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The Birmingham Summit in many ways represents a triumph for Russia. From the time of Gorbachev, Russia has been seeking full membership in a forum whose members are some of the most powerful nations in the world -- the Group of Seven. Birmingham marks Russia's transition to full member of this yearly leaders' summit and Boris Yeltsin will surely bask in the perceived glory of this achievement. Calling the Birmingham Summit the "G8", however, may be a mere technicality. Worried about the dilution of the Summit's effectiveness, the other Seven members have found yet another way to support Russia's international prestige through summit involvement and yet continue the important work within the Summit process where Russian membership may not be suitable. This is evidenced by the recent meeting of the G7 Finance ministers on the margins of the annual spring meeting of the IMF -- a meeting where Russian representation was noticeably absent. Comments from Sergei Dubinin, Russia's central bank governor, have reflected the "sour grapes" feelings that Russia has expressed at being shut out of such an important forum. Dubinin has openly stated that Russia is not satisfied with its "unequal" role in these yearly meetings and thus would not attend the initial portion of the meeting that they were invited to.
This attitude is apparent in the Russian view of the Summit as a whole, underlining their urgent need to be treated as a serious partner and not merely as an issue that needs to be managed. This trend will be played out in Birmingham as Yeltsin will attempt to consolidate his numerous bilateral successes of the past year and translate this into a general feeling of "bonhomie" among the leaders, while at the same time preventing the movement of new initiatives that might involve Russia playing the part of a junior partner. Financially, Russia has little to offer any major package deals that the G8 meeting may come up with. Undoubtedly the other Seven leaders realize this, but the question is whether or not they are likely to sacrifice their own opportunity for the good press coverage that such packages generate in order to spare Yeltsin's feelings? The American fixation with their "Demining 2010 Initiative", for example, will surely yield a G8 funding package for demining efforts -- yet cash-strapped Russia has little to contribute to such a project. A possible solution for this may be that all major funding packages will be announced at the Foreign Ministers' meeting that will occur on May 7, 1998 in London, prior to the leaders' Summit. In this way Boris Yeltsin's personal prestige will not suffer as badly and the Summit meeting itself can operate as a true G8 and not merely a G8 in name only.
The outlook for Yeltsin's performance at the Birmingham Summit is, however, quite good as he travels to London victorious after his latest wrangle with Russia's oppositionist Duma. The political situation in Russia was fairly "touch and go" recently, following Yeltsin's dramatic dismissal of his government. Yet this past week, Yeltsin's chosen candidate for Prime Minister, Sergei Kiryenko, was finally confirmed in the face of strong Communist opposition in the Duma. Yeltsin's display of his own personal political power was a gamble, but one that has paid off for him and will allow him to negotiate at the Summit with confidence, emphasizing the fact that unlike Bill Clinton, Yeltsin is not a "lame duck" President.
Yeltsin's personal and political relations with other G8 leaders have improved immeasurably this year, following a whirlwind of bilateral summit meetings. A warm meeting with Summit host Tony Blair was followed quickly by meetings with France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Helmut Kohl. An annual "troika summit" was inaugurated between the French, German, and Russian leaders, causing many to think that a new regional polarity was developing. Certainly the French see Russia's addition to the G8 Summit, and the formation of the "troika summit" as the seed of a growing alternative to US hegemony. This will likely be noticeable at the Birmingham Summit, as the European leaders may enlist Russian support on issues to balance off against the overwhelming economic and political might of the Americans.
Russian relations with Japan have also greatly improved this past year and will significantly change the atmosphere of the Summit in Birmingham. Although the territorial dispute involving Russia's possession of Japan's Northern Territories still looms, Yeltsin's "no necktie" summit with Prime Minister Hashimoto in Krasnoyarsk, Russia and his later visit to Tokyo has clearly normalized relations between Japan and Russia. Formerly opposing Russia's involvement in the G7 Summit, Japan has recently endorsed Russian membership in the G8, as well as shown vocal support for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Russia, in turn, has supported Japan's bid for permanent membership on the UN Security Council and trade between these two countries has increased dramatically. The two countries' pledge to sign a peace agreement by the year 2000, as well as their recent agreement to join forces to implement the emissions targets from the environmental agreement from Kyoto signals an increasingly solid relationship developing between Japan and Russia.
These developments may spell minor difficulties for the United States as it could find its own initiatives blocked by coalitions among the other seven countries. Russia may find itself used as a "wild card" for the Europeans and the Japanese, providing an extra measure of strength against American intransigence. This is not altogether an unsatisfactory role for Russia, as that country has long resented being seen as a "client state" of the US, a role forced upon Russia in the early nineties after the economic meltdown of the Soviet Union.
Birmingham will not witness any dramatic Russian initiatives and Yeltsin will not come to the Summit with high expectations. Rather, Yeltsin will first seek to consolidate his position at the Summit as its newest full member, and will keep a low profile, aiding his European compatriots wherever possible. He will seek G8 support for Russia's continued bid for WTO accession, and will hope to be included in all initiatives that will not be financially taxing. Birmingham will be a summit where Yeltsin gathers momentum as a participant and goodwill from other members for future endeavors as Russia slowly recovers economically and politically from seventy years of communist mismanagement. Relationship building is the important objective, but this time it will be European style.... "with neckties".
Prepared by Gina Stephens, University of Toronto G8 Research Group, May 1998.
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