Russia has long seen the post-soviet space, the countries of the former USSR, as its special sphere of interest. It has been willing to engage in military adventures within the region. In response to the latest such adventure, in Crimea launched at the end of February 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry threatened “He [Russia’s President Putin] is not going to have a Sochi G8, he may not even remain in the G8 if this continues.” The west wants to react to Russia’s military action but has few good choices about what can be done. A military response is impossible due to Russia’s military power. Economic sanctions bring the threat of gas cut-offs to Europe – Russian gas accounts for almost 9% of Germany’s energy use. This leaves the slow process of international institutions; the G8 is one such institution.
The response to the takeover, or invasion, of Crimea has been comparatively mild. After the Crimean Parliament declared the province to be a part of Russia the EU responded with minor sanction “to suspend bilateral talks with the Russian Federation on visa matters as well as talks with the Russian Federation on the New Agreement.” The European Union however held out the possible of further action if the situation is not returned to the status quo ante – what it was before the start of the crisis.
At its foundation in 1975 the G6 of the main western economies of France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, and US was to provide a place for leaders to discuss economic concerns. Canada joined the next year to create the G7 at which size it remained for twenty two years until Russia joined in 1998. As the organisation involves summits and unlike many international organisations has no secretariat it has no specific membership criteria though with the general demand for members to be democracies and highly industrialised; new members are invited by the remaining members, and similarly can be thrown out the same way. The institution has already been chosen as one avenue of showing the west’s displeasure at Russian actions without escalating the situation as the preparatory meeting for the June G8 Summit in Sochi has been cancelled. Since Russia is engaging in actions contrary to the interests of the other seven members should they no longer consider it to be a member?
 See the Debatabase debate ‘This House believes Russia has the right to send troops into Crimea’ for more about the conflict itself.
 Swaine, Jon, ‘Russia G8 status at risk over ‘incredible act of aggression’ in Crimea says Kerry’, theguardian.com, 2 March 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/02/john-kerry-russia-putin-crimea-ukraine
 Ratner, Michael et al., ‘Europe’s Energy Security: Options and Challenges to Natural Gas Supply Diversification’, Congressional Research Service, 20 August 2013, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42405.pdf, p.10
 European Council, ‘Statement of the Heads of State or Government on Ukraine’, Europa.eu, 6 March 2014, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/141372.pdf
 Laub, Zachary, ‘The Group of Eight (G8) Industrialised Nations’, Council on Foreign Relations, 3 March 2014, http://www.cfr.org/international-organizations-and-alliances/group-eight-g8-industrialized-nations/p10647
 Wittrock, Philipp, ‘Crimean Crisis: All Eyes on Merkel’, Spiegel International, 4 March 2014, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/angela-merkel-plays-central-role-in-russia-diplomacy-over-crimea-a-956834.html
The intention of international institutions is to bind countries together, to ensure they speak to each other and resolve differences, and to ensure they feel they cannot engage in aggressive actions. However when a state breaks these norms there needs to be a reaction. Russia has been willing to engage in aggressive acts time and time again. The recent occupation of Crimea is very similar to Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008; in both conflicts Russia used the excuse of Russians being in danger, in both cases Russia was there as a ‘peacekeeper’, and in both cases the action was in another sovereign country whose government did not wish Russian troops there. The result is an expansion of Russian influence and some form of annexation. There was no action after the Russian conflict with Georgia except a mediated peace. There now needs to be a response to actions in Crimea; throwing Russia out of the G8 is the least response.
If there needs to be a response to Russian actions it does not need to be this response. Much more useful would be economic sanctions against Russia; either targeted freezing of state assets and the assets of leaders, or more comprehensive sanctions that would damage Russia’s economy. Such actions would provide a real cost to aggressive action, not simply a symbolic cost.
The focus of the G8 is on economic, monetary, financial and globilisation issues. Aggressive actions scare the markets – as shown by the rouble reaching new lows against the dollar and Euro – so run counter to the focus of the G8. Russia has in the past also used its gas supplies as an economic weapon, this and acts of aggression such as in Crimea are repudiating the idea of globilisation. The G8 is important because there is “a good understanding among G8 members” clearly when one of those members is engaging in conflictual acts that understanding is damaged. The G7 members on 2nd March 2014 in a statement responding to Russia’s aggression in the Crimea stated “Russia’s actions in Ukraine also contravene the principles and values on which the G-7 and the G-8 operate”. Any member that does not follow the principles of an organisation should be suspended as a member.
The G8 countries are the world’s most powerful countries. As such most of the powers involved in the G8 have at some point been involved in aggressive foreign interventions. The Iraq invasion did not lead to calls to throw the US and UK out, neither did the bombing of Libya lead to France’s expulsion. Using Russian actions in Ukraine as an excuse would be simple hypocrisy.
The G8 has been meant to be a group of industrialised democracies. Russia is neither particularly industrialised, nor particularly democratic. Russia remains reliant on natural resources for much of its wealth; 30% of its GDP and 70% of exports. Its most recent presidential election – that voted in Putin for a third term – was not exactly free and fair. The OSCE election observers concluded “There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt”. Its qualifications for membership have been questioned from the very beginning, when Russia joined the G7 were able to argue inclusion would bring it closer to the west. Yet Russia remains essentially an outsider in the group, it does not share western values and goes its own way.
