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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Naples Visit: A Milestone For Russia

By taking part in a summit meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations in Naples last weekend, President Boris Yeltsin received a degree of Western recognition for Moscow that was never afforded to Mikhail Gorbachev, even at the height of "Gorbymania."


Yeltsin appears to have reveled in the spotlight that the G-7 talks trained on him, holding forth to the press and referring publicly to the president of the United States as "Bill." It was, without question, something of a triumph. But what did Yeltsin get? This is the question always demanded of leaders when they return home from summit meetings and is useful if for nothing else than as a quick reality check.


There are, for example, those who argue that nobody ever gets anything out of the G-7 but an extended photo-opportunity. These skeptics say that with no apparatus or powers, the group offers just another platform for seven of the world's most influential leaders.


If this is true, then Yeltsin last weekend gained an international platform, but little else. Certainly he comes home with no dramatic new pledges of financial aid for Russia.


Yeltsin might claim victory purely because he succeeded in having Russia accepted into the world's most exclusive political club. Bill Clinton obligingly, but also prematurely, referred to Sunday's political session as a meeting of the "G-8."


At home, however, the prestige Yeltsin gained abroad this weekend is unlikely to count for much. The experience of Gorbachev suggests that a Russian leader can be the most popular politician in the world and remain thoroughly disliked at home.


Yet even if Yeltsin "got" nothing in Naples, in the larger view his presence in the G-7 must be welcomed. Together with Moscow's recent decisions to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program and to strike a cooperation deal with the European Union, Yeltsin's inclusion in the G-7 summit shows that Moscow is shedding its former isolationism and cooperating, rather than competing, with the rest of the international community.


Yeltsin's invitation also offers a Western endorsement of the democratic process in Russia, however troubled that may still be. China, for example, is economically far better qualified to join the G-7 than Russia, but its membership remains out of the question due to Beijing's authoritarian regime.


In fact, Russia's seat at the table in Naples probably has benefitted the G-7 most of all. The group's pronouncements on Bosnia, North Korea and other international issues would carry considerably less weight if they were not co-signed by Moscow. By their invitation to Yeltsin, the G-7 leaders have acknowledged that Russia's voice can no longer be ignored.