ST. PETERSBURG, July 17, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In the end, it may be the weather that proves one of Vladimir Putin's greatest disappointments during his country's hosting of the G8 summit.
Cloud-chasing airplanes were deployed to guarantee a sunny St. Petersburg summit. But intermittent rain showers occasionally dampened the showcase event, even forcing the cancellation of a late-afternoon tea planned yesterday for the G8 leaders.
But even the rain did not detract from what some observers say was a triumphant first summit for the G8's youngest -- and arguably most ambitious -- member. Bullish Putin
Putin, speaking at the first of the press briefings marking the conclusion of this year's summit, noted with evident satisfaction that the St. Petersburg gathering had shown Russia to be a strong and vital member of the G8.
"We are satisfied that our partners received with understanding Russia's ideas and proposals for the summit," Putin said. "It is also obvious that Russia's growing economic potential allows it to play a more significant role in global development, and we are ready to participate actively in implementing all of the proposed initiatives."
The summit was unexpectedly overshadowed by escalating violence in the Middle East, where Israel has mounted a powerful military offensive against Lebanon following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Lebanese Hizballah militants.
Some observers feared that the Lebanese crisis and concern over North Korea's recent missile tests would hijack the summit.
Both proved to be headline issues. But the leaders gathered in St. Petersburg also released joint statements on all of the items on Putin's G8 agenda, including health, education, and energy security. Best Ever?
John Kirton is the director of the G8 Research Group, an independent Toronto University body tasked with monitoring the Group of Eight. Speaking to RFE/RL in St. Petersburg, he praised the summit as a success.
"It [Russia] has pulled it off in fine fashion, by some measures we know already -- by delivering at the summit more commitments, more codified collective decisions than any other summit before, since the start over 32 years [ago]," Kirton said. "So if people judge this summit by its ability to make clear, collective, codified commitments, St. Petersburg is the best summit ever."
For oil- and gas-rich Russia, energy security was by far the most important item on the Kremlin's formal G8 agenda.
There, Russia won a decisive victory in rejecting European calls for it to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty.
That agreement would require Russia to provide open access to its energy resources and transport infrastructure.
Russia agreed to a vaguely worded G8 statement supporting the "principles" of the Energy Charter. But without ratification, control of Russia's gas-export pipelines remains fully in the hands of the country's Gazprom monopoly.
European leaders fear this will leave them and their energy needs vulnerable to the whims of the Russian government.
But Putin today defended the situation, saying Russia was behaving no differently than those European countries that the Kremlin has accused of blocking Russian investment.
"The Energy Charter implies mutual access to production infrastructure of energy resources and to transportation infrastructure," Putin said. "Naturally, we can allow our partners access to both. But our question is, what will they give us access to? Where is their production or transportation infrastructure?" WTO Setback
Russia was dealt one major setback, in failing to clear the main hurdle to its long-sought entry into the World Trade Organization
The United States has not signed a bilateral treaty with Russia that would allow the country's bid to be passed on to the bloc's 149 members for approval. A deal expected on July 15 fell through.
Putin, who has showed confident assurance as this year's G8 host, appeared undaunted by the delay.
Instead, he has aimed sharply worded commentary at some of his fellow G8 leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush and Blair, by contrast, have appeared deferential, backing away from past criticism of what they termed Russia's antidemocratic trends.
Troublesome issues such as Russian intervention in so-called "frozen conflicts" in Georgia and Transdniester have been largely absent from the G8 discussions.
Putin has even used the Lebanon conflict to advance his own political argument.
Some G8 leaders have called for Syria and Iran to be recognized as complicit in the Hizballah actions against Israel.
In response, Putin asked why Russia can't mention "other countries that harbor people who are quite obviously terrorists" -- an apparent reference to Britain, which has refused to extradite Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based foreign minister of Chechnya's separatist government.