The G-8 – or Group of Eight industrialized nations - recently concluded their annual summit in Saint Petersburg, the first time a summit had been held on Russian soil. This year’s G-8 agenda was overwhelmed by a surge of violence in Israel, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. President Putin’s agenda was to have focused on energy security, the fight against infectious diseases, and education.
John Kirton, director of the G-8 Research Group at the University of Toronto in Canada, says that – despite tumultuous events in the Middle East – the summit in Saint Petersburg was one of significant achievement with regard to its stated agenda. Speaking in Saint Petersburg with Carol Castiel, host of VOA News Now’s Encounter program, Professor Kirton says that behind the scenes the summit also did much to “deepen democracy in Russia.”
Although Pamela Jordon, professor of history and expert in US-Russian relations at the University of Saskatchewan, agrees with Professor Kirton that the event was well organized, she says she does not think that Russia’s international reputation will improve as a result of the summit. For example, there was broad media coverage on how Russian security officials and militia had physically harmed Russian civil society activists and jailed two German journalists for photographing a protest demonstration.
Professor Kirton notes that each day after the meetings President Putin held press briefings for reporters, which he called “quite unusual.” Professor Jordan thinks these press briefings were “largely cosmetic” and adds that, as a former KGB agent, President Putin released only information that would serve his own purposes.
On the issue of energy security, Professor Kirton suggests that Russia’s willingness to rely more on free markets, on “transparency” and openness represents a major accomplishment of the G-8 summit. But Professor Jordan says she is more skeptical because of the agreement’s vague language and the difficulty of enforcing it. Professor Jordan says much depends on whether Russia will allow greater foreign investment in its oil and gas sector.
In addition to the G-8 meetings, President Bush and President Putin held separate bilateral talks, which focused on enhancing the use of civilian nuclear energy, trade, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s recent missile launches, and relations with Russia’s neighbors. Both countries had hoped to announce Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the G-8 meeting, but last minute obstacles could not be overcome. However, Pamela Jordan notes that the two sides did narrow their differences in Saint Petersburg and it is possible there will be an agreement as early as October.
A final accomplishment of the Saint Petersburg summit was that the G-8 leaders held productive meetings with major leaders of non-member countries with growing economic power – for example, India, Brazil, China, South Africa, and Congo, which currently holds the presidency of the African Union. Both Professor Kirton and Professor Jordan agree that the G-8 will probably expand over time and India is likely to be the next new member.
For full audio of the program Encounter click here.