2006 marks the first time Russia has held the chairmanship of the G8 group of leading industrialised democracies. Russia also holds the chair of the Council of Europe from May to November.
Many have questioned Russia’s suitability for these positions in light of the well chronicled tightening of democratic space witnessed under president Vladimir Putin.
At the same time, intensified concerns over the security of energy supplies have accorded Russia increased geopolitical influence.The row over gas prices
between Russia and Ukraine in January 2006 ironically marked the beginning of the Russian G8 chairmanship, which lists energy security as one of its top priorities.
Received wisdom has come to assert that European governments have sacrificed (their already modest) criticism of Putin’s authoritarian drift on the altar of a strengthened partnership on energy supplies.
Ahead of the G8 summit to be hosted by Putin in St. Petersburg on July 15-17, this Backgrounder outlines developments in EU-Russian relations and suggests some of the most important policy dilemmas facing European governments in their strategies towards Moscow.