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Last Updated: Monday, 17 July 2006, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Reporter's diary, G8 summit

The annual G8 summit which has been held in Russia for the first time, draws to a close on Monday.

James Rodgers
The BBC's James Rodgers has been telling the story behind the official meetings and judging reaction on the streets of St Petersburg.

'OVERSHADOWED' SUMMIT'

1144 GMT, Monday

The summit finishes. The leaders and their delegations begin to depart. The people of St Petersburg will soon be able to move around their home town as usual again.

At his news conference, Tony Blair uses the word all the media have been using for the duration of the meeting and admits that it has been "overshadowed" by what has happened in the Middle East.

Part of a conversation between him and President Bush, which was captured by an open microphone, is the subject of the first few questions.

Mr Blair is speaking in the same tent where a Russian MP was unable to make himself heard yesterday because of the rain.

It just goes to show that you can never rely on the Russian weather. It's too cold in the winter. It's too hot in the summer. And it never rains hard enough when you need your conversation to be drowned out.

AIR BRIDGE

0700 GMT, Monday

The G8 may have issued their statement on the Middle East, but they're still talking about it this morning.

No concrete proposals last night - but comments this morning from Tony Blair and Kofi Annan about what might come next. Mr Blair talks about the deployment of an international force, and the possibility of establishing an air bridge to get British nationals out of Lebanon.

It's just as well so much work goes into preparing these summits before they start. The leaders could never have come up with a statement on world energy security in a day anyway, but yesterday they can't have had time to do much more than read through what their officials had painstakingly prepared and agree on it.

Waiting to go live on BBC Breakfast, with the rain washing in from the Baltic, I hear the weather forecast. Cameraman Steve Rogers and I laugh and shake our heads when we hear it's expected to be 32C in London. Even foreign correspondents can get homesick.

DIPLOMATS' DIVIDEND

0430 GMT, Monday

Still much discussion this morning about the G8's statement on the Middle East: who's won, who's lost, who's had to give ground, whose views made it into the final wording, and whose didn't.

The real winners seem to be the diplomats who drafted it. They succeeded in coming up with a form of words which everyone would sign up to. While there are perhaps not huge divisions on the issue - everyone agrees that the fighting must stop - there are definite differences of opinion.

There are also no concrete proposals in the statement, except support for the United Nations. The G8 have spoken, but I can't imagine the people of Beirut, Gaza, or Haifa are anxiously checking the news this morning to see what's been said.

Indian, Chinese, Brazilian and other non-G8 leaders are due to discuss trade with the group. The major NGOs are also here to watch what comes out of the talks.

WINE FLOWS

1530 GMT, Sunday

International summits are expensive to host. It's a sign of Russia's new wealth and confidence that it seems to have spared no expense on logistics, communications, or catering.

US President Bush steps out of a golf cart he drove to a meeting
Some leaders have been using electric golf carts to get around

One of the first summits in history became known as "the Field of the Cloth of Gold" because of the amount of money lavished on it. Henry VIII of England and Francois I of France met outside Calais in 1520. There was jousting, and fountains flowing with red wine.

There's no jousting here, but there was a band playing for the press the other night.

There is wine though. It's not from fountains, but it might as well be.

The summit-goers are blessed. A problem with new excise labels for bottles means that imported alcohol has largely disappeared from Russia. When I left Moscow on Wednesday, the wine sections of the supermarket near my flat were as empty as during the days of Soviet shortages. It seems to be the same story in St Petersburg - unless you're at the summit.

GRIM WARNING

1440 GMT, Sunday

While the leaders discuss the Middle East, the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee gives a news conference.

Konstantin Kosachev predicts that Hezbollah will emerge strengthened from its current confrontation with Israel. He says that relatives of those killed will join the militant group's ranks.

The Chechen rebel leader, Shamil Basayev, was Russia's most wanted man. He died in an explosion on Monday. He said that all Russians, whatever their age, were legitimate targets. He proudly claimed to have been behind the Beslan school siege. It cost the lives of more than 300 people, the majority of them children.

