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Boycott the Putin-hosted G8 meeting?

Putin Andrei Illarionov is a man on a mission. Since resigning his post as Putin's top economic advisor last December, citing his belief that Russia is "no longer a free country," Illarionov has been working hard to get the international community to isolate Putin. And now he's calling on the leaders of the G8 (or in this case, the G7) to boycott their July meeting in St. Petersburg.

In an op-ed in today's Financial Times (subscription required), Illarionov argues that Russia fails to qualify for G8 membership on a number of counts: high inflation, low incomes, endemic corruption, and political repression. But it isn't just economic trends or measures of freedom. It's Russia's whole approach to the rest of the world that sets them apart, according to Illarionov.

"[T]he principal difference between the G-7 countries and Russia lies in Russia’s approach to nearly all essential issues on the global agenda in the goals pursued by governments and their behavior in the international arena. Russia pursues “wars” against its neighbours on matters relating to visas, poultry imports, electricity, natural gas, wine and now even mineral water."

Equally interesting: a new group of Russian allies Illarionov calls the "alternative G-8", questionable characters like Belarus, Uzbekistan, Iran, Algeria, Venezuela, Myanmar and Hamas. So showing up to the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg, he argues, will just sanction the Kremlin's unacceptable bullying of its neighbors and its befriending of states the G7 would rather see isolated. Putin is used to this kind of withering criticism by now, but it must smart from someone who used to be so close to the inner circle.

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Nonaligned news a nonstarter?

NAM_logo In an effort to counter poor media coverage from the West, a group of 114 primarily developing countries have offered an answer: The Nonaligned News Network. Based in Kuala Lumpur, the online outlet bills itself as "a conduit for NAM member countries to tell their story ... to contribute towards the acceleration of the pace of growth in trade among them."

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to place nearly as high a premium on, say, the cultivation of a free and feisty press in these countries, holding politicians to account, or protecting journalists who attempt to do so. The network has even been rubber-stamped by the information ministers of most of the member states, which include Iran, Syria, and Cuba.

In fact, one of the prominently featured stories on the new Web site is a short article titled "Cubans Live Longest in Latin America." That's great news! And that's probably even taking into account those Cubans whose lives are cut short trying to escape.

There hasn't been much written about this endeavor, save for a short blurb in the IHT and a few wire items. It would be great to see a solid force for press freedom and free speech in some of these countries. Western media outlets certainly don't devote enough time to the delicate problems of the developing world. But this isn't it.