From WSJ OpinionJournal:
Russia hosts a G-8 club it shouldn't belong to.
Saturday, July 15, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
Today at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin will throw a coming out party for an economically rejuvenated Russia. Two days ago, the master of the Kremlin marked the steady erosion of democracy by signing a bill that bans legislators in an already emasculated Duma from changing parties.
Throughout President Putin's six years in power, a conceit indulged by Western leaders has been that the Russia of strong growth and the Russia of creeping authoritarianism are different places. Russians themselves are told to sacrifice freedom for stability and prosperity. Both are dangerous illusions. For Mr. Putin's governing approach undercuts the very gains he will advertise this weekend. As the world stood by, Russia has become a danger to the West, to its neighbors and not least to itself.
The Russia of today little resembles the chaotic country that hobbled out of the detritus of the Soviet Union. The credit for this turnaround--the country's economy has grown 65% since 2000--goes foremost to high oil prices, up sixfold in Mr. Putin's tenure. The smart policy moves came early, in 2001-2002, when Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov put in a 13% flat income tax, the headline of a sweeping overhaul of a corrupt tax system.
But Mr. Putin's commitment to free markets has proved as fleeting as to democracy. Mr. Kasyanov, dumped in 2004, went into opposition with other disenchanted liberals. Monopoly control, be it over the Duma or media or business, is the defining characteristic of the Putin era. The slide toward single-man rule put a halt to efforts to modernize Russia's broken institutions and open up the economy.
Read the rest here.