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Russia's additional responsibilities regarding G8 summit

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) - Russia is an unusual host of a G8 summit because many people in the West still have a negative attitude towards its G8 membership, not to mention its presidency.

In addition, Russia is a unique country geopolitically and its economy is transitioning from a communist past into a fully democratic future.

And lastly, unlike other G8 countries, Russia does not plan to address only its own problems at the summit.

In short, by giving a new color to such traditional meetings, Russia intends to act as an agent between the elite club of the world's industrialized nations and the rest of the not-so-fortunate world.

Skeptics and critics of Russia's G8 presidency refuse to regard the matter objectively. It is true that the quality of life in Russia is lower than in the other G8 countries, and Russia admits it. When asked what made him feel ashamed of Russia the other day, President Vladimir Putin said it was the poverty of a considerable part of the national population.

But his openness is proof that the authorities want to solve this problem and are doing their best to address it. The best indicator is Russia's stable GDP growth, which is higher than in the other G8 states: GDP grew by 7% in Russia, 3.6% in the United States, 1.7% in France, and 1.6% in Britain in 2005. Finally, economic standards and quality of life are not the only criteria for admission to the G8. There is also research and intellectual potential, and military and political prestige on the world scene. Besides, an elite club should have the ability to look into the future. Russia is a full member of the club on all of these counts, and is a recognized leader in some areas. It is playing first fiddle in the energy sphere, which is a key issue on the summit's agenda. The economic welfare of many European countries depends on Russian energy today, and Russian scientists are making an invaluable contribution to creating an energy system for tomorrow.

Russia is also a space superpower, and it shouldered the responsibility for the International Space Station until the recent resumption of the U.S. shuttle program. No other country in the G8 could have helped the Americans in space, or given the U.S. a chance to calmly investigate the reasons for the shuttle accident.

Despite the problems of a transitional economy, Russia has maintained its nuclear missile arsenal. The United States is increasingly using its military might to force its views on other countries, while Russia's military capability is a tool for reasonably assessing the situation in the world.

Russia is probably the only country that has not become hysterical over the launch of ballistic missiles by North Korea, though they were launched not towards the Americans or Japanese, but towards Russian borders. Having denounced Pyongyang's policy, Russia has also called for resuming talks, because it knows that the sanctions advocated by many in the West would be completely useless in this case.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that threats would only fan tensions, and that eventually the world would have to sit down at the negotiating table with the North Koreans in a much worse situation. Russia understands the North Korean regime better than many other countries precisely because it was a communist country until relatively recently.

Russia also understands the poor countries better because it knows what poverty is. It understands Muslims better because it is a country of Christians and Muslims.

Ahead of the G8 summit, Russia has taken several steps which none of the other G8 countries have taken before. First it held an international meeting of the world's top Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist leaders, who asked Russia to convey their concerns to the G8. Before that, the club ignored the respected opinions of believers.

Then Moscow hosted an international meeting of non-governmental organizations, which convened on its initiative. Russia, which had been accused of ignoring the opinions of civil society, invited the foreign and Russian NGOs to speak up, listened to their opinions, and agreed to act as their intermediary at the G8 summit.

Only the most radical faction of anti-globalization activists might plan protests for the St. Petersburg summit, and then only because they want to make a fuss, not seriously address problems. Those who regard the world's problems seriously have already expressed their attitude, and Russia will inform the other G8 states of their opinions.

Russia has assumed this additional responsibility voluntarily, and this is one more proof that its G8 presidency this year is fully justified.

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