The reviews are in. “Brilliant!” says Gerhard Schroeder, diplomatic critic for the Federal Republic of Germany. “Very impressive,” says Jean Chretien, respected commentator for the government of Canada. According to Reuters, Vladimir Putin’s “polished summit début dazzled his opposite numbers” at the summit of the Group of Eight, the seven rich industrial democracies and Russia.

The meeting last week in Okinawa was Russia’s tenth appearance at a Group of Seven summit, a string that began when Mikhail Gorbachev attended a session as president of the Soviet Union. The accolades for Putin’s performance are in line with similar effusions for Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, especially during the latter’s confrontation with parliament in 1993 and election campaign in 1996. After all this grade inflation, anything less than a five-star would be an insult.

At the summit, Putin described his talks with North Korea’s President Kim Jong-Il, offered to share Russian genetic research and fretted about a perceived Islamic-terrorist “arc of instability” that stretches from Kosovo to the Philippines. But the praise he received from the West was chiefly for what he did not say. He delighted Chancellor Schroeder by not asking for relief from $42 billion of Soviet-era debt, half of which is owed to Germany. The Germans rewarded Putin’s discretion by urging that Russia no longer be excluded from the group’s financial talks, which are now restricted to the G-7 plus the European Union. “Russia is now really part of the group,” said EU President Romano Prodi.

Western praise of President Putin, as of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, flows from a conviction that a reluctant Russia can be inveigled, cajoled and flattered into integration with Western institutions and a Western global system of economic and security relationships. But Putin does not want to hear the mermaids singing. In Beijing the week before the summit, Putin used retro rhetoric to join China’s President Jiang Zemin in an attack on “hegemonism, power politics and group politics.” The self-proclaimed strategic partners accused the United States of seeking “unilateral military and security advantages” by considering the construction and deployment of a system to defend itself and its Asian allies against missile attacks. In particular, they said, “incorporation of Taiwan into any foreign missile defense system is unacceptable and will seriously undermine regional stability.” Love me if you will, Putin seems to be saying, but I won’t make it easy for you.