President Donald Trump flies to France this weekend to attend the Group of Seven summit. But rather than planning for his meetings with world leaders in Biarritz, the U.S. leader is instead fixating on one country that won't be in attendance. "I think it's much more appropriate to have Russia in," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Russia's participation in the annual meetings of some of the world's largest advanced economies was suspended after it annexed Crimea in 2014, turning what had been a summit of eight nations back into a Group of Seven, with Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan the remaining non-U.S. members.
Now, Trump thinks the country should rejoin. "As you know, for most of the time, it was the G-8," Trump said at the White House. "It included Russia. And President Obama didn't want Russia in because he got outsmarted. Well, that's not the way it really should work."
This isn't the first time that Trump has made this suggestion. Last year, ahead of his trip to the summit in Quebec, Trump said he thought Russia should be allowed back in the club.
The president has a long history of using friendly language to talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as his administration remains at odds with the Kremlin. But as nonsensical as it is, the idea of a return to the G-8 may now be gaining traction: It would be too late for Russia to be invited to this year's event, but next year's summit is due to be held in the United States, giving Trump considerable say over how the event will proceed.
The United States led the creation of what is now the G-7 during the height of the Cold War. George Shultz, then-President Richard Nixon's treasury secretary, convened a meeting between the finance ministers of Britain, France and West Germany in the White House library in 1973. It became known as the "Group of Five" when Japan joined and would soon expand further.
It was an informal membership in practice, based more around shared ideals of capitalism and democracy than hard numbers. With that in mind, President Bill Clinton argued in 1997 that Russia should be invited into the club. They were the following year.
While this bargain initially worked well while Boris Yeltsin was Russian president, under his successor Vladimir Putin it crumbled. Russia's membership of the G-8 was suspended in 2014 after Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea from its neighbor Ukraine and supported an anti-state insurgency in east Ukraine.
Russia hasn't changed its behavior for the better since. After its expulsion, it intervened in the Syrian war to keep dictator Bashar al-Assad in power and it interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Under Trump, the body's political relevance has been severely diminished. With its informal decision-making process, the group is only strong when its members were aligned, such as when the other seven members of G-8 suspended Russian membership in 2014. But that sort of unity is nowhere to be seen now.
Last year, Russian leaders laughed off Trump's suggestion. "The G-8 needs Russia much more than Russia needs the G-8," said lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign relations committee in Russia's upper house of parliament.
Editorial on 08/23/2019
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