Ever since the famous "fireplace
discussion" at the Chateau de Ramouillet outside
Paris in 1975, where the club currently called
Group of Eight took form, the world has come to
expect a certain predictability in the outcome of
its annual summits.
The summits were
largely of symbolic nature - formalizing the
drafts painstakingly worked out by "sherpas"
scaling summit slopes in the preceding weeks and
months in full public gaze. No earth-shaking
decisions were to be expected. Yet the world kept
looking on in the belief that the G8 flashed the
alignments in international politics.
year's summit in St Petersburg was no exception.
Three things became apparent. First, Russia has
emerged as one of the
geopolitical poles in the world.
the daunting problems besetting Russia -
large-scale poverty, derelict infrastructure,
neglected social sectors, regional imbalances,
nascent political institutions - Moscow is
determined to play a significant role in
This was starkly
evident in an article by Russian Deputy Prime
Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov,
titled "The triad of national values", featured in
Izvestia on Friday, coinciding with the arrival of
US President George W Bush in St Petersburg.
In hard-hitting language, Ivanov declared
that the days were gone when Russia could be
pushed around, and that the Kremlin was fed up
with the West's double standards on democracy
whereby "a hysterical atmosphere was being
artificially created and a political environment
that was favorable for launching a process of
overthrowing legally constituted governments was
What was extraordinary was
that Ivanov offered no explanations for what
Russia was about - no apologies, no long-winded
justifications. He came straight to the point:
"The practice of interstate relations where Russia
incurred substantial economic losses as quid pro
quo for gaining the friendliness of the leaders of
certain foreign countries is a thing of the past."
Ivanov continued, "Today we not only have
the means to defend ourselves but also - and this
is far more important - something to defend. To an
increasing degree, we are beginning to understand
that Russia can only be a sovereign democracy;
otherwise, we will be left with neither democracy
It was significant that the
Kremlin resorted to such blunt talk on the eve of
the G8 summit. It was deliberate. In the preceding
weeks already, a certain "hardening" of the
Kremlin stance was perceptible. To be sure, the
Kremlin carefully weighed the factors at work,
while setting the tone for the G8 summit.
The US campaign over President Vladimir
Putin's "authoritarianism" reached such a high
pitch that the Kremlin had no choice but to call
the bluff. In retrospect, Washington overreached
when US diplomats participated in the theatrical
show in Moscow, "Another Russia", parodying
Putin told the
Canadian Television (CTV) network, "These issues
[democracy] are being used as an instrument to
intervene in our domestic and foreign policy in
order to have an influence on it ... Only those
who themselves have a spotless human-rights record
have the right to point finger at others."
Putin told the US National Broadcasting Co
(NBC) network that Washington manipulated the US
media except that it was a "lot more
sophisticated". If the US intention behind the
calibrated propaganda barrage against Moscow was
aimed at pressuring the latter into making
concessions on other issues, especially economic
matters (a familiar US ploy against Russia), this
time it didn't work.
The Russian position,
in fact, toughened on the Iran nuclear issue and
on energy security. Putin also revived the sharp
criticism of the invasion of Iraq.
Washington miscalculated by hosting
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili -
expressing solidarity with Saakashvili at a time
of rising tensions over South Ossetia and
supporting Georgia's bid for membership in the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was
crude meddling - awkwardly timed.
result was the Russian position visibly hardened
on the question of "frozen conflicts". Moscow
suggested that Abkhazia, a breakaway region in
Georgia, should be given the floor at the United
Nations Security Council to present its case
against Tbilisi. It warned Tbilisi against
attempting to resolve the South Ossetian problem
through force. Moldova's separatist region of
Transdniester announced a referendum on September
17 to decide whether the pro-Moscow enclave should
"freely unite" with Russia. Abkhazia began mulling
over a similar referendum.
At the same
time, Moscow correctly assessed its factors of
advantage. The political crisis in Ukraine and
conclusive collapse of the "orange alliance"
constituted a serious setback to US strategies.
Other factors that worked in Moscow' favor
were: the dramatic turnaround of the security
situation in Chechnya after the killing of Shamil
Besayev; the successful launch of Rosneft's
initial public offering; and the overall boom in
the Russian economy - as evident in the decision
to clear all debts with the Paris Club by August
21 and full convertibility of ruble and the
follow-up decision to trade energy and other
strategic goods in rubles. Most important, Putin
was riding a phenomenal wave of popular support
over 70 % (as against Bush's 30% popularity
Thus the first striking thing
about the G8 summit was that the Kremlin put on
display the unquestionable and rapid strengthening
of Russia's independence and its return to the
international scene and in the global economy.
