Boris Yeltsin, looking trim but tired, sat at the center of a long table, a view of the Rocky Mountains and the Denver skyline on display through plate-glass windows. Before him, like modern-day supplicants, sat an array of titans of American industry, led by Lockheed Martin chairman Norman Augustine, eager to talk business with the Russian leader.
"You can trust Russia," Mr. Yeltsin told them, lightly hitting the table for emphasis. "I urge you to engage in active cooperation with us."
For Yeltsin, this meeting at Denver's Museum of Natural History was only one of many star turns he has reveled in during the annual summit of the world's most industrialized nations held here over the weekend. While such summits present a panoply of power from the American president to the German chancellor, there was little question that the silver-haired former Siberian Communist Party boss turned reformer was the center of attention.
Lunchtime crowds chanted "Boris, Boris," and squealed at his impromptu appearance at a barrier Friday. President Clinton, the host of the summit, went out of his way to give the Russian president honored status, granting Russia a new, fuller status as a member of the exclusive summit club and inviting Yeltsin to lead off the first set of talks over dinner on Friday night.
All this is a remarkable change from one year ago, when Yeltsin was too ill to attend the annual summit and his government seemed teetering on the brink of implosion. Now recovered from surgery, a noticeably trimmer Yeltsin has been more active in leading his government in recent months.
In Denver, Yeltsin was clearly engaged and in charge. But on his first extended foreign trip since his recovery, Yeltsin was also less than vigorous (he bowed out of attending a Saturday night gala because of tiredness). His talks, even his short address to the American business leaders, were read out, the texts carefully kept on laminated pages bound in small, plastic binders. At the museum, his top aides, particularly young reformer First Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais, looked on carefully as the president spoke.
Stressing US-Russian ties
For the Clinton administration, the Denver summit was an important occasion to reinforce its long-standing policy of backing the Yeltsin government as the best hope for Russian democratic and market reforms. And the decision to give Russia a more exalted status at what is now called the Summit of the Eight was a barely concealed payoff for Yeltsin's agreement, at a Helsinki summit in March, not to actively oppose NATO's plan to grant membership to several former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.
The Russians first began attending the annual meetings of the group of seven most industrialized nations in 1991, when then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to appeal for aid. Three years ago they joined the political discussions, though not the economic policy talks, and still largely as supplicants for assistance.
In contrast, this year Yeltsin has been present from beginning to end, with the exception of a one-hour session of the other seven powers devoted to international financial and currency issues. And as Russian officials glowingly detail, they have been fully involved since February in the wording of the final communiqu issued here.
"What you see here is a sweeping integration of Russia into the major decisionmaking institutions in the world in a way that is very positive for the rest of us," Clinton told reporters here.
US officials also announced an agreement, reached on Friday, to admit Russia to the Paris Club, the international organization of creditor nations that sets policy on the debt of developing nations. This, along with moving ahead with plans to admit Russia to the World Trade Organization, was among the goals set at the Helsinki summit in March.
But not all the participants have heartily embraced these American gestures to Russia. They question whether Russia, with its barely functional market economy, deserves an equal place at the summit table. Countries such as Japan and France have mounted a quiet resistance to the Russian desire, openly and boisterously stated by Yeltsin, to be given a permanent status as a full participant in the summits.
For Russia, these are more than matters of symbolism. The Russian desire to be recognized as a great power is an old one. It has acquired even more import in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the massive economic slump that is only now beginning to turn around. Full status would give Russia a voice in policymaking on a wide range of issues, including security questions, that are of vital interest to it.
In the end, the Russians had to settle for a commitment to continue the Denver formula, which still preserves an inner G-7 to discuss global economic issues. "The important thing is to get through the door," Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov told reporters. "And we're through the door."