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US Lawmakers Criticize Progress of Russian Democracy


A recent controversial remark by Russian President Vladimir Putin has re-energized congressional criticism of what some lawmakers call troubling anti-democratic tendencies in Russia.

The comment, in which Mr. Putin described the demise of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" has added to concerns lawmakers have about the course of democracy in Russia.

Members of the House of Representatives have joined with those in the Senate supporting legislation that would urge President Bush to condition Russia's participation in the G-8 group of industrialized nations on adherence to democratic norms.

The new bipartisan Senate legislation was introduced in February. House and Senate lawmakers tried to move such a resolution through Congress two years ago, but it was never voted on in either chamber.

The G-8 comprises the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, Russia, as well as the European Union.

Congressman Christopher Cox says the effort is aimed at helping to ensure that standards of democracy, which he says are being dismantled under President Putin, are upheld in Russia.

"President Putin's back-pedaling on the Yeltsin-era reforms, and his back-sliding into the sort of autocratic repression not seen since the fall of Communism, which he bemoans, counsel [argue] against his continued participation in this group. Russia should not be invited to future G-8 meetings, nor should it host the gathering in 2006," he said.

Exclusion of Russia should continue, says Congressman Cox, until President Bush and the other leaders determine Moscow is committed to respecting and upholding recognized democratic principles.

Congressman Tom Lantos, top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, recalls Russia was invited to join what was once the G-7 nations at an early time in its democratic development.

Since then, he says, Russia has regressed, with President Putin using the war on terrorism as an excuse to suppress political opposition.

"Mr. Putin's statement just a few days ago that the greatest tragedy of the 20th century is the disintegration of the Soviet Union is indicative of the distorted view of the former KGB colonel, of what, in fact, the 20th century represented in global history. The notion that next year Russia would act as the host of the G-8 is simply unacceptable,” said Mr. Lantos.

Mr. Lantos cites government attempts to suppress Russia's free media, and what he calls selective prosecutions of business leaders, as well as Russian actions in Ukraine.

The lawmakers had slightly different answers when asked if President Bush, who frequently refers to President Putin by his first name, is being too soft on Moscow.

Mr. Cox said he hopes the administration will "adjust its policies." Mr. Lantos had this stronger response.

"Our government should take a stronger position, particularly since Putin runs a foreign policy diametrically opposed to many of our own objectives by supporting the nuclear ambitions of Iran, and by supplying Syria with weaponry," he said.

Both lawmakers say they intend to work to prevent Russia from hosting next year's G-8 summit, adding they will also oppose formalizing Russia's membership in the group.

Congressman Lantos says he and other lawmakers will discuss their concerns about democracy in Russia this month during a planned visit to Moscow.

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