Friday, May 19, 2006

An Unlikely Defender

Today, Russia takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CE). Writing in the Independent, Anne Penketh observes that
a confident, even swaggering, Russia takes the helm of Europe's foremost human rights body today, ready to deflect accusations that it has failed to live up to the standards set by the institution it will lead for the next six months.

Russia's chairmanship of the Council of Europe, whose three pillars are human rights, the rule of law and open democracy, comes just two months before President Vladimir Putin hosts the G8 summit in St Petersburg and will place the Kremlin's commitment to the core values of the West under fresh scrutiny.

In recent months, concerns have been raised about Russia's moves to shut down non-governmental organisations, its curbing of the media and its imprisonment of Russia's richest man just when he was becoming a political rival of Mr Putin. The President has, meanwhile, developed strong links with the hardline authoritarian leaders of Belarus and Uzbekistan.

In Chechnya, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat who visited the restive Russian republic three weeks ago, the pro-Moscow leader Ramzan Kadyrov has taken torture to a new level as he seeks to crush resistance.

But the West's dependency on Russian energy has radically changed the balance of power, leaving European governments with less political leverage at a time when Russia has already used its gas-powered influence over the West-leaning former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia.
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