just another underdeveloped third world country". Here's another thing about the G8 that makes me laugh. I often listen to the (biased)BBC, and they often have commentators saying how the G8 is composed of the "most powerful countries in the world" often in the context of them having the responsibility to solve problems like hizbolah terrorism, etc. Give me a break that they can think Italy and Canada comprise some of the most powerful countries in the world!

At the time of the founding
Italy and Canada were definitely amongst the 7 most powerfull nations on the planet.
40 or 50 years of history has changed that.

In terms of both economic and military power, what other counties can you think of that would definitely whoop either Italy or Canada, that is not already in the G8.

I think India, China, and perhaps Taiwan.

Remember, we are not talking just military power. I believe that the original definition was purely economic power.

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