ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, July 13 (Xinhua) -- When
President Vladimir Putin hosts other leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) major
industrial powers this weekend for their annual summit, Russia is well placed to
showcase its rise as an energy giant and deflect criticism against it, analysts
Russia, chairing the group for the first time, has
declared energy security, education and fighting infectious disease as top
themes for discussion during its presidency.
By picking energy security, Russia has a huge say in
global efforts to seek steady energy supplies for economic growth at a time
rising demand has more than doubled world oil prices, analysts said.
Russia is the world's second largest oil exporter
following Saudi Arabia. Its natural gas reserve ranks No. 1 in the world and the
country provides about a quarter of the gas consumed in the European Union (EU).
Europe jittered in the midst of a gas dispute between
Russia and neighboring Ukraine that caused brief disruption of gas supplies to
Europe at the start of this year.
But Putin and other Russian officials have been quick
to portray Russia as a credible energy supplier.
"Russia has been and will continue to be a reliable
partner for our European colleagues," Putin said in May at the Russia-EU summit
in Sochi, a resort town on the Black Sea coast of southern Russia.
When G8 finance ministers gathered in June for a
meeting that was seen as setting the tone for the summit in St. Petersburg, they
urged action by both energy-producing and energy consuming countries to
facilitate investment in the energy sector and improve energy efficiency.
Then U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said at that
meeting: "Russia has an important role to play as a major player in the global
energy market, along with other major exporters."
Russian leaders have met leaders of other G8
countries -- Germany, France, Japan and most recently Italy -- this year. They
all offered support for Russia's G8 presidency.
The Russia-EU summit in Sochi was seen as "a positive
prelude" to the summit, with an accord that eased visa rules for travel between
Russia and EU countries.
But criticism against Russia on democracy, human
rights and press freedom has punctuated its warming relations with the West. The
G8 summit provides an important stage for Russia to fight back, analysts said.
Russian authorities reportedly tapped a famous
British media expert and a journalist who previously worked in Moscow for the
British Broadcasting Corporation to help refute criticism on human rights
issues. Russia also signed a multimillion-dollar contract with a New York-based
public relations company to improve Russia's images abroad.
And hopes are high in Russia that a deal with the
United States on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) could
be clinched when U.S. President George W. Bush meets Putin on the eve of the
summit, slated for July 15-17.
Russia, the largest economy still outside the
Geneva-based WTO, has been negotiating to join the world trade body since 1993.
The United States remains the last hurdle to Russia's longtime WTO bid.