Moments after calling himself “Russia’s worst nightmare,” President Trump switched gears dramatically on Friday to say that he wants to invite the country back to the G-7, the group of the world’s economic leaders that was known as the G-8 until Russia was ousted in 2014. Trump made the comments as he was speaking to reporters on the White House South Lawn, before leaving for a G-7 weekend summit in Canada.
“Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting? And I would recommend – and it’s up to them, but Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it. You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run and the G-7 – which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
The G-7 meeting was already expected to be contentious given the Trump administration’s recent decisions to impose steep tariffs on longtime U.S. allies and to leave the Iran nuclear deal. Russia, which joined the elite group in the 1990s, was expelled in 2014 as punishment for the seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
Trump’s comments today have already prompted pushback on the Hill, from both parties.
“This is weak,” Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) told The Hill. “Putin is not our friend and he is not the president’s buddy. He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) tweeted in a thread, “.@realDonaldTrump is turning our foreign policy into an international joke, doing lasting damage to our country, without any rhyme or reason…The president’s support for inviting Russia back into the G-7, just after they meddled in election to support his campaign, will leave millions of Americans with serious questions and suspicions.”
The comments have also raised eyebrows among world leaders, including European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who said, “The common decision of the G7 was to exclude Russia from the G8 format. It can of course be discussed but…we have to respect the principles of the European Union, which is that European states like Russia have to respect international order and the international rule of law.”
Trump has taken some action in response to Russian aggression in recent months, including authorizing two rounds of sanctions in March, as well as expelling 60 Russian diplomats and closing the Seattle consulate after a former Russian spy was poisoned in Britain.
But even as tensions were rising, he also refused to authorize sanctions just a few weeks later to punish Russia for supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. And he has continued to express admiration for Vladimir Putin, calling to congratulate him in March on his re-election in spite of a note from his staff that said “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”
Given the scrutiny focused on his campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin, it’s hardly politically advantageous for Trump to continue sticking up for Russia like this, but he seems not to be able to help himself.