ITWASSOOTED: <span style="color:#cc33cc;">Russia takes over G8 leadership for the first time</span>

Monday, January 02, 2006

Russia takes over G8 leadership for the first time

Russia has taken over the chairmanship of the G8 group of nations for the first time.

It will provide President Vladimir Putin with an opportunity to emphasise Russia's role in international affairs.

But some critics have said Russia is not a fit country to head the group, which brings together the world's leading industrialised democracies.

Global energy supply is set to be a big issue, with Russia seeking to show the importance of its oil and gas reserves.

Mr Putin will want to emphasise to G8 members like the US, Japan and Germany, that their economies may be far bigger than Russia's, but they need his country because it has enough oil and gas to keep them supplied for years to come.

Mr Putin has made restoring Russian prestige central to his presidency.

Many Russians still feel keenly their nation's loss of influence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now Mr Putin will be able to say Russia is back, and with a real say at the top table.


Mr Putin will also press for co-operation against terrorism. And where Tony Blair put African development at the heart of Britain's chairmanship of the G8, Mr Putin will say that poverty in former Soviet states should be given an equal priority.

But Russia's chairmanship will face criticism too. Some US Senators have argued that Russia should not be a member of what is a club of developed democracies, let alone be allowed to head the organisation.

Russia was originally admitted as an observer to encourage it to reform its economy and develop democratically.

But Russia is still not one of the world's leading economic powers. And Mr Putin has been criticised for prosecuting political opponents, clamping down on the media, and tolerating human rights abuses by his military in Chechnya.

He has supported repressive regimes like that in Uzbekistan, and continues to help Iran develop nuclear power.

So Russia's time at the head of the G8 will raise Russian prestige, but raise uncomfortable questions too.

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