At a dinner in Prague on June 4 ahead of an international democracy and security conference in the Czech capital, Ilves questioned whether Russia should be a member of international organizations like the Council of Europe or the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries.
Referring to President Vladimir Putin's threat to aim Russian missiles at European targets in response to the U.S. plan to install an antimissile system in the Czech Republic and Poland, Ilves said, "If it is true that democracies do not go to war with each other, then what the hell is a country that threatens to target its nuclear missiles at Europe doing in the G8, the club of industrial democracies?"
Ilves said membership in such organizations has had "no effect" on Russian behavior, and that Russia's legitimacy as a democracy is "increasingly dubious."
Leaders of G8 countries are gathering on June 6 for a three-day summit in the northern German resort town of Heiligendamm.
Ilves said membership in such organizations like the G8, which Russia joined in 1997, has had "no effect" on Russian behavior, and that Russia's legitimacy as a democracy is "increasingly dubious":
"What if, by some small miracle, a country further afield [than Ukraine or Georgia], say in Central Asia, opts for democracy? Will Russia follow the same pattern as it followed for every other country that has opted for democracy? And, if so, how do we defend those countries because they are not in NATO, they are not in the EU?" Ilves said.
Speaking at the same conference today, Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov also urged Western countries to stop giving Putin "democratic credentials" by including him in gatherings such as the G8 summit.
Kasparov described Russia under Putin as a "police state masquerading as [a] democracy."
He said, despite that, G8 leaders would "sit down with Putin, treating him like an equal."
In April, a row erupted between Estonia and Russia over the removal of a Soviet-era World War II monument from central Tallinn.
The monument's removal was preceded by two days of violent riots in the Estonian capital that left one ethnic Russian dead and more than 150 people wounded.
Russian demonstrators subsequently held rallies outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow. In the following weeks, Estonia accused Russia of attacking its government websites.
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in Strasbourg on May 24 to express support and solidarity for Estonia.
Deputies condemned what they called Russia's belligerent rhetoric over the dispute and the failure to protect the Estonian Embassy in Moscow.
Ilves said "Europe's citizens are poisoned," referring to the 2006 death of Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko.
"Europe's countries are subjected to cyberwar; their energy deliveries are halted; they are blackmailed and bribed; and now threatened with a retargeting of missiles and we say, 'No, we cannot isolate Russia,'" Ilves said.
The comments by Ilves, a former RFE/RL analyst and broadcaster, came as U.S. President George W. Bush is in Prague for talks with the Czech president and prime minister about installing a radar component of the antimissile shield in the Czech Republic.
Bush is addressing the democracy and security conference today and is expected to talk about the difficulties of promoting democracy in countries such as Russia.
Participants at the conference will include former world chess champion and Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich, and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
|U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS IN FOCUS|
Allies Or Adversaries?
"I think there was too much euphoria, too much of an inclination to declare that Russia was a democracy," former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told RFE/RL. more
Confused Or Cunning?
Harvard Historian Richard Pipes argues that Putin's Russia is confused about its role in the world and, therefore, an unreliable partner for the United States. more
Demonstrators in Moscow carry a coffin with a television in it to protest government control over broadcasting (TASS file photo)
DO RUSSIANS LIKE THEIR GOVERNMENT? During a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on November 15, Richard Rose, director of the Center for the Study of Public Policy at the University of Aberdeen, discussed the results of 14 surveys he has conducted since 1992 on Russian public opinion about democracy and the country's development. He discussed the implications of these opinions for relations with the West and for Russia's 2008 presidential election.
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