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G8 Summit Boosts Russia's Profile in West
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The just-concluded summit of the Group of Eight (G8) world powers gave a boost to Russia's profile in its dealings with Western countries, analysts said on Monday.

President Vladimir Putin described the meeting as "a success" after G8 leaders concluded three days of heated debate on energy security, education and fight against infectious diseases -- the three top themes of this year's Russian presidency.

A chair's summary and separate statements on some of the world's pressing issues, including trade, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and African development, were issued at the summit.

"We managed to coordinate approaches to key issues," Putin told the closing press conference at the Constantine Palace, a lavishly-restored tzarist-era palace on the Gulf of Finland which Putin chose as the summit venue.

Russia as summit host wanted to showcase its reemergence as a major world power and push for change in Western minds about the role it undertakes in world affairs.

In a surprise move earlier in the year, Russia invited the Palestinian group Hamas for talks following its victory in parliamentary elections in a bid to persuade it to soften its stance toward Israel. The talks ended without visible breakthrough.

Russia is also part of the ongoing shuttle diplomacy aimed at defusing a standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Just last month, it joined five other world powers in presenting an incentive package to lure Tehran to the suspension of uranium enrichment activities.

"Russia's role as a world power has been enhanced," said Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow.

"Needless to say, the higher its role and the more influential Russia becomes, the more opportunities we will have to resolve dozens, hundreds and even thousands of outstanding problems," Markov said.

But other analysts warned that with Western criticism against it on democracy, human rights and Chechnya, Russia needs to be prepared for the pressure from Western countries, which will stand in the way of its growing clout.

At this year's summit, Russia was still at odds with Western powers on mutual access to energy assets and on some hot-button issues including the latest escalation of Middle East violence.

And Russia's lost bid to clinch a deal with the United States on its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) before the summit highlighted the divide.

The United States remains the last hurdle to Russian accession. Financial services were one of the sticking points in the negotiations.

Top US trade officials involved in the frantic talks before the summit said important progress has been made. President George W. Bush said in St. Petersburg that a deal was "almost reached" but more work needed to be done.

Russia has agreed to allow US insurance companies access to its market. The United States reportedly dropped a demand that foreign banks be allowed to open directly-owned branches in Russia but wanted more Russian concessions on Boeing plane orders and access for US companies to develop the Shtokman oil fields.

(Xinhua News Agency July 18, 2006)

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