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Trump Suggests Inviting Russia to the Next G7 Summit

Bogdan Stovba and Maria Zelenova
August 26, 2019

On the eve of the 2019 G7 Biarritz Summit, U.S. president Donald Trump suggested that Russian president Vladimir Putin should be invited to return to the G7 summit as he had been present as a member so often in the past. When Trump made the same suggestion at the G7 summit in Charlevoix in 2018, the only G7 leader who supported him was the Italian prime minister Guiseppe Conte. One year later, it still seems unlikely that Trump would secure more support for his suggestion, as the leaders of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada remains opposed Russia's return to the group. Indeed, in his news conference on August 24 before the Biarritz Summit got underway, the European Council president Donald Tusk stated firmly that he would oppose Russia's return, highlighting that Russia had taken no steps to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine and return Crimea but further intensified the tensions by capturing Ukranian military ships and personnel in the Kerch Strait.

At their opening dinner that evening, the G7 leaders did discuss Trump's suggestion. According to diplomatic sources, the leaders came to the conclusion that it is too early to reintegrate Russia but agreed to increase cooperation, although the details of these talks have not been made available to the media. While there is no support for inviting Russia back to the club as a member, the big test will come when Donald Trump himself will host the G7 summit in 2020 in the United States. Extending guest invitations to non-G7 leaders is customarily left to the discretion of the host, and thus it is plausible for Trump to invite Putin. Should such an invitation be indeed received, there are two potential scenarios of what can come from it.

The first scenario is that Putin will not accept an invitation as mere a guest considering his former status as a full member of the elite group. One indication of whether Putin would come can be gleaned from the coverage of the Biarritz Summit by the Russian media. Since their suspension from the G8, the Russians have maintained the same narrative, arguing that the G7 as an institution has lost its legitimacy. For instance, the russian new snetwork Ria Novosti reported the week of the Biarriz Summit that institutions such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and BRICS are more important for Russia's strategic interests. Russian news agency TASS has also stated that Russian leadership will not accept the invitation to return to the G8 format if Western partners portray their return as a reward for good behaviour and that "there is a big question of who really needs who." Moreover, it would be challenging for Putin to explain to Russians should he accept the invitation Russians after the Kremlin blamed the West for meddling in Moscow elections and in supporting pro-democratic protests in Moscow.

Another possible scenario is that Putin would attend the summit as a guest but other leaders would not participate in the sessions with Russia, considering the global tensions that have been steadily escalating since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. During the several days leading up to the summit, most G7 leaders opposed the idea of inviting Russia and, therefore, would likely not attend sessions with Russia. Moreover, G7 leaders are all democratically elected and their voters' preferences must thus be kept in mind. Next year's G7 summit will take place ahead of the 2020 presidential election in the United States – a gruelling race for a second term for Donald Trump. As the Pew Research Center's data indicates, since 2016 the percentage of U.S. voters who see Russia as an adversary or a serious problem has decreased from 67% to 61%, creating favourable conditions for Trump to develop closer relations with Russia. Yet he and his G7 colleagues would also need to reconsider how many voters of Ukrainian and Russian origin their countries contain (see Appendix Appendix A).

As host of the next G7 summit, Trump should consider the symbolic implications of his statements. At this stage in international politics, suggesting that Russia should be reintegrated with the institution undermines the G7's core principles of open democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. Inviting Putin to rejoin the club without and concrete steps to de-escalate the conflict and withdraw from Crimea and Donbas would reduce the legitimacy of the institution leaders can and should continue engaging with Russia on regional crises and global challenges, but they must also maintain their firm stance against Trump's unconditional invitation of Putin to the summit.

Appendix A: G7 Citizens of Ukrainian and Russian Origin

Country # of Ethnic Ukrainians % of Total Population # of Ethnic Russians % of Total Population Ratio (Ukr/Rus) Total Population Source
United States 995,653 0.30% 2,741,864 0.84% 0.36 327,167,430 2017 American Community Survey
Colorado 14,701 0.27% 58,390 1.07% 0.25 5,436,519 2017 American Community Survey
Florida 51,797 0.26% 203,541 1.00% 0.25 20,278,447 2017 American Community Survey
Iowa 2,703 0.09% 9,188 0.29% 0.29 3,118,102 2017 American Community Survey
Michigan 37,155 0.37% 70,923 0.71% 0.52 9,925,568 2017 American Community Survey
Minnesota 16,747 0.31% 40,695 0.74% 0.41 5,490,726 2017 American Community Survey
Ohio 42,517 0.37% 71,897 0.62% 0.59 11,609,756 2017 American Community Survey
Nevada 5,089 0.18% 25,594 0.89% 0.20 2,887,725 2017 American Community Survey
New Hampshire 4,617 0.35% 11,684 0.88% 0.40 1,331,848 2017 American Community Survey
North Carolina 17,373 0.17% 44,133 0.44% 0.39 10,052,564 2017 American Community Survey
Pennsylvania 109,411 0.86% 176,180 1.38% 0.62 12,790,505 2017 American Community Survey
Virginia 21,125 0.25% 53,436 0.64% 0.40 8,365,952 2017 American Community Survey
Wisconsin 10,409 0.18% 39,128 0.68% 0.27 5,763,217 2017 American Community Survey
United Kingdom 20,700 0.03% 37,000 0.06% 0.56 66,488,990 2011 Census (England and Wales)
Canada 1,359,655 3.67% 622,445 1.68% 2.18 37,058,860 2016 Census
France 40,000 0.06% 350,000 0.52% 0.11 66,987,240 Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry; Unofficial estimates
Japan 1,824 0.01% 7,814 0.06% 0.23 12,652,910 Ministry of Justice of Japan; Unofficial Japanese Government estimates
Italy 239,424 0.40% 35,791 0.06% 6.69 60,431,280 Dati ISTAT; Italian National Institute of Statistics
Germany 323,000 0.39% 1,366,000 1.65% 0.24 82,927,920 2018 Destatis

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Bogdan StovbaBogdan 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.
Maria ZelenovaMaria Zelenova is a research analyst for the G7 and G20 Research Groups based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She is interested in human security, human rights and climate change. Maria holds an honours bachelor of arts in political science and history, and is pursuing a master of arts in international security at Sciences Po in Paris.

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