PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin returned triumphant from the recent Group of Seven summit in Naples, Italy, confident that Russia is finally on its way to becoming an equal partner with the West.
A self-assured Mr. Yeltsin made his G-7 debut on July 10 when he sat down with the leaders of the other seven nations and discussed global issues ranging from Bosnia to South Korea to Estonia. His participation marked the first time a Russian or Soviet leader has ever officially participated in a G-7 meeting.
Officials here hailed Yeltsin's presence at the summit, which many interpret as a decisive step toward Russia's full inclusion into an expanded G-8. Its current members include the United States, Germany, Canada, Italy, France, Japan, and Britain.
``A new organization was created yesterday,'' Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Shokhi gushed at a July 11 news conference. ``It's an informal club of the world's most influential nations, called G-8.''
Russian newspapers were even more ebullient. ``Russia is Now an Equal Among Equals,'' read a July 12 headline in the Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) military daily. ``Russia Joins the `Club of the Greats,' '' Rossiiskiye Vesti daily newspaper echoed. ``The Smile Didn't Leave Yeltsin's Face,'' added the conservative Izvestia newspaper.
Although some were disappointed that Russia was not invited to participate in the economic talks, they were nonetheless proud that Russia did not ask for financial assistance, unlike in previous years. Last year, Russia received $43 billion in aid following the G-7 talks in Tokyo.
Instead, an economically stronger and more stable Russia insisted on increased trade opportunities, broader access to International Monetary Fund (IMF) resources, and the lifting of ``discriminatory'' economic barriers against Russia - particularly in the United States. On Sept. 27-28 Yeltsin is expected to pay a state visit to Washington, where presumably this will be discussed.
But Yeltsin himself has been the first to acknowledge that economic problems still hinder Russia from becoming a full G-7 member. ``The Russian bear will not bang on an open door,'' he said in Naples. ``We will not seek full admission into the G-7 until we deserve it, but we are pleased to be recognized as an equal democratic state.''
But in an interview with the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper published on July 12, Yeltsin said that Naples marked a ``new stage of integration'' for Russia. ``This is in recognition of the fact that the success of Russian reforms is in the interests of the entire world community,'' he told the paper.
``As far as economic issues are concerned, I agree with Yeltsin: There is no need to speed up events,'' says Sergei Blagovolin, president of the Institute of National Security and Strategic Studies.
``But nevertheless, the Naples summit testifies to the fact that Russia has emerged as a full-fledged partner in the political sphere,'' he told the Monitor. ``For the first time, the G-7 countries acknowledged that without Russia, it's impossible to resolve important global problems.''
Russia also praised the G-7's offer to Ukraine to give it $4 billion in unspecified aid along with an additional $200 million to close down the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in return for a renewed commitment to market reforms. Former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma, who advocates closer ties to Moscow, shocked Ukrainian nationalists by scoring a presidential victory on July 10 over incumbent Leonid Kravchuk.
``Like in Russia's case, only this [commitment] can be the basis for giving Ukraine help from the IMF and the World Bank,'' Izvestia commented on July 12.