The G8 presidency may indeed offer Moscow an opportunity to pull off another diplomatic coup. While Russia’s increased prominence in international affairs in the last two years has surprised some, Moscow’s intention to advance Russia as an important partner seeking equal cooperation with international leaders on the world stage is a longer term trend.
Russia’s role and position on the world stage is a source of constant international debate. Some suggest that Russia is in long-term decline, others that it is resurgent. Undeniably, however, it has been very active and visible over the last eighteen months, taking a prominent role, for instance, in the Syrian crisis and by hosting the Winter Olympics. Hosting the G8 summit in Sochi in June will ensure that the spotlight of international attention will remain on Russia beyond the end of the games.
Vladimir Putin has announced an agenda that provides the chance for ‘frank and substantive’ discussions. The topics for debate include many that are indeed problems common to all members of the G8 and beyond – resolution of conflicts, counter terrorism, the fight against drugs and the management of disasters. And the motto – ‘Risk management for sustainable growth in a safe world’ – is one with which few could disagree. These are certainly important, even ambitious themes and ones in which Russia has both vested interests and many resources at its disposal to address, not least, for instance, its emergency and disaster response experience and capacities.
If there is often something of a sense of ritual about G8 summits, it is one that perhaps gains some importance this year given the difficulties faced in other formats in which Russia meets the West. The EU-Russia and NATO-Russia relationships, for example, are far from dynamically advancing cooperation.
At the same time, however, the summit raises difficult questions. Any ‘frank and substantive’ discussion is likely to reveal important differences between the members. Although issues such as the struggle against terrorism and the illegal drug trade are a high priority for all members alike, definitions of what, precisely, these problems are and how to address them practically often differ. The same can be said for the resolution of conflicts. Indeed, these are subjects that have tended to divide Russia from other members of the G8 in the past and appear likely to continue to do so this year.
Furthermore, although the members between them represent powerful economic and political influence and potential, it is not clear that the forum itself offers the best format to address some of problems on the agenda. Many of the members burdened by other pressing priorities that will dilute the resources that might be allocated to joint action and also guide their attention to other organisations such as the EU, or other bilateral relationships with major international power such as China. It is also not clear that the G8 forum is the best forum for dealing with questions that have an important security element.
For its part, it is not clear that Russia itself prioritises the G8 format. Instead, it appears to be focusing its attention more on creating the Eurasian Union and developing the BRICS format on one hand, and on enhancing a range of bilateral relations on the other. Indeed, Russia has advanced the case for the G20 as an organisation that is more representative of the evolving international situation, including as it does, for instance, China and Brazil.
Finally, it is often the case that G8 summits are hijacked by current events. In the past, summit agendas have been effectively dominated by crises in the Middle East, for instance that have led to disputes rather than concrete decisions and cooperation. This year too, there are numerous potential crises, not least developments in Ukraine that might erupt to intrude on the agenda and block the achievement of ‘concrete decisions’ and cooperation during Russia’s presidency.
The G8 presidency may indeed offer Moscow an opportunity to pull off another diplomatic coup. While Russia’s increased prominence in international affairs in the last two years has surprised some, Moscow’s intention to advance Russia as an important partner seeking equal cooperation with international leaders on the world stage is a longer term trend that remains a work in progress that appears to be more focused on other priorities such as the Eurasian Union’s emergence in 2015.