Those who were scornful about the weak sides,
small sins and oddities of Putin's Russia were
reduced to stunned silence.
weekly, a consistent critic of Putin's Russia,
poignantly asked: "So, what can the West do? The
short answer is, not a lot. In the 1990s, an
economically enfeebled Russia needed help from
abroad. Unless the oil price unexpectedly
collapses, no such leverage will be available in
the near future.
pressure from outside is likely to rebound. With
the Kremlin once again firmly in control, Russia
will almost certainly change only from within - or
not at all ... The best policy now is not
containment but 'wary engagement'."
Indeed, Bush echoed the same thought,
though in colloquial idiom, in the northern German
town of Stralsund, en route to St Petersburg: "My
own view of dealing with President Putin is that
nobody likes to be lectured a lot, and if you want
to be an effective person, what you don't do is to
scold the person publicly all the time; that you
remind him where he may have a difference of
opinion, but you do so in a respectful way, so you
can then sit down and have a constructive
dialogue. And that's exactly how I'm going to
continue my relations with President Putin."
Despite Washington's "wary engagement" of
Russia within the G8, a contradiction exists
culturally, politically and strategically, which
will be difficult to overcome in the near future.
Curiously, it was left to a Chinese scholar to
dwell on this paradigm.
front-paged on Monday an article by Ruan Zongze of
the China Institute of International Studies
exploring an answer to the question as to how
China should "get along" with the G8.
concluded, "Judging from current conditions, it is
in Chinese interests to keep a convenient distance
from the G8. It is quite unlikely that China will
join this group in the short term. China is a
developing country for which G8 as a club of the
rich hasn't apparently kept reserved a comfortable
seat. Moreover, G8 has its own set of political
and economic standards, which China finds
unacceptable at least for the present stage.
"Russia, for example, does not mix well
with the group. It joined the club in 1998 out of
political needs, but was reduced to a second-class
citizen, and has had little say on economic
questions. So Russia is eager to establish itself
as an equal member of the group by taking the role
of a host." 
An unresolved riddle,
therefore, remains as the residue of the St
Petersburg summit. Russia on its part would appear
to anticipate the problem and to signal that it
got its priorities all right. No sooner had the G8
summit ended than Putin meaningfully invited the
heads of state of the Commonwealth of Independent
States  countries for an "informal summit" in
Moscow this Friday and Saturday.
any discussions over Russia's partnership with the
West, it may be improper to club all Western
nations together in the same breath. Actually,
this also happens to be the second conspicuous
vector to emerge out of the St Petersburg summit.
Its significance is no less important than
Russia's resurgence on the world stage. While
the focus understandably is on the resurgence of
Russia and on the cooling of relations between the
United States on the one side and Russia on the
other, the primary reason the US dealt from such a
patently weak hand at St Petersburg was the
disunity within the trans-Atlantic camp.
Europe does not lack ambition, but it is
in disarray - unable even to give itself a
constitution. Certainly, it lacks a common foreign
policy. With the exception of Britain, Europe
views with uneasiness the US attempts to establish
dominance over the Middle East and Central Asia.
And despite Washington's recent charm diplomacy in
the European capitals, the European public regards
US policies with distaste. And with Bush's attempt
to revive the US-German axis, France is once again
edging toward an independent opinion.
finally, the US has failed to establish
commonality of interests with its Western partners
(including Japan) in the policy of "tough love"
toward Putin's Russia. Many European countries
feel troubled about the ever-expanding balloon of
hot air that NATO has become.
dismay over the destabilization of Ukraine thanks
to Bush's "color revolution". An economy with the
highest growth rate in the post-Soviet space just
two years ago is today crawling on its knees.
On the vital question of energy security,
Europe's interests cannot be harmonized with the
US strategies toward Russia. Russia quietly made a
point by timing two energy mega-deals with Japan
and Germany just ahead of the G8 summit.
