Did the Presidents of the United States and France Agree on Inviting Russia Back Into the Group of Seven?

An August 20 2019 story about the Group of Seven (G7) economic forum and purported discussions between United States President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron was quickly contradicted by other reporters.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood tweeted:

Scoop: Trump & Macron spoke over the phone today & agreed they wanted to invite Russia to the G7 next year, a sr admin official said. Trump is expected to broach the topic w/ world leaders at the G7. Today Trump told reporters it would be “appropriate” for Russia to re-enter G7.

She added:

The call was planned to generally discuss the upcoming G7 mtgs in France which begin on Saturday. It was Macron that suggested inviting Russia to the gathering next year, and Trump agreed, the source said. Note: The US will host the G7 in 2020.

story published by CNN expanded more on the unnamed source’s remarks:

It’s unclear how the process to decide if Russia should be at the table next year will play out.

According to the source, some White House officials believe that this is a ploy by Macron to embarrass Trump into putting himself on the line publicly and pushing for Russia to be allowed back in, though the French and American leaders have discussed the topic in the past. France wants to normalize relations with Russia, the source said.

In 2014, Russia was expelled from the G7 — known as the Group of Eight (G8) up until that point — after Kremlin-backed forces seized control of the Crimean Peninsula. That annexation has not been recognized internationally, and drew international condemnation and sanctions against Russia. Further, Trump has frequently peddled the falsehood that Russia was kicked out of the group not because of the Crimea annexation, but because Russian President Vladimir Putin had “outsmarted” former U.S. President Barack Obama.

However, other reporters and European Union experts quickly pointed out that only an unnamed Trump administration official made the claim that Macron supported inviting Russia back into the G7:

That must be misrepresentation by the Trump admin official of what Macron said.

Only yesterday Macron told Putin that Russia won’t be readmitted to the G7 as long as it continues its war with Ukraine.https://t.co/2cE0wpcTtR pic.twitter.com/KS5wedGBvk

— Alice Stollmeyer (@StollmeyerEU) August 21, 2019

Politico Europe’s France correspondent Rym Momtaz also responded:

Per French diplomatic official:
Macron did not agree to invite Russia to 2020 G7 Reinstatement still conditioned on Crimean issue
They agreed to discuss in Biarritz
After Putin mtg, feel progress coming on prisoner exchange, demilitarisation
Normandy format summit likely in Fall

Momtaz also posted her story on a meeting between Macron and Putin a day before Atwood’s tweet, mentioning that France’s president had reaffirmed his stance against allowing Russia to rejoin the G7 while it still held Crimea, calling the issue “the key” to Russia being re-invited into the forum.

The French president also advocated for the need to “reinvent Europe’s sovereignty” in a changing world order, namely with a more unpredictable U.S. Seemingly trying to speak for Europe, he expressed his desire for “the relationship between Russia and the EU [to] be profoundly reinvented,” while maintaining his opposition to readmitting Russia into the G7 as long as the Ukrainian crisis continues.

Russia was excluded from the G8 in 2014 when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and the EU imposed sanctions against Moscow for its actions. Putin seemed unfazed by his exclusion from the exclusive club of world leaders.

“How can I come back into an organization that doesn’t exist? It’s the G7, not the G8,” he said before listing the other international organizations in which Russia is fully active, like the G20.

On August 21 2019, CNN updated the story, walking back the claims and adding that a French official had confirmed a phone call between Macron and Putin, but offering no further details:

The French official pressed that Macron has not changed his position on the G8, which is that Russia cannot be allowed back in until there is movement on Ukraine. Macron believes there is the will to move forward on Ukraine — even five years after the illegal annexation by Russia — and plans to discuss this issue at the G7. But the official would not comment on if Macron suggested inviting Putin to the G7 next year during his phone call with Trump.

While France’s president Emmanuel Macron did call for a fundamental restructuring of the relationship between Europe and Russia, he also firmly stated that he was opposed to any movement on the G7 until the Putin administration helped end the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The Kyiv Post reported that was a key detail:

“The resolution of this conflict is a magic wand that will open the door for Russia to return to the G7 club, which could become the G8 (again),” Macron said during the joint press conference with Putin.

The meeting between the two leaders took place at Bregancon fortress in southern France just days before France will host the G7 summit. The G7 group includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Italy and Japan.

One world leader did call for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of Seven without restriction or conditions attached: United States President Donald Trump.

On August 22, Macron pushed back against the CNN story:

A day after the White House claimed Macron suggested that Trump invite Russia to the G7 next year, Macron rebuffed that claim.

He said major progress in the conflict in Ukraine would have to be found before Moscow could be welcomed back into the fold.

“It’s pertinent that, eventually, Russia be able to return to the G8 but … the indispensable preliminary condition … is that a solution be found, in connection with Ukraine, on the basis of the Minsk Agreement to resolve the issue,” he said.

He went further, in what could have been a dig at Trump, who has expressed support for reinstating Russia to the G8, apparently without conditions.

“I think saying that Russia can return to the table without any conditions is enacting the weakness of the G7,” he said. “It would be a strategic mistake and a profound injustice.”