Although Russia is currently hosting the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg (July 15-17), there are questions about its eligibility to be a member of the exclusive G-8 club.

Through its plentiful energy resources, large landmass, educated population, permanent membership on the UN Security Council, and extensive civilian and military nuclear infrastructure, Russia plays a key role in world affairs.  These factors influenced the Group of  7 (G-7) major industrial democracies (the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany,  Japan,  Italy, and  Canada), to invite Russia to participate in its meetings.  After participating as an observer in four summits, in 1998 Russia became a full member of the group, now renamed the Group of 8(G-8), despite its still-developing economy and the uncertainty regarding the momentum of its democratic reforms.

Since then, however, President Putin has steered Russia away from democracy and toward authoritarianism.  He has increased pressure on opposition political parties and civil society, strengthened state control over national broadcast media, and pursued politically-driven prosecutions of independent business leaders, academics and others voicing criticism of the government.  Regional governors, once directly elected, are now appointed by the Kremlin, and the government has taken a number of steps to reduce electoral competitiveness.  In recognition of this deterioration in democracy, the human rights organization Freedom House has downgraded Russia’s status from “Partly Free