MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) Outlining Russia's positions at the forthcoming G8 summit, President Vladimir Putin virtually returned to the idea of Mikhail Gorbachev - to look at global security from an entirely new angle and to approach it in a way which would be suitable for the majority of civilized nations, or, in other words, to establish firm guarantees of mankind's steady and predictable development.
In Gorbachev's times this idea was dubbed "a new political mentality for Russia and the rest of the world." In Putin's words the idea sounds somewhat different, but the gist is the same. In an interview with the American NBC, he said: "We need to develop a system of guarantees that can ensure security in the world and I think that we can achieve this."
Putin believes that Russia can and must play a major role: "How can one talk about ensuring global security and address the issues of non-proliferation and disarmament if Russia, one of the biggest nuclear powers, is not included? And how can the problem of poverty in the world be tackled without Russia, taking into account its vast territory and opportunities for interaction with Asia and with the developing world in general?" His view on the economic component of universal security is similar: "I'd like to point out that in proven reserves alone the Russian Federation has four times more oil and gas than all the other G8 countries together. How can we tackle the problems of energy security without taking Russia's views into account and involving it in finding common solutions?"
During perestroika Gorbachev's idea became a thing of the past together with the Soviet Union. It faded into oblivion when Gorbachev resigned. This was unfortunate, because as the subsequent period has shown, it is the absence of a common approach to the global situation that has prevented the world's leaders, such as the G8, from tackling the arising challenges. It is essential to talk about important details, and this is what will be done at the summit in St. Petersburg, which will focus on the problems of energy, education, and healthcare. It is only too obvious that without agreement on global issues, the G8 is bound to run into more difficulties, some of which it may not be able to overcome.
How can the G8 tackle the energy problem if they have different views on the Middle East settlement or the Iranian issue? How can the world community cope with terrorism if it doesn't even have a common definition of it? How can it defend human rights if there are double if not triple standards in their observance? The United States and Russia criticize each other, and Europe lashes out at both of them.
Defense of democracy will be another difficult subject. It is enough to recall Iraq, or the situation in the post-Soviet space, where the positions of the U.S., Europe and Russia are significantly different.
There is obvious lack of harmony in fundamental approaches. But there is more to it. Every big power has its own geopolitical interests, and it is even more difficult to find common ground here. It is not a complete list of difficulties, but this is not the point.
What matters here is that Russia, the host of the summit, is certainly right. In the 21st century the world has encountered global threats of a new dimension - from terrorism to clashes between civilizations. But it has not even started looking for new instruments to deal with all these challenges. It is simply dangerous to sit and wait like this, afraid of problems at negotiations. Mankind is like a boiler, where a safety valve is the last defense against failure. If the safety valve does not release the pressure adequately, the boiler may explode, and so may mankind. The world needs security guarantees, and only its leading countries can provide them, but with due account of the opinion of other nations.
It is easy to see that in suggesting a search for acceptable ways of resolving global problems, Russia is pursuing its own ends. Having parted with its communist past, Russia has firmly opted for democratic development and the market economy. But every now and then it falls into the Western traps designed to catch the Russian bear in the remote years of the Cold War.
It is enough to mention the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment adopted by the U.S. in 1974, when the U.S.S.R. prevented its Jews from leaving for Israel. The Soviet Union is no more, and Russian Jews can freely go to Israel and come back, but this amendment is still there. What is it protecting now? Last time the U.S. used it to force Russia into buying chicken legs - a move which caused indignation even among former Soviet dissidents. Natan Sharansky said that it was not for chicken legs that he had spent time in Soviet prisons.
Moscow has to live with this theater of the absurd all the time. It certainly does not like a situation where selfish interests prevail over considerations of principle. Under the circumstances, Russia has a stake in the elaboration of common and hard rules for all. Many other countries also suffer from double standards. The U.S. is also interested in common rules and guarantees because it has increasingly encountered lack of understanding on behalf of the world community. It would be simply ridiculous if the U.S. with its military, political, economic and democratic background were afraid to engage in an open and constructive discussion on major issues of our time. If Russia with its growing pains and lack of democratic experience is not afraid, why should America be? But if it is not, Putin's idea has a chance of succeeding.
The 20th century forgot about the idea; we simply cannot afford such a luxury today.