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Russia Hosts G8 Finance Ministers; Energy Tops Agenda


Finance ministers from the world's most industrialized nations and Russia have gathered in Moscow to discuss trade, energy and other issues. The meeting is the first event in the current G-8 year, under the leadership of Russia.

Russia is putting its best foot forward as host to finance ministers from some of the world's richest nations.

The two-day meeting will showcase Russia's position as a full member of the elite club, which includes the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada and Japan.

Energy security tops the agenda at the gathering, with Moscow eager to end doubts about its reliability as a supplier of gas and oil.

Russia's reputation as a steady source was badly shaken on New Year's Day, when the energy firm, Gazprom, cut gas exports to neighboring Ukraine in a bitter price dispute.

The move also lowered the flow of gas to most of Europe, and critics charged that the Kremlin was using its vast energy reserves as a political weapon.

Exceptionally cold weather has since led to new shortfalls in gas supplies, forcing countries such as Italy to take special measures to cope with the shortage.

Before the dispute with Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia's main goal for its chairmanship of the G-8 would be energy security.

Viktor Kremenyuk with the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow says, now the issue could end up being more contentious than Mr. Putin planned.

"It may invite an attempt by some Western nations to suggest an alternative strategy of the energy security, which will mean fragmentation of the sources of supply," said Kremenyuk. "Not to let any supplier to take the quota of more than say 10,15 percent of the whole supplies."

Currently, Russia provides some European countries with close to half of their natural gas.

The issue has become so important, the finance ministers are expected to lay the groundwork for a meeting of G-8 energy ministers in March.

The primary meeting under Russia's leadership then follows in July, when the top leaders will gather in St. Petersburg, along with delegations from various non-G-8 countries.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin says, all of this demonstrates that Russia's time as a full-fledged part of the group has come.

"In the near future, the transformation of the G-7 into the G-8 will finally be finished, and Russia will become a full member," said Kudrin. "Our partners in the G-8 are supporting us in this process."

The weekend meeting will also focus on the impact that infectious diseases have on the world economy, as well as mechanisms to deal with economic crimes, such as money laundering.

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