- The Washington Times
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Russia’s relatively brief foray into the world’s most exclusive club of rich nations has been undone in just a few weeks, and Moscow increasingly finds itself in Cold War-style isolation.

The U.S. and its allies have all but kicked Russia out of the vaunted Group of Eight, comprised of the world’s top economic powerhouses with origins dating back to the early 1970s. The G-8 has, at least temporarily, reverted to its incarnation before Russia joined in 1998.

The resurgent Group of Seven — the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Canada and Italy — will meet next week in the Netherlands to discuss how to respond to Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “naked aggression,” as Vice President Joseph R. Biden described it Wednesday, puts at risk the years of post-Soviet progress Russia has made toward normalized relations with the West, analysts say.

Joining the G-8 marked a major turning point in Russian-Western relations. For Moscow, it looked to be a sign that the 21st century would be a period of reconciliation and partnership with other world leaders. For the West, it was an olive branch to Russia, an attempt to leave behind the geopolitics of the past millennium.

But for Mr. Putin, who repeatedly has bemoaned the demise of the Soviet empire and at times shown little interest in G-8 gatherings, the benefits of greater influence over Ukraine and other nations in the region may outweigh the consequences of isolation.

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“I think he’s made a decision. The G-8 is a forum where governments get together to discuss things. [Not being there] is one less photo op, but I’m sure President Putin has made the calculation that his best photo op is as the guy who brought Crimea back into Russia,” said William E. Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

After Russia’s move into the Crimean Peninsula — which voted Sunday to secede from Ukraine and join Russia — the U.S. and the rest of the G-7 immediately suspended plans to attend a G-8 meeting in Sochi in June. The announcement had little impact on Mr. Putin, who has sent more troops into Crimea and raised fears that he may mount an invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Economic sanctions, visa revocations and other steps designed to punish Russia for its actions also have done little to dissuade Mr. Putin.

This week, the White House sent a not-so-subtle signal to Moscow by announcing that the G-7 would move ahead and meet without Russia.

“President Obama invited his counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the EU to a meeting of G-7 leaders next week. The meeting will focus on the situation in Ukraine and further steps that the G-7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.

Given Mr. Putin’s latest comments and Russia’s increasing military aggression, it’s apparent that Russia and its fellow G-8 members simply are too different to function effectively together, some analysts say.

Although the fall of the Soviet Union offered Russia a new path forward, Mr. Putin instead appears to be clinging to the past. He repeatedly has called the demise of the Soviet empire “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

He further separated Moscow from the West on Tuesday during a passionate speech to the Russian parliament in which he claimed Crimea as an “integral part” of Russia.

As for relations with the West, Mr. Putin showed little desire to mend fences.

“They cheated us again and again, made decisions behind our back, presenting us with completed facts,” he said. “That’s the way it was with the expansion of NATO in the East, with the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They always told us the same thing: ‘Well, this doesn’t involve you.’”

Comments like those — and, more important, Russia’s actions in Crimea — mean Moscow is to blame for its sudden de facto removal from the G-8, said Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation.

“This is Russia’s handiwork. Without the occupation of Crimea and without mobilization of its forces and threats against Ukraine, this would never have happened,” Mr. Cohen said. “Beyond that, the G-8 is a Western alliance of democracies. Russia’s political system is different today than the Western political systems, and Russia is also anti-Western today, as was evidenced by Mr. Putin’s latest speech.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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