When the G8 summit at Sea Island, Georgia ended on June 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised host country America “for both the content of the discussion and the atmosphere,” which he described as “relaxed and very open.” Putin even waded into U.S. domestic politics to defend President George W. Bush from verbal attacks by his Democratic rivals concerning Iraq. “In the election campaign, we have recently and often heard Bush’s political rivals attacking him over Iraq,” Putin said. “In my view — and I say this with absolute confidence — they have no moral right to do so. They were pursuing a similar policy when they were in power — suffice to recall the events in Yugoslavia” (Itar-Tass, Channel One TV, June 11). The two leaders held a one-on-one meeting on June 8, after which Bush hailed “my friend Vladimir Putin” as “a strong leader who cares deeply about the people of his country and understands the issues that we face” (Whitehouse.gov, June 8).
But while the two leaders used the summit to restate their mutual regard, the concrete results of the meeting and related events were more mixed in terms of U.S.-Russian relations. On the positive side — from Washington’s point of view — Russia, along with the other 14 members of the United Nations Security Council, voted on June 9 in favor of the resolution, sponsored by the U.S. and Great Britain, giving an international imprimatur to the U.S.-led coalition’s June 30 handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government. At the end of the summit, Putin called the resolution “balanced and good,” adding that he hoped it would help strengthen Iraq’s new leadership and “create conditions for the holding of democratic elections” soon (Interfax, June 11). However, on the day that the resolution passed, Putin added a cautionary note, calling it “a big step forward” but warning that “much time will pass between the adoption of the document and a change in the situation” in Iraq (Itar-Tass, June 9).
In addition, Russia offered little more than rhetorical support for U.S. efforts to internationalize the Iraq problem. Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said the idea of Russia’s contributing troops to the multinational forces in Iraq was “not under consideration” (Interfax, June 9). And Putin said Russia would do “nothing unilaterally” to write off Iraq’s debts — something Bush began actively lobbying for late last year when he named former Secretary of State James Baker as his special envoy for Iraqi debt, dispatching him to negotiate with Iraq’s main creditors. Putin noted that the summit’s final document said nothing about the amount to be written off, which Russia would decide “in the course of the negotiating process,” and reiterated that the issue should addressed within the framework of the Paris Club of creditor nations (Itar-Tass, June 11). Just four days after meeting with Baker last December, Putin said that Russia was ready to write off 65 percent of Iraq’s U.S. $8 billion debt.
Putin also gave less than a ringing endorsement to the Greater Middle East Initiative, the Bush administration’s plan for building democracy in the Middle East and the Islamic world that the G8 summit adopted in diluted form. Unlike French President Jacques Chirac, who warned against attempts to impose democracy that could feed extremism and lead to a “clash of civilizations,” Putin said the idea was timely and that he supported it. But he added, “There is the question of how the idea is to be implemented and what final tasks we must set ourselves in this work. The most important thing is that the idea itself, and the instruments that may be created for its implementation, must not be used to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.” In addition, Putin said Russia would not contribute financially to the effort “until it understands how the money is being spent” and would do so “only if it is able to influence the processes taking place” (Itar-Tass, June 11).
Another G8 initiative for which Russian support seemed less than unequivocal concerned Iran’s nuclear program. The G8 leaders, including Putin, issued a statement on June 9 accusing Iran of failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in which they deplored “delays, deficiencies in cooperation and inadequate disclosures.” However, two days later Putin reiterated that Russia would continue to build the nuclear reactor at Iran’s Bushehr power plant. “There is a circumstance in which Russia will give up its work at Bushehr: it will happen if Iran violates the IAEA condition that its nuclear program must be transparent,” Putin said. But he added that “so far Iran is meeting these requirements, and we see no grounds for terminating construction” (Itar-Tass, June 11).
Iran issued a statement rejecting the G8 leaders’ criticism of its behavior in the nuclear sphere. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on June 12 that his country would not accept “any new obligations” to limit its nuclear program and that Iran “has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club.” A meeting of IAEA’s board of governors begins in Vienna today, and growing tension between the IAEA and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program could make it harder for Russia to continue straddling the issue.