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Russia's 2006 G8:
Combining Continuity and Innovation
for Summit Success

John Kirton and Laura Sunderland

John Kirton, director of the G8 Research Group based at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, is a member of the international advisory council of the Civil G8 and is advising the Russian presidency of the G8 in 2006. Laura Sunderland is Senior Researcher for the G8 Research Group. This article appears in Italian in Italianieuropei (volume 2, March/April 2006) in a special section on the St. Petersburg G8 Summit.


On January 1, 2006, Russia assumed the presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) for the first time, and started to prepare its St. Petersburg Summit on July 15-17, with international energy security as its core theme. On the same day, it abruptly shut off the gas it supplied to Ukraine and reduced the flow radiating outward to Italy and much of Europe as well. This juxtaposition raised in stark relief the question that had long been lurking in the minds of many G8 members: was Russia really ready to host a summit at St. Petersburg that would sustain the success the G8 had produced in recent years?

As that summit rapidly approaches, it is clear that the answer to this critical question is yes. Russia has designed and is delivering a summit centred on a creative blend of the best in both the old and the new. Russia began with a deep commitment to produce a summit that would meet the ever more elevated standards of summits past, and do so in ways that its G8 partners and the global community would recognize, respect and realize they would be rewarded by. For the St. Petersburg agenda, Russia, using its prerogative as host, selected as priorities the issues of international energy security, infectious disease and education - a trilogy that is based on and can bring out the best in G8 summitry since its 1975 beginning, but adds new items well tailored to meet the needs of the 21st-century world. For the G8 process, Russia has stayed with one of the classic formats for the summit itself, while pioneering new forms of ministerial and official-level institutionalization, expanded participation to bring in the broader global community and deepened civil society engagement to further democratize the G8. Despite a few false steps and the deprivations imposed by a still suspicious international community, Russia has thus far found the right blend of G8 continuity and innovation required to make the St. Petersburg summit a substantial success.

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The Promising Policy Priorities

Russia's choice of priority subjects - energy, health, and education - represent a balanced blend of continuity and innovation. It responds to clear and present immediate global dangers, while proactively promoting a better life for the world's citizenry in the unfolding world ahead. Energy is the oldest of summit subjects, one where a rich G8 experience and legacy of accomplishments can be brought to bear, and where host President Vladimir Putin himself has the strongest and most strategic view of what is to be done. Health is a middle-aged summit subject, where G8 performance has strengthened markedly in recent years and where President Putin is also determined to deliver results to improve the lives both of ordinary Russians and of citizens of the world as a whole. Education has far less of a G8 pedigree and presidential imprimatur, and is thus taking more time to ripen through the preparatory process into results that will ensure that the emerging 21st-century knowledge economy and society benefits all. Yet here too the Russian hosts and their G8 colleagues are reaching back to the familiar from earlier G8 summits to provide a foundation for the innovations they seek. A brief review of each of these three subjects shows the particular blend of comforting continuity and challenging innovation at work in each.

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Energy Security

International energy security - the primus inter pares of the priorities - has been a virtually continuous subject of summit concern since the institution's start, with the original six members, at Rambouillet, France, in November 1975. Since then, the summit has regularly grappled with the issues of oil and gas supply and price, the role of nuclear, alternative and renewable energy, and the need for clean energy and conservation, now in a world where the need for climate change control is compellingly capturing centre stage. In its treatment of energy, the G8 - now with eight country members and the European Union - has delivered some of its most spectacular successes, most notably in response to its recognition of the G8's traditional vulnerability arising from the second oil shock in 1979. But here the G8 has also seen some of its most formidable failures, particularly in 1982 when the European and U.S. members of the then G7 fell out over the question of how to deal with prospective new Soviet gas pipelines coming to Europe and the dependence on an unreliable adversary these chains of steel could create.

