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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NEWS ANALYSIS: Yeltsin Lets Stepashin Handle Ticklish G-8 Meeting




This week the Kremlin leadership is taking a two-pronged approach to the meeting of the Group of Eight countries in Cologne, Germany. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin will show up for the first two days of the three-day meeting to cover economic issues. But only on the last day, when politics will be on the agenda, will President Boris Yeltsin appear in Germany.


Yeltsin initially planned to attend the whole meeting, which starts Friday. However, the plans were changed last week, with Stepashin replacing Yeltsin for the first two days.


The reason behind the swap, many analysts suggest, was Yeltsin's ailing health. But in addition to the president's physical condition, there could be other reasons for him to stay away.


First of all, there could be face-saving reasons. Even though Russia will be allowed to attend meetings on economic issues for the first time f a concession the Russians have been angling for f the access will be limited. When it comes time to discuss Russia's debt, the Group of Eight, or G-8, will once again become the G-7, and the Russian representative will be locked out of the room f an embarrassing situation Yeltsin may prefer to avoid.


The ongoing U.S.-Russian military negotiations in Finland may also complicate Russia's role at the G-8 summit. U.S. and Russian officials met in Helsinki on Wednesday to iron out the details of the peacekeeping arrangement in Kosovo.


Russia's decision to unexpectedly move troops into the Serbian province last weekend may have given Yeltsin the upper hand, but by Wednesday there were already signs the Russian side may compromise.


NATO officials remain firm that Russia cannot control its own sector in Kosovo. Just how much the Russians are willing to give is unclear, but Yeltsin may prefer to be in Moscow when the results of the talks are announced, rather than in Cologne surrounded by Western leaders.


So instead, Stepashin will debut at the G-8 on Friday f just two days after his St. Petersburg meeting with officials of the International Monetary Fund.


This division of duties may just help the Russian leadership separate the need for Western financial help from Russia's dismay over its political alienation in questions regarding the Kosovo peace settlement.


Yeltsin would probably like "to avoid the disgraceful position in which he would have to play two roles at the same time," said Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies.


This way, Yeltsin can remain firm on his policies on Yugoslavia and leave Stepashin the less glamorous task of securing financial aid from the West.