The leaders of the seven leading industrial nations are meeting in Brussels without Russia. And so, the Group of Eight has returned to being the G7. But the slight doesn't appear to be much of a concern for Moscow.
When the victors of World War II head to the coast of Normandy this Friday (06.06.2014) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, their travel time will be significantly shorter than originally planned. The representatives of the former Western allies will be coming directly from the G7 summit in Brussels - and not from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
It was in Sochi, fresh off the Winter Olympics, that the G7 was to have met with Russia this week, but after Moscow's belligerent annexation of Crimea in March, much has changed - and not just the location of the meeting, but also the guest list: The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and the United States have 'uninvited' Russia to protest Moscow's illegal actions in Ukraine.
Always an outsider
Russia had belonged to the Group of Eight (G8) since the early 1990s. The invitation to join the group of the world's leading industrialized nations was seen as a reward for Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his policies of reform and cautious rapprochement with the West.
But, according to Sabine Fischer, head of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia research division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, the group was "never really the G8 but rather the G7/G8. Russia was never part of the economic discussions conducted by this Group of Seven," she said.
As with many summits, the real work is done at a level or two below the top, by state under-secretaries or junior ministers. And when the G7 finance ministers met for discussions, the Russians always had to bow out.
A personal slight
The rejection of Sochi as the meeting's venue was meant to be a personal slap against Russian President Vladimir Putin. The complex and expensive reconstruction of the summer resort town into a world center for winter sports and international conventions was Putin's pet project. Fischer said the cancellation of the summit was supposed to be an "affront" against Putin and "certainly wasn't good for Russia's reputation on the world stage."
But outwardly, Putin appears to have remained indifferent to this humiliation. Speaking with DW, Fischer recalled a recent TV appearance when the president was asked what he had to say to Western leaders who canceled their participation at the summit. "He shrugged his shoulders and said: 'So what?'"
Patrick Rosenow, a political scientist at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, has pointed out that Moscow isn't necessarily dependent on the G7/G8 because "many other bodies to which Russia belongs are still quite important. The UN Security Council, and the G20 - the group of major industrialized and emerging countries, for example. This rejection hasn't really appeared to distress Russia."
On the contrary: Striking Russia off the guest list appears to have played directly into Putin's hands, said Fischer. In Moscow, the government's apparent opinion is that "'We no longer need these close relations with the West. We stand on our own. We're turning our attention to Asia and looking for a closer partnership with China.'"
Future in the East
"In his foreign policy of the past 10 years, Putin has tried to build a counterweight to the West," said Rosenow. And now he's able to claim success when he says: "'The G7 is just a club of Western countries, and we want nothing to do with them.'"
Two pieces of evidence appear to confirm this world view: The conclusion of a gas supply contract with China and, in particular, the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union. The attempt "to establish an economic union in Eastern Europe with Belarus and Kazakhstan shows that Putin is not interested in stronger ties to the West, but that he wants to open up several options and expand his global influence," said Rosenow.
It seems the G7 countries also want to keep their options open. Rosenow called the exclusion of Russia from the summit "a balancing act between sanctions and an effort to keep the diplomatic channels open," calling the decision "a good compromise."
In any case, the G7 countries are unlikely to do anything wrong, he added. After all, the group is only a comparatively loose association in which Russia could immediately resume its membership. "The advantage of this measure is that it's so flexible," said Rosenow . He added that it could even be the diplomatic silver bullet in the current conflict, "because it leaves options open and restricts nothing."