Many of his friends and relatives were killed by Russian forces in the 1994-96 Chechen war.

As if to reinforce Mr Kosachev's grim warning, a storm sweeps in from the sea. The rain drums on the roof of the tent where he is giving his news conference until he can barely be heard.

WORLD CUP

0830 GMT, Sunday

Summits are supposed to be a chance decide issues and resolve differences.

Each country, of course, comes with its own agenda and its own interests to defend.

They don't run around chanting their country's name and wearing shirts in national colours, but the sentiment is sometimes similar.

Another major international event of the summer, the World Cup, has cast its shadow here too.

Russia didn't qualify. As a result, during the tournament and in the run-up to the summit, Russian officials had to remain diplomatic while answering questions about who they would like to win.

Italian TV have their office in the summit press room just a short distance from ours. In case anyone hadn't realised, they've put up a sign saying "World Champion television."

It hasn't gone unchallenged. Someone's just put up another sign, referring to the match-fixing scandal in Italian football. It just says "relegated to Division 2".

NO SURPRISES

0625 GMT, Sunday

The Russian officials I was talking to just as the summit began were confident that the G8 would have enough time to get through their agenda. They insisted that the Middle East and other pressing international issues wouldn't be an overwhelming distraction.

This morning it feels a bit different. The G8 know that there is a limit to what their diplomacy can achieve, but, as the representatives of the most powerful nations on earth, they can hardly just throw up their hands and say "there's not much we can do about this".

Energy security is officially at the top of the summit agenda. Ever since the price dispute between Russia and Ukraine - which led to Russia turning off the taps to its neighbour in the depths of winter - there have been questions over Russia's reliability as a supplier. Russia counters that it needs reliability of demand: in other words, a guaranteed market.

A few weeks ago, the Kremlin's special representative to the G8 - or "sherpa" as they're known in summit speak - told the Moscow press corps that Russia "wasn't preparing any surprises" for the G8. He hoped none of the other countries was preparing any, either.

Does violence in the Middle East count as a surprise? Hardly - but the scale of it, and its implications for the future, means that the leaders have already spent more time talking about it than they expected to.

MIDDLE EAST FOCUS

0330GMT, Sunday

It looks like the Middle East is going to demand a lot of the G8's attention. President Putin gave a midnight press conference after hosting dinner last night.

Vladimir Putin
Host Putin had a late night on Saturday

In terms of concrete proposals, it's difficult to see what they can actually come up with that will be acceptable to them all. They all want the violence to stop, but there are different ideas of exactly who is to blame. That was already clear from the Putin/ Bush news conference yesterday.

There's a different feel about the city this morning. The leaders are all here, the summit itself is about to start, and everything has to be just right.

Security measures, such as road closures and other traffic restrictions, are being extra carefully enforced. The first boat from the city to the summit venue left bang on time at 6.30am.

Yesterday, there was a garbled radio conversation about a pilot before a late departure. Perhaps some of the "chewing elastic band" had got stuck in the works and was holding things up.

PETER'S VISION

1600 GMT, Saturday

The G8 leaders have been arriving throughout the afternoon. This evening they'll have dinner together.

Perhaps it took the gigantic vision of a giant tsar-emperor ruling over the world's biggest country even to think of building a capital here. Peter the Great, who founded the city and gave it his name, is believed to have been more than two-metres tall.

He more or less stuck his finger in a map and said "this is the place". Most of the workforce were serfs. Hundreds of people are believed to have died in the struggle to conquer the marshland.

Peter the Great wanted to build his capital here to be closer to Europe and strengthen Russia's standing in the world.

He would probably be very pleased to see St Petersburg hosting a summit for the world's most powerful leaders.

LANGUAGE OF THE SUMMIT

1300 GMT, Saturday

We native English-speakers are not among the world's best linguists. A lot of us are lazy when it comes to learning other languages.

