At St Petersburg, the old G7 countries will find a newly confident Russia willing to exploit energy policy to fulfil geopolitical objectives. What can they do about it?by Anthony Robinson / July 22, 2006 / Leave a comment
As leaders of the old G7 club of industrial democracies prepare for top-level discussions on energy at the G8 summit in St Petersburg, they are uncomfortably aware that the humiliated Russian eagle they invited into their nest as a gesture of encouragement a few years ago has developed a sharper beak and stronger talons than anyone could have imagined.
Under President Vladimir Putin, a combination of steely political will and sky-high oil prices have transformed Russia into a more centralised, self-confident and focused nation state, albeit still vast and multiethnic. National interest, not ideology, is the new leitmotiv. Greater democracy, at least in a form recognisable as such by the old G7, is no longer on the agenda. Neither, apparently, is it widely desired, judging by the solid domestic support for Putin from a largely passive electorate used to the smack of strong government, lulled by a controlled electronic media and enjoying the fruits of a rapidly emerging consumer society. Dissident voices are either suppressed, barely tolerated—or ignored.
The goal set by Putin at the start of the year was not to make Russia a democracy but what he calls an energy “super derzhava” (superpower). Putin wants the G8 summit to mark acceptance of this rebranding of Russia. Traditional G7 members, led by the US, who wanted Russia’s acceptance of the existing democratic rules, are not happy. Moscow’s conditional support for the latest US and EU-led proposals to persuade Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions, and moves to curb the influence of the more hardline nationalist “siloviki” domestically, were calculated to improve what is still likely to be a tense atmosphere at the summit.
Europe woke up to the new power of Russia at the new year when Gazprom turned off the gas taps to Ukraine and Moldova. But the US has been looking on the more self-assertive Russia with misgivings for some time. Vice-president Dick Cheney was among the architects of President Reagan’s tough line against the Soviet “evil empire.” For Cheney, Putin’s steady dismantling of democratic and media freedoms looks like a return to the past. But there is also frustration at the tighter restrictions Russia is now placing on investment by US and other energy companies.
As an oilman, Cheney is well aware that this is part of a global shift in favour of energy and resource producers after decades when commodity surpluses favoured consumers. But…