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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time for Group of Eight

NEW YORK - This summer, Russia and America will be making music together. Eighty young people from both countries have formed an orchestra that will shortly begin a binational tour. The so-called American-Russian Youth Orchestra is actually a spin-off from a glasnost-era project sponsored by the old Soviet Ministry of Culture. Now, its costs will be shared by American Express and a St. Petersburg bank.

The best thing about the idea is the idea.

Imperceptibly, but inexorably, Russia is once again sliding off the "must-worry-about" column of the global agenda.

Exchanges and consultations across the former East-West divide, whether they involve musicians or athletes, are so few that they attract special notice when they are reported here.

And that, in turn, has created a more stubborn environment for important negotiations on economic and military questions.

American officials recently returned from a long-delayed visit to Kiev, where they tried to persuade Ukraine to thaw out its position on keeping former Soviet nuclear weapons. While no one would dispute the final goal, the Clinton Administration has so far shown no real understanding of Ukraine's motives and fears.

More to the point, the United States continues to balk at using additional economic assistance to prove that it considers Ukraine a key element of geostrategic planning in the former Soviet Union.

The United States is not the only country which is drawing its purse strings tighter.

The $4 billion international fund proposed earlier this year to help Russia's transition to private enterprise now looks nearly dead.

Although Clinton will still come up with the $1. 4 billion he promised Boris Yeltsin in Vancouver, Western Europe and Japan are having second thoughts. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Kabun Muto, has called the fund idea "preposterous" until Russia shows it really knows how to use the money.

Japan, of course, has now joined the list of countries whose political and economic crises have begun to mesh. The breakup of the political coalition which has governed for the past four decades will make the July 7 Tokyo meeting of the Group of Seven industrial nations even thornier and more unpredictable than usual.

At that meeting, Washington will try to persuade its allies to salvage at least some of the Russian conversion fund. "We are doing some serious arm-twisting", a senior administration official confessed.

In fact, the G-7 dub should be doing more than just talking about cash for Russia. It could make one of the watershed decisions that define new historical eras - and for which most of us are still waiting, two years after the end of the Cold War.

What it could do, in short, is invite Russia into the club.

Objections about full Russian participation in agencies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have made some sense in the past. Neither the Soviet Union nor its successor states yet fit into the global economic grid.

But the G-7 is, or should be, more than a group of the world's leading economic players. Over the past decade, it has evolved into a politico-economic organization, adding to its agenda issues ranging from fighting terrorism to the north-south gap.

At the moment, there is a vacuum waiting to be filled. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization may have been damaged irreparably after its failure to prevent the imminent partition of Bosnia.

And the United Nations, despite the new activist role it has begun to play in places like Somalia and Cambodia, is simply too large and unwieldy for developing long-range policies on the issues of the 1990s.

Some observers have already suggested that it is time for the G-7 to take a more central global role. Richard Burt, a former U. S. assistant secretary of state, wrote recently that to fulfill its enormous potential, the G-7 must change: "It needs concrete goals", he wrote.

He suggested setting up a formal secretariat to "institutionalize" the body, and to enable it to work out a common approach to global trade problems, nuclear proliferation and ethnic and religious nationalism.

It makes sense. and if it happens, it would make even greater sense to bring in Russia - and possibly Ukraine - as the two former Soviet nations which are crucial to easing the transition from the old to the new world order.

Together, both countries represent a sizeable chunk of the world's industrial and natural resources, not to mention population. If they had seats at the table it would not only involve them in setting the economic and political strategy for the decade, but it might make them less defensive about each other.

It would certainly put a stop to patronizing or, worse, casual, attitudes in the West that have forced former Soviet republics to the margins of global concerns. Such attitudes could rapidly harden into policies unless they are dealt with quickly.

And finally, it's time to realize the promise of the Cold War's end by getting at last into the same orchestra.

Stephen Handelman, former Moscow bureau chief of The Toronto Star, is currently a visiting scholar at the Harriman Institute of Soviet Studies at Columbia University in New York.