RUSSIA

"The West has a twisted vision of Russia"

Dimitri Medvedev was inaugurated as Russia's new president today. Evguenia Obitchkina, an international relations lecturer in Moscow, explains that the conflict between Russia and the West might have more to do with the hydrocarbon trade than human rights.

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Dimitri Medvedev was inaugurated as Russia's new president today. Evguenia Obitchkina, an international relations lecturer in Moscow, explains that the conflict between Russia and the West might have more to do with the hydrocarbon trade than human rights.

Putin's puppet

By Bein Hein on Flickr

Evguenia Obitchkina is a lecturer at MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations):

The West has a twisted view of Russia. I was in France last month and read the papers everyday. They're always associating Russia with authoritarianism, poor democracy and human rights issues. It wasn't long ago that the magazine l'Express entitled a supplement about Russia "La nouvelle menace" [The new threat]. But the cover had nothing to do with the contents - it was just there to boost sales.

The thing is, links between Russia and occidental countries are getting stronger. They're not warm relations, except for between Putin and Sarkozy, but each knows it needs the other. A few days ago I heard the French minister of foreign affairs, Bernard Kouchner, speaking about Russia. He's known for his work on human rights issues, but he also knows he can't risk France's vital interests. Europe knows that it needs Russia to supply it with hydrocarbon. So the real problem lies with the supply of raw materials, not with human rights. Europe wants to buy its gas from Russia, but it also makes a point of keeping some control over distribution. Moscow on the other hand knows very well that there's more money to be made in distribution than in the wholesale of hydrocarbon. This is what really causes the clashes between Europe and Russia.

On human rights and democracy, the situation needs to be reassessed. I lived in Soviet times and I can confirm that the situation is much better now. The real problem is not the Kremlin, it's because the country hasn't got rid of a strong civil society. Since the USSR burst its bubble, Russian people are only interested in themselves as individuals. There's no sense of solidarity left.

With Medvedev taking over from Putin, the foreign media is having a field day calling him "Putin's puppet". Personally I don't know these men except through TV. But it's clear that Medvedev has seduced both Russians and foreigners. For Russians because he seems to take their concerns into account, and foreigners because he's not from the KGB and not an authoritative man. As representative of the country, he's not a bad choice at all."