What is the G-8 and Why is Russia in It?
Russia's involvement in the Group of 8 (G-8) is promising in both for Russia and for the G-8. It is promising for Russia -- and for those Americans who want a friendly and Westernizing Russia -- as the best venue thus far developed for sustaining and strengthening Russia's connection with the West. And it is promising for the G-8 as an institution - as a way of enhancing its own importance.
There are opportunities in this situation that the West could be exploring. Unfortunately, the West is damaging its interests by focusing its discussion instead on thoughts of expelling Russia from the G-8.
The G-8 is a good fit for Russia. It is the widest major Western institution geographically: it is both transatlantic and trans-Pacific. With Russia included, it is now pan-North. The "North" is a grouping that has important things its countries need to do together. When it is united, the world is fairly cohesive; when it is divided, the world is torn into conflict as it was throughout the twentieth century, Adding Russia has not detracted from the Group's identity, either in a purposive or a geographical sense; on balance it has strengthened that identity by filling a hole in it.
The G-8 is also the widest-ranging of the Western institutions in its subject-matter. It is open to dealing with every aspect of mutual cooperation and of global governance -- everything, in fact, on which Russia and the Western countries have common business. It has a better fit to the contours of Russia-West business than most of the other Western institutions.
Further, the G-8 is an institution against which Russia has no Cold War hang-ups. It, in turn, has no Cold War hang-ups against Russia, a virtue owed to one of its vices: it has no permanent staff that could have accumulated such hang-ups or "milieu culture." As an institution, it has minimal structure; it could probably use more baggage, but meanwhile it adapts easily. Its one sphere of semi-formalized cooperation -- macroeconomic supervision and central bank coordination on currency intervention -- is one that Russia is not a part of, for honest technical reasons (not political reasons masquerading for diplomatic purposes as innocuous technical ones, as is often the case in NATO). However, the defining part of the G-8 -- the Summit -- is completely flexible. It holds a large potential for institutional development underneath itself, but over the decades this potential has gone almost completely unrealized.
Russia began speaking of joining the G-8 -- or rather the G-7, as it was then known -- in Gorbachev's time. Westerners in turn began talking of bringing in Russia during the last years of the Gorbachev era. In the subsequent decade, Russia gradually was in fact brought in, first as an observer or guest, then as a participant in a "G-7 + 1", then as a part of the "political G-8." Nowadays it is usually described simply as "a member of the G-8." At each stage of its inclusion, its involvement proved advantageous to both sides. Today the G-8 is the one transatlantic institution in which Russia is a clear-cut member: in all the others, Russia is still in a process of joining or still left out.
Indeed, the G-8 is the one Western institution that Russia not only supports but would like to see strengthened. This is partly because it is a member; partly because there is a natural affinity, which enables it to identify with the grouping once it has become a member (presumably Russia would not want to strengthen some other groupings, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in which it participates). As such, it is perhaps an indication of the support that can be hoped for once Russia joins the other Western institutions. Sergei Karaganov has long maintained that, in the case of NATO, Russia will continue viewing it with fear as long as it is on the outside, but will become a NATO supporter once Russia becomes a member of it. This comports with elementary realist logic and with Russia's own repeated "dialectical" formulations that what it is against is not NATO per se, NATO's use of power nor NATO expansion per se, but the use of power and the expansion of a NATO in which Russia is not included or does not have sufficient voice in its decisions. However, it does not comport with NATO's evaluations of Russian attitudes, which have generally followed a simpler categorization as either "pro" or "anti-NATO" without reference to qualifying conditions. This oversimplified method of evaluation in the West creates a difficult new hurdle for Russia, arguably a vicious circularity. In the case of the G-7, Russia was never very much "anti", whether conditionally or otherwise, so it did not have the same hurdle to surmount. In any event, it is the G-8 that Russia is in now, and that Russia supports.
Benefits of Russian Support for the G-8
Having Russian support for a pan-Western institution is not an unimportant thing. It adds significantly to the global strength of the institution. It not only adds Russia's material strengths, which are still considerable; it also adds acceptance of the institution's legitimacy by those around the world who are clients of Russia, particularly those who are in varying degrees its "moral clients" -- a sometimes large category, Moscow developed a vast moral clientele during the Cold War, comprising a number of governments along with secular radical forces inside nearly every country in the world.
Russia's reinforcement of a pan-Western institution in turn entails, more specifically, reinforcement of the strength and legitimacy of Western global leadership. This is a factor that is if some importance to Americans at this time of strong American-Western pretensions to the leadership.