It certainly looks like this year's G-8 summit will feature far less of the usual backslapping camraderie and a lot more blunt, combative talk.
Vladimir Putin got the ball rolling in a hawkish interview he gave this weekend to my colleague Doug Saunders and other Western reporters. There are snippets available here on The Globe and Mail website ahead of the publication of the full interview tomorrow.
In the preview, Putin threatens to aim his country's missiles at new targets in Europe if the U.S. pushes ahead with its plans to establish a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the United States is located in Europe, and according to our military experts will be threatening us, we will have to respond," he said over dinner with oen correspondent from each of the other seven G-8 countries ahead of the summit this week in Germany. "What kind of steps are we going to take in response? Of course, we are going to get new targets in Europe."
That doesn't sound like a "partner for peace" talking.
I've written before about my concerns about the missile shield plan. While a missile shield that covers all of Europe - including Russia - from the threat of sudden attack by a rogue actor is desirable in the long run, there's no need to do this now, in this way. It's foolish to secure yourself against the possibility of Iran lobbing a single missile Europe's way (something not even Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has threatened to do), only to revive the now-dormant threat of hundreds Russian missiles annihilating half of the continent.
That said, I imagine the other G-8 leaders are going to read these remarks with new concern, and Putin is certain to get a chilly reception when he arrives in Heiligendamm on Wednesday for the summit. The old question of why Russia - given that it meets none of the criteria for membership in the club - is in the G-8 at all is sure to come up as well.