German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set Wednesday to host the annual summit of the G8 leading industrial democracies plus Russia. VOA's Barry Wood reports a recent sharp deterioration in western relations with Moscow is casting a chill over the meeting that will take place at a Baltic Sea resort in eastern Germany.

What a difference a year makes. Only 11 months ago Vladimir Putin proudly hosted the G8 leaders in St. Petersburg. It was an historic first for Russia which became a member of the summit club in 1997. Other members are the United States, Japan, Canada and four west European powers (Britain, France, Germany and Italy).

Enriched by oil and gas, a newly assertive Russia has clamped down on dissent at home and is at odds with the West over Iran, Kosovo and missile defense.

David Satter, a Russia specialist at the Hudson Institute in Washington, says western leaders need to be blunt with Mr. Putin.

"What we need to do is make it clear to the Russians that we're not going to check our freedom of speech at the door," said Satter. "That we fully intend to insist that they fully adhere to the principles of the organization of which they're a part."

Satter believes Russia should never have been admitted to the summit club.

"It doesn't really belong there now because the G8 is an organization of industrial democracies," he said. "Economically, Russia doesn't qualify even with its windfall gains in oil and gas revenues."

There are two new G8 leaders, Japan's Shinzo Abe and the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Chancellor Merkel wants this year's G8 meeting to yield action on eliminating greenhouse gases and boosting aid to Africa.

Colin Bradford of the Brookings Institution, a Washington research organization, says action on climate change is possible, in part, because President Bush has modified his opposition to limits on carbon emissions.

"The American position on this [climate change] is changing and has changed in the last six to eight months since the U.S. election in the fall of 2006," said Bradford.

Democrats, who now control both houses of Congress, favor action against global warming.

Julianne Smith, foreign policy analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, says President Bush and the Europeans are eager to find common ground on climate change as a way of rebuilding the transatlantic cooperation that has been strained by the Iraq war.

"All of the leaders who will be there would welcome that development," said Smith. "So the instinct is, again, to move away from the shadows of Iraq and try and craft some new action points for the transatlantic partners."

Colin Bradford of Brookings says the G8 climate talks are taking on added importance because five additional countries are taking part.

"This will be a G8 plus five discussion on climate change that will include China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa," said Bradford. "The heads from those five countries will be for the first time involved fully in the substantive discussions on climate change."

Bradford and others would like to see the G8 expand to become a more representative global group. That is unlikely anytime soon as the G8 is still having trouble absorbing its newest member, Russia.