Washington, 16 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia staged a protest Wednesday against being treated as a second-class member of the G-7 group of major industrial countries -- and nobody appeared to notice.
Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin said that for the first time in over five years, he and other senior finance officials would stay away from the meeting -- demanding that the group be officially made the G-8, including Russia, at all meetings.
Britain, which is hosting the annual summit of the heads of government next month, is calling the meeting the G-8. British advance billing says Russia has been officially included in the expanded group.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin has been taking an increasingly larger role in the summits over the past few years, but when the finance ministers met, Russian officials were only invited to join for a period to report on progress of Russia's economic reforms.
Dubinin said it was time that distinction ended. He told the G-7 countries -- the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada -- that he wouldn't attend the finance get-together except as a full participant.
But the host of the regular spring meeting in Washington, U.S. Secretary Robert Rubin, professed ignorance as to why Russia stayed away. "You'd have to ask them why they weren't here," he told reporters following the meeting.
He said Russia had been invited and Moscow officials would have been "enormously welcomed" had they shown up. Actually, he said, they been a "very good part" of the process over the last several years, and it would have been good for the other countries to discuss Russia's circumstances.
But the Russians didn't show up, so Russia was never mentioned in the discussion, he said.
The U.S. has supported increased Russian participation in the summit meetings, but has said Moscow is not yet ready for full membership on economic and financial matters. The U.S. has, however, avoided discussing the question publicly.
Canada also believes there is a "difference" between the G-7 political and financial arenas, and that Russia is not yet ready to join the economic side. "That's why we dropped the word economic from the summit meetings," said a Canadian official.
A German official said Bonn supports the full integration of Russia into the G-7 process, including the economic and financial areas, as a "complement to our policy of supporting and strengthening reform in Russia."
Dubinin is in Washington at the head of a delegation to attend the spring leadership meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Not only will he and other senior Russian finance officials see the G-7 ministers in the IMF's Interim Committee today, and the Bank's Development Committee on Friday, but also at a special conference of 22 nations tonight. The conference, called by the U.S., is an attempt to draw up a basic blueprint for remodeling the architecture of the international financial system.
Russia and Poland are among the 22 rich, poor and transition countries invited to help see how the system can be restructured and strengthened to deal with the new situation of the global economy.