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Concerns Raised that Russia May Block Progress on Some G8 Summit Agenda Issues


The Group of Eight, or G8, summit of industrialized nations begins on July 15th in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The president of the host country, Vladimir Putin, says he plans to concentrate the summit's efforts on a broad range of topics, including energy, infectious diseases, education, regional conflicts, counterterrorism, and weapons of mass destruction. But VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports there is concern in the West that Russia is preventing a resolution to some of these very issues.

Global energy security heads the list of problems President Putin enumerates in his welcome statement on Russia's official G8 website. But the country raised questions about its reliability as a supplier when Gazprom, the Russian state energy monopoly, cut delivery of natural gas to Ukraine in January.

Viktor Kremenyuk, Deputy Director of the USA-Canada Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, says the shut-off highlighted the issue of energy independence. "Before the crisis in Ukraine, between Russia and Ukraine, dependence [on gas] was regarded as the beginning of partnership, maybe the beginning of the alliance. Now it is regarded as a threat."

Many Western analysts say Russia is also exploiting bloody conflicts in the Caucasus to maintain political leverage in the region. Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Carlos Pascual, now Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, says the G8 should discuss these conflicts.

This issue of frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union, particularly with Georgia, has been one where Russia has been a meddlesome partner,” says Mr. Pascual. “And for the United States and the G8 to draw a redline and say that around Georgia and Abkhazia, what we need to look toward is peacemaking, not additional conflict, I think is going to be absolutely key."

Before Russia was invited to join the G8 in 1998, the organization was known as the Group of Seven industrialized democracies. However, former Financial Times Moscow correspondent David Satter says there are differences in the concept of individual rights -- that in Western democratic tradition the state serves the individual, while in Russia, the individual is seen as an instrument serving the state. Satter says that, as a consequence, Russia fails to understand what he calls "ethical transcendence."

"The idea that rules apply equally to all,” says Satter, citing one example. “That there are rules over and above the realm of society; over and above the interests of individual human beings; and over and above the interests of the state. And that the state, no less than the individual, is obliged to conduct itself in accordance with those rules."

Satter spoke during a recent seminar on Russia and the G8 at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, D.C. At that forum, Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky said President Putin's statement that he opposes ultimatums on nuclear non-proliferation indicates the G8 is not likely to reach full agreement on how to proceed in the current nuclear standoff with Iran.

"It means that Moscow will not allow the [UN] Security Council -- never -- to take any real sanctions against Iran. This means the Iranian regime will have no incentive to stop its nuclear program," said Mr. Piontkovsky.

While there are calls by some in the West to expel Russia from the G8, there is no high level support for such a move. There are also calls to expand the group's membership to include China so it can help deal with many of the world's problems.

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