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Prospects for the G7 Biarritz Summit Performance on Russia

Bogdan Stovba, G7 Research Group
August 23, 2019

Over the past few days, the news on relations between the G7 and Russia has taken the media feed by the storm, due to an alleged suggestion by the French president Emmanuel Macron to invite Russia to the 2020 summit when the United States holds the G7 presidency, a suggestion warmly welcomed by President Donald Trump. The upcoming Biarritz Summit itself will not certainly result in an invitation to Russia to rejoin the club, as such a move would be opposed by the leaders of Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. In fact, President Macron called such a move a "strategic error" that would signal "the weakness of the G7." Still, Biarritz will offer an opportunity for the leaders to make progress on resolving the Ukrainian and Syrian crises and promoting democracy within Russia.

Resolution of the crisis in Ukraine was the key agenda item during the meeting between President Macron and Russian president Vladimir Putin on August 19, demonstrating its importance for the West-Russia relations and its priority for the French leader. Several developments related to Ukraine have occurred since the 2018 Charlevoix Summit that might affect G7 leaders' position on relations with Russia and be reflected in summit communiqués. First, in November 2018 Russian military forces captured Ukrainian ships and naval personnel at the Kerch Strait, thus violating international law. This escalation of the crisis was condemned by the G7 foreign ministers and triggered a wave of new sanctions. The incident in the Kerch Strait is a crisis-activated vulnerability that will likely result in leaders continuing their commitment to maintain sanctions imposed on Russia until it takes steps to de-escalate the crisis.

Second, this summer the Russian delegation was readmitted to the Council of Europe (PACE) after losing the right to vote over annexation of Crimea in 2014. Being supported by the German and French delegations, the reinstatement of Russian delegation sets a precedent of reintegrating Russia into international institutions without any progress on the crisis in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

Third, the change of leadership in Ukraine with the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy creates a momentum for the revival of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia in the Normandy format, which includes Germany and France. If the Normandy format meeting that President Macron believes would happen in "the coming weeks" will indeed occur, it will be the first one since 2016. Moreover, although the United States has been engaged in the Normandy format indirectly by holding consultations on the situation in Ukraine with Germany and France, the United States has shown interest in joining the meetings formally alongside Britain.

While there is momentum for progress on the Ukrainian crisis at Biarritz, the prospect for progress on the Syrian crises are thin. As the meeting between leaders of France and Russia demonstrate, the key priority for the leaders will be maintaining the fragile truce in Idlib. However, the summit presents an opportunity for the United Kingdom and France to convince the United States to maintain its military presence in Syria.

Another important aspect of West-Russia relations is the protection of democracy. Although the issue of Russia meddling with democratic elections around the world was on the agenda of previous summits, at Biarritz leaders will likely discuss the Russian police's "excessive use of force" against protesters at the pro-democracy rallies and detention of several hundreds of people. Several G7 members voiced their concerns over the police crackdown of protestors and called for Russian authorities to release detained opposition candidates and protesters.

So, although the Biarritz Summit will not bring a breakthrough in West-Russia relations, it presents an opportunity to realign leaders' positions and achieve progress in several important aspects of their relations with Russia. On the Ukrainian crisis, G7 leaders will likely reiterate their commitment to maintain sanctions against Russia and express their support of the peace talks in the Normandy format. On the situation in Syria, the Biarritz Summit will provide an opportunity for leaders to pressure the United States not to withdraw their forces from Syria completely. It is yet unclear what measures the G7 state might agree to take in response to the policy actions at the rallies in Moscow, but it is likely that a communiqué will reiterate G7 members' concern over Russia violating its citizens right for free elections and peaceful demonstration, and call for release of all arrested protesters.

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Bogdan Stovba is a compliance analyst with the G7 Research Group. He graduated from the University of Toronto with an honours bachelor's degree in economics and political science. Bogdan is currently employed full time at one of the "Big Four" firms.

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