MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Peter Lavelle). Scheduled to chair the presidency of the Group of Eight in 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that energy, stability in Central Asia, and counter-terrorism efforts will top the agenda.
Given the tragic terrorist attack on London during the present summit, forwarding these issues could not have been better timed.
As Russia assumes the presidency of the G8, there have been calls to either suspend or expel Russia from the most exclusive club in the world. Some politicians from member countries, including Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and Canada, claim there are many reasons to question Russia's membership, ranging from its lack of wealth in comparison with other members to claims that Russia does not share the same democratic and market values as the rest of the group.
Prior to the Gleneagles summit, Igor Shuvalov, an aide to Putin and Russia's representative to the G8, said he was aware of these criticisms and acknowledged that the recent break-up of Russia's largest oil company Yukos and the imprisonment of its former head Mikhail Khodorkovsky had damaged Russia’s reputation among G8 members.
“We will have to work hard to overcome the Yukos effect,” Shuvalov said. “We will have to work for a long time, for years” to reinvigorate the business climate and demonstrate to investors that Yukos was a unique case.
At the same time, Shuvalov claimed the G8 needed Russia as much as the Russia needed the G8. Russia's per capita wealth does not even come close to poorest of the other seven members of the group, but it does have what the G8 needs, as well as rest of the world: oil and natural gas.
“The economic reasons why we must be in the club are obvious,” Shuvalov said. “We will be increasing oil exports year by year, we are prepared to guarantee stable energy supplies to our partners to secure their stable development for decades ahead.” At the G8 summit, which is scheduled to complete its work Friday, Putin said that Russia would do everything possible to ensure the stable development of the global economy though increased energy supplies. Given the state’s commanding position in Russia’s oil patch, Putin is in a position to turn this pledge into a reality.
When Russia takes the lead of the G8, efforts to promote stability in post-Soviet Central Asia and the war on terrorism are also expected to be on the agenda. Both these issues are not only vital for Russia, but for the world community as well.
Putin's choice to promote stability in Central Asia is an issue all members of the G8 can recognize as important. Some commentators see Putin's agenda as a disingenuous cover in reaction to the recent “velvet revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. However, Putin's interest in the post-Soviet space is transparent: security there creates security for Russia and protects energy supply routes.
Among the initiatives Putin might promote is international supervision of economic aid to some of the poorest countries on its borders. According to Shuvalov, “It's very important to let those poor countries, such as Moldova, develop. For example, a poor Georgia would be a great danger for us.” The G8 can also play a constructive role in combating the drugs trade in Central Asia.
Promoting stability in Central Asia is crucial in the war on terrorism. While the United States and Russia have military installations in many Central Asian countries to counter terrorist threats, economic and other forms of aid can address many of the root causes of terrorism.
All G8 members have an interest in promoting stability in Central Asia because of the region's growing importance in supplying petroleum to world markets and as an alternative to the volatile Middle East.
Putin is watching carefully and most certainly will focus on an agenda that all members of the G8 can agree upon next year. Given the collective desire to promote international petroleum production, the growing importance of Central Asia and in light of the London terrorist attack, disagreeing with Putin's agenda will be difficult.
THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND MAY NOT NECESSARILY REPRESENT THE OPINIONS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD.