Russia’s G8 History: From Guest to President
№3 2006 July/September

Russia’s first G8 presidency has attracted Russian and
international public attention to the Group of Eight and the role
our country plays in it. What are the potentialities and functions
of the G8 in the contemporary world? What contribution can Russia
make to the G8’s efforts in the period of its presidency?


People traditionally hold extreme attitudes toward the G8. For
example, whereas Canadian researcher John Kirton sees the G8 as a
modern “international Concert” ensuring collective leadership of
the international system, the anti-globalists regard it as the
epitome of evil, as an omnipotent and malicious club of state
leaders appointed by the global elite to rule the world. Both
appraisals are obviously exaggerations: the former adheres to an
overly optimistic perception by its advocates, while the latter
reflects the seething class-based animosity of its opponents. There
is also a cynical view, namely that the G8 has outlived its
usefulness with the ongoing rise of other economic powerhouses, for
example, China and India, so the summits of the G8 member states
fail to really decide anything.

What is the G8 in reality? First of all, the G8 is not the first
ever unofficial mechanism of regulating multilateral interstate
relations. The most well-known example was the Concert of European
powers of the Old World that evolved in the wake of the Napoleonic
wars. The end of World War II saw the formation of the ‘troika’ of
Western members of the UN Security Council (the United States, the
UK, and France) and the NATO Group of Four (the ‘troika’ plus the
FRG). Yet none of the old or current structures of this kind can
match the G8 either in terms of its potential influence on
international developments, or in its functional or geographic

The G8’s potential role in the international system arises from
the weight of its members. In early 2005, the G8 member states
accounted for 45.7 percent of total world GDP and 44.1 percent of
world exports. The G8 members as a group have a deciding vote at
key international financial institutions such as the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), where the group has a 48.87-percent share; the
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the
Paris Club of creditor nations.

The group includes four of the five permanent UN Security
Council members, as well as four of the five “official” nuclear
powers. It is a unique forum of state leaders, not their
governments or national diplomatic services. Its platform is used
by the world’s leading powers for a confidential sharing of plans
not only on foreign policy, but also on domestic issues, the
harmonization of strategic approaches, and the search for solutions
to international political and economic problems.

The main function of the G8 is to regulate vital processes in
the international political, financial, economic, social and
humanitarian spheres (which, however, does not mean that the G8
member states are laying claim to the role of a ‘world government’
or have resources required for that).

Implementation of this comprehensive and challenging goal is
secured through diverse activities along the following lines:

– the establishment and promotion of personal relationships
between the leaders of major states and building mutual trust
amongst them (a case in point are G8 summits in the wake of the
Kosovo 1999 crisis and the 2003 war in Iraq);

– the identification of common interests on specific problems,
while finding harmonization in the approaches toward their
resolution (elaboration of a common concept for mid-term economic
policy in the early 1990s; the 1999 debt-relief plan for the
world’s poorest nations known as the Cologne Initiative; the
adoption, in 2002, of the Global Partnership for Nonproliferation
of Mass Destruction Weapons and Materials; and the creation, in
2001, of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria);

– the formulation of basic rules of conduct for G8 members and
the creation of universal rules of conduct. The G7, followed by the
G8, acted as catalysts in such international projects as Missile
Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export
Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies,
and several UN conventions on international terrorism;

– the prevention and resolution of crises, primarily in the
financial and economic sphere. As for international political
crises, the group’s powers are far more limited due to the
reluctance of certain member states, including Russia, to turn it
into a substitute, not to mention competitor, to the UN Security
Council. The drafting of the Security Council Kosovo resolution in
June 1999 was a rare example of the G8 being actively involved in
the resolution of an international crisis.

So there is an apparent contradiction between the group’s
informal status and the far-reaching tasks that it sets itself,
while its decisions are not legally binding on the member states,
not to mention third-party states and organizations.

In these conditions, the principal method for the G8 to
legitimate its decisions in the public eye is through ‘leadership
by example.’ Another avenue for strengthening the group’s impact on
international economic and political processes is through the
development of external contacts, i.e., contacts with international
organizations, major Third World states and, in recent years, with
business circles and NGOs.

Meanwhile, the circle of the G8’s partners is constantly
expanding. In the conditions of economic interdependence not a
single major problem at WTO, World Bank or IMF negotiations can be
resolved without the dialog and collaboration of major economic
players from the developing nations. In recent years, the group has
been proactively involved in dealing with issues that earlier fell
within the exclusive jurisdiction of national governments (economic
restructuring, employment, IT implications, food safety, etc.).
Such “thematic expansion” unavoidably affected the interests of
powerful national players, above all big business. As a result,
there arose the issue of involving the business community in the
G8’s efforts. The precedent was created in the course of
preparations for the Okinawa Summit (2000), when the G8 invited not
only state leaders, but also top executives from IT

The group’s striving for dialog with NGOs is due to the latter’s
rapidly growing role on the international stage. Russia’s rotating
presidency will introduce a new element here. In the lead-up to the
St. Petersburg Summit, two large public forums have been held: a G8
civil society meeting (June 13-14) and a G8 youth meeting (June


Critics of Russia’s participation in the G8 say that Russia’s
collaboration with the G7 – and particularly the establishment of
the G8 – had no objective basis in reality and was premature.

Tom Barry, an American political analyst, argues: “It was the
triumphalism of the Cold War victors that may best explain the
willingness to include Russia as a member of the elite club of
capitalist nations, despite its weak economy and uncertain
dedication to democratic principles.”

This view is rather biased, if only because democratic Russia is
being portrayed as a kind of a defeated Soviet Union. Furthermore,
by this logic, Russia’s membership is seen as an instrument of
Western control over a potentially dangerous former opponent that
is being “reformed and indoctrinated into a new way of life.”

Russia’s path from guest in the G7 to president of the G8 was
not easy. It fully reflected the difficulties of its internal
reforms in the 1990s, as well as ups and downs in its relations
with the group’s leading members, above all the U.S. Nevertheless,
despite conflicts which sometimes were very acute, both Moscow and
its partners have been working consistently toward a rapprochement
within the group. Their interest was mutual; nobody regarded
Russia’s treatment as some sort of act of charity.

From the outset, both sides considered the rapprochement as a
natural result of democratic reforms in Russia. This factor remains
a fundamental, long-term basis for cooperation despite the
differences and occasional conflicts. At the same time, each side
has been guided by a number of specific motives.

For the Russian leadership, the main considerations were:

– Russia’s integration into a purely Western structure enhanced
the country’s role in the international system as an equal partner
among the world’s leading democracies in the global collective
decision-making process;

– Russia’s dialog with the G7 in the early 1990s facilitated the
contracting of foreign loans and the restructuring of Soviet
foreign debt, which was vital in the first difficult years of the
Russian reforms; and

– Russia hoped that its contacts with the G7 would accelerate
the dismantling of the discriminatory trade and economic barriers
inherited from the Cold War era.

The Western leaders acted on the assumption that getting Russia
– the world’s largest country and a key player in the post-Soviet
area, which also had long-standing and close relations with a large
number of Third World partners – involved in G7 activities could
substantially strengthen the group’s legitimacy in the eyes of
other states, as well as the general public. Furthermore, G7
partnership with Russia was an objective necessity due to the new
strategic situation that resulted from the disintegration of the
bipolar world order. The G7 hoped the new relationship would ensure
more effective control over international political processes.

On a more pragmatic level, G7 members saw closer collaboration
with Russia as a means of strengthening their own security (for
example, averting the disintegration of Russia’s military
capability as a nuclear power, maintaining stability in the
post-Soviet area, and averting armed conflicts based on the
Yugoslav scenario). There was also a plan to use dialog with Russia
in resolving a number of problems in Central and Eastern Europe and
the Balkans (ensuring the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Germany,
the Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltic States, and advancing the
Balkans peace process).

There are still long-term motives for collaboration amongst the
member states. At the same time, however, new problems have
emerged, while some old problems have become aggravated. These
include, in particular, strategic stability, nonproliferation,
stable and secure energy supplies, UN reform, regional conflicts,
international terrorism and transnational organized crime, global
pandemics, and others.

Russia’s integration into the Group of Seven industrially
advanced nations is a unique process in the contemporary political
history. The recent enemy, which was a major factor that brought
the G7 to life, later itself chose to join this mechanism, thus
boosting its in-depth transformation.

There were a number of notable landmarks in the formation of the

1992-1993: G7 dialog with the Russian leader
(guest status). At the conclusion of the group’s summits, the
Russian president briefed his partners on reform progress in the
country, while they passed judgment on the course of reforms in
Russia and informed their guest about the decisions they had made
to support the Russian economy. No common documents were adopted at
meetings during this time.   

1994–1996: formation of the “Political 8” (P8).
This gave Russia participation on an equal footing in discussions
and decision-making on a broad range of international political
issues (after G7 summits). Starting with the Naples Summit (1994),
special statements were given by the summit chairman that provided
summaries of these discussions.

Since 1997, the G8 has covered a full gamut of
global economic, political, and social issues. At the same time, a
number of G7 mechanisms remain in place although their purview has
narrowed considerably (restricted to currency, finances, and some
economic issues) without duplicating G8 activities; G8 leaders
adopt all summit documents.

Finally, in 2006 Russia joined the rotating
presidency arrangement.


The effectiveness of Russia’s G8 membership remains a
controversial issue both at home and abroad. American political
scientist Stephen Sestanovich, who during Bill Clinton’s presidency
was special advisor to the Secretary of State for policy toward the
states of the former Soviet Union, contends that Russia’s role in
the G8 is symbolic, although it was granted a status equal to
full-fledged membership.

So, what has Russia really given its G7 partners and what has it
gained for itself?

Russia’s participation in the G8 has provided the group with a
major incentive for confronting a broad range of international
political problems involving strategic stability, regional
conflicts and nonproliferation. The expansion of summit agendas has
given “fresh oxygen” to the dialog between the G8 leaders.

Russia’s accession to the group helped enhance its authority in
the eyes of many non-member states. Due to its close historical
links with developing nations, Russia acted as a kind of a bridge
between them and the G8. A number of foreign experts acknowledge
that without Russia’s participation, the forum would not have been
in a position to offer the Third World countries an acceptable
socio-economic reform program in the mid-1990s.

Russia has also made an important practical contribution to the
group’s collective aid to the developing countries, in particular
under a debt-relief plan for the world’s poorest nations. In
1996-2002, Russia forgave (both as part of the Cologne Initiative
and other programs) $34.6 billion in debts, which was equal to
about 40 percent of the total debt written off by the G8

Russia provided a fresh impetus to the group’s effort in one
strategic area of activity – the energy sphere. Our country
initiated the Moscow summit on nuclear security (1996) and the
Moscow meeting of G8 energy ministers (1998). These forums adopted
decisions and recommendations that are still highly relevant today
(e.g., ending the dumping of radioactive waste at sea and
preventing the illegal use of nuclear materials).

Many other Russian proposals that were put forward at previous
summits are still equally relevant: e.g., the construction of an
earthquake and tsunami early warning system, environmental
monitoring in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean (Denver,
1997), and simplified visa procedures amongst citizens of the G8
nations (Sea Island, 2004).

The establishment of diversified collaboration on combating
international terrorism has been an unquestionable success for
Russia (as well as, incidentally, for the entire G8). This
collaboration intensified especially in the wake of the September
2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. In a number of areas
(combating the financing of terrorism, preventing terrorist access
to WMD and portable antiaircraft missile systems, and advancing
transport security), Russia is in constant dialog and cooperation
with its G8 partners. The decisions that were made in this sphere
at G8 meetings helped to substantially upgrade Russia’s legal and
regulatory framework in combating terrorism, while also enabling it
to borrow relevant experience from other countries and share its
own experience with them.

However, despite the successes, double standards in combating
terrorism have become an everyday reality. Some G8 states (the
United States and the UK, for example) give refuge to Chechen
terrorist envoys, while turning a blind eye to fund-raising and the
recruitment of mercenaries for terrorist activities in the North

Yet, as far as Russia is concerned, G8 membership has, among
other things, strengthened its political positions in the world.
Besides, the very fact of Russia’s participation in the G8 has
consolidated the multilateral principles in its work and the
entire  international system.

Russian leaders have been actively involved in discussing key
international problems and regional situations at G8 summits,
oftentimes leading to joint action plans (establishment of the
Counterterrorism Action Group, 2003; and the adoption of the G8
Action Plan on Nonproliferation and Partnership for Progress and A
Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North
Africa, 2004). Russia’s membership provides better opportunities
for expanding its influence on international developments through
such mechanisms as the G8 annual foreign minister and regular
expert meetings, which meet ahead of the UN General Assembly

The need to constantly expand the framework for Russia’s
participation in the G8 prompted Russia to better work out its
positions and develop diplomatic tactics. Russia’s diplomacy has
successfully coped with this task. Italian scholars Valerio
Astraldi and Rosella Franchini-Sherifis pointed out that Russia had
always led the process of the G8’s formation.

