Why Russia is not concerned about the G7

Why Russia is not concerned about the G7

Russia was excluded from this year’s G7 summit due to its threatening behavior in Ukraine. However, this may not be the breakdown in international relations many fear and is probably temporary.

At the height of the Cold War in the 1970s, the leaders of the world’s seven most powerful democracies – the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan – decided to hold regular meetings to discuss pressing matters in global affairs. This forum became known as the Group of 7, or ‘G7’, and was applauded as a forum for frank and informal debate.

In 1997 the G7 made a historic decision to invite the Russian Federation to meetings, effectively expanding the forum to become the ‘G8.’ This was a reflection of both the internal changes within Russia and a new world order. Not including Russia would have taken away from the legitimacy and efficiency of the summit as Russia had become such an integrated member of international society.

But Russia’s recent involvement in Ukraine has sparked incompatible differences amongst the G8 leaders. As a result, the 40th G8 Summit, originally scheduled for 4th June in Sochi, Russia, was instead rescheduled as a G7 meeting in Brussels.

The other leaders voted to officially suspend Russia from the G8, making this the first summit Russia was not invited to in 17 years. The EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (who also attends the G8 summits) views this as a “pity,” but explained that the G8 simply cannot accept Russia until it changes its behavior.

In fact, the G7 leaders stated that they were prepared to issue stronger sanctions against Russia unless it fulfilled three criteria: pull back troops from the Ukrainian border, engage directly with newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and stop the flow of arms through Russia into Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel even hinted that phase 3 sanctions were “on the table,” which would target important sectors of trade, finance, and energy.

G8 significance

Many view the original expansion of the G7 into the G8 as a sign that the world had entered a new era of global security. Similarly, the decision to ‘snub’ Russia is a telltale sign that geostrategic concerns have once again become prominent in Europe, and that Russia is slowly slipping away from the West and falling towards catastrophic isolation.

On the other hand, many claim that the G8 has been long dead, and that the G20, a more representative group that Russia is still very much a part of, has effectively replaced it.

Putin himself decided not to attend the G8 summit in 2012, partly because he thought it was no longer worth his time. Taking this into consideration, excluding Russia from the summit can be interpreted in another way: the other G8 leaders felt it would send a clear enough message, but would not damage ties too severely.

In fact, it would be in the G7/G8’s best interest if Russia were allowed to return. Despite U.S. and EU vexation over Ukraine, Russia remains a key international player. Russia’s absence from the G7 Summit makes it all the trickier to address issues that require Russia’s input, such as Syria.

This is perhaps why, despite the EU-wide consensus to not engage with Russia, the leaders of the UK, Germany, and France all held bilateral meetings with Putin shortly after the G7 Summit. Even President Obama spoke to Putin for 15 minutes at the D-Day memorial service, and Japan is eager to strengthen economic ties with Russia.

And Russia may no longer want to rejoin the G8. Various Putin-affiliated media outlets have reported that the Kremlin is not discussing a return to the G8, and canceling a summit at the brand-new Sochi facilities may prove an insurmountable slap in the face.

After all, if Russia can choose to engage in global governance through other means, why worry about the G8? There is always the G20, and Russia is active in other organizations such as the UN, where it recently called for an emergency UN resolution to tackle humanitarian issues in Ukraine.

Russia can change

Despite its somewhat strong position, Russia seems to be behaving increasingly as the rest of the G8 had hoped. Russia has already pulled back most of its troops from the Ukrainian border, and Putin recently praised Poroshenko’s “positive thinking” towards de-escalating tensions. Even Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s May 25th elections showed a positive change in rhetoric — a step in the right direction from other governments’ perspectives.

If Russia continues with its recent improvements in behavior, the G8 will likely accept Russia at next year’s summit in Germany, but it begs the question: Will Russia accept the G8?

Categories: International, Politics

About Author

Karl Sorri

Karl has gained global experience working at the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, the Political/Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, and as a freelance journalist. Karl holds an MA in Politics from the University of Glasgow and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.