All these core components of the G8's historic energy agenda are back on centre stage in 2006. But on all the G8 will be compelled to cooperate by several forces. These start with the new largely nonstate-directed vulnerabilities of high and volatile world oil and gas prices arising from terrorist mini-shocks in several producing countries, inexorably rising consumer demand in booming China, India and at long last Japan, and Hurricane Katrina assaulting the U.S. oil- and gas-producing Gulf Coast. They extend to the new realities of relative capability, for a supply-side solution now lies largely not in an outside OPEC but within a G8 that contains not only a more deeply vulnerable America but also the world's two leading full-strength energy producers Canada and Russia itself.

To seize this solution, the G8 needs to find a way to get Russian natural gas to a thirsty America. Here President Putin has offered the innovative principle of security of demand as well as supply - in order to provide the long shadow of the future required to inspire the expensive new fields, pipelines, and liquid natural gas tankers and ports that will need to be built. To some, the concept smacks at first glance of Soviet-style state intervention and central planning rather than the market-based solutions a globalized G7 has now come to prefer. But on sober second thought North American members in particular should remember that they too have regularly used state subsidies and regulatory power to promote pipeline development and that Russian natural gas is a much cleaner, climate-friendly fuel than the coal and heavy oil from tar sands that ever more vulnerable Americans would otherwise be compelled to consume.

Another energy challenge inspiring G8 innovation concerns nuclear energy. Here continuity brings the classic G8 concern that a shift to nuclear energy - to generate greater energy security through diversity of supply - will produce new problems of nuclear proliferation, starting with Iran on the G8's doorstep and extending to terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction in many places around the world. President Putin has innovatively suggested creating a Russian-led, G8-centred regime of safely processing uranium within the G8 and exporting the enriched uranium for all those who actually need or just want to use this form of energy at home. Another Russian innovations are coming in response to the old question of where to secure the globally scarce and expensive uranium raw material. Some of it is already coming from the old nuclear weapons that a now democratic and disarming Russia is dismantling, with the help of the pioneering Global Partnership Against Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction produced at the G8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada, in 2002. A promising concept being ripened in Russia is to use the Global Partnership's capacity, once its old weapons are largely dismantled, to safely dispose of the civil power reactors' mid-life nuclear waste that the U.S. and other countries are finding it difficult to dispose of at home on their own.

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Infectious Diseases

The second St. Petersburg priority of health is a subject that was long absent from the G8 agenda, appearing only in the late 1980s as the Cold War came to an close. Since then, summit deliberation, direction setting, decision making and delivery on health have steadily strengthened, driven by the proliferation of HIV/AIDS within the G7 and then in Africa and the developing world as a whole. Together with tuberculosis (TB), malaria, polio, SARS and many other deadly infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS brings an archetypical new vulnerability - one that starts and spreads from and to anywhere without any conscious intent, control or direction by any state, but that is still capable of devastating many polities even when they try unilaterally to adjust their national policies in response.

While the shock of AIDS has long ago receded in all G7 countries, the disease is still proliferating in Russia. And within the G8 lie the capabilities required to combat it, from leading-edge science, developed healthcare systems, and the money needed to be mobilized and deployed at home and abroad.

Further fuelling the prominent place and promising treatment of infectious diseases at the St. Petersburg Summit is a second shock exposing another new vulnerability - this time to all G8 members rather than Russia alone. It is arriving in the form of the avian flu from Asia now attacking the Middle East, Africa, Europe and prospectively geographically insulated America and Japan as well. The hurricanes helping to inspire collective G8 action in the energy field have now been joined by birds, chickens and ducks, as well as natural disasters breeding infectious diseases outbreaks and new security threats driving St. Petersburg toward success.

