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Russia joins G8 top table

Putin, far left, has been welcomed by other G8 leaders at the summit in Canada  

KANANASKIS, Canada -- Russia has been rewarded with a seat at the world's top table for showing "remarkable economic and democratic transformation."

The former Soviet state will become a full member of the Group of Eight industrialised nations after a decade of part-time status. It has also been invited to host its first G8 summit in 2006.

The invites are a personal achievement for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has enjoyed a warm relationship with Western leaders -- especially U.S. President George W. Bush.

Putin was quoted by Reuters as telling Russian television on Thursday: "The quality of our relations with the leading industrial powers of the world is changing.

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"We gratefully received the information and, of course, we will prepare (the summit) and will be worthy hosts."

Other Soviet and Russian presidents, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, have attended G8 meetings in the past but usually for only part of the two-day summits, having been excluded from key financial talks.

Russia has been added nominally to the G7 during the past few years but will participate fully in future dealings.

Putin is attending the current summit in the Canadian Rockies. (Summit's agenda)

A statement from the G8 said: "Russia has demonstrated its potential to play a full and meaningful role in addressing the global problems that we all face.

"This decision reflects the remarkable economic and democratic transformation that has occurred in Russia in recent years and in particular under the leadership of President Putin."

Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader to attend the old Group of Seven and was followed by Yeltsin, who became a regular at the second day of the two-day summits.

Putin appears to be the main beneficiary of this year's summit so far, having apparently secured a $20 billion package to help Russia decommission weapons of mass destruction during the next 10 years. About $10 billion of the total is likely to come from Russia, Reuters news agency reported.

Other items on the agenda include increased aid for Africa, but the summit so far has been dominated by Bush's calls for a change in Palestinian leadership. (Mideast plan)


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