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Russia: Playing A New Role In The Summit Of The Eight

Denver, Colorado; 23 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia was a near-full participant in this year's annual summit of the major industrial democracies, and First Deputy Prime and Finance Minister Anatoly Chubais says it isn't really important how soon Moscow becomes a complete member of the club.

"Russia will become a full member in time," he told reporters at the Summit of the Eight in Denver, Colorado on the weekend. "It is not necessary right away to be included in the discussion of all issues by the G-7 -- not all questions require our direct participation."

What's important, he said, is that Moscow is in on talks that directly affect Russia, that are of concern and importance to the country.

Russia, which has been attending annual G-7 group of major industrial democracies summits for several years now as an invited guest for side meetings, this year was asked to join the group from beginning to end. Only one session of the leaders, focusing on financial markets and economic ties among the seven, was closed to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Even the name of the summit was changed to the "Summit of the Eight" to reflect Moscow's elevated status at the affair.

But while Yeltsin emphasized Russia's new position by making sure he was in the center of all the group photographs of the leaders, it was Chubais who felt the main sting of being left out.

The finance ministers of the seven did not invite him to any of the first sessions on Saturday morning, asking him only to join them for a working lunch followed by a lengthy bilateral meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, his Deputy who specialises in international affairs, Lawrence Summers, and other senior American finance officials.

Still, Chubais did not feel left out or offended. In fact, he said he found the more casual conversation over lunch and with individual country delegations to be "highly interesting and useful."

He said he was surprised and impressed by the depth and breadth of the interest and knowledge of Russia's economic and financial situation shown by the financial officials of the other seven nations.

"They are really interested to know and understand what is happening there -- they are paying attention to the dynamics of the Russian economy," he said.

Rubin praised Chubais and said their lengthy discussions had painted an encouraging picture of Russia's future. There are enormous challenges still, said Rubin, but the current reform team leading the country is making progress and are "on the way" to success.

U.S. President Bill Clinton said the system of the summits of the major industrial democracies is stronger now that Russia is a partner and that the number of issues left to just the old seven will get smaller and smaller, while the sessions of the eight will become bigger, until before long the dividing line will blur and then disappear.

Clinton cited things for which the seven have "unique responsibility," including their original pledge to help Ukraine deal with the Chornobyl nuclear reactor. "Russia is not responsible for what we committed to do before, nor would it be fair to ask Russia to bear any responsibility for that," said the U.S. President.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that in fact Russia brought some added depth and expertise to some of the leaders' discussions. Yeltsin's participation was "particularly useful" when nuclear power and some of the problems of Bosnia were being discussed, areas where there was a "clear role" for Moscow.

As well, Blair told reporters after the summit, "in the general discussion on economic reforms in various countries, Russia had something to say that was useful and constructive."

Clinton said Russia's participation should help maintain stability in Europe in the 21st century, but that Russia is also a Pacific power, and in the summit partnership with the United States and Japan could help preserve "stability and freedom and opportunity there" as well.

In one way, however, Yeltsin and the Russian leaders still not fully into the group. As the summit ended, Yeltsin and his ministers left immediately for the airport without talking to the press or even making any statements. As much as the summit discussions themselves, the other seven learned long ago that talking to reporters about their view of events is a part of being in the club.