After six years of waiting, Russia was initiated Friday as an equal partner at the summit of industrialized nations, completing an improbable journey from the era when the Soviet Union was the primary antagonist of summit policies.
President Clinton called it a “hopeful moment for the world” and praised Boris Yeltsin for his “vision and persistence” in pursuing democracy and reforms after seven decades of Communism.
Russia also won another eagerly sought prize: membership in a Paris-based group of wealthy countries that sets debt terms for poor countries. The United States hailed the step as tantamount to “the financial end of the Cold War.” Yeltsin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky called it “a morning blessing” after all-night negotiations in New York.
“What you see here is a sweeping integration of Russia into the major decision-making institutions in the world in a way that is very positive for the rest of us,” Clinton said as leaders of eight nations began their three-day summit with an opening banquet.
The shaky peace in Bosnia was at the center of opening talks. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi voiced concern about the potential for renewed conflict if terms of the Dayton peace accord are not fully implemented. The country remains split in two, with little real integration between the Serb and the Muslim-Croat controlled areas.
Clinton and Yeltsin met at the Brown Palace hotel, where a buzz broke out among sightseers at the approach of Yeltsin’s motorcade.
He told Clinton he had lost more than 60 pounds after last year’s heart attack and that his suits were baggy. “My brain is always moving fast,” Yeltsin remarked, “but now my body is also moving with more energy.”
After private meetings among the leaders, the 23rd annual summit began with a courtyard reception at the colonial mansion of Gov. Roy Romer. After admiring French tapestries and 16th-century carvings, the leaders were sitting down for dinner - lobster consomme, spring vegetable and lamb - to talk about international developments, particularly the Bosnian peace accords.
Yeltsin was asked to lead off the discussion with Clinton and leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. The group had been known as G-7 but Clinton renamed its meeting “Summit of The Eight.”
Yeltsin’s inclusion was both a symbolic and substantive gesture of support for Russia’s reforms and its desire to participate in international economic and political institutions.
It also gave a big dose of international prestige to the Russian leader, who was almost written off as a political relic last year after a heart attack and widespread doubts about his leadership. With Russia joining the summit, Clinton said, “It’s quite a hopeful moment for the world, I think, and I give him a lot of credit. …”
Mikhail Gorbachev, president of what was then the Soviet Union, came to London in 1991 to meet with the western leaders but they made a point of not including him in summit discussions.
Russian leaders have attended the meeting each year since in a slowly expanding role.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had a meeting where the Russians were here from the beginning to the end. It’s a great tribute I think to President Yeltsin’s leadership and to the commitment of the Russian people to democracy and reform,” Clinton said.
Russia’s admittance to the so-called Paris Club will give the nation greater bargaining power for collecting at least a portion of the $120 billion it has loaned to poorer countries.