G8 summits are hard to quantify in terms of their precise role in international politics. They can play this informal role of allowing leaders to interact a little informally in order to come to an agreement, to come to understand each other. Sometimes in the best case scenario, leaders would find some common interest, or something.
interview with Yoshiko Margaret Herrera, Director of the Center for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
What is the main reason behind Putin's decision to miss the G8 summit?
I think there's a combination of factors. There wasn't a clear outline of progress that would have been made at the summit. This would have been maybe a friendly gesture to come. But obviously, the situation domestically in Russia is very tense. It's an election year in the United States. This leads to more, skepticism, anything significant would be achieved.
In addition, I don't know that from a personal style perspective, if President Putin is especially interested in attending parties and formal events. He's more practically oriented. He would go if there was something to be achieved. But since it didn't look very promising, he's just sending Prime Minister Medvedev.
There is the opinion that the reason behind this decision is that he doesn't want to visit the United States, as his first trip. What are you thoughts on this?
There is symbolism in visits. But this is his third term. So it's not like he's never come to the United States. If it was his first term, the first visit is maybe more important. In this case, we can say, "Oh, it's the first visit of the third term, it's very important" – maybe it is. But his decision is to go to China – objectively, China is an important country for Russia. So it's not like he's chosen a country that's irrelevant, thereby saying, "I don't care about the United States, I'll go to some country that really doesn't matter." If he had said in advance, "China is going to be my first trip," people would say, "Okay, this makes sense, China is an important country." China is important for the United States too.
And for the former Soviet states, it will be interesting to see where the first stop is going to be. Some people thought it was going to be Kazakhstan, now I guess it's going to be Belarus.
What role does the G8 summit play these days in world politics?
These summits are hard to quantify in terms of their precise role in international politics. I think most people would agree that if you know somebody, and you have had dinner with them, or something like that, then when you have to do some work, it's easier to work with them, if you have some friendly interaction – most people would agree with that. So they can play this informal role of allowing leaders to interact a little informally in order to come to an agreement, to come to understand each other. I mean, sometimes in the best case scenario, leaders would find some common interest, or something. And so maybe it would be easier for them to come to an agreement on some difficult issue, if they have a personal rapport.
But in terms of the information sharing, and things like that – you can share documents, of course, without meeting, you can have ministers meet without having the leaders meet. There's an informal role that probably hasn't changed today, versus in the past.