Constantine Palace
The summit takes place in a restored tsarist palace

Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defence minister, speaks very good English.

At his news conference, he listens to questions put to him in English, then answers in Russian. He says that rules prevent him from speaking English while he's in Russia.

The Kremlin recently set up an English language TV channel.

But Mr Ivanov was firm. He wouldn't even give their reporter an answer in English.

It's a dilemma. The use of its language is part of a country's identity, a confirmation of its status. For Russia, as hosts of this summit, it's very important that their language isn't pushed into second place.

Mr Ivanov will probably still get some airtime on the Russian channel. The American correspondent who also asked him to speak English may feel that too much would be lost in translation.

COTTAGE DIPLOMACY

0930 GMT, Saturday

You can see the "cottages" where the leaders are staying from the press centre. They're a little way along the coast, back towards the city centre.

Cottage is not the first word you'd think of. "Cottage" in modern Russian has come to mean a luxury house, preferably ostentatious, often built with little regard for the surrounding area.

These have green roofs and pale walls. Compared to some which have sprung up on the outskirts of Moscow in recent years, they are a masterpiece of understatement.

Presidents Putin and Bush gave a news conference after their meeting. They announced plans to co-operate on nuclear energy. No deal on Russian membership of the WTO, signs of differing approaches to the Middle East.

What about Russian democracy? "We don't want to have a democracy like the one in Iraq," said President Putin. Ouch!

The pool report of the meeting circulated by the White House didn't suggest that the actual meeting, in one of the above-mentioned cottages, had been particularly warm or friendly either.

HAZARDOUS CHEWING GUM

0730 GMT, Saturday

As at all major international events, security at the G8 is a major concern. Metal detectors have multiplied. Passes and permits are carefully checked everywhere you go.

Even before the leaders began to arrive, there were troops and riot police along the roads leading out of the city towards the summit venue.

Early on Friday morning, after rain which the weather forecast had failed to predict, they looked a bit sorry for themselves.

The night before President Bush arrived, I was filming with two BBC colleagues in the village near the Constantine Palace where the leaders are due to meet.

We were too close. The security services arrived. They took away my documents to examine them. They wanted to take our tape.

It all ended amicably. One of my colleagues offered one of the soldiers some chewing gum. He refused it, explaining jokingly that as they were "surrounded by potential enemies" he wasn't allowed to accept food or drink.

On the boat from the city to the summit venue, there's a refreshments menu. The last item is chewing gum. At least, that's what it says in Russian. The English translation says "chewing elastic band." It's probably just a sloppy reading of the dictionary, but it might help to explain the soldier's strict "not while I'm on duty" attitude.

FAR-REMOVED FROM MID-EAST CRISIS

0330 GMT, Saturday

The fighting in the Middle East dominates the international news agenda. It's going to be discussed at the summit too. We're told that the leaders - as they arrive in the course of the day, and as they gather for dinner this evening - will be discussing what can be done.

The dust, heat and death of the Middle East seems a long way from the splendour of the Constantine Palace and the gentle summer breeze of northern Russia.

From 2002 to 2004, I was the BBC's correspondent in the Gaza Strip. Every time there was a new diplomatic initiative to bring peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, I'd be asked to gather material about what people "on the ground" made of it.

They were usually dismissive or despairing. As a reporter, it became hard not to be affected by their cynicism, born of bitter experience.

Russia invited representatives of the militant Palestinian group Hamas to talks in Moscow earlier this year. It was a new diplomatic departure. It was widely condemned because of Hamas's refusal to renounce violence.

So far at least, the move hasn't led anywhere.

Can this summit make a difference? I wonder what the people I used to talk to in Gaza would have to say.

A SUMMER CITY

1500 GMT, Friday

The main way to and from the summit venue is by boat. It's a trip of about 30 minutes from the main sea terminal out into the Gulf of Finland.