On July 12, Sakhalin Energy, which
operates the Sakhalin-II energy project and is
developing two vast fields in Russia's Far East
with estimated recoverable reserves of 150 million
tonnes of oil and 500 billion cubic meters of gas,
signed a deal to supply half a million tonnes of
liquefied natural gas annually to Japan for a
And last Thursday,
Russia's Gazprom and Germany's E.ON AG signed a
framework agreement to swap assets in production,
trade and sale of natural gas and relating to
power industry. Gazprom will acquire the German
company's stakes in gas companies in Hungary as
well as in regional electricity and gas companies
in return for Russia providing access to E.ON AG
to Russia's Yuzhno-Russkoye deposits in the Tyumen
region, which holds more than a trillion cubic
meters of natural gas and will be the source for
the US$10.5 billion North European Gas Pipeline
Putin had every reason to express
satisfaction over the G8's final document on
energy security. He asserted, "Until recently,
energy security was understood as meaning stable
energy supplies. Now we have convinced our
partners that energy security is a far broader
notion, including production, transportation and
sale on the markets."
The G8 statement
shows that the US game plan aimed at establishing
its trans-Atlantic leadership in the energy
dialogue with Russia lies in tatters.
third aspect of the St Petersburg summit regards
its "take" on the international scene. From this
angle, Iran and the Middle East by far stole the
show. All other issues previously bandied about as
solid pressure points on Russia at St Petersburg -
democracy and "frozen conflicts" in the
post-Soviet space; Russia's policy toward its
smaller neighbors - receded into the background.
Interestingly, Russia was not the only
power at the G8 that found it difficult to go
along with Bush when he laid full blame for
tensions in Lebanon at the feet of Hezbollah - and
with Syria and Iran. Other leaders, while
condemning the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers,
also criticized the disproportionate Israeli
Putin indirectly drew attention
to the US isolation when he said Russia's
advantage was that it did not close its doors to
any parties to the Middle East conflict. Putin
asserted that Russia's "regular contacts" with
Hamas and Hezbollah actually helped to work on the
G8's Middle East resolution. If this in itself
wasn't an extraordinary statement, Putin rubbed it
in: "Iran, of course, is an influential country in
the region and its interests must be respected so
as to prompt it to use its influence to change the
situation [in Lebanon] for the better."
Putin also said Israeli military
operations were pursuing a larger agenda than
obtaining the release of the kidnapped soldiers
and that Israel's confidence in its "military
capabilities" would prove to be misplaced. The
most significant point made by Putin was that the
deployment of any international force in Lebanon
must be on the basis of a mandate from the UN
Security Council and that Russia would participate
in any such operations, but "we first need to get
the agreement from all the sides involved in the
Again, the G8 helped clarify
the alchemy within the so-called "Iran Six" .
The G8 statement on Iran endorsed the Iran Six
decisions calling for a halt to Tehran's
nuclear-enrichment activities in return for a
package of incentives, but at the press conference
that followed the summit, Putin cautioned, "It is
too early to speak about sanctions against Iran.
We have not reached that stage yet ... I would
rather not speak about this [sanctions] because
raising this issue may create unfavorable
conditions for the talks."
All in all, the
G8 revealed the erosion in the United States'
ability to bend the world to its will. The US
exposed itself as having very little leverage in
the Middle East situation. It seemed a shadow of
what it used to be in that highly strategic
region. It failed to get the G8 to fall in line on
energy security or the Iran nuclear issue.
In the final analysis, what insight does
the St Petersburg summit provide into the world of
tomorrow? What comes to mind is an incident
narrated by former Soviet president Mikhail
Gorbachev during an interview last Friday
regarding the summit. He said former US president
Bill Clinton asked him when he first visited
Moscow what advice he could give.
Gorbachev replied that he would give one
important bit of advice, namely, to treat Russia
with respect because Russians did not like being
patted on the back. Gorbachev said he told
Clinton, "Today we have one kind of situation and
tomorrow it may be something different. But we
will certainly rise, as we have done so many times
before. We keep all that in our Russian memory."
Notes 1. The G8 comprises
the members of the Group of Seven and Russia. The
G7 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy,
Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States,
which together account for about two-thirds of the
world's economic output. Russia officially became
the eighth member of the grouping at the 1997
Denver, Colorado, "Summit of the Eight". But while
Russia is a G8 member, it does not participate in
financial and economic discussions, which continue
to be conducted by the G7. Russia has the G8's
2. The Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) was created in December
1991. In the adopted declaration the participants
of the commonwealth declared their interaction on
the basis of sovereign equality. At present, the
CIS unites Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.
3. The "Iran Six" comprises the five
permanent members of the UN Security Council - the
United States, Russia, China, the UK and France -
M K Bhadrakumar
served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign
Service for more than 29 years, with postings
including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and
to Turkey (1998-2001).