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City news
G8 Summit: Russia prepares for constructive dialogue
05.19.2006 12:57

G8_summit Participants in the July G8 summit will come to St. Petersburg with different goals in mind, and this is natural, because industrialized countries have always had different goals.

It is another matter that they need to be balanced to produce acceptable results for all participants. This is possible if the G8 leaders are set to attain common results.

Unfortunately, the tone of the global press shows that in the past years differences, notably over Iran, Ukraine and Georgia, have invariably given way to accusations of Russia pursuing imperial or anti-American policies. And Russia strikes back, without sparing the feelings of its political opponents.

Dick Cheney's recent speech in Vilnius was a brilliant attempt to place Moscow in the defendant's seat. Vladimir Putin's reference to a wolf who "knows who to eat and is not about to listen to anyone" intrigued everyone. But the harsh tone of the exchange has left almost nothing unsaid: the Kremlin will not be forced into a defensive position but will voice its opinion as harshly as it deems necessary.

This has created a problem almost on the eve of the summit. The United States and Russia have talented speechwriters who can find a clever way of putting the fighting spirit of their leaders on paper. Cheney and Putin seem to be taking pleasure in fighting. But fever tends to go down when the battle is over, just as it has this time, when everyone is thinking about the St. Petersburg summit and nobody wants to turn it into a squabble. Otherwise why meet at all, let alone in the Russian president's home city?

There is nothing wrong with the Kremlin's decision to come clean; the steam has been let off; no more attempts to frame each other. Russian presidential aide and G8 Sherpa Igor Shuvalov has taken over the job of looking for silver linings. According to him, the Kremlin knows that the pre-summit atmosphere is not very good, to put it mildly.

According to the Financial Times, Shuvalov does not expect the situation to improve radically but has warned against throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, he spotlighted the need to focus on one of the priority issues on the G8 agenda - energy security.

The New Year "present" to Ukraine, when Russian gas supplies to that former Soviet republic were cut short for economic reasons, turned the economic problem into a political one, nobody can deny that. The Kremlin is aware of this and is prepared to consider Western concerns.

Sharp rhetoric and overemotional criticism are one thing, and roundtable discussions of the world's leading industrialized states are quite another. Only amateurs can describe Moscow's actions on the gas scene as unwarranted. The future of the Russian power industry depends on the West almost as much as the West depends on Russian gas deliveries.

Russia cannot make a sharp turn towards Asia on the energy issue; given the current transportation infrastructure, the overwhelming part of Russian energy exports will continue to be directed westward. The trunk pipeline to the East, when it is built, will divert only 25% of Russian energy exports.

"A geopolitical drama is not in the scenario of global politics," German magazine Internationale Politik writes in a special edition devoted to energy in the 21st century.

Why kick each other then? I don't know who sent chief of the presidential staff Sergei Sobyanin to London, but it was a very timely and wise decision. The phlegmatic-looking Kremlin official with the calm eyes of a reasonable human being did better than anybody could in that situation. People like him usually avoid the political limelight.

"Our biggest problem is the rhetoric. We do have differences with our Western partners, but nothing of critical importance and certainly nothing that cannot be resolved through direct dialogue," Sobyanin told The Times, in his first interview with the foreign press on his first foreign visit.

Those who know the Kremlin parlance immediately interpreted his statement as Moscow's desire to allay Western fears of unconstructive attitude to the G8 summit agenda.

I am not an oracle, but I am nearly 100% sure that there will be political sensations in St. Petersburg.

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