President Donald Trump on Monday doubled down on his effort to bring Russia back into the G7.
Speaking from the annual G7 summit in Biarritz, France, Trump said he supported Russia’s return to what was previously the G8, even though many other members of the group were critical of the idea. Russia itself has also said it does not want to return.
Trump had apparently been lobbying to bring Russia back throughout the weekend, leading to what The Guardian reported were “heated exchanges” with other world leaders. Only outgoing Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte supported his idea.
Russia was suspended from the group five years ago for annexing Crimea from the Ukraine, a situation that has not yet been resolved. Most of the other leaders condition Russia’s return on its agreement to implement the Minsk-2 agreements and restore control of the Donbass region to Ukraine.
During a press conference Monday, however, Trump continued to claim that the annexation — and Russia’s subsequent removal from the G8 — was all somehow President Barack Obama’s fault.
“President Obama was not happy this happened because it was embarrassing to him,” Trump claimed. “Right? [The annexation of Crimea] was very embarrassing to him, and he wanted Russia to be out of what was called the G8. That was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin. President Putin outsmarted President Obama.”
Even after a reporter confronted Trump on that lie, stating that Russia’s expulsion had been the result of its own actions and was agreed upon by the remaining G7, the president doubled down. “President Obama was helping Ukraine. Crimea was annexed during his term,” Trump insisted. “It could’ve been stopped with the right — whatever.”
Later, another reporter pressed Trump on the fact that Russia had indicated just a few hours earlier that it didn’t want to return to the economic group. His reaction was to simply assert that the country would come back if invited.
“I know one thing. If they were invited back, they would be there and if not, that’s okay too,” Trump said.
The president described Russia as an asset and suggested that “it would be easier if they were in the room” during multilateral discussions.
Trump’s pleas on Russia’ behalf, which first began at last year’s summit, serve to assist both himself and and Russia. As The Moscow Times’ Vladimir Frolov noted, the charade actually distracts from Trump’s performance at the summit, which according to most reports was erratic.
But the gesture also helps Russia. The more Trump haggles over what it would take to bring Russia back, the lower the expectations will be regarding Russia’s handling of the situation in the Ukraine. And Putin will not be giving up Crimea under any circumstances.
“For Russia…what really counts is the ‘talk about reinstating Russia to the G7, not the actual re-entry to the club,” Frolov wrote. “This discussion benefits Moscow as it eliminates the stigma of denial and isolation from the west caused by Russia’s actions in Ukraine in 2014. It also increases Western pressure on Ukraine to accept Russia’s conditions and creates leverage for Moscow on a host of other issues.”