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RIA Novosti
June 6, 2007
Relations with Russia eclipse real problems at G8 summit

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - Relations between Russia and the West, primarily the United States, are the focus of attention at the G8 summit in Germany.

At least, this is the impression created by the media and statements by high-ranking G8 officials. This subject is attracting much more attention than debates on climate change and aid to Africa, thereby getting in the way of the G8's main mission - joint decision-making with a view to countering global challenges.

On the eve of the official opening, the discussion is centered around the following questions: Does Russia deserve to be a member of this influential club of industrialized democracies? To what extent is it possible for the West to cooperate with it? When should it be cut down to size?

In the run-up to the summit, U.S. President George W. Bush said that Washington had common interests in some areas where it was cooperating with Moscow and Beijing, whereas in other fields they had serious differences.

The areas of common interest between Russia and America, as well as the West as a whole, are well known. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke about them in an interview with a Russian television channel. These include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, and developments in the Balkans. "We depend on each other, and this will dominate the spirit of Heiligendamm," she said.

It will be great if this is really so and other G8 countries see in Russia a partner that shares with them a common responsibility. The German chancellor spoke about this as well. But how effective is this cooperation if disputes arise daily over these or other issues?

It is enough to mention the frustrating search for a common Russian-U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the difficulty of holding talks with Iran and North Korea, the desperate situation in Kosovo, and the loads of time wasted on resolutions on Iraq. The list goes on and on.

In their final statements at different international forums, Russian and Western leaders have mentioned their common approach to global threats and ways of countering them. But is it possible to fight international terrorism in the atmosphere of mutual suspicion surrounding the potential deployment of an American ABM system in Europe? How effectively can the G8 help developing nations or countries hit by acute political crises when practically every agreement on regional conflicts contains so many reservations? It is enough to mention the UN Security Council resolution approving the formation of a tribunal to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harari. The United States, Britain and France voted in favor, while Russia and China abstained. G8 members' views on supporting the reforms in the Greater Middle East are also very different.

Judging by statements made by high-ranking policymakers, G8 countries are overcoming these differences and their mutual mistrust for the sake of common goals. But what is the point then of creating this atmosphere of mutual criticism that has accompanied every Russian-American and Russian-European meeting? Is this being done to influence the voters who are watching television in Russia, the United States and Europe?

Needless to say, the deployment of an ABM system in Europe and the state of democracy in Russia are important issues, but a G8 summit is not the right venue for sorting out relations between members of the club. The world expects the club to meet the challenges of today.

The situation in Darfur, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon is much more urgent than the hypothetical threat of a new Cold War and arms race between Russia and America. No ABM system will help curb the growth of extremism in the Middle East and its spread to other regions. Nor will it stop proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or help prevent terrorist attacks. European security is extremely fragile - it is sitting on numerous time bombs like Kosovo, immigration and problems of European identity.

These issues override any pointless bickering within the club.