TEN YEARS AGO this summer, President Bill Clinton invited Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia, to sit in on what was then the Group of Seven summit in Naples, the assembly of leaders of the major industrialized nations. The reasoning, at the time, was twofold. Mr. Clinton and his colleagues were eager to integrate Russia into international institutions and thought the invitation would help push Mr. Yeltsin in the direction of the West. By building up Mr. Yeltsin, they also wished to help him defeat former Communist Party opponents who might take Russia backward into Soviet-style authoritarianism.
Mr. Yeltsin did win the 1996 election. But his successor, President Vladimir Putin, who took over in 2000, has wielded the levers of state power -- police, prosecutors, pliable judges -- to sap the independence of the media, the business establishment and the political opposition. Recently Mr. Putin delivered ominous threats to independent organizations in Russia, and he already seems set to carry them out. Last week, under his influence, the Russian parliament passed a bill that will make it easy for police to ban public demonstrations; the only major objection came from the Orthodox Church, which worried about the impact on Easter processions. At the same time, a Russian television station canceled its most popular news program and fired its most popular journalist on the grounds that he made remarks critical of the Russian government. Mr. Putin is leading Russia backward, toward Soviet-style authoritarianism.
President Bush and his fellow summiteers are free to associate with whichever leaders they choose; this year, a number of Arab leaders are joining the party. But it might be worth asking why, other than as a matter of habit, Mr. Putin continues to receive a no-questions-asked invitation. Russia is a big country and always will be, but the Netherlands' GDP per capita is three times larger, China's military is more important, and India's population is bigger. If the idea was to encourage democratization by making the Russian leader feel like part of the club, this 10th anniversary might be a good moment for the other members of the club to take stock.