Divided, G7 leaders struggle to impose sanctions on Russia

There is growing realisation in the West with regards to the threat posed by Russia.
Sunday 10/06/2018
United in division. World leaders pose for group photo during the G7 Summit in Canada, on June 8.       (AFP)
United in division. World leaders pose for group photo during the G7 Summit in Canada, on June 8. (AFP)

QUEBEC - Leaders of the Group of Seven could not agree on new sanctions against Russia and the blame appears to be on US President Donald Trump, who stunned other leaders by suggesting that Russia should be reinstated in the elite group.

“They should let Russia come back in,” said Trump, minutes before he boarded his flight to the summit. “We should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

All G7 members except Italy rejected Trump’s readmission proposition.

“There are no grounds whatsoever for bringing Russia with its current behaviour back into the G7,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a news conference June 8. “Russia… made clear that it had no interest in behaving according to the rules of Western democracies.”

Russia, which joined the group in 1997, was ousted in 2014 as punishment for its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

The G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — is an informal bloc of economically advanced democracies whose leaders meet annually. This year’s gathering was in Canada.

Trump’s remarks, in addition to tensions with other group members over trade and tariffs, created unprecedented divisions over what statements or commitments might be issued.

As part of a world security theme of the summit, G7 foreign ministers met in Toronto in April and identified Russia’s “malign and destabilising” behaviour as a threat to international peace and security.

Issues of contention with Russia include Moscow’s alleged interference in democratic processes in the West and involvement in the chemical agent attack against a former Kremlin spy in the United Kingdom, the Crimea annexation in 2014 and Russia’s support of the Assad regime in Syria, whose suspected chemical attack prompted a military strike in April by G7 members France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

While not intended to be a decision-making body, the G7 aims to forge consensus on major economic and political issues. Current divisions and an apparent lack of American leadership made this year’s summit less effective than previous meetings.

The United Kingdom was reportedly planning to use the summit to develop a united response to Russia. It was expected that Minsk agreement-related sanctions against Moscow would be reconfirmed and new economic penalties would be announced.

“Sanctions are tools in a toolkit,” said Anna Borshchevskaya, a Russia expert at the Washington Institute. “They are effective when used as one among many.”

There is growing realisation in the West with regards to the threat posed by Russia, she said, however “little discussion is on what to do about it.”

With Trump’s election to the US presidency in 2016 and his “America first” approach to foreign policy, Western powers seemed to have lost their leadership. Some say this provided an opportunity for Moscow to emerge as a counter power; the Middle East is an example of where Russia is on the rise.

Russia is damaging US and Western interests in the Middle East, Borshchevskaya said, adding: “Russian influence in the Middle East is growing because [the United States is] not projecting leadership.”

She also said there was no Western strategy to counter Moscow and sanctions are not enough to change Russian world trajectory.

Moscow gained influence with its military intervention in Syria. It has increased arms sales in the Middle East and enhanced its engagement in the energy sector.

While divisions in the Western alliance benefit Russia, Moscow’s abilities in the Middle East are limited and cannot replace the United States, argued Ben Connable, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

Russia can sustain relationships in the Middle East, he said, but “Russia’s influence does not extend beyond Syria.”

“No [country in the region] can depend on Russia for protection,” he added.