Each summer, after many long months of preparation, a contingent of U of T professors and students travel to one of any number of international sites to observe the Group of Seven Economic Summit. This year, I was fortunate to be among this group, attending my second G-7 Summit (the 22nd annual Summit of its kind) in the beautiful French city of Lyon. At Lyon, I was responsible for covering the Russian delegation and as an incoming CREES student, I would like to share this experience. First, I will sketch a short history of G-7 Research at U of T.
In 1988, the Uof T G-7 Research Group was born. Formed under the watchful eye of Professor John Kirton, this group of faculty and graduate students provided academic analysis of the Toronto Economic Summit, inaugurating a tradition that has continued to the present. In conjunction with the Financial Post, Canada s foremost financial daily, the G-7 Research Group not only furthered the development of G-7 academic scholarship but provided much needed information to the hordes of media that descended on that event.
In successive years following the 1988 Toronto Summit, Professor Kirton has assembled a research group comprised of various academic colleagues, graduate and undergraduate students. The members of this tightly-knit crew, each chosen for their expertise in Summit-related topics, participate in intensive research preparation which begins as early as January and culminates in on-site Summit analysis. Each participant is assigned a country and an issue as their main focus, and while at the Summit they attend various press briefings given by their assigned countries. As we are given media accreditation by the Financial Post, the Group is allowed unique access to Summit events that are restricted solely to journalists. In return, the UofT Research Group has consistently provided our Post partners with a wide-ranging and holistic view of the Summit and the academic analysis which many other papers lack.
During the course of the three-day event, the Group gathers together on a regular basis and shares the insights which they have gained from their respective briefings. In this way, our group has an advantage over other press agencies as we can be everywhere at once and can cover every country comprehensively. Each year, the group gets a great deal of attention from the other members of the media who wistfully wish that their organization could provide them with such a resource. Members of the Research Group who are two- and three-Summit veterans also begin to build working relationships with government officials and press correspondents which follow this event every year.
There is never a dull moment at a G-7 Summit and the learning experiences encountered there could never be captured by a text book. Depending upon the Summit location and the level of security, group members very often meet the world leaders themselves. Last year, for example, I was fortunate enough to meet the American President, Bill Clinton, repeating the experience of another member of our group who had met him the previous year in Naples, Italy. Apart from personal contact, every member sees the leader of their chosen country on a regular basis during the many press conferences. The excitement level and the chance to witness history-in-the-making is a very fulfilling reward for the grueling hours of pre- summit preparation which we go through every year prior to the Summit.
Alumni from the Research Group generally confess to being G-7 Junkies . Each year, the Toronto contingent of the group is often joined by Summit veterans who now reside in various parts of the world. Many of these individuals have truly lived up to Professor Kirton's exacting standards of excellence and have gone on to careers with the IMF, the World Bank, and the UN. When they re-join the group for the Summit, these veterans are not only an inspiration to those of us who are still students, but an amazing source of practical and academic information. The varied, and international composition of the group adds immensely to the value of the experience for those of us who are based in Toronto.
In the months of preparation which preceded the Lyon Summit, I had anticipated great things for the Russian delegation at the Summit. Since the days of Gorbachev, the Russians have been seeking a greater role in the G-7 and have seen incremental success in their endeavor to make the institution into a G-8 . It seemed in the late spring of this year that Boris Yeltsin would be able to parlay Western fears of a communist election win into the much longed for invitation to become a full partner in a new G-8 . This seemed to be the year of the Russians.
Although the Russian Federation has been officially invited to Summit talks since the Naples Summit of 1994, they have been excluded from the core economic agenda which is discussed in their absence on the first day of the Summit meetings. Playing what they consider to be the role of a poor cousin , the Russians have resented being relegated to the political issues portion of the Summit proceedings and wistful memories of their former super-power status have prompted them to pursue full membership in this club of economic heavyweights.
To Russia's credit, however, their role in the G-7 has quickly shifted from supplicant to applicant. Initially, under Gorbachev, Russian interaction with the Summit consisted solely of after-Summit meetings to seek monetary aid from the Big Seven. Now, the Russian delegation attends the G-7 with the purpose of increasing Russian participation in this elite group and expanding Russia's role in international affairs.
In Lyon, it was expected that Boris Yeltsin might finally gain access to the inner sanctum of the G-7 and be invited to join the economic discussions at the next Summit in the United States. All of the auspicious signs of Russian Summit success were present: wholehearted support from Germany's Helmut Kohl for Russian membership, a clearly favourable relationship with the Summit host, Jacques Chirac of France, and Western fears that a Summit failure for the Russian delegation might trigger a communist victory in the Russian elections. Many Summit watchers expected that this type of momentum would significantly advance Russian participation in the G-7, if not prompt the creation of the G-8 .
