Medvedev Will Make Economic Pitch to G8

The Group of Eight summit in Japan next week will be a global coming out party of sorts for Dmitry Medvedev, as the new president is expected to offer his take on global economic problems and their possible solutions.

Medvedev, who has been in office just two months and, at 42, is the youngest of the G8 leaders, will announce a Russian contribution — possibly over $100 million — to the fight against the global food crisis and lay out his vision for a new international financial system in which Russia would play a key role.

While global problems like climate change and poverty will provide a platform for grand statements, as always, the devil will be in the details — or in his case, in a series of bilateral meetings with heads of G8 states, analysts said.

The thorny issue of the Kuril Islands, which Japan claims as its own Northern Territories, is likely to be discussed one on one with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, while a dispute surrounding the joint British-Russian venture TNK-BP will probably be discussed during Medvedev's first meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Medvedev's top economic aide Arkady Dvorkovich said Thursday.

U.S. President George W. Bush, attending his last G8 Summit before leaving office in January, is under pressure from a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to address the need to open global energy markets, an idea Russia doesn't particularly like.

"This debut for Medvedev will be very important," said Alexei Malashenko a senior analyst with Carnegie Moscow Center, adding that the bilateral meetings would offer the best clues as to whether the G8 leaders "take a liking" to the new president.

Medvedev, speaking in an interview with a select few media outlets from the G8 countries released Thursday, said he looked forward to his meeting with Brown but that London would have to meet Moscow halfway on a series of diplomatic and other disputes.

"Of course, Russia is prepared to make concessions, but we expect corresponding steps from our British partners," he told reporters on July 1. Malashenko is among many observers who expect the meeting to break the ice in the countries' strained relations.

Dvorkovich, the Russian sherpa to the G8, said Medvedev and Brown were also likely to discuss the TNK-BP dispute, in which BP and a consortium of Russian billionaires are mired in a battle for control over the venture.

Medvedev's meeting with Fukuda is expected to be a test of his diplomatic abilities. Referring to the islands the Soviet Union seized at the end of World War II, Dvorkovich said "the Japanese side has promised not to raise such issues within the framework of the summit," although the Fukuda is likely to address the issue privately with Medvedev.

Medvedev stressed that economic ties between the two countries have never been better but added that the dispute would not be solved overnight.

"I believe the main thing here, on the one hand, is not to expect some kind of miracle and, on the other, not to slack off contacts, but to work in a friendly spirit," Medvedev said.

The summit will take place on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, from which the territories could be seen with the naked eye. The pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper reported Thursday that Japan has introduced a summit flag with a map of Japan that includes the Kurils, while teachers at Japan's primary schools had been ordered to explain the issue to students as a case of "illegal occupation" of the islands rather than as a territorial dispute, as before.

Asked how Russian officials would react to such summit regalia or the almost certain protests over the islands' ownership, Dvorkovich declined direct answer, saying that the claims and protests were nothing new.

Dvorkovich said he did not expect the U.S.-Russian talks to be difficult, as Bush was keen to finish his presidency on an "upbeat note." U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, in a July 1 open letter, called on Bush to address the global food crisis at the summit by encouraging leaders to open energy markets, among other measures.

Malashenko said he doubted Bush would raise the issue in his first meeting with Medvedev in his new capacity.

The G8 leaders are expected to announce contributions to the fight against the global food crisis. The World Bank said in May that it wanted set up a $1.2 billion fund to help low-income countries deal with the problem, and bank chief Robert Zoellick met with Medvedev in Moscow in June to encourage Russia to channel some of its oil wealth into help for poor nations.

A source close to the talks said at the time that Moscow was considering the allocation of between $50 million and $100 million to help address the problem. But Dvorkovich said Thursday that Medvedev would likely pledge a larger contribution at the summit.