Ukraine and EU allies oppose Trump over Russia’s return to G7

Issue could sour Biarritz summit as both sides of Crimea conflict eye prisoner swap

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy: ‘Since March 2014, when Russia’s membership of the G8 was suspended, nothing has changed.’ Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy: ‘Since March 2014, when Russia’s membership of the G8 was suspended, nothing has changed.’ Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters

 

Ukraine and its major European allies have criticised US president Donald Trump’s suggestion that Russia should be readmitted to the G7 club of rich nations, setting the stage for discord at the group’s summit in France this weekend.

Russia was excluded from the G8 format of meetings in 2014 in response to its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, following a revolution that ousted Kremlin-backed leaders in Kiev and pivoted the country of 42 million towards the West.

Mr Trump, who has been dogged by allegations of suspicious links to Moscow, said this week: “I think it’s much more appropriate to have Russia in. It should be the G8 because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia.”

“I could certainly see it being the G8 again. If someone would make that motion, I would be disposed to think about it favourably . . . They should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

Ukraine leans heavily on US support in its five-year conflict with Russia but its new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, took to Facebook to denounce Mr Trump’s idea.

“Since March 2014, when Russia’s membership of the G8 was suspended, nothing has changed,” he wrote, noting that Crimea was still occupied and the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine was still gripped by fighting that has claimed more than 13,000 lives and displaced 1.6 million people.

“The return of occupied Crimea, the end of military action in Donbas and the liberation of more than 100 political prisoners and Ukrainian sailors that are held by the Kremlin, would be a real, serious signal to the world that Russia is again ready to take its place . . . in high diplomacy,” he added.

Mr Trump claimed this week that Russia had been excluded from the G8 because it “outsmarted” his predecessor Barack Obama over Crimea, but other leaders of the group said his latest olive branch to Moscow was inappropriate.

Phone call

Mr Zelenskiy’s office said he spoke by telephone to British prime minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, and they “agreed that in the context of the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea and Russia’s failure to comply with the Minsk [peace] agreements, it is impossible to talk about the return of the Russian Federation” to the G7.

In talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said he saw no reason to readmit Russia given its actions in Ukraine and the poisoning of Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain last year, apparently by two of Moscow’s intelligence agents.

Dr Merkel concurred that “we have not advanced so far [with Russia] that I can say that the reasons stated in 2014 have been eliminated.”

French president Emmanuel Macron, who will host the summit in the coastal city of Biarritz, said: “I think to say that without any conditions Russia can return to the table would be signing off the weakness of the G7.

“It would be a strategic error for us and the consecration of this age of impunity . . . the divorce was enacted when Ukraine was invaded. The indispensable precondition is that a solution is found concerning Ukraine.”

Prospects are rising, however, for a prisoner swap that Ukraine hopes will build momentum for progress in stalled peace talks with Russia.

Lawyers and human rights officials in both countries say preparations appear to be under way for an exchange of detainees in the near future.

It is not clear whether Russia is ready to release 24 servicemen whom it seized with their ships in the Black Sea last November. The United Nations maritime tribunal ordered Russia to release the sailors and vessels three months ago.