St Petersburg G8 Summit: Big powers sharply divided over Middle East and ‘energy security’

For a socialist alternative to imperialism, war and authoritarianism

The acceptance of Russia into the G7 club was described by one former Russian Deputy Prime Minister as the “original sin”. The ‘sin’ was committed during Boris Yeltsin’s rein in Russia, when the Western powers hoped this concession would help to moderate Russia’s discontent over the eastwards expansion of NATO, and that membership into the G7 club would even encourage the further integration of Russia into Western “values” i.e. further into the world capitalist system under the domination of US imperialism.

Last week’s Petersburg G8 summit, the first to be presided over by Russia, shows that the policy of integrating Russia is failing miserably. Moreover, the other G8 powers rubbed salt into Russian wounds by reminding the host country, several times during the summit, that it was not yet accepted as a full member. In his opening speech, US Finance Secretary, Jon Snow, for example, described Russia as an “invited guest”, alongside Brazil, China and India.

As is custom at G8 meetings, the host leader, President Putin, set out the main points on the summit agenda, including the “fight against international terror”, “the fight against diseases such as HIVAids”, and “energy security”. Russia also had a secondary agenda that it hoped to resolve. In particular, Putin’s regime announced before the summit that it was about to reach agreement with the US, so that the Western superpower would remove its block on Russia joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO). And naturally, President Putin wanted to use the Petersburg summit to present his home city as a showcase, to demonstrate that things were going well in Russia, and the West had nothing to worry about.

But as the poet Robbie Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Notwithstanding the widely advertised death of Russia’s “Number 1” terrorist, Shamil Basayev, the Chechen separatist leader, just days before the summit (a “victory” claimed by the armed forces, but which now appears to have been due to an explosives accident caused by Basayev’s men), the summit agenda was completely knocked off-track by the events in the Middle East.

The Israeli attacks on Lebanon led immediately to different imperialist powers represented at the summit fighting for their interests in the Middle East. Behind the illusion of an agreed communiqué by the G8 powers, which called on the Hezbollah to release the Israeli soldiers it captured and to end to its shelling of Israeli territory, while meekly calling for Israel to show “restraint”, and calling for the consideration of an international security force on the Israeli-Lebanon border, there were sharp words spoken by the G8 powers on the causes of the conflict. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, openly stated that Israel was to blame for the crisis, and alleged that Israel provoked the hostage taking of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah to cause wider conflict and to undermine the ‘peace process’. Putin added that Israel’s intentions behind its bombardment of Lebanon were for more than just the release of the two soldiers. This position was in stark contrast to that of the US at G8, which maintains its practically uncritical support for Israel.

The US managed to torpedo the attempt by Russia to join the WTO. In the run up to the summit, the Russian government openly stated that agreement was reached over the two last disputed issues preventing it joining the WTO – the regulation of finance markets and intellectual rights – and that WTO entry would take place within months. In the first evening of the Petersburg Summit, the US, however, demanded free access to the Russian market for agricultural products. While Putin looks on this as a delaying tactic, the US is using the demand as a blocking mechanism to Russia’s entry into the WTO.

Energy security conflict

So-called “energy security” proved to be one of the biggest causes for conflict. A Russian analytical journal said the contradictions over this question are caused by the completely different interpretations of energy security by the two sides. The US and Western states see ‘security’ from the point of view of the ‘consumer’ and want free access to Russian energy resources for Western oil and gas companies. Russia, as a major energy exporter, however, understands ‘security’ as its ability to control the transport of its energy supplies to the consumers. Since Russia attempted to use its control of the gas pipelines against the Ukraine regime of Vicktor Yuschenko, in January, this year, and thus affected a large proportion of Europe’s energy supplies, there is little common ground between the two sides. Once again, Russia refused to sign Europe’s ‘Energy Charter’.

Big power material interests also lay behind the G8 conflict over Iran. Both sides were naturally agreed that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons (like two bullies who do not want anyone else strong enough to stand up to them). But Russia and other countries, such as France, are against economic sanctions. After all, one of the not unimportant factors in Russia’s current economic growth is the export of equipment, including for producing nuclear energy, to countries such as Iran. Russia sums up its position as, “Our approach should be balanced and take into account the interests of the Iranian people and its attempts to develop high technology production, including atomic energy”.

About the only issue on which there was agreement at the G8 was on the question of the need to combat the “threat” of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, by setting up international ‘enrichment centers’ for nuclear fuel. No comment is needed on how the production of more materials from which nuclear bombs are made will limit proliferation!

