Why does Donald Trump want Vladimir Putin readmitted to the G7 summit, making it the G8? Here are a few thoughts:
- Russia was expelled from the G8 during Barack Obama’s presidency, and Trump likes undoing whatever Obama did.
- But the bigger issue is this: Democratically elected leaders face domestic political constraints that make it difficult for them to flatter Trump in the way autocrats like Putin or China’s Xi Jinping can do at a summit.
- Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron have gotten more publicly critical of Trump in recent days. This is a preview of the very unpleasant G7 summit meeting Trump is about to have, one that is likely to end in a clear rebuke to Trump: a joint, pro-trade statement from the group’s six non-US members.
- Trade is the biggest driver of Trump’s rift from the group, but Trump has also broken with Japan’s preferred line on North Korea and withdrawn from an Iran deal the Europeans continue to support. He may also get an earful about climate change. These leaders have a lot of bones to pick with him.
- One point of tension within the G7 even arises from a strongly anti-Russia position the Trump administration has taken: seeking to block construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would increase western Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas.
- Even though Trump and Putin are less aligned on international affairs matters than his critics sometimes say, with Nord Stream 2 as an example, Putin would be more likely to set his differences aside and make a nice summit for Trump than the non-US G7 leaders are.
- If Putin were at the summit, he’d also take some heat off Trump by being the biggest villain at the table.
- There is still at least one G7 leader who still seems to be doing his best to make nice with Trump personally: Japan’s Shinzo Abe. But it’s not clear that the charm offensive is doing the Japanese any good. Japan didn’t even get a temporary exemption from the metal tariffs that Trump has belatedly imposed on the entire G7, they didn’t get a heads-up warning call that Trump was going to do a summit with Kim Jong Un, and even now Trump is musing about imposing auto import tariffs that would be aimed at Germany, but also Japan.
- Maybe Trump hopes that, by setting up a dispute over whether Putin should be readmitted to the group, he can blow up future summits and he won’t have to go at all. Obviously, this would be a bad outcome for US leadership in the world.
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