Nominal changes have real value. The Palm Pilot people spent $4 million dollars to turn Candlestick Park into 3Com Stadium. American businessmen and–who knows?–maybe the Chinese government too, contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to persuade members of Congress to call most-favored-nation treatment “normal trade relations.” But to change the name of the Group of Seven, Russia since 1992 has borrowed $50 billion and blown the wad. The Russians must know something 3Com doesn’t.

The naming of Russia’s participation in the Group of Seven rich industrial countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States) is a curious barometer of the warming intensity of Western courtship of Russia’s favor and Western flattery of Boris Yeltsin.

In 1991 the G-7 held a “post-summit dialogue” with representatives of the Soviet Union. In 1994, the post-summit meetings, now with Russia, acquired the name of P- (for political) eight. By April 1996, with Boris Yeltsin facing a June election and doing badly in the polls, the G-7 held an out-of-cycle quickie summit in Moscow, billed as “the G-7 with Russia.” In 1997, the G-7 summit became the “Summit of the Eight,” with participants described as “major industrialized democracies,” a formula that held through the 1998 summit in Birmingham, England. And this year in Cologne, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder insisted: “It’s not right to call it the G-7. The group is called the G-8 and Russia is a trusted member.”

There is nothing in Russia’s behavior or performance that explains this warm embrace. Russia’s recent record is one of mischief–as a proliferator in Iraq, Iran and India; a provocateur in the Caucasus and Central Asia; and a profligate with every dollar or D-mark that happens by. But Western leaders seem convinced that the way to deal with an opportunist is to give him opportunities. One day, perhaps, he will seize them for good, not for ill. And Boris Yeltsin knows how to play to this audience. “We need to make up after our fight,” he told reporters in Cologne. “That is the main thing.”

So the opportunities keep coming:

–Russia will take part in the Kosovo force with some 3,600 regular army, Interior Ministry and border troops, as well as some contract hires. The Russians will be spread among the American, French and German sectors, and Russian liaison officers will serve at each level of NATO’s command hierarchy. Indeed, the agreement worked out between American Defense Secretary William Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev commits both sides to a partnership in the Balkans over the long term.

–As the United States moves toward development of a national missile-defense system, Boris Yeltsin reportedly agreed to consider changes in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty that in the current Russian view prohibits such a program. In exchange the United States agreed not to insist on Russian ratification of the second U.S.-Soviet strategic-arms reduction treaty (START II) before moving ahead with START III talks on further cuts in the number of each side’s nuclear warheads. Two years ago, at a bilateral summit in Helsinki, Yeltsin had asserted that development of theater–that is, national–missile defenses was consistent with the ABM treaty, and President Clinton had linked START III talks to Russian ratification of START II.

–The Board of Directors of the International Monetary Fund will consider a $4.5 billion loan to Russia when it meets in July. Most observers expect the loan to be approved, though the package of “reforms” on which the loan is conditioned has not passed the Duma, which is now in recess until September. Russia owes $90 billion in Soviet-era debt to foreign government and other official lenders, plus $51 billion in debt contracted by the Russian Federation, including $19 billion owed to the IMF itself. Russia defaulted last weekend on bonds issued to reschedule earlier unpaid interest arrearages, though as of this writing none of the bondholders has invoked the default clauses of the loan agreements. But Fund directors will be relieved to learn that Russian investigators have found no evidence that laws were broken in the handling of the last IMF loan disbursement, the $4.8 billion handed over six weeks before last August’s default and devaluation.