President Trump made a shocking statement Friday morning as he left the White House to head to the annual G7 (Group of Seven) summit in Quebec: He wished that Russia was attending.
“Russia should be in this meeting,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House. “They should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
“It may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run,” he said.
Russia was kicked out of what was then the G8 in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Most of the other powerful industrialized nations that make up the group — which includes countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan — banded together to eject Moscow for its violation of international law.
The message was simple: If you want to be part of an elite club of nations that crafts many of the world’s most important international economic and security policies, you have to give up your meddling in Ukraine.
Trump’s comment reduces the pressure on Russia to change its behavior with Ukraine and weakens the G7 position.
After the summit got started, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that all the EU leaders present at the meeting had agreed it wasn’t time for Russia to rejoin the bloc. “Here we all agreed that a return of Russia to the G7 format summits can’t happen until substantial progress has been made in connection with the problems with Ukraine,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the summit. “That was the common view.”
Trump’s provocation was remarkable for a couple of reasons.
First, the G7 is already off to a very bad start. In the runup to the meeting, the US, France, and Germany have signaled that they might not sign the customary joint statement at the end of the summit because of sharp disagreements on trade policy, the Iran nuclear deal, and climate change policy.
French President Emmanuel Macron also suggested that the six other countries of the G7 would be happy to exclude the US from the final statement. “The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be,” Macron tweeted on Thursday.
Trump’s warm statements toward Russia are bound to make tensions between the US and its allies even worse. The international community views exclusion from blocs like the G7 to be a key pressure tactic for discouraging Russia from meddling in other countries. If Trump says it’s no big deal, Russia will feel less stigmatized, and will also feel it has more license to continue doing what it’s doing.
The other major reason Trump’s statement is striking is because he and his associates are being investigated for possible collusion with Russia in the runup to the 2016 presidential election.
Any time Trump expresses warmth toward Russia — whether congratulating Vladimir Putin for winning a rigged election or doubting Russia’s use of cyberattacks in the 2016 election — it raises questions about his possible ties to the country or whether he feels obligated to deliver on a hidden quid pro quo.
There is no obvious reason Trump would feel urgent pressure to improve US ties with Russia at this moment — so why does he keep trying to do it?