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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Grin and Bear It Summit

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The Russian agenda for the G8 summit next month is taking shape. From the Kremlin's perspective, the St. Petersburg summit will be a public relations opportunity to restate known positions, propose a few new initiatives and do so looking like a great power again.

In areas where Russia and its G8 colleagues have agreed to disagree, there will be no major breakthrough. Russia's role as a reliable global energy provider, the country's right to determine its own version of democracy and market economy, the resolution of the Iran conundrum without military means and possibly without sanctions, and the call on NATO to stop its expansion in Central Asia will yield limited novelty and plenty of public attention. In areas where all G8 partners seem to agree, such as continued cooperation in the anti-terrorism campaign, there may be new agreements -- or not. The likely novelties will be the promotion of President Vladimir Putin's "uniform approach" to frozen conflicts based on the Montenegro model and proposals for cooperation in new areas.

Other than stepped-up rhetoric, it is unlikely that Western partners will have much influence over this agenda. That became clear at the Sochi summit, where Russia rejected the Energy Charter, the one mechanism that would have made Europe and Russia's dependency mutual. In the energy sector, Russia retains the upper hand in decisions about how much, to whom and how it is going to deliver its natural resources. The agreement and subsequent start of construction of the North European Gas Pipeline marked the moment when Russia decided to use natural resources for political ends. The North European Gas Pipeline kills two birds with one stone: It makes the European Union even more dependent on Russian energy resources and East European countries less energy secure. It also shows former communist countries such as Poland that their anti-Russian rhetoric has a price.

With respect to democracy backsliding and media freedom, Putin will continue the rhetoric formulated years ago: There is nothing wrong with media freedom in Russia; it is the West that does not see that the media is free and democracy is alive and well in Russia. Speaking to representatives at a World Association of Newspapers conference in Moscow earlier this month, he argued that low popular trust in the media had nothing to do with the state's monopoly of the news and a lot to do with journalists' lack of professional responsibility. His position was echoed by Nikolai Svanidze, a presenter on Rossia state television who argued that "Russians are tired of all the facts in reports by nonstate media and want a soothing, Soviet approach to the news." Russians have "grown tired of pluralism" and "don't want either-or; they want to know exactly what's going on and what to do about it."

Russia's right to determine its own market-economy rules, whether regarding energy or other forms of trade, is also likely to be restated. Putin's strong views on economic management from above were reiterated in his state-of-the-nation address in May. He attributed the growth and importance of the energy sector to the state's planning and management, not to market forces. It is unlikely that he will change his position; in fact, this philosophy explains the centralization of economic power witnessed under his leadership.

Regarding Iran, Putin makes no attempt to meet proponents of stronger tactics halfway. His message remains consistent and will be restated in St. Petersburg: No military action against Iran. Recent pronouncements indicate that he is also against sanctions, although some form of compromise may be reached in this area. On NATO expansion, Putin's tone will likely be one of strong opposition, and stepped-up rhetoric should be expected. The prospect of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO is a grave concern for the Kremlin, and the gravity with which this topic is approached in Russian policy circles will percolate at the St. Petersburg summit.

The likely novelty will be Russia's position on the resolution of frozen conflicts, or as a presidential adviser calls them the "unrecognized states" of the Caucasus. Putin has recently advocated a uniform global approach based on the Montenegro model. At a meeting with senior executives of news agencies from G8 member countries, Putin said that if Montenegro could secede based on a national referendum, it would be difficult to explain to people in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia why they could not secede from Georgia. "When we hear that an approach is possible in one place [but] is unacceptable in another, it is difficult to understand and is even more difficult to explain to people."

Putin will likely use the St. Petersburg summit to call for stronger cooperation in the fields of modern energy technology, transport and communications, and aerospace production, areas of vital interest to his country's growth agenda. He will not make concessions and will propose a leadership role for Russia in these areas.

Overall, the G8 summit will be another instance of the agree-to-disagree relationship between Russia and the rest of the group, while the few areas of agreement will be hyped through official media channels. If guests of the president decide to step up their rhetoric in condemnation of Russia's missteps say, in the energy sector, Putin will resort to two aggressive defenses. First, he will argue that industrialized countries should not use double standards in their judgment of Russia. He used this defense in response to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's Vilnius address, when Cheney strongly criticized Russia's democratic record. "If America is so concerned with the pace and direction of democracy in the region, it should not have sent its vice president to visit with an openly undemocratic leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, only because his country is sitting on reserves of oil and gas" is likely to be Putin's defense. Second, Putin will defend his country's right to choose the path to economic growth that it deems appropriate. He exercises this defense every time Russia's Western partners condemn the nonmarket tactics of economic monopoly and state control.

It is unlikely, though, that the Europeans or the United States will step up the rhetoric against Russia at the G8 summit, at least not in public. U.S. President George W. Bush made it clear that he did not subscribe to the practice of going to someone's home to criticize them and that he preferred to talk to "Vladimir" in private. Overall, Russia is likely to host its first G8 summit amid broad international media attention, high security, anti-American popular demonstrations and official smiles that lack substance. The Kremlin will, however, have shown its public that Russia is back on the world stage as a great power and that the recognition of its status was worth the cost of hearing a few uncomfortable truths.

Georgeta Pourchot is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.