At the summit itself, G8 leaders will face the now familiar task of determining how much money to mobilize to fight HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and polio in Africa and around the world. They are also innovatively devising a regime for emergency response teams to rapidly deploy to distant areas within other sovereign states to protect the world's poor from catching infections from their chickens, or from the inadequate water, sanitation and housing brought by natural disasters such as the Asian tsunami, Pakistani earthquake and America's Hurricane Katrina. In facing these new and old threats they are driven by an additional force: the inadequacy of the old multilateral organizations created in the 1940s for a 21st-century world where the Gates Foundation spends more on global public health than the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO also acts slowly to stop the spread of infectious diseases now only one plane ride or migratory bird flight away from anywhere on the globe. The world is thus not much more well equipped from the old multilateralism in the field of health than it is in the field of energy, where there exists no World Energy Organization and where the performance of the very partial International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and an International Energy Agency (IEA) still without Russia as a member state often proven unequal to the need.

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Education, the third priority subject, is where innovation will be most required to make the St. Petersburg Summit a full-scale success. While the summit has long deal with the microeconomic issues relating to human capital, education arrived fleetingly only at the Toronto summit in 1988 and in full force only at Okinawa in 2000. Moreover, there are no shocks showing either old or new vulnerabilities to arouse all G8 members to high collective G8 performance in this realm. In Russia is there a rapidly declining population requiring professional and vocational services from providers recently transformed from fellow citizens into foreigners by the breakup of tare not offset by the successes of UNICEF in governing education as a whole. While much innovation in global education governance is coming from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Russia remains outside this privileged democratic club.

Thus for St. Petersburg the Russians are advancing an education agenda that seeks to foster higher and more harmonized standards for teachers, students, professionals and producers of vocational services, both at home and when these internationally mobile human capital providers move from one country to another. Efforts to preserve and make more available to all the world's store of educational materials, and to exchange students to foster multicultural understanding are also on the list.

Yet this innovative effort to meet the G8's founding mission to forward "social advance" on a global scale is meeting resistance on several fronts. The G8's educational pioneer, Canada, welcomes immigrants and wants to speed the licensing of new professionals, but depends for international action on education on its constituent provincial governments, where the constitutional authority and expert competence largely lie. An aging Japan has yet to acquire the multicultural instinct. Italy and the U.S. are front-line states on the global demographic divide where poor people scheme to enter their rich northern neighbours preoccupied with threats from terrorists of global reach. And in France and the European Union, governments and peoples are still wary of making it easier for more "Polish plumbers" to take their jobs even if they meet their personal needs.

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The Democratic Participatory Process

To prepare these promising priorities and transform them into summit successes, the Russian hosts have constructed a process that also creatively combines the old and the new.

The old features in the format are being used to bring out best in the G8 leaders at the summit itself. For a location the Russians have chosen St. Petersburg. Much like Toronto in 1988 and Birmingham in 1998, it is the country's outward-looking commercial but not political capital with a rich history and welcoming population to serve as local hosts. As at the last several summits, the leaders will be left alone together in a single secluded location - the Konstantinofsky Palace - to make the most of their time together during the summit's three days. This is particularly important as, for the first time in five years, there will be several new faces at the summit table: Germany's Angela Merkel, Canada's Stephen Harper, and potentially newcomers from Italy and even Britain as well. Especially if last year's G8 host, Tony Blair, does come with the domestic political capital to bring the momentum of his high-performing Gleneagles Summit to bear, there will be a big burden on the three veteran presidents - Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac - along with Japan's veteran prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to make the human side of summitry at work.

Before and beyond the Konstantinofsky Palace on July 15-17, innovation is arising everywhere. To help prepare and take pressure off their summit's already demanding agenda, the Russians are mounting an unusually dense and novel program of ministerial, official-level and stakeholder meetings. The ministerial meetings include an early gathering of G8 finance ministers to help prepare the summit, the first G8 energy ministers meeting since 2002, the first G8 education ministers meeting since 2000 and the first ever meeting of G8 ministers of health. For parliamentarians the Russians will continue the democratizing practice the G8 added in 2002 of holding an annual gathering of speakers of the legislatures of the G8. During the Russian-hosted year there will be gatherings for G8 youth and, for the first time, religious leaders as well. The standard summit preparatory process, still centred on meetings of the leaders' personal representatives (or "sherpas"), foreign affairs sous sherpas (FASS) and political directors, has been reinforced by a council of experts that President Putin created to add analytical depth.