At the same time, these opportunities did not always ensure the
actual growth of Russia’s influence in the world. One reason for
this was – until recently – the limited resource base of the
country’s foreign policy.

Participation by Russian leaders, Cabinet members, and experts
in G8 discussions on global socio-economic and environmental issues
is a source of valuable experience for Moscow in such spheres as
energy security, unemployment and poverty reduction programs,
IT-related social problems, state environmental policy, and
continuous education programs. Russia has used its experience in
drafting a number of bills and regulations regarding a number of
issues, including the labor market, sustainable forest use, and

Dialog with the G7 and G8 members provided Russia a certain
measure of assistance at the initial stage of its reform program,
although that assistance turned out to be less substantial than
Russia had expected it to be. Due to the often unfavorable terms of
that aid, not to mention the non-fulfillment of pledges by Western
partners, the loans that Russia actually received were considerably
less than the amounts stated by the G7.

Russia’s economic upturn, together with the strengthening of its
financial position, has made the need for new state foreign loans

The G7 provided some assistance to Russia in restructuring FSU
debt. Yet, in the past few years, the foreign debt issue in
Russia’s dialog with the G8 has taken on a new dimension: due to
economic growth and strengthening of the national budget, Russia
not only reduced the amount of its total debt, but also put forward
(in 2003) an early debt repayment program.

However, there remain some outstanding issues. First, the G7
member states effectively delayed Russia’s admission to the group
as a creditor nation. That affected the scale of Russia’s
participation in debt restructuring or forgiveness programs for a
number of developing countries that had received loans from the
former Soviet Union.

Russia’s G8 membership only insignificantly accelerated
decision-making on such matters as recognition of Russia as a
market economy and its accession to the World Trade Organization
and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. By
early 2006, only the former decision was implemented. As for the
latter issue, Russia’s membership into these two organizations is
being held up due to the politically motivated approach adopted by
some of our Western partners and their unjustifiably excessive
demands on Russia. (Official negotiations for Russia’s admission to
the OECD have not even started.)

Other outstanding problems include the unjustifiably slow
formation of a full-fledged G8 in the financial and economic
sphere. Russia’s alleged financial and economic weakness, which is
often cited by its opponents, looks increasingly anachronistic (see
Table 1).

Source: IMF World Economic Outlook, April 2005.

It is often argued that it is too early to admit Russia to the
G7уs financial and economic structure since decisions concerning
the regulation of the international financial system and
macroeconomic policy may only be made by states that can
effectively and responsibly influence the exchange rates of
national currencies and make a substantial contribution to global
economic growth. But then neither the United States nor EU states
(also G8 members) have used large-scale currency intervention
programs for quite some time а some for political considerations of
principle, while others with the aim of creating more favorable
conditions for their exporters. Whatever the case, modern Russia,
with its hard currency reserves at more than $200 billion (four
times more than in the United States and 10 times more than in
Italy), has already вmaturedс enough for full membership in the
groupуs financial-economic section.

Likewise, the argument that Russia is not yet ready to
participate in making decisions on macroeconomic matters is utterly
groundless. This is readily proven by the high quality of the
budget policy pursued by the Russian government since 1999 (a fact
repeatedly noted by the IMF) and consistent economic growth seen
against the background of the systemic problems that a number of
Russiaуs G8 partners have recently encountered in the budget and
balance of payments sphere.

In making proposals for a summit agenda, the G8 member country
holding the rotating presidency is guided by the established
criteria that the G8уs key initiatives should meet. These include
the agendaуs relevance both for the member states and for the
international community as a whole; continuity and compliance with
the groupуs strategic lines of activity; and the novelty of
solutions proposed. The вtriadУ of the main Russian initiatives for
the 2006 Summit happily fits these criteria.

This applies, above all, to initiatives for strengthening energy

Both the G7 and the G8 have always regarded energy security as
one of their top priorities. Incidentally, the G7 was created not
least in response to the 1973-74 energy crises. In its time, it
provided a big impetus to energy-saving policy and the creation of
strategic oil reserves (the Bonn Summit of 1978 and the Toronto
Summit of 1981). Nevertheless, attention to this subject has often
slackened, resulting in the вossificationУ of a host of very useful
and constructive initiatives, e.g., recommendations made at the G8
energy ministers meeting in Detroit (2002).

