As the upcoming summit's host, Donald Trump has announced his intention to invite India, South Korea, Australia and Russia to discuss the policy of countering China. "I don't feel that as a G7 it properly represents what's going on in the world. It's a very outdated group of countries," journalists cite Trump as saying. According to White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah, referred to by the media, the G7 meeting is an opportunity to bring in traditional allies to discuss the future of China. How should Russia react to this, given its nearly allied relations with the PRC?
Trump is apodictic
For the first time, the American President declared his desire to have Russia back in the "group of seven" at the Canada summit two years ago, and then he reiterated this idea at last year's one in France. His partners displayed no enthusiasm about this idea. It is impossible to exclude Russia from the G7 as an informal club of global political and economic leaders that emerged in the early 1970s. It has no Charter, but has a common position. In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and events in Eastern Ukraine, as a sign of protest other members of the "group of seven" refused to go to Russia, where the summit was due to be held that year, and stopped inviting Moscow to subsequent meetings.
And still, Trump has taken a firm stance. In the June 3 interview with journalists, he once again affirmed his intention, stating: "This is a matter of common sense... Half of the meetings are devoted to Russia... If he [Putin] was there, it would be much easier to solve them."
On July 1, Trump had a telephone conversation with the Russian President to inform him. Moscow's official position is unknown, but no denial has been clearly reported.
As Press Secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov told reporters, more information is needed to respond to such invitations. In turn, Russian Foreign Ministry official representative Maria Zakharova believes that "the idea of an expanded G7 summit is in general a step in the right direction."
The Russian President's stance formulated back two years ago is laced with irony: "As for Russia’s return to ‘the seven,’ ‘the eight’ [G7, G8] – we have not left it. Our colleagues once refused to come to Russia due to well-known reasons. Please, we will be happy to see everyone in Moscow."
Putin and his men have repeated over and over again that G20 participation is more landmark and efficient than G7, with all its members being part of the G20, by the way, and rubbing shoulders with the Russian leader at the bargaining table fairly well. Most of them also have bilateral dialogues with the Kremlin.
Such an approach to the "group of seven" is unlikely to change. Moscow is confident that collective obstruction, sanctions and other G7 containment measures would have pummeled Russia in any case. This is the price of an independent policy, and Ukraine is just an excuse. However, Russia seems to believe that thrusting Trump aside and exacerbating the standoff with the West is counterproductive.
First, despite the obvious crisis in state-to-state cooperation, the leaders of Russia and the United States seem to have developed a good personal relationship, which both sides would like to convert pursuing their own benefit.
Secondly, Trump's overtures to Russia clearly demonstrate that all the crack-down on him over Moscow's interference in the 2016 US presidential election has been successfully repelled, and he has a free hand for diplomacy along the Russian track.
Third, with his statements, Trump recognizes Russia's essential role in international affairs. This is an important signal to the world community.
Fourth, Trump is not just set little store by Ukraine. It irritates him because of Kiev's involvement in the political support for his opponents from the Democratic Party. And there is still no answer to taxpayers why they should help Ukraine.
And finally, by suggesting to expand the G7 at the expense of Russia and other influential countries, Trump seems willing to avoid the "six-on-to-one" situation that happened a year ago at the summit in France and to show the US has no irreplaceable allies.
And certainly Moscow and Washington have a great deal to discuss: strategic security, oil prices, the Middle East...
In short, Trump's idea is attractive although with an obvious limitation as represented by the Chinese issue.
China is a matter of principle
Commenting on the Trump initiative, representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry use vague and general wording – without China, implementation of meaningful global-value initiatives is next to impossible. And that does make sense. The anti-Chinese agenda of the upcoming summit proposed by the American President, is wholly at odds with Russia's foreign policy for the last 30 years.
Over this period, the threat of conflict with the PRC along the 4,000-kilometer Russian-Chinese border was removed. China has become Russia's largest trading partner. Both countries implement alternative models of the world order within BRICS and the SCO, and cooperate within the UN Security Council. Military collaboration has reached a level providing for joint missile defense exercises and strategic bomber patrols in the Sea of Japan. Russia is also defiantly passing sensitive technologies over to the PRC in the realm of missile attack warning. This is called a privileged strategic partnership.
The opposite is true about the US – prospects are distressing, with changes to the nature of relations with China being out of question.
Another issue is that Russia could potentially assume the role of a mediator in the process of stabilizing relations between the United States and China, that are rapidly descending to a state of a cold war. But do Beijing and Washington really need this?
Trump's attempt to use Russia to involve the PRC in nuclear disarmament negotiations has fallen flat. Moscow is not going to undermine relations with China, but this does not cancel its dialogue with the US. After all, the two leaders may meet at the UN Security Council leaders' summit next fall, which both Putin and Trump advocate and which can also become a platform for discussing any issues.
However, a number of G7 leaders have already raised their voices against Russia's return to the group, but this is Trump's problem, not Putin's.