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Economy: Does Russia Deserve A Full Seat At The G-7 Summit?

The leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrialized democracies will be meeting this weekend in Okinawa, Japan, and will be joined by Vladimir Putin. The Russian president says he expects his nation will be accepted as an equal partner in G-7. But as RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully reports, not everyone agrees that Russia is qualified for full membership.

Washington, 19 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking an aggressive tone as he heads to this weekend's summit in Okinawa, Japan of the Group of Seven richest industrial democracies -- known as the G-7 plus Russia.

Last week, Putin said his country should be treated as an equal participant at the summit. And on his way to Japan, he made a show of strengthening relations with China and North Korea.

But some American analysts say Putin's appearances in the two Asian communist states was nothing but a show. And they say he is in no position to demand equal status for Russia at the summit, which lasts from Friday through Sunday.

Together, the official members of the G-7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. -- make up about 60% of the world's economy. Russia, which seeks to be a members of the group, makes up only six-tenths of one percent.

Keith Bush is a specialist in Russia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. He told RFE/RL that Russia has no place in the G-7 -- at least not yet. Bush cited the very definition of the group -- the world's leading industrialized democracies -- and said Russia does not fit that definition in any way.

First, Bush said, Russia has had little success exploiting its natural resources, and in managing its own economy properly.

"It's really an economic dwarf. And also, as you know, the democracy -- it's a thin root, it hasn't really taken root yet. It's going that way, it's made some progress. You certainly can't call it an established democracy."

Bush added that many in Russia's government are hoping that the Paris Club -- the group of Western nations and Japan -- will forgive at least some of the billions of dollars that Russia has owed them in debts dating back to World War Two.

"How can a country apply for membership in the G-8, or consider itself a full member of the G-8, when it cannot service its debt? It's also owed a great deal of money from developing countries, and it hasn't yet forgiven them their debts."

Helmut Sonnenfeldt is a guest scholar on foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, another Washington think tank. He told RFE/RL that he expects Putin to be treated no differently than any of the other leaders meeting in Okinawa during the public, formal sessions. But ultimately, he said, Moscow cannot be expected to be treated as an equal because of its struggling economy.

And Sonnenfeldt says he may make his fellow leaders uncomfortable during the private, less-formal periods of the meetings.

"My guess is that on most of the important issues, there would still be some hesitation on the part of various leaders in being as candid as they once were with each other when the Russians weren't there."

On his way to Okinawa, Putin's visits to Beijing and Pyongyang were meant to demonstrate his interest in improving ties with China and North Korea -- two of the few remaining communist-ruled nations.

In Beijing on Tuesday, Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin signed several documents. They included an agreement on energy cooperation and a document urging Washington not to deviate from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bans a missile-defense system being considered by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

At the signing ceremony, Putin made it clear that Russia and China plan to prevent the U.S. from becoming the single dominant world power.

"First and foremost, I believe that Russia and China can make a substantial contribution on strengthening international security. Our common stance on keeping the current balance in the world is fundamental and is of the greatest importance for maintaining the situation which now exists in the international community."

Statements like this have led some in Russia to worry that Putin would increase relations -- particularly economic relations -- with Asian countries at the expense of economic ties with the West.

Bush dismisses such talk from Putin as without substance.

"They talk vaguely of an axis of Russia-China and sometimes a Russia-China-India triangle. But it's not reciprocated by the Chinese or the Indians, especially by the Chinese, who regard their relationship with the United States as much more important economically than their relationship with Russia. And the same is true with Russian trade with the U.S. -- I think it's greater than that with China."

Sonnenfeldt agreed:

"If the Russians want to do things for their economy, they need the West and Japan. With the Chinese, they can increase trade, they can sell more weapons. With the Indians, they can do the same sort of thing. But the EU countries and the United States have what Russia needs most of all in the economic realm and the financial realm."

Still, Sonnenfeldt said, Russia's presence at the G-7 meetings is inevitable, regardless of its status, for the foreseeable future.