It is wrong to say that Russia is not an industrialised country, it is considered by the World Bank to be a high income country. It is also a democracy that holds regular elections. President Putin is held in high regard by Russians 67.8% of Russians approve of Putin’s job performance – far higher than any other member of the G8.
 Luhn, Alec, ‘Ukraine crisis and Olympics boost Vladimir Putin’s popularity in Russia’, The Guardian, 6 March 2014, note however the pollster is state run!
European states, which make up half of the members of the G8, have been reluctant to take stronger economic steps against aggressive Russian actions. Russia has warned the US “We will encourage everybody to dump US Treasury bonds, get rid of dollars as an unreliable currency and leave the US market.” The European countries have more reason to be concerned because they rely on Russia for their gas supplies; 39% of German gas and 9% of total energy consumption is reliant on Russia. If Russia were to retaliate to sanctions it could seriously damage the European economy. This means that throwing Russia out of the G8 or other institutions is the biggest sanction that does not have any risk of economic retaliation and escalation that damage everyone.
Sanctions by necessity harm both sides. However Russia is a much smaller economy than either the EU or US (both of which are seven-eight times bigger). Any economic retaliation and escalation will therefore harm Russia more. The threat to cut off gas supplies is a major threat but Russia can’t simply sell the gas elsewhere because its pipelines mostly go to Europe. In the 2009 ‘gas war’ which involved supplies to Europe being restricted (though not completely cut off) for 20 days Russia’s state gas company Gazprom lost $1.1billion in revenues. A more complete cut off would have higher losses.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier argues that "The format of the G8 is actually the only one in which we in the West can speak directly with Russia". Russia’s proposed priorities for the G8 summit included “fighting the drug menace, combating terrorism and extremism, settling regional conflicts, safeguarding people's health, and establishing a global management system to address risks associated with natural and man-made disasters” since Russia is clearly willing to discuss regional conflicts then it makes sense to use the summit to discuss Ukraine. Since Russia has not turned up to other suggested talks, such as a meeting of the Budapest agreement group (UK, US, Ukraine, Russia – the agreement guarantees Ukraine’s territorial integrity), it makes sense to go to Russia’s summit which Russia can’t avoid.
The address by Putin was before Russia’s illegal intervention into Crimea and as such ‘settling regional conflicts’ almost certainly refers to Syria, not Crimea. Russia’s role in Syria has hardly been constructive, it has until recently stopped any resolutions on Syria, but not so onerous as to require throwing the country out of the G8. With Putin in charge of the summit and so setting the agenda we can be sure that discussion of Crimea will be kept off the agenda so ensuring that any discussion is purely informal. Putin is hardly likely to make concessions at his own summit.
Russia was originally allowed in to the G8 to encourage it to reform, or rather to provide a place where Russia’s leader can be backed into reforming. The G8 is a western institution, a forum in which an aggressive Russia has no natural allies. This means that it is the perfect place for the western democracies to voice their concerns; Russia will find itself isolated at the table and on the back foot. While at its own summit it will be even more likely to give concessions in the interests of making its own summit a success. At the last G8 summit Putin hosted in 2006 Russia made some concessions to the US in order to try and obtain WTO membership.
While strength in numbers may seem to be useful when there are conflicts between Russia and the other G8 members this is not what the G8 should be about. Using the G8 in such a way will simply encourage Russia to dig its heels in and encourage the growth of other rival institutions. An example would be the BRIC summits between Brazil, Russia, India and China; would these have happened at all if the G8 has been more inclusive and recognised that these nations need to be involved in the G8? It is notable that the very first summit included discussion of the desire by India and Brazil to play a greater role in world affairs.
Throwing Russia out of the G8 to punish the country – whether for aggressive acts in its near abroad, for human rights violations, or simply for corruption and economic crimes – is unlikely to make any difference to Russia. Being in the G8 provides very little tangible benefit; it is all about the symbolism of it being the top club. Russia however has created its own top club in the BRICS conferences that are very similar to the G8 as a series of informal gatherings of major world leaders. Russia could rightly argue that despite having fewer members it is broader and more inclusive as it includes members from the Americas (Brazil), from Africa (South Africa), and the important players from of Eurasia (Russia, China, India). Since these powers are the rising countries why would Russia want to be associated with the declining west?
But Russia, as with any country – particularly any powerful country – is interested in symbolism and international prestige. Many analysts suggest that Putin’s takeover of Crimea may be about revenge for having ‘lost’ Ukraine, or out of a desire to set up a new greater Russia. In each of these cases it is about prestige as the practical gains to Russia are small. Russia wants to be seen as a great power, kicking it out of one of the globe’s top clubs damages that ambition.
The G8 has been losing its relevance with the rise of other countries economically. It can no longer claim to be the top eight economies as Canada is the world’s eleventh largest economy with India, Brazil and China all bigger. It is even lower (14th) if done by Purchasing Power Parity. Newer more inclusive institutions such as the G20 that include other vital economies like China have been taking over its primacy on the economy. The G8 is no longer the best grouping to steer the global economy as was recognised during the 2008 financial crisis where the G20 took the lead. Throwing out Russia would simply be making the G8 narrower and less important globally so reducing the institution’s influence.
Getting rid of Russia would not make the G8 irrelevant; it would simply return it to its core. The remaining members would me much more likely to agree and actually come up with meaningful outcomes to the summits. It might be a less effective steering committee for the global economy but at the same time it could ensure greater unity between the western powers.
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