The Russian presidency is directing the upcoming summit in St.
Petersburg toward the search for solutions to the outstanding
problems related to a long-term energy strategy. One distinguishing
feature of the Russian energy initiative is its focus on the need
to strike a balance between the interests of energy consumers and
producers. This approach can help avert sharp fluctuations on the
energy markets that have traditionally caused price crises. This
initiative is comprehensive, encompassing the main elements of the
energy chain а from increasing energy production to enhancing
energy efficiency.
It is proposed that G8 summit resolutions reflect not only the
concerns of industrialized states but also the problems of the
Third World, in particular ways of overcoming energy poverty in
developing countries.

Russiaуs second initiative concerns the fight against infectious
diseases. Its main priority is strengthening the global information
and analytical network of the World Health Organization in
monitoring infectious diseases, including new diseases. Russiaуs
proposed plan of action to fight against the bird flu and prevent a
new human flu pandemic could become the G8уs effective response
mechanism for confronting the threat.

After analyzing the effectiveness of the international
communityуs response to the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the
earthquake in Pakistan, Russia also forwarded an array of proposals
for averting epidemic risks arising from such natural disasters. In
the spirit of continuity, the Summit will review progress that has
been made in health protection, including the eradication of
poliomyelitis, and the fight against HIV/AIDS and TB. On these
points, the Summit participants will naturally give priority to the
developing countries.

Russia has not limited itself to playing the role of a
discussion mediator. Indeed, the Russian government has decided to
provide about $42 million in contributions in 2006-09 for upgrading
the epidemiological services in the CIS countries. Another $3
million will be transferred to a multipartite fund that is to be
set up by the World Bank.

Russia, for its term at the helm of the G8, has chosen education
as its third priority, which it hopes will boost the efforts of G8
member states in improving the quality of higher education. In
recent years, the G8 has addressed these problems on several
occasions. In 1998, during Britainуs rotating presidency, it
considered a program of continuous education and personnel
retraining geared to the needs of economic restructuring of
industrialized states. Later, at the 2001 Genoa Summit,
participants discussed in-depth ways of facilitating the
development of education in the Third World.

Russia has put forward a new approach toward education-related
problems in the modern world. It involves, among other things, a
comprehensive search for solutions to problems caused by the
growing mobility of the labor market. These are related to rapid
changes in the employment sphere and the increasing role of labor

The education initiative includes a proposal on joint efforts by
G8 member states and other countries, which includes upgrading the
education and training structure, which is critical for the global
economy and labor markets. Other important issues include
demographic, migration and naturalization policy based on the need
for the integration of migrants.

The rotating presidency imposes some serious obligations on
Russia in ensuring an effective progress review on the decisions
previously adopted by the G8. Thus, it is rather unavoidable that
the 2006 Summit agenda will feature a number of traditional

The G8 will likely keep its focus on the Middle East peace
process, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

In the economic sphere, the summit will discuss economic,
financial and trade problems in the context of the Doha Round of
trade negotiations, as well as Russiaуs WTO accession talks.

One new element in the G8уs antiterrorism activities will be a
program to consolidate a partnership of states and businesses in
countering terror. The first international conference on the
subject took place in Brussels on February 21-23, 2006; the next
one is scheduled for November. The problem of Afghan drug
trafficking will be addressed at an international conference,
Paris-2 а  Moscow-1. At this meeting, G8 members will review
the implementation of agreements reached at the Paris conference in
2003, and map out further tasks for dealing with this mounting

In regard to the вtraditional African issue,У the focus will be
placed on peacekeeping operations: enhancing cohesiveness and
effectiveness in using the peacekeeping capabilities of the United
Nations, the African Union, and sub-regional structures, and
building the peacekeeping capability of the African states. The G8
previously made a number of specific decisions on these issues at
its summits in Kananaskis (2002) and Evian (2003). It will now
review its progress and agree on further actions.

The upcoming G8 summit cannot possibly avoid a discussion on the
issue of nonproliferation. In preparing for it, the parties will
need to take into account one lesson from last yearуs review
conference on the NPT: a growing number of non-nuclear states are
stressing the need to link the NPT regime with international
guarantees for their access to nuclear energy.

* * *

The timing of the St. Petersburg G8 summit is opportune not only
because Moscow has already acquired extensive experience in dealing
with the G8, but also, and more importantly, it is experiencing
economic progress, social development, and a strengthening of state
institutions. There is good reason to believe that Russiaуs G8
rotating presidency this year will mark an important stage in
making this major interstate structure even more effective in the
interest of the entire international community.