Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 62

A conflict appears to be brewing over what precisely was promised to President Boris Yeltsin on the question of Russia’s participation in the Group of Seven (G-7) during last week’s Russian-U.S. summit. In a March 26 address to the Russian people in which he defended his performance at the summit, Yeltsin claimed that the "U.S. president promised me that at the next G-7 meeting [scheduled for June in Denver] Russia would become a full-fledged member… The G-7 will become a G-8." (Itar-Tass, March 26; see Monitor, March 27) In fact, in comments that followed his Helsinki talks with Yeltsin, Bill Clinton said only that he had pledged to "substantially increase Russia’s role at our [the G-7’s] annual meeting, now to be called the Summit of the Eight." That formulation was interpreted by most observers as an indication that Washington had denied Russia the full membership so eagerly sought by the Kremlin. (Reuter, March 21; The New York Times, March 27)

The Helsinki talks nevertheless got the immediate attention of Tokyo, and the G-7 issue has emerged as a potential point of friction in Japan’s relations with both Russia and the U.S. Russia has been invited to recent G-7 meetings as a participant in political discussions, but not in the more fundamental trade and economic talks conducted by the group’s members, and on March 22 a Japanese Foreign Ministry source was quoted as saying that Tokyo saw no need to change that formula. (Kyodo, March 22) A day later, Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto made the same point, and reportedly attributed Tokyo’s reluctance to its ongoing territorial dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands. (Xinhua, March 23) The issue surfaced again during U.S. vice president Al Gore’s March 24 visit to Tokyo, when he apparently had to reassure his hosts that the U.S. does not foresee a major expansion of Russia’s G-7 role. (Itar-Tass, March 24; Segodnya, March 25)

Tension over the issue may persist. Yeltsin has been under some fire in Russia for bringing too little home from Helsinki, and anything less than a major and substantive boost in Russia’s G-7 status will provide his political enemies with more ammunition. Yeltsin’s March 26 remarks, moreover, appear calculated to exert pressure on the G-7 governments to give Russia exactly what it wants. Membership in the G-7, meanwhile, remains one of the few significant levers available to Tokyo in its efforts to prod Russia into concessions on the Kuril Islands dispute, and Japanese leaders are unlikely to relinquish it happily in order to ease Russia’s opposition to NATO enlargement.

The War on Corruption in the Russian Military.