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31 July


Russia will not be Donald Trump’s tool in US diplomatic war against China

Russia does not want to risk its relations with established partners for the sake of joining some exclusive clubs where it is not even wanted

Photo: Reuters

/NOVOSTIVL/ US President Donald Trump said on May 30 that the G7 had become outdated and did not represent what’s going on in the world. He suggested bringing in Russia, India, South Korea and Australia for this year’s summit, which spurred resentment among US allies vis-à-vis Russia as an attendee. The loudest concerns were voiced by the United Kingdom and Canada, who have rebuked Russia for its outlaw behaviour. This article appeared in SCMP.

Trump’s proposal to restart Russian participation in the Group of 7 – formerly known as the Group of 8 – is nothing new. He made similar suggestions in 2018 and August 2019, when he claimed that former president Barack Obama was “outsmarted” by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that was Obama’s motive for excluding Russia from the meeting.

At the time Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country was ready to consider any proposals about re-establishing the G8. Less than a month later, Putin reiterated Russia’s openness to revitalising the G8 but also raised doubts of its effectiveness without China and India.

It was a vivid signal that Russia recognises a changing global environment with new actors. It does not consider the G7 or G8 to be an effective tool of global governance but views it as one of many cooperative platforms. Russian experts also take a very sceptical view on the prospects for the G8, which they see falling short of representing the true character of a new world order instead of a Western-dominated one.

There is speculation about the motives behind Trump’s suggestion to expand the G7 format. It could be explained either by his attempts to draw attention away from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rejecting an invitation to the meeting in Washington or the desire to curtail China’s global rise and orchestrate a global backlash against it.

China is facing attacks on all the fronts, starting from being reprimanded over the Covid-19 pandemic and accusations of misdoings involving Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, the trade war, its tech programme “Made in China 2025” and so on.

To help rebuild his trust with voters ahead of the upcoming election, Trump is set to up the ante against China by applying all punitive means possible. One of the most effective and obvious instruments would be to portray China as isolated and abandoned by its partners.

One way to do so is to lure a long-standing Chinese partner – Russia – into a group of the United States’ “close friends”. The only problem is that the expanded G7 in the form offered by the US is wanted neither by close American allies nor by Russia. It should be clear that the actual rationale is not to reset or improve relations with Russia, otherwise the Trump administration would not have abandoned most of the mechanisms for arms control or extended economic sanctions.

Bilateral relations between Russia and China have improved over the years, and there is no reason for both countries to join any closed formats with strict selection processes in which some states are welcomed and others are not. As both countries strengthen trust-based relations, neither Russia nor China will be willing to shift diplomatic equilibrium in bilateral relations by taking part in any overtures which may be interpreted by either side as openly provocative.

During the pandemic, Russia along with China have struck back against US attacks on the World Health Organisation. Russia also expressed its praise for China’s “effective” actions which contributed to the stabilisation of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Although the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summits in Russia were postponed, Putin and President Xi Jinping have been in close contact since December when they took part in an online ceremony to launch the Power of Siberia pipeline. On January 31, Putin sent Xi a telegram offering help in the fight against Covid-19.

Both leaders held telephone calls on March 19, April 16 and May 8. High-level official contacts as well as slowly improving economic cooperation symbolise the continuation of the Russia-China bromance, which is further reinforced by unfriendly US actions towards both countries.

Russia traditionally showcases its foreign policy as a diversified one without particular inclination towards a country or a group of states. It is a natural choice considering the geographic location of Russia as well as its strategic interests stretching across many regions along its vast border. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted that Trump’s initiative for the G7 is still a “closed club” and does not feature a “true representation”. She added that without China it is “hardly possible to implement serious global initiatives”.

Russia underlines that there are other proven multilateral platforms, such as the G20 and BRICS. China is an active participant in both forums, which means that for Russia there is no point in “talking business” on the platforms where China is missing. In today’s global environment where China is one of the leading economies and international actors, it is impossible to enact any meaningful initiatives in a closed group reflecting the outdated nature of the global economy in the 1970s when the G7 began.

Russia obviously does not accept a situation in which it would be a “trump card” in Trump’s attempts to counterbalance China. Russia welcomes all cooperation mechanisms but does not want to risk its relations with established partners for the sake of admission to some exclusive clubs where it is not even commonly wanted.

Russia and the US have a good track record of face-to-face negotiations when all the concerning issues are mitigated – e.g. arms control, Syria and so on – without intermediaries. When it comes to global tipping points, not inviting China significantly limits the scope of discussion and thus makes no sense for Russia.