From the Ottawa Citizen:
Russia faces a choice No G8 democracy should be on the list of danger spots for journalists. It’s shameful that Russia occupies second place on that list, after Iraq. The ranking comes from the International News Safety Institute, which says there were 88 journalists killed in Russia over the past 10 years. The list of bizarre deaths linked to Russia grows by the month. There was the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist investigating rights abuses in Chechnya. There was the poisoning death in Britain of Alexander Litvinenko, a former intelligence agent and critic of the Kremlin. Earlier this month, Ivan Safronov, a journalist for the daily Kommersant, fell to this death from a Moscow apartment. Apparently he was working on a story claiming Russia planned to sell weapons to Syria and Iran. Also this month, an expert on Russian intelligence who blamed that country’s government for Mr. Litvinenko’s death was shot (but survived) near Washington, D.C. Now there’s news that two women, U.S. citizens, have mysteriously come down with thallium poisoning in Moscow. It’s possible Mr. Safronov fell out of the fifth-storey window, or committed suicide, or was pushed by someone with a personal motive. It’s possible the shooting of Paul Joyal in Washington was simply a criminal act. The same could be true of the poisoned women. But the sad reality is that Moscow is turning into the usual suspect in these cases. The very fact that allegations of official Russian involvement are plausible, even to those who normally resist conspiracy thinking, suggests the sorry state of Russia’s international reputation. In its 2006 human rights report on Russia, released this month, the U.S. State Department decries the “erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the population.” President Vladimir Putin’s apparent nonchalance about the fact that his critics have a habit of falling from windows and succumbing to exotic poisons strengthens his mob-boss image. Not only is Mr. Putin seemingly unconcerned with the freedom of his own people, he’s also been reckless in international affairs, supporting strongmen and dubious regimes. Russia’s increasingly sinister reputation is not only an internal problem. It threatens trade, diplomatic relationships and international security. Democratic governments ought to express publicly their concern with the direction Russia has taken, and outrage at the treatment of non-governmental organizations and journalists. The world is facing a number of serious threats: global terrorism, climate change, AIDS and other epidemics — to name only the biggest. Without Russia on side, it will be difficult to win the big fights of our era. Democracies must lead, directly and by example. They must be above reproach when it comes to human rights. They must understand the delicate relationship between security and freedom. Russia can, if it chooses, be among the lights of the world in the 21st century. Or it can slide back into darkness.