Preparing the Way for the New G-8

Washington word games tell it all: the new designation of the G-8 as a format for the ‘world’s biggest industrial economies’ instead of ‘democracies’ prepares the way for China’s accession following Russia’s ejection.  Read on….





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                                  Preparing the Way for the New G-8


                                   by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.



The game of Kremlinology has for some time now found a new application for old skills:  reading between the lines of media texts dictated by information managers based in Washington, D.C.  In this regard, one would have to be blind to miss the wave coming our way as set out in coverage of yesterday’s meeting of the G-7 in The Hague on the sidelines of the nuclear security gathering.

The huddle of the USA, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan was the gestation of elephants that produced…a mouse.  There were no thunderbolts of sanction threats, although the assembled 7 insisted they were in complete accord on tough new sanctions should Russia move into Eastern Ukraine. 

Of course, Russian imperialism on the rampage is a scenario invented by Western media with coaching from hyperventilating senior American military officers. Mr. Putin is no idle adventurer. On the contrary, his behavior and that of his team over the past month in the showdown over Crimea and its bloodless takeover reveal strong discipline and deep knowledge of psychological warfare.

 Russia has indeed amassed military muscle along the Ukrainian borders to back up its insistence on having a voice in the constitutional reform being planned in Ukraine. Its objectives are crystal clear:  to ensure substantial decentralization of the regions and protection of the linguistic and human rights of the Russian-speaking minority of Ukraine. Invasion, incursions into Ukrainian territory would only work against that objective by uniting a nationalistic resistance behind Maidan.  Moreover, Russian agreement to the ongoing deployment of OSCE observers throughout Ukraine is a very important protection, removing any need for Russian troops on the ground to defend their nationals within Ukrainian borders.

 The only action taken by the G-7 yesterday was to confirm Russia’s suspension from its club for the indefinite future. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded at a press conference, saying that his country would not insist on that format and accepted the decision. It would be more truthful, if less diplomatic, to say that Russia was relieved. It is hard to imagine Vladimir Putin’s participating in talks around the table with 7 interlocutors all on the attack.

Russia has come out of the closet. It has moved to defend its vital strategic interests in Crimea in the firm belief that it is better to be feared than to pursue unrequited love.  In this new situation, the only world governing board that matches Russia’s posture is the G-20, where, with the help of BRIC partners, it can muster a majority of votes to its positions and stare down the West if need be. 

Russia’s membership in a G-8 was an anomaly from the start.  The club had always put the accent on ‘democracies’ and there were doubts that Russia, even under Yeltsin, made it all the way to a true democracy in the Western mold.  

G-8 membership was cynically crafted as a consolation prize to the drunkard Yeltsin for the double-cross over Russia’s anticipated invitation into NATO in 1993-94. Yeltsin had acquiesced in NATO membership for Poland in the belief that Russia would soon get its own pass. However, after due discussion on Capitol Hill and depositions that were very negative from Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger, America’s most prominent thinkers on international affairs at the time, President Clinton finally turned against Russia in NATO.

Russia’s inclusion in a G-8 was predicated on the false assumption that the Russian bear just needed some friendly counseling and prestigious if empty club memberships for it to adapt to its straitened circumstances and powerlessness in a US-dominated world.

Is the indefinite suspension of Russia the end of the G-8 format?  The aspirants for membership are many.  The day before yesterday acting president of the interim government in Kiev Yatsenyuk had the temerity or pure cheek to suggest at his joint press conference with PM Stephen Harper of Canada that Ukraine was ready to take over from Russia and keep the seat warm.  Moreover, the contemptuous attitude towards others that antedated the creation of a G-8 including Russia still holds sway in Washington.  George W. Bush was not the first, nor will he be the last American president to believe that world leaders can be devastated by not being invited to a folksy barbecue at Camp David or some other presidential retreat.

Press coverage of yesterday’s side meetings at The Hague stressed the importance of Obama’s one-on-one chat with Chinese president Xi Jinping. We are told about their excellent personal rapport.  And if the official description of the G-8 is to become a club of the world’s biggest industrial economies rather than of the world’s biggest industrial democracies, as was traditionally the case, then the logic for China to take over the vacated seat of Russia is compelling.

Several years ago the media speculated on an American initiative to create a G-2 with China, a sort of new world condominium such as Leonid Brezhnev had hoped to agree with Richard Nixon but failed.  In the end, it was clear that the Chinese did not go for the bait.  A G-8 invitation might, however, be more appealing to them.

And yet, Xi Jinping is no drunkard and any sober minded statesman will appreciate that Chinese membership will be as chancy and also as potentially humiliating as was Russian membership.  When the next round of skirmishes with Japan over the rocky islands in the South China Sea that both claim inevitably occurs, the Chinese leader would find himself at any G-8 as isolated and subject to hostile questioning as Mr. Putin would be at such a meeting in Sochi in June.

Russia’s throwing down the gauntlet to the West over Ukraine is indeed historic. And yet it is just one step in the unraveling of American and Western arrogance and self-delusion.


  ©Gilbert Doctorow, 2014


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G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book, Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from and affiliated websites worldwide. Also on sale in Sterling and Waterstone’s booksellers, Brussels.