Russia has once again found itself isolated from the G8, and the reason for this is not the machinations of the West but, rather, the types of mistakes the Russian political elite would prefer not to admit.
A session of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland held on 18 June 2013. Photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneev
How rapidly the G8 fell into, and now out of, favor. It was only in June 2013 when Russian president Vladimir Putin stated the G8 was necessary for coordinating the economic policies of the leading countries of the world. The discussions that take place within the G8 framework, he said, are “distinguished by their depth and confidentiality, making it possible to constructively resolve many political issues, even the most difficult ones.”
However, a short nine months later, in March 2014, after Russia was excluded from the membership roster of this international club, the president of Russia expressed not the slightest regret over the matter – at least, according to his press secretary.
There is no doubt that Putin was in no way trying to be sly when he spoke of the G8 in complimentary tones last summer, as he had done repeatedly before. By itself, Russia’s membership in the elite club of leading powers was an important indicator of the country’s international influence, similar to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
Read an opposing view: Does Russia really need the G8?
In addition, the Group of Eight is the only transatlantic institution in which Russia participated as a full member. Despite all the calls for a “democratic” world order, for a long time, the Russian leadership rightly considered the G8 as a key instrument for increasing the authority and influence of Russia.
Certainly, the opportunity to take part in the shaping of world development in an informal setting, while also exchanging views with the leaders of the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, and Japan, is valuable.
Moreover, the benefits of participation in the G8 were far from exhausted for Russia in terms of the “growth effect.” It is no secret that, in the new Russian state formed amidst the ruins of the former USSR, there was a catastrophic lack of specialists with world-class educations who were capable of carrying out professional discussions as equals in the international arena. That is why the G8, to be honest, was largely an institution for Russia’s future growth.
From the start, this format was conceptualized not only for coordinating the positions of leading powers on varied issues of global scale, but also as a way of smoothing the integration of Russia and its professional elite into international society. On a daily basis, Russian representatives went through intensive training in the various G8 tracks – politics, finance and diplomacy – and received the opportunity to develop their skills while learning many useful things through dialogue with their colleagues and partners from other states.
And the first fruits were soon evident. Having mastered the ropes a bit, Russia was no outsider in the G8 and began participating in important political deliberations on par with the other states. In some cases, it even demonstrated leadership – as in issues related to the struggle against the threat of terrorism or international development aid.
Russia’s reasonable point of view has always met with interested understanding among leaders of other states; for example, when Russia, Germany, and France issued a joint position on the Iraq question. Active cooperation with state and government partners complemented the expansion of spheres of dialogue in business, socio-economic, and youth development matters.
But Russia’s maturation and awareness of its role in the world was not carried through to the end. The year of Russia’s first presidency of the G8 group, plans for a global energy partnership ended up with the cutting off of the supply of gas for Ukraine. This turn of events put a number of Gazprom’s European clients into a critical position and placed the status of our country as a reliable energy supplier into doubt.
This was the first incident where Russia was isolated in the G8, and the reason for this was clearly not the wiles or dictates of anyone else, but gross political mistakes Russia’s leaders were loath to admit.
Instead, we multiply the perceived “offenses” which accumulate over the years to such a point that it is sometimes difficult to understand what their original cause was. However, as is well known, international politics is no finishing school. And if offenses occur from time to time, their only causes are lack of professionalism and the feeling of inferiority, and the natural consequence is isolation.
This, unfortunately, is how it turned out in March 2014. Russian diplomats assure us that, in disappearing from the G8 format, we have not lost anything and will no less effectively influence world events through such authoritative frameworks as the G20 or the BRICS.
But what kind of influence can we talk about if NOT ONE of the members of the G20 supported the Kremlin’s position on the Crimea issue during the General Assembly vote? Even among the CIS, only two states were on our side, which means we are at risk of losing our regional leadership role after our global one.
And what have we gained in return? Maybe the values of the G8 are foreign to us, but let us look carefully at who in the UN forms a united front with our country. Abandoning the G8, we have formed for ourselves a completely different “support group” and, in essence, have become a member of a group of “ten,” to which belong Armenia, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Syria, Venezuela, Sudan, Nicaragua, Cuba, North Korea, and Belarus.
There is nothing to be done: Each state deserves the allies it has. And instead of hanging labels right and left or listing external irritants, the majority of which are imaginary, Russia should really take a good look in the mirror – something it should have done a long time ago.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.