Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Putin's Power Play

It's been a fair old while since Russia had the kind of attention it's getting at the G8 summit, which is beginning in Germany. Which is just the way President Putin likes it. Although the Kremlin's rowing back slightly on his comments about pointing his missiles at Europe in protest at America's planned missile defence shield, there's no doubt what he said has had the desired effect. That is, people around the world all listened.

Seven years after taking power in a Russia that had suffered years of embarrassments abroad and economic woes at home, Putin's just about finished turning things round, and not in the way western countries wanted. The growing importance of his country's energy reserves means he seems to have more and more of the big cards in his hand whenever world leaders get together. And he's playing them increasingly forcefully every time. Whether it's missiles, energy or Litvinenko, the answer from the Kremlin always seems to be "Niet." After cosying up to the US at every opportunity during the Yeltsin era, Putin's Russia is now a challenger not just to the US, but to everyone else as well.

Although Mr Putin probably won't be able to avoid leaving office next year, as the Russian constitution demands, he certainly doesn't look neutered like those other lame duck leaders, Messrs Bush and Blair. That much is obvious from the way their individual face time with Putin seems to be the most important meeting either Bush or Blair will have at the summit. The fact the Kremlin feels able to put the meeting with Blair back by a day, to Friday, shows towards whom the balance of international power is edging.

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