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Opinion
Remaining An Outsider?
The chances of Russia returning to the G7 look slim
By Han Lu  ·  2019-09-09  ·   Source: NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 12, 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) addresses a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Helsinki on August 21, during which Putin called on the European Union to show a constructive approach toward relations with Russia (XINHUA)

The Group of Seven (G7) Summit in Biarritz, France at the end of August achieved almost nothing due to the internal dissent among G7 members on many issues. However, with both the United States and France giving glad eyes to Russia, whether Russia would return to the exclusive organization accidentally became a highlight of the summit.

On August 20, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed his support for reinstating Russia, echoing a similar proposal he made on his way to Canada to attend last year's G7 summit.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Fort of Bregancon, France on August 19, which was interpreted by French media as a Group of Eight (G8) summit in another form. On August 20, Trump and Macron reached an agreement to invite Russia to participate in the G7 summit to be held in the United States in 2020.

The connection between Russia and the G7 dates back to the 1990s, with the country attending its first G7 summit in 1994. In 1997, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was invited to participate in the summit by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. But Moscow's relations with major Western countries turned sour after a popular referendum held in Crimea voted in favor of joining Russia in March 2014. Russia has since withdrawn from the group.

According to Macron, readmitting Russia would only be viable if the issue of Crimea is resolved between Russia and Ukraine. However, given the current situation, Russia is unlikely to return to the G7 any time soon.

Still no agreement

Moreover, there is still major disagreement over Russia's return among G7 members. The U.S. and French proposal is only supported by the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte who is facing major issues at home. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a neutral stance, while other G7 members are totally against the proposal. As Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, G7 members need to reach common ground first before raising any proposals.

The United States and France have been consistent with their support, but for different reasons. The United States wants to ease its relations with Russia in an attempt to restart Russia-U.S. talks and improve mutual relations by promoting its G7 return. In addition, Russia's participation is necessary to address some international hotspots, such as the Iran nuclear issue and Syrian crisis.

France hopes to further enhance its influence in Europe by supporting the readmission of Russia to demonstrate its independent foreign policy and diplomatic strategy. Along with Brexit, the recent Italian political crisis and the stepping down of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2021, the move will undoubtedly help France become a new leader of the European Union (EU).

Russian stance

Russia has not shown much interest in returning to the G7. After meeting with Macron, Putin announced that the G8 no longer exists. On August 25, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that returning to the G7 is not a Russian goal. It believes that other forms of consultations such as the Group of Twenty (G20) have more advantages over the G7.

After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Russia sought and gained respect from Western countries and improved its international status by cooperating with them and joining the G7. However, some Western countries crossed Russia's red line as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) three times expanded eastward and triggered "color revolutions" in some of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, interfering with Russia's sphere of influence with the aim of containing and suppressing it. As some Western countries actively call for Russia's return to the G7, they have yet to lift economic sanctions and still view the Ukraine issue as a precondition of Russia's return. Such a double-standard approach has kept Russia doubting the credibility of G7 members and worrying that Western countries may breach their promises again as they did in the 1990s.

Russia-U.S. relations will also be difficult to improve in the short term. The most important diplomatic goal for Putin in his new term is to improve relations with the West and get sanctions removed. Since 2018, Russia has made efforts to improve relations with the United States and Europe.

However, Russia and the United States have not yet reached agreement on issues such as Ukraine, the Iran nuclear issue and the Korean Peninsula. Notably, U.S. anti-Russia forces are strong, viewing the country as one of the top U.S. strategic competitors. Mutual trust has been undermined and will be hard to improve in the short run. The United States recently abandoned the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and it continues to launch medium-range missiles, widening the national security gap again and casting a shadow of an arms race on the European continent. Even if Russia returns to the G7, its relations with Western countries will not truly improve.

Russia values its relations with European countries more than with the United States. In recent years, Russia has highlighted its energy reserve edge, which has drawn its relations with many EU countries much closer. At present, only Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the UK harbor strong anti-Russia sentiments. The EU has clearly stated that it will no longer impose additional sanctions on Russia and will not agree on Ukraine joining the EU or NATO soon. Thus, whether to return to the G7 becomes even less important for Russia.

The declining status of the G7 is also a major factor that keeps Russia from viewing its return as necessary. As one of the most influential multilateral mechanisms among developed countries, the G7 once played an important role in guiding the global economy and development strategies. However, the G7's legitimacy on leading global affairs has been increasingly questioned in recent years, along with the rise of emerging countries.

On some international hotspot issues such as revitalizing the global economy, dealing with relations with emerging countries, as well as issues such as Syria and Ukraine, G7 members have quite different views. Since Trump took office, the United States has upheld an America First policy and turned its back on many of its old allies. Due to the increase in tariffs, the digital tax issue and Brexit, the United States and Europe have found it hard to reach common ground, making it impossible for the G7 to address international and regional crises with concerted action and specific solutions.

The G7 summit has been increasingly viewed as a political show. Instead of betting on the G7, Russia believes some strategic priority issues can be addressed through the G20. Especially since even as a member of the G8, Russia was never fully integrated into the group.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

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