An especially crowded agenda at this year’s Group of Eight (G8) summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as distractions in the Middle East, left some wondering what resolutions of substance emerged from the highly orchestrated event. CFR Senior Fellow Steve Sestanovich dismisses the G8 as “an annual fantasy camp of candlelit, head-table diplomacy.” A recent poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, meanwhile, finds little public confidence in G8 leaders’ handling of international affairs. This confidence likely wasn't bolstered by President Bush's off-the-cuff lunchtime remarks—during which he criticized Kofi Annan's efforts in the Middle East and joked with Tony Blair about a recent birthday gift—picked up by an open microphone and shown on this CNN video.
The final statement of the summit left many questions unanswered, particularly those on securing energy supplies for Europe. But the summit did provide an important opportunity for the U.S. and Russian presidents, in particular, to seek common ground on an extraordinary number of escalating problems. They included the Iran nuclear crisis, North Korean missile tests, and growing conflict in the Middle East. Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer, noting recent strains in relations between Moscow and Washington, says “any meaningful reaffirmation of shared interests could mend a few fences.” For John Edwards and Jack Kemp, cochairs of the CFR task force on U.S. policy toward Russia, the burden is on host Russia to produce concrete results, such as “joining the United States and other democratic states in warning Iran about the negative consequences” of its nuclear program.
The issue most pertinent to Russian President Vladimir Putin—energy security—may be left unresolved. Another important issue is trade. Some experts think the G8 could breathe life into the stalled Doha trade talks, explained in this Backgrounder. In one glimmer of progress, the Russians reached a deal with the United States to join the World Trade Organization ahead of the summit. Still, Philip Kazin of the Baltic Research Center tells CFR.org in this podcast that he does not expect any major trade breakthroughs in St. Petersburg.
But issues external to the G8's traditional economic purview—including Iran, WMD proliferation, and global pandemics—are expected to dominate, as this new Backgrounder explains. Some say the G8 tries to tackle too much, while others, such as CFR President Richard Haass, call it an "anachronism" that should be expanded to include China and India. Some say the inclusion of Russia into this VIP club of industrialized democracies, as CFR Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein recently told a CFR press briefing, "inevitably [creates] a negative impact on the legitimacy of this group to set the international agenda." Ahead of the summit, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney accused Moscow of "intimidation and blackmail." Putin this week said Cheney’s remarks were “kind of a failed hunting shot,” a reference to Cheney’s hunting mishap earlier this year. U.S. President George W. Bush gave credit to Putin for a humorous line but said he would reaffirm U.S. confirms about Russian backsliding on democracy (WashPost).
The CFR Task Force said U.S.-Russia relations are heading in the wrong direction and Russia's "political balance sheet of the past five years is extremely negative." "Russia's leaders have given up on becoming part of the West," writes the Carnegie Moscow Center's Dmitri Trenin in Foreign Affairs. From Russia's vantage point, a string of peaceful revolts in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan were not victories for democracy but U.S.-orchestrated coups that have decreased regional stability. Moscow hopes the St. Petersburg summit will shed light on some of its regional interests in addition to brandishing its image abroad. The G8 Summit is a "trump card that should be used to play a winning hand to improve Russia's image worldwide; acknowledge the country's status as a global player; and, of course, search for solutions to international problems," write Vladimir Orlov and Miriam Fugfugosh in the Washington Quarterly (PDF).