June 5, 2007
Harsh rhetoric will be absent from G8 summit
MOSCOW. (Alexei Makarkin for RIA Novosti) - The G8 summit in Germany is not likely to produce any sensations. Nor should Russia expect any surprises. Usually, all disputable issues are harmonized before such international meetings. Moreover, there are no issues that could compel the participants to give vent to their emotions.
It is highly doubtful that the United States will choose to use force against Iran. The world public is opposed to this action and for this reason it is fraught with unpredictable complications in the world arena and on the U.S. domestic scene. It seems that the U.S. Administration has decided to oppose Iran's nuclear program with indirect destabilization of the Tehran regime. A military mission could rally the nation around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At the same time, both U.S. partners in the European Union and Russia have agreed to sanctions against Tehran (differences were linked to the character of limitations).
Major countries are also coming to terms on North Korea, although not without a hitch. As for Iraq, the peak of differences was passed in 2003 (without affecting the viability of G8 partnership). Now all G8 nations are interested in preventing the U.S. troop withdrawal from leading to a civil war following the tragic Lebanese pattern of the 1970s and 1980s.
Russia's contradictions with the summit participants boil down to four problems. The first one is energy. G8 members are major energy consumers, whereas Russia is a big energy supplier. For this reason, energy cooperation has been one of the most urgent issues at EU-Russia summits but not an obstacle to constructive dialogue.
The German G8 summit is unlikely to make any breakthroughs in this sphere because the parties' concepts of energy security are poles apart. The West interprets it as diversification of pipeline routes, and Russia sees it in long-term contracts between suppliers and consumers. But there is no need to dramatize these objective differences.
The second problem is the increasing criticism of the state of democracy in Russia both by the West in general and the G8 in particular. A kind of a preferential period when the West limited its criticism of the human rights situation in Russia seems to be over. The United States was rather moderate because it was interested in Russia's participation in the anti-terrorist coalition. France and Germany, resolute critics of the U.S. mission in Iraq, were eager to get closer to Russia in order to offset U.S. international influence. Finally, the EU enfant terrible - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - was happy to display solidarity with Russia and protect it against European criticism.
Now the situation has changed. The United States is not as interested in anti-terrorist cooperation and is involved in growing competition with Russia in the post-Soviet space (Georgia and Ukraine, for example). The main architects of independent European policy - Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac - have left the political scene. Their successors are giving priority to the restoration of good relations with the Americans rather than demonstrative rapprochement with Russia. This is why a negative tinge appeared in Angela Merkel's statements about democracy in Russia. Berlusconi lost the parliamentary elections and his seat at the G8 table.
The end of the preferential period, however, does not mean a return to the Cold War with its Manichean friends-and-foes confrontation. Despite growing criticism of the West, Putin did not mention even in his Munich speech a possibility of withdrawal, say, from the Council of Europe, or refusal to recognize the rulings of the European Human Rights Court, even if they do not make the Russian government happy. Likewise, no decision-maker in the West is seriously considering Russia's expulsion from the G8.
The third problem deals with deployment of an American anti-ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the fourth with Kosovo. These two problems are relatively local. Today, they are in the focus of world diplomatic attention, but tomorrow they may recede into the background (in the 1990s the world was transfixed by the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina).
Russia and the United States have agreed to tone down their public polemics on bilateral relations, which shows that even such a strong irritant as the ABM does not lead to the fatal break-ups and door banging of the Cold War era.
Russia's reserved position on Martti Ahtisaari's plan to grant Kosovo independence deserves close attention from the other G8 countries - neglect of Serbia's legal interests and obvious favoritism towards Kosovo may do irreparable damage to the democratic development of Serbian society.
G8 summits allow the world's leading countries to reach agreement on complicated international issues and maintain permanent dialogue. More than 90 years ago, the lack of dialogue prompted the August canons to fire in Europe. It is important to at least sometimes hold summits that do not cause any sensations.
Alexei Makarkin is an expert with the Center for Political Technologies.