Unfortunately for both the Russians and anyone who was covering the Russian delegation, the Year of the Russians at the Summit did not occur. Just prior to our departure for France, Boris Yeltsin announced that he would not attend the meeting in Lyon as he felt that it was necessary to remain in Russia during the final week of campaigning for the second round of the presidential election. Instead, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin would attend the Summit in his place. While many of the Western leaders sighed in relief, pleased that they would not be pressured into accepting a Russian bid for full membership, I growled with frustration as it was sure to be a very different Summit than I had originally expected.
When we arrived in Lyon, I was relieved to be joined by an experienced Russia watcher and seasoned group member, Ramine Shaw. Ramine had just flown to France from St. Petersburg, where she had been doing graduate work towards her M.A. at Carleton in Russian and East European Studies. Ramine was able to provide a first- hand account of the Russian domestic situation which very much enriched our analysis. In addition to Ramine Shaw, our group was also fortunate to have the presence of U of T's Professor Peter Hajnal, yet another Summit veteran and an expert on international organizations and their documentation. Prof. Hajnal has attended every Summit since 1988 (except Tokyo 1993) and is fluent in Russian, French, and Hungarian. Although Prof. Hajnal's main preoccupation in Lyon concerned our group's website, he was an invaluable addition to our research endeavors regarding Russia. I, myself, could not have survived this whirlwind of a Summit without Prof. Hajnal's guidance and assistance.
As the Russian delegation did not arrive until the afternoon of June 28, I spent the first day of the Summit hunting for Russian journalists who had arrived from various European news bureaus and looking for any junior Russian officials who might arrive in advance. By scouting out the empty Russian briefing room, I was delighted to discover two harried Russian press secretaries and an Izvestia correspondent. The press secretaries were not particularly forthcoming as they were busily preparing for the arrival of Mr. Chernomyrdin. The Izvestia correspondent, Youri Kovalenko, was quite helpful, however, and he was to prove invaluable throughout the course of the Summit.
Youri Kovalenko is the Izvestia correspondent in Paris and his posting pre-dates the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Being a man of few words, with a very wry sense of humor, Youri was kind enough to take time out from his extremely busy schedule to provide some much needed information and insight into the inner workings of the Russian delegation. Not only did Youri present me with a copy of the Russian briefing schedule, which was not released to non-Russian journalists, but he sat with me during the second day and shared his take on the Summit and the prospects for the second round of the Russian election. According to Youri, Boris Yeltsin chose not to attend the Lyon Summit because he was disappointed with the results of the first- round of elections and wished to demonstrate his focus on domestic issues as opposed to international. Many of the Russian journalists and officials who attended the Lyon Summit were disheartened, Youri said, because in their opinion the real action was at home in Russia. True to Youri's analysis, the mood amongst the journalists was quite somber.
Indeed, Russian participation in the Lyon Summit was very low-keyed. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin met with the other leaders to discuss a variety of topics including the domestic situation in Russia, U.N. reform, terrorism, and nuclear safety to name a few. As the Russians desired, there were few references to Russia in the final communiqué and no censure of the Chechnya debacle was found. According to a former Pravda journalist, Sergio Texouitov (who now works for the news agency RTR in Rome), Mr. Chernomyrdin was on a tight-leash , instructed by Boris Yeltsin to keep a low-profile so as not to detract from his own publicity at home. Thus, the Russians did not make any significant advances in gaining added participation for next year, and generally kept a holding pattern .
Even though the Lyon Summit did not yield the results which I had expected earlier in the year, it was definitely a learning experience. The journalists which attended Lyon were seasoned professionals and it was an honor to rub shoulders with them and share their knowledge. I had the pleasure of meeting Germany's most celebrated radio news man, Klaus Jrgen-Fischer, a man who had been stationed in Moscow for decades. We communicated with snippets of French, Russian and English and his most memorable advice for gaining a good interview with a Russian official was to always remember patronymics. According to Klaus, he could always gain Gorbachev's attention by yelling Mikhail Sergeivich as versus the chorus of Mr. Gorbachev's which came from the other foreign journalists. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to make the acquaintance of such an experienced and knowledgeable man.
The lighter side of my hectic Summit adventure ranged from nearly being trampled by German leader, Helmut Kohl on the escalator to having a chat with CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer (I am a big fan of his). The French provided a wonderful array of entertainment, food, and drink for the journalists and the weather could not have been more cooperative. Certainly, all of the members from our G-7 Research Group judged the experience of the Summit to be a resounding success, especially after we had the opportunity to meet our Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. Now, in the aftermath of Lyon, the never-ending process starts again as our research group begins to prepare for next year's Summit in Denver, Colorado.
I would like to thank Professor Peter Solomon for the encouragement and interest that he has shown for this project. For more information about the G-7 and G-7 research at U of T, please consult our website.
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