June 1, 2007
G8 summit promises nothing sensational
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov) - Moscow is not particularly anxious about the upcoming German-hosted G8 summit. The Kremlin realizes full well that there are no breakthroughs to expect, and no big documents to sign.
"The format of such meetings makes decision-making unnecessary," says Igor Shuvalov, the principal Russian Sherpa in St. Petersburg last year, who is now in Heiligendamm, the site of this year's summit.
Russia is being showered with accusations from all sides of allegedly straying from the democratic path. It is suspected of using its energy resources to exert political pressure. Russia wants a chance to tell its side of the story. There is hardly a better occasion than the G8 summit to calmly exchange opinions and allay tensions. However harshly their detractors might criticize such forums, Moscow has always appreciated the political opportunities they provide and complied with both moral principles and treaties mandating collective responsibility for the future of the world.
Proving the latter point is Russia's attitude to climate change, which is among the leading themes on the Heiligendamm agenda. Moscow offered prompt and unambiguous support to relevant European policies, easily ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and pledging to comply with it up to 2012. In Germany, it will once again declare its support for the protocol. More than that, it will call on the United States, China, India and other countries to join it.
True to Kyoto's demand for reducing air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide, Russia is determined to build more nuclear plants to make up for impending energy shortages. Its national goal is to double electricity production within the next 10 years.
Europeans, especially Greens, are uneasy. The world has been worried by nuclear power ever since the Chernobyl disaster. But then, Russia is not alone in placing its bets on nuclear plants. Another 200-300 plants will be built around the world within the next 10 years, according to expert forecasts. Russia has 30 today, and will have another 26 before 2030. Shuvalov does not think there is a better way to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.
Russian experts are even now weighing opportunities to involve the world's leading nuclear research centers in implementing those ambitious plans. Though the German public is dead set against nuclear plants, Siemens, a German firm, has no plans to cut its budget for nuclear-related R&D, and Russia has the highest opinion of the company's capabilities in this field. Once in Heiligendamm, Russian experts will not conceal their desire to cooperate with European concerns, especially Siemens.
So, Russia has good chances of forging nuclear energy partnerships with companies such as Siemens. However, in its drive for a closer partnership with the world's most-developed industrial countries, Russia realizes that the path to Western markets is a thorny one. Limitations imposed on it by Western countries occasionally amount to nothing more than political discrimination. The Kremlin is accused of wanting to dominate certain key European industries - in particular, wanting to tighten its grip on energy distribution systems.
Wary of Russia's financial might making it bolder on European domestic markets, the EU is determined to upgrade its entire energy infrastructure, by doing everything from establishing sector-specific banks to investing huge sums in the development of energy production and distribution.
Russian participation in such projects has some support. Considering the country's rapid progress to a market economy, it would be anachronistic to shackle Russian capital as it seeks to enter European markets. When Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed Bavarian industrialists in Munich, he convincingly refuted the fear that Russian capital expansion would increase Europe's dependence on Moscow. No need to shun Russian capital - the alleged dependence is really interdependence, he said. Russia needs Western investment no less than Europe does, and Russia's economic prosperity vitally depends on Western energy consumers.
While appealing to the West to come to the Russian market, Moscow has to acknowledge that it is curbing foreign investors' activity in major economic sectors, especially those with a bearing on national security. In particular, these include the aerospace and defense industries, Shuvalov said. More than that, Russian legislation imposes a ceiling on the share of overseas capital in energy-producing joint ventures - it cannot exceed half.
That is not because the Kremlin does not want national resources sold off, but rather for political and economic reasons. First, Russian companies striving to enter Western markets need a safe environment in which to get off the ground - just like any other companies, for that matter. Second, Russian energy brings immense profits, and Russia wants to get a bigger piece of the pie by investing in Western energy infrastructure.
Though Russia's economic ambitions alarm some people in the West, they are part of the new economic situation. The Russian economy is growing rapidly. Russia is looking for its own niche in the world economy, and it will not be content to remain in the background. At the G8 summit, President Putin will certainly hear ample criticism of various aspects of Russian policy. Despite all that, economic matters will surely dominate the talks - and Russia is determined to stand up for its interests, while taking into account the responsibilities shared by all G8 countries.