Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Russia hopes to use this summer’s G-8 summit in St. Petersburg to convince the United States and other industrialized nations it shares their values, and that it will be the world’s politically safest source of oil and gas in the next few decades.

A Russian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the energy security agreements expected to be signed by the leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations is less important than how Russia is perceived by the visiting leaders.

“The real success of this story will not be the papers,” the official said. “It’s more about pure politics and how Russia is accepted.”

Some critics say the summit should be rescheduled outside of Russia to protest what they see as that nation’s drift on human rights and democracy. But the official said that is impossible and politically bad for the leaders because they would miss out on a chance to talk with Russia about oil and gas supplies, which could become increasingly important if the political situation in the Middle East deteriorates.

“If we don’t really speak about energy security and how to resolve these issues for the world economy, it could be difficult,” the official said.

The summit is scheduled for July 15 to 17, and will be the first time that Russia will have hosted the group, which is made up of the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada, as well as a representative of the European Union.

The official purpose of the visit is to talk about energy stability and cooperation on education and infectious diseases such as AIDS. But the official said Moscow also wants to demonstrate that it plays a constructive role in the international community.

“Russia and the others — they have the same values, ultimate values. Sometimes they argue about tactics, how to proceed, but the ultimate values, they are the same,” the official said. “Freedom, democracy, everything.”

The official said recent foreign-policy differences are not about fundamental values but different tactics.

“When Russians say, ‘Don’t go to Yugoslavia,’ they don’t mean they like Milosevic. They think that Europe will suffer after going to Yugoslavia. When they say, ‘Don’t go to Iraq,’ it doesn’t mean they like Saddam Hussein. They are just frightened that something worse happens afterwards.”

President Bush has had a complex relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two men have gotten along well personally and Mr. Putin won an early invitation to Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch. But they also have publicly criticized each other, sometimes harshly.

The Russian official, who is familiar with the two men’s relationship, said Mr. Putin had two “closest friends” on the international scene: former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Mr. Bush. The official also said the U.S. president seems to understand Mr. Putin’s difficult position of striking a political balance in Russia.

When Mr. Bush visited Russia last year, he also stopped off in Georgia and Latvia, both former Soviet republics. Asked what Russia would think about another such stopover this year, possibly in Ukraine, the official said that was “OK, if after Ukraine, he visits Russia.”

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