Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 133

From Moscow’s point of view, the content of this year’s G-8 summit was supposed to be totally unexciting, if not completely irrelevant. Aid to Africa is of no interest for the Russian political class and is seriously unpopular with society; even at Gleneagles, the Scottish site of the G-8 meeting, Russian experts were arguing about the uselessness of pouring in new money, referring to Soviet experience (Kommersant, July 8). Global warming receives only slightly more attention, since Moscow’s rationale for signing the Kyoto Treaty remains questionable (Izvestiya, February 15). Even the location appeared odd, since golf has only a handful of enthusiasts in Russia. The shocking July 7 terrorist attack in London, however, shifted the focus of debates to a subject that Russian politicians were ready to elaborate upon at great length. Sources in the Russian delegation eagerly hinted that it was President Vladimir Putin who initiated the joint statement on countering the threat of terrorism; in his own statement, Putin found it appropriate to condemn “double standards” in prosecuting suspected terrorists (Izvestiya, Gazeta.ru, July 8).

This forced a major alteration of the painstakingly measured agenda and left no time at all for potentially uncomfortable issues like threats to democracy but, more importantly, it eliminated any questions about the “legitimacy” of Russia’s membership in this exclusive club (Guardian, July 8; Vedomosti, July 6). At the final press conference, Putin was relaxed and cheerful, peppering lengthy and confident answers with his trademark Soviet-style jokes (Kommersant, July 9). Indeed, one result of this summit was never in doubt: Russia has assumed the G-8 chairmanship and can now shape the agenda for discussions at the next summit in St. Petersburg. Tony Blair, unlike George W. Bush before him, tried to use his year of leadership to forge a consensus on meaningful issues and attacked the hard problems head on accepting the risk of failure — but in the end achieving more than could have been expected (Gazeta.ru, July 4). Putin demonstrates confidence that he would be able to follow this act, since he knows exactly where to focus the group’s attention: energy security.

With oil prices edging over $60 per barrel and OPEC warning that it would not be able to meet the growing demand, there is no doubt that the problem of securing a reliable and reasonably priced supply is high on the list of priorities of every industrial country. Putin’s estimate that 70% of the debate time in Gleneagles was devoted to energy issues appears, nevertheless, an exaggeration — and it illustrates the doubts about whether Russia can usefully preside over necessary discussions on this problem. Being a major exporter, it is definitely in a different boat from the other seven members, profiting massively from every jump in prices. As for Putin’s promise to increase Russia’s delivery to the world oil market from 230 to 270 million tons, it also looks doubtful considering the very small growth in current production and sustained lack of investment in exploration and infrastructure (Gazeta.ru, June 15).

Russia-led debates on energy security may prove to be as low on content as its contribution to the global struggle against terrorism (Ezhednevny zhurnal, July 8). Indeed, Moscow proudly presents itself as a key partner in this struggle, but there has never been any initiative to join the international coalition working on rebuilding Afghanistan — except plenty of criticism of these inadequate efforts. A new, non-cooperative edge emerged from the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization the day before the Gleneagles summit: Two new paragraphs appeared in the text of the final declaration with a request to the United States to set a deadline for the withdrawal of its bases from Central Asia (EDM, July 6, 8). This demarche fits perfectly into China’s strategic course but, according to Russian sources, it was Putin who initiated it by pulling a few strings in still-chaotic Kyrgyzstan (Izvestiya, Vremya novostei, July 6). He also firmly rejected the half-hearted Western requests for an independent investigation of the tragic events in Andijan, Uzbekistan, since, as seen from Moscow, that massacre was only a legitimate and proportional response to a terrorist attack organized from Afghanistan (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 17).

Portraying any anti-regime protest as Islamic radicalism and terrorism may seem to the Russian leadership as a smart tactic that could be used for deterring the threat of “color revolutions” even beyond Central Asia. This threat now appears particularly intense in the North Caucasus, where, during the last year, the interplay between growing public discontent, violent struggle between criminal clans, and spillover from the Chechen war-zone have acquired an uncontrollable character. Counter-terrorism was the Kremlin’s strategy of choice back in autumn 1999 when the second Chechen war was launched, but now it has become the “last resort” option. Exploiting the rhetoric of solidarity in the struggle against a common “evil” enemy, Putin may deflect Western criticism of his “internal affairs” in Dagestan, or Ingushetia, or indeed Chechnya — but that cannot hide the fact that he is fast losing his war against terrorism. The shock of the explosions in London was so heavy because it was the first attack on English soil since the heyday of the IRA, but Moscow has gone through too many shocks of this sort, so maybe it was a good idea to organize the summit in St. Petersburg, which has been spared so far. It is, however, difficult to expect tangible results from that “energy plus terrorism minus democracy” summit agenda.