Unofficially, of course, noises were made behind the scenes during the summit about the increasing concern at the lack of democracy in Russia. However, this issue was practically swept under the carpet after the bitter conflict between Bush and Putin on the first night’s press conference. Bush arrogantly commented that he had discussed his “desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq, where there’s a free press and free religion, and I told him [President Putin] that a lot of people in our country, you know, would hope that Russia would do the same thing”. Putin retorted, “We certainly would not like to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I’ll tell you that quite honestly”. This led Bush to concede that he did not expect Russia to look like the United States. “As Vladimir pointedly reminded me last night, we have a different history, different traditions,” commented the US President. Putin commented further that Russia would take not lectures from anyone. “No-one knows better then we do how to strengthen our state. We know for sure that we cannot strengthen our state without developing democratic institutions …but we’re going to do this on our own”.

Democracy and hypocrisy

The Western powers displayed amazing hypocrisy in their approach to democracy in Russia and the other former Soviet states. While raising mild criticisms at summits, the imperialist powers comfort themselves with the thought that things may be bad but, in general, the Russian regime wants to move in the right direction i.e. towards full open markets. At the same time, the West supports undemocratic forces to undermine the Putin regime. Just days before the G8 summit, ‘The Other Russia Summit’ opened in Moscow. This was organised by a coalition between the former chess master and neo-liberal politician, Gary Kasparov, and his party, and the neo-fascist ‘National Bolshevik Party’. Despite the name, this party has absolutely nothing in common with the real traditions of Bolshevism. The National Bolshevik Party membership parades along Moscow streets sporting neo-Nazi armbands (with the swastika replaced by the hammer and sickle!) and with banners proclaiming, “Russians are everything – the rest – dirt”.

Also present at The Other Russia Summit was the arch-Stalinist politician, Anpilov, and honoured guests, the British Ambassador, Antony Benton, and Daniel Fried, Assistant US Secretary of State for European Affairs. Fried commented, “I’m impressed how much [attendees] are committed to democracy”. When interviewed on the radio about the wave of arrests of genuine anti-globalists who tried to attend the Social Forum in Petersburg, the British Ambassador commented that he had no information on this matter.

The reality is that democracy in Russia is a very thin façade used by an increasingly authoritarian regime. Laws passed in the past few weeks, during the spring parliamentary session, hugely hinder small parties winning elections, as they will not be allowed to block with other parties and now have to gain 7% to get into the parliament. The ballot paper option of ‘Against all candidates’ was also abolished. The new law against “extremism” is even worse. This defines an extremist as a person who criticises a government employee of corruption. And a party is considered extremist if any of its members criticises the government in the same way!

The right to protest in Russia is practically non-existent. When groups apply for permission to picket or demonstrate, this is routinely refused by police, and the would-be protesters are automatically subject to arrest. The number of people in Russian prisons for participating in protests is growing. Indeed the lengths to which the state went to prevent the anti-globalists organising protests outside the St Petersburg G8 Summit is an indication of the real state of ‘democracy’ in Russia. (See recent reports on socialistworld).

These attacks on democratic rights were hardly commented on by the world’s press last week. The G8 Summit was turned into a slick PR operation. President Putin decided to be so ‘accessible’ and press friendly that he asked the gathered correspondents how often they wanted a press conference during G8. The journalists applauded the Russian leader for his “openness” during his first press conference. But none of this slickness and chumminess will hide the fact that the St Petersburg G8 Summit was a failure; it saw growing contradictions between the G8 powers, it failed to find agreement on any of the key questions, and it was presided over by a country that is steadily slipping into authoritarianism.

Despite widespread police repression, the Social Forum in St Petersburg ran at the same time as the G8 Summit, bringing together hundreds of anti-globalists, youth, trade unionists and socialists. CWI members from Russia and from several European countries at the Forum put forward a socialist alternative to the policies of the imperialist powers, neo-liberalism, authoritarianism, and war in the Middle East. Our call for workers’ unity in the struggle against the bosses, against imperialism and for democratic rights, and for a democratic socialist society, got a warm response from many youth and trade unionists. Our ideas won new supporters in St Petersburg, other areas of the Russia, and in East European countries.

Special financial appeal to all readers of

Support building alternative socialist media provides a unique analysis and perspective of world events. also plays a crucial role in building the struggle for socialism across all continents. Capitalism has failed! Assist us to build the fight-back and prepare for the stormy period of class struggles ahead.
Please make a donation to help us reach more readers and to widen our socialist campaigning work across the world.

Donate via Paypal

Liked this article? We need your support to improve our work. Please become a Patron! and support our work
Become a patron at Patreon!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


July 2006