Squabble over aid to Russia : 'diplomatic flouncing' over G7 meeting

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The Independent Online
AMID warnings that the world may be seriously underestimating Moscow's instability and the threat it could pose to the West, Japan announced yesterday it will next month host a ministerial meeting in Tokyo of the world's seven leading industrial nations (G7) to announce an aid package for Russia. But four weeks before anyone sits down, the saga has already turned into one of diplomatic flouncing which has little to with the plight of the Russian people. The Japanese are sore at Russia and furious with France, Jacques Delors is furious with G7, and President Francois Mitterrand is furious with everyone.

Japan, the current G7 chairman, has been under pressure to act over Russia despite its own bilateral dispute with Moscow over the Kurile Islands. This 50-year-old row was exacerbated last year when President Boris Yeltsin abruptly cancelled a visit to Japan because his own hardliners accused him of intending to hand back the islands to Tokyo. Given this snub, the Japanese people, to whom the islands constitute an intensely emotional issue, would find it hard to countenance a G7 exercise on their own soil to help Mr Yeltsin. Therefore, diplomats revealed yesterday, the Russians and the Japanese are now engaged in intense negotiations to organise a kiss-and-make-up visit to Tokyo by any senior Russian they can find before the ministerial G7 meeting, which is expected to take place around 19 April.

The last such visit 18 months ago was not very productive; the envoy was none other than Ruslan Khasbulatov, whom the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party - little realising the Russian parliamentary chairman was to become Mr Yeltsin's mortal foe - had invited to Tokyo to boost its domestic standing.

Mr Mitterrand has thus failed in his attempt to transform the first Yeltsin- Clinton summit in Vancouver on 4 April into a crisis meeting to include G7 heads of government. Mr Mitterrand, anxious to promote his standing as an international statesman rising above party politics at home, has been the only G7 leader actively pushing for such a summit before the scheduled one in Tokyo in July; he issued the call over the heads of the Japanese chairmen, after declaring that Tokyo's refusal to bring forward the July summit stemmed from Japan's lack of 'sufficient regard on the importance of events' in Europe. Sources said the expletives heard in the Tokyo Foreign Ministry on the subject of Mr Mitterrand would not bear translation.

The doomsday scenario yesterday led the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, to go so far as to propose that Russia could be a fully fledged member of G7. The President of the European Commission, who had called for a G7 summit not on Russia but on unemployment, attacked the group for failing to lead the global economy out of stagnation. 'The Group of Seven should be setting an example,' he said. 'But all it can offer is platitudes, apparently incapable, for the moment at least, of finding a way out of the crisis.'