It gives you a chance to look at St Petersburg - Russia's most beautiful city - from a distance.

Fishermen on the frozen ice of the Neva River in St Petersburg, Russia (Dec 2004)
Howling winds off the Baltic hold St Petersburg in an icy grip in winter

The architecture is a mixture of Italian-inspired 18th Century palaces and crazily-coloured Russian onion domes.

You have to come at the right time of year though. July is just about perfect. Russia's historic second capital is so far north that there's daylight almost around the clock.

It's just as well that G8 summits take place in the summer. St Petersburg is not at its best in the winter.

The wind howls in off the Baltic loaded with sea salt. The old Lada taxis here are astonishingly rusty even by Russian standards.

On a visit here in May a few years ago, a tour guide explained, looking at the buildings lit by the sunlight of lengthening days: "It's beautiful now but in the winter I think it is better to die than to live in St Petersburg."

I don't think the Russians would have risked exposing their guests to the February storms. The Black Sea rather than the Baltic would have been a more likely winter venue.

CORRUPTION AND CAPITALISM IN HARMONY

1100 GMT, Friday

The traffic in St Petersburg is terrible. Getting around the city, or reaching an appointment on time, can be a real headache.

Urban planners probably never foresaw the day when there would be so many cars on the streets. It seems as if the first thing anyone with a bit of money in post-Communist Russia has done is buy a car.

Great if you're one of those motorists who waited for years to own a vehicle - not so good if you're trying to get somewhere in a hurry.

St Petersburg skyline (file picture, 2002)
Busy St Petersburg is a devil for traffic
All these problems are magnified with the extra security which comes with having the G8 leaders in town.

So you sit in traffic jams - giving St Petersburg's street entrepreneurs a chance to sell their wares. On my way from the airport, it was CDs.

The boxes were printed in big letters with the name of Russia's traffic police. I wondered if the cops had a choir - their equivalent of the Red Army's, which sings rousing military refrains on patriotic occasions.

The hawkers came up to our taxi window. "You should be in jail, gentlemen," hissed the driver.

I asked him what was on the CD - illegal copies of police computer records, apparently. In other words, if someone annoys you on the road, you can look up their licence plate, find their address, and send the boys round.

It's a service industry which would be hard to find in many countries.

President Putin has warned against the threat which corruption poses to Russia's continuing development. There have recently been a series of high profile sackings.

Yet here, in the city where Mr Putin is hosting the G8, was an example of capitalism and corruption working in perfect harmony.

THE PR CAMPAIGN

0800 GMT, Friday

This summit means a lot to Russia. There have a series of suggestions from the West, and from President Putin's opposition within the country, such as it is, that Russia's economy and democracy aren't really up to standard.

Some American senators have even said that Russia shouldn't even be in the group, never mind hold the presidency.

To show how seriously it takes its role, the Kremlin has treated the Moscow press corps to a series of briefings with top officials in the run-up to the summit.

G8 logo and flags, St Petersburg
Will the Kremlin get its message across?

People who are usually very hard to persuade to talk publicly have been giving press conferences. They've hired a PR agency from the US to help them get their message across.

G8 summits are prepared long in advance. Officials from the participating governments spend months making sure that their leaders will have something to debate, discuss, and eventually either agree on. Failing that, something they can agree to disagree on while putting a polite face on it in public.

In St Petersburg, the leaders are supposed to be talking about energy security: essentially, will the world be able to get the oil and gas it needs?

Russia prefers to look at the question the other way, too. Will people keep wanting their oil and gas? Sky-high prices have turned Russia from a country deep in debt to a powerful player on the world stage. They want to keep it that way.

Then there are the pressing, current, international issues. Although they are not formally up for discussion, the G8 leaders can hardly avoid talking about Iran's nuclear programme, North Korea's missile tests, and the escalating conflict in the Middle East.

The planned agenda will battle it out with breaking news for a place on the negotiating table.




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