President Barack Obama landed in Brussels to meet with other leaders at the annual meeting of the now-G7. It was originally the G8, but Russia was kicked out after aggression towards Ukraine. It is the first time in 17 years Russia will not be in attendance.
Russia immediately started to punish Ukraine after its parliament ousted Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych on February 22. Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom issued threats over gas supplies while Moscow made moves to absorb Crimea from Ukraine. At first, the G7 – the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Japan, and Italy – threatened to and eventually cancelled appearances at the summit in Sochi, Russia. After Russia annexed Crimea in mid-March, the group kicked out Russia and rescheduled the meetings in Brussels.
According to a BBC World Service poll, Russia’s public image is falling.
Negative views of Russia now average 45% across the countries polled. They largely outweigh positive views (31%) and have gone up four points since 2013.
The worsening opinion of Russia is a general trend but is particularly marked in Kenya (up 16 points), Spain (up 15 points), Brazil (up 13 points), and Canada (up 12 points).
Russia joined the group in 1997.
It is unknown if the G7 will allow Russia to rejoin. There are signs of cooperation between Moscow and the West which could potentially lead to Russia acceptance.
“It’s a bit early at this stage, but I wouldn’t rule out the heads of state discussing how they see the future of the G7 or the G8,” a European official said before the meetings. “It was Russia that distanced itself from the G8 via its actions in Ukraine. It is up to Russia to behave in line with international law and the values of the G8. That would be the prerequisite for the G8 to become the G8 again.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is traveling to Normandy, France, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and will meet with French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was going to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron, but now talks between them will occur between events. Obama will not meet with Putin one-on-one.
The leaders will discuss foreign policy, economics, and trade. However, there is no doubt the crisis between Ukraine and Russia will take center stage since it affects the countries in the group. As stated earlier, Gazprom has made threat after threat concerning gas supplies to Ukraine. Even though Putin said Europe’s supply is safe, the countries are not so sure. Europe receives around 30% of its gas from Russia, and the majority of the pipelines run through Ukraine. The leaders will discuss ways to lessen dependence on Russia for energy and look for supplies elsewhere.
When Gazprom first made the threats, ambassadors from four countries asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to allow the US to export natural gas to Europe.
However, it is worth noting that in 1981, the CIA told President Ronald Reagan the US needed to warn Europe not to rely on the then-Soviet Union for energy needs. They knew the Russians would use it as a political tool in the future.
It is unknown if the group will discuss future sanctions on Russia. The US and European Union have imposed at least four rounds of sanctions on Russia, which include travel bans and asset freezes. In the last round, Obama sanctioned Igor Sechin, president of Rosneft, which is Russia’s largest petroleum company with lucrative contracts with ExxonMobile and British Petroleum.
The meetings will conclude Thursday, and the leaders will head to Normandy.