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Putin May Have Expanded Role at G-8 Summit, say Analysts - 2002-06-25

Russian president Vladimir Putin travels to Canada Tuesday to take part in a summit of leaders from the leading industrialized nations, the so-called G-8. The upcoming G-8 summit in Canada is not expected to produce bold results. But it will underline how far Western relations with Russia have come under President Putin.

In the past Russia's role at these annual summits was limited because it was not as economically powerful as the other nations. In fact, Russia was often excluded from many of the meetings. But this time, when President Putin meets with the leaders of Canada, the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Germany, Russia will be closer than ever to becoming a full-fledged member.

Many analysts in Russia say much of the credit for Moscow's new status goes to President Putin and the effort he made after September 11 to bring Russia closer to the West by helping in the war against terrorism.

Masha Lipman is a political analyst with the Moscow-based magazine Yezhedelny Journal. She says President Putin's decision to orient Russian foreign policy toward the West was based on a desire to help Russia economically.

"He realized that if he wants to dig Russia out of poverty, he needs to side with the West, not with Asia, not with India, not with China and not with whatever regime or country but with the West," she said. "And September 11 gave him the perfect opportunity, and he demonstrated that he was not going to lose it."

Last month, in affirmation of Russia's new standing, President Putin signed a ground-breaking agreement to bring the country closer to NATO. Also in May, the United States and Europe recognized Russia as a market economy. This will make it easier for Russia to become a member of the World Trade Organization, the international body that regulates trade.

While analysts don't expect any progress on WTO at the G-8 summit, during a news conference on Monday President Putin emphasized the importance of WTO membership.

He said Russia is the only large economy that is not a member of the trade organization. President Putin added that joining the WTO will have a strong effect on Russia's economy and society.

But some analysts say there is a limit to what Russia can expect for its role in the war against terrorism. They point out that until Russia is as economically strong as other G-8 countries, its participation in the organization will always be limited.

"To the extent that G-8 has major economic goals there is nothing much Russia can contribute to that, so they'll always be a subsidiary member until they can really play a part economically," said Tom Adshead, a political analyst with the Moscow-based Troika Dialog investment bank.

For example, when the G-8 leaders gather in the Kananaskis resort in western Canada, much of their talks are expected to focus on ways to help Africa financially. While Mr. Putin will be participating in the talks, he is not in a position to offer any money. Russia doesn't have enough for its own needs, let alone enough to lend to other countries.