For the summit itself, the Russians are reaching out to involve a broad range and new combination of actors beyond the G8. Using a formula first brought to the summit by the French at Lyon in 1996, the Russians are planning to invite the executive heads of major multilateral organizations representing the full global community and among them those most functionally relevant to the summit's priority subjects. Despite an initial reluctance, during the spring the Russians became more open to inviting the leaders of China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico as well. These are the emerging powers most relevant to global energy governance, on both the demand and supply side, and have a critical role in combating infectious disease. They are the same "plus five" powers that attended the 2005 Gleneagles Summit and, along with others, the Evian Summit in 2003. With the lonely exception of a lagging China, they are also the leading democratic powers of the developing world.

Russian innovation in democratizing the G8 has been most apparent in the creation of a "Civil G8" led by Putin-appointed Ella Pamfilova, head of the Human Rights Commission in Russia itself. Guided by an international and national advisory council of civil society leaders, this C8 has mounted an unprecedented program of expert meetings starting in February, a major conference and meeting with sherpas in March, and a regional meeting planned for late spring, as well as a gathering of global civil society stakeholders on the summit's eve. It is still too soon to say if this process will influence G8 leaders at the summit, or if this rather top-down model of organizing civil society will be, and should be, followed in future years. What is already clear, however, is the dedication of the Civil G8's leadership to having a genuine democratic dialogue with a broad and balanced range of stakeholders, the openness and vibrancy of this dialogue and its skill in attracting the participation of Russian and global civil society stakeholders and the G8 sherpas themselves. It is through the Civil 8 that the environmental community has had its strongest voice in an official G8 process unusually devoid of a preparatory G8 environmental ministers meeting and of passages in draft summit texts on international energy security, where the integral connection with climate change control and environmental protection is made. Whether the St. Petersburg summit moves in a meaningful way toward the high standard set by Gleneagles here will be an important test of how influential the Civil 8 will be in shaping the summit's outcomes and overall success.

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Russia's role in democratizing the G8 has thus far not been the central focus of most G8 participants and observers. They have been preoccupied instead with how the G8 can democratize Russia itself. They point to a long list of worrying developments, notably the clumsy cut-off of gas to Ukraine and Europe as 2006 began, the simultaneous adoption of a new law to regulate NGOs in ways that increase the control of the state, and the move to state-centred ownership, influence and monopolies in the mainstream media and major industrial sectors as well. They also highlight issues such as Iran's nuclear policy and financial support for a Palestine led by a Hamas party still dedicated to the destruction of Israel - issues where Russia seems to stand alone against the rest of the G8.

While the G8 and its Russian host will need to cope with these concerns, the Russian-led G8 is already providing a dense process of dialogue leading to a better understanding across the still lingering Cold War cognitive divide. Thus those in the many G8 countries that cut off energy supplies to customers who don't pay for the product, who throw CEOs of major energy and other corporations in jail for financial improprieties, who regulate their NGOs through giving them tax breaks as charities, and who have young citizens who rely on interactive internet and blogs rather than single-point-produced newspaper, radio and television for their information and democratic dialogue, may well become restrained in criticising Russia for what may seem from afar like backsliding. And they will need to confront the hard question of whether the G8 would be better off, in deepening democracy at home, in Russia or around the world if Russia were to be eased out, or ease itself out of the G8 club. The answer may well lead many to recognize more fully that Russia, despite its 2006 summit hosting, is still not a full member of the G8 system as a whole. The list of G8-centred or directed bodies where Russia remains absent begins with the G7 finance ministers forum, where in some sense the G5 began back in 1973, and the International Energy Agency created in 1974 in response to the first global oil shock. From this vantage point, the key challenge for the St. Petersburg Summit may well be how the G8 with its continuing devotion to democracy can be made more successful by including a democratically innovative Russia to a greater degree.

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