Finance ministers of the Group of Eight economically-powerful countries gather in Moscow Friday for two days of talks likely to focus on Russia's swelling clout in world oil and gas markets.
It is the first meeting of the group -- which includes Germany, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- since Russia took over the rotating presidency for the first time ever at the beginning of the year.
Russia has set a diverse agenda for the meetings, and has invited emerging economic giants Brazil, China, India and South Africa to talks alongside the G8 discussion. Beyond energy issues, the Kremlin expects to confer on world trade, debt relief for poor countries, fighting infectious diseases and the financing of terror groups.
"At this stage of the dialogue Russia has shown itself as a country that can set the priorities," Russian Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin said on the program "Good morning, Russia" on Friday.
"Russia today is not the country that is just looking for help," he added. "Russia itself can provide help and organize international discussion on these issues."
Keeping the lights on, and the heat turned up
European countries worry the flow of Russian energy through a Ukrainian pipeline could be disrupted again
Chief among the issues to be discussed by the ministers is "global energy security," the topic that Russia, a fast-growing world energy giant, has singled out as the top agenda item for its year-long G8 presidency.
Russia made clear last year it would use the G8 discussion process to promote itself as a dependable energy partner with seemingly inexhaustible supply for world markets spooked by high prices and Middle East volatility.
What Moscow may not have foreseen was the cascade of consequences from an ugly dispute with Ukraine on pricing for Russian gas supplies that marked the start of its G8 presidency early this year.
That dispute resulted in supply disruption to clients like Germany and Italy further downstream in Europe. Coupled with Moscow's reassertion of state control over energy resources, the clash is raising Western concern over its dependence on Moscow for vital fuel and Kremlin linkage of energy to politics.
That concern will be aired at this weekend's G8 finance minister's meeting where, according to the Financial Times, France and others intend to offer Moscow financial incentives to liberalize its gas industry.
Russia holds energy cards
Moscow-based Gazprom has extended its energy monopoly in Russia and parts of the former Soviet Union
Political crises in several key energy players beside the Ukraine -- including Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela -- have helped push crude oil prices toward record levels in turn threatening the health of the world economy. Russia's role as the second largest producer of oil in the world makes it a powerful player in global energy trading.
That's why analysts expect that Russia will hold its ground on energy issues at the G8 meeting, including those related to its state-controlled energy company Gazprom. The Financial Times quoted an unnamed "Western energy diplomat" saying it is "wishful thinking" to believe Moscow will let Gazprom reduce its monopoly hold on the Russian pipeline system.
G8 ministers figure disruptions in energy flow can produce major impact on the world economy
In a Thursday news conference, Russian Finance Minister Kudrin said energy discussion was not only about the secure and steady supply of oil and gas but about "establishing clear rules of the game" for energy markets.
Last September, the G8 pushed an eight-point plan to make the oil markets more transparent and, through energy conservation and the development of renewable sources, less able to disrupt the world economy.
In Moscow, finance ministers are expected to push World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, who will also be attending, to move ahead with the creation of a new framework for channeling public and private money to renewable energy projects in developing countries.
"Measures will certainly be discussed to reduce the impact on these (developing) countries, which often relatively low efficiency in energy use," said one German finance ministry official.
Dinner, the opera, lunch with the President
Russian President Vladimir Putin will host the G8 heads of state later this year in Saint Petersburg
Prior to the main G8 finance ministers' meetings on Saturday, Russian finance minister Kudrin was slated to hold unofficial talks with his counterparts, including discussions with US Treasury Secretary John W. Snow on Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. In the evening ministers were to gather for dinner followed by an opera performance.
The gathering is slated to kick-off officially with a dinner Friday evening, and conclude with a lunch hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will himself preside over a gathering by the G8 heads of states at their annual summit in July in Saint Petersburg.