The embrace of struggling Russia by the world’s richest democracies goes far beyond symbolism and charity, say Kremlin and Western officials who hailed the just-concluded Summit of the Eight here as an investment in a prosperous common future and a final triumph over totalitarian forces.
Russia’s induction into the global power ranks, despite its dubious economic performance, ensures that Communist-era debts will be paid, that trade barriers will be lifted and that world leaders will be better able to attack crime and environmental hazards that transcend borders.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin’s presence at the Denver meetings was probably the most obvious sign that the annual summit has broadened into an event that--despite its hoopla and the impenetrable jargon of official communiques--could change the lives of individual Americans in ways they may never know.
In some areas, the linkage to everyday life is obvious: An initiative to coordinate responses to outbreaks of infectious disease and to control the spread of AIDS is something that most voters can both relate to and applaud.
Moves to combat the threats of terrorism and international drug cartels and to study aging societies should also pay off across the global spectrum.
President Clinton lauded Yeltsin’s “remarkable contribution” here, and a communique on the summit endorsed a continuing expansion of the Russian role to spread the promise of prosperity to “all segments of society, and indeed all countries across the globe.”
“There are gains for the West, for the United States, for the American people, as well as gains for Russia, that it has been included as a full-fledged presence [at the summit],” effused Yeltsin’s spokesman, Sergei V. Yastrzhembsky. “The more Russia is involved in the process, the less reason for doubts, fears and ungrounded concerns about today’s Russia and its objectives.”
Security and well-being are enhanced on both sides of the vanished Iron Curtain as stability takes root in the formerly Communist world, he suggested.
“The bleak shades have disappeared, and our lives are becoming more bright and colorful,” Yastrzhembsky said of the benefits already evident from Russia’s emerging market economy. “Parents now tell their children about the long lines and shortages that once existed, as if they were scary scenes from fairy tales.”
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov observed that his country’s elevated role in world affairs has helped weaken resistance in Russia to endorsement of arms control treaties that will make the world safer for all. Russia was a nearly full participant in the annual meeting of the Group of 7 but is not yet a member of the exclusive club of industrialized nations.
“We have entered the door [of the Group of 7] as a state that plays an important political role, as a state with great economic, scientific and political potential, as a state with sufficient military force that has demonstrated its great-power status in the previous period,” Primakov stated. “Through our participation in the G-8, we will prove that not only our country gains but also those of the G-7.”
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke of the broadened annual forum combating “a whole range of global issues which cast shadows on the lives of our citizens and the future of our global economy.”
A far more subtle, but extremely important, benefit of summit gatherings is rooted in simple human nature: personal and group chemistry.
Like anyone else, leaders tend to cooperate better once they get to know one another. For outgoing, personable leaders like Clinton, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Yeltsin, personal contacts have generated real friendships that can foster compromise on divisive issues and cooperation in crisis.
Russia’s admission during the summit to the so-called Paris Club of creditor nations also promises direct economic benefits throughout the world. Russia will get easier credit terms, developing nations will get debt relief and Western countries that lent money to the Soviet Union now have assurances they will be repaid.
“What does it mean for the average Russian citizen? It means we will be better able to repay the back wages to soldiers, doctors, teachers and other government employees,” said Russian Finance Minister Anatoly B. Chubais, referring to billions of dollars owed those on the federal payroll because of a protracted cash crunch.
“This directly affects the real standard of living for hundreds of thousands in places like Kostroma, Ivanovo and Vladimir,” said Chubais, predicting new flows of financing to cities in Russia’s stagnant textile belt.
Chubais, who is also first deputy prime minister, deflected criticism from political opponents that Russia’s transition to a market economy has actually contributed to a declining birthrate and eroding health standards in the country.
Chubais acknowledged that some demographic indexes have fallen in recent years, but he argued that communism and the command form of economic management were abandoned specifically as a way of escaping the negative social trends seen in the waning days of the Soviet era.
Infant mortality has decreased in Russia in the past two years, Chubais noted, and this year marks the first drop in the death rate in the post-Communist era.
“We should be asking ourselves what the birthrate would be if President Yeltsin hadn’t undertaken the reforms,” Chubais said. “Imagine how much worse would be the lives of our poorest people.”