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Trump and Putin Discuss Russia’s Attendance at G7, but Allies Are Wary

President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke by telephone on Monday, two days after Mr. Trump said he would invite Mr. Putin to attend a Group of 7 summit in the United States in September, the latest instance of a renewed round of personal diplomacy between the two leaders this year.

Hours after the Kremlin first described the call on its website, the White House released a statement saying that the men had discussed “the latest efforts to defeat the coronavirus pandemic and reopen global economies” and “progress toward convening the G7.” A largely similar Kremlin readout said Mr. Trump had initiated the call, and a senior White House official said Mr. Trump had extended a personal invitation to Mr. Putin to attend the gathering, which the president will host.

Russia was expelled in 2014 from what was known as the Group of 8 after Mr. Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Mr. Trump has supported re-entry but even as he reached out to Mr. Putin, key U.S. allies reiterated that Russia was an outlaw nation that should be denied readmittance into the group of industrialized nations, whose members include the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Japan.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, a spokesman for the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, said Britain opposed allowing Russia back into the group because his government had “yet to see evidence of changed behavior which would justify readmittance,” according to Reuters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada agreed, saying that Russia’s “continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G7, and it will continue to remain out.”

But neither man would say whether his country would boycott the planned gathering, originally scheduled for June but postponed because of the coronavirus, if Mr. Putin attended as a guest observer.

With the Justice Department’s Russia investigation well behind him, Mr. Trump has recently accelerated his personal diplomacy with Mr. Putin. They have spoken several times this spring about global oil prices, exchanged shipments of medical supplies and released an unusual joint statement commemorating Russian-American cooperation in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Many Trump administration officials remain wary of Moscow, and overall relations between the two countries remain fraught. The United States angered the Kremlin last month by announcing its withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, a Cold War arms control agreement, and last week the National Security Agency openly accused Russia of computer hacking around the world.

But Mr. Trump continues to speak in positive tones. “Our relationship with Russia has come a long way in the last few months,” he said on May 21.

Mr. Trump has often spoken of readmitting Russia to the Group of 7, but the idea has failed to gain traction with the alliance’s other members, although President Emmanuel Macron of France said in 2019 that the move could be “appropriate” if Russia were to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where it has supported a pro-Moscow separatist movement.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Saturday, Mr. Trump proposed a meeting of the bloc in September that in addition to Russia would also be attended by South Korea, Australia and India.

“I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” Mr. Trump said, according to a pool report of his remarks. “It’s a very outdated group of countries.”

It was unclear from Mr. Trump’s remarks whether he was renewing his call for Russia’s formal admission to the group, and also suggesting that other nations be added to its ranks. But a senior administration official, speaking on background Monday, indicated that he was proposing they attend as one-time guests.

“As president of the G7, the United States can invite additional countries to participate in the annual summit meetings,” the official said. “Any permanent expansion of the G7 would require agreement of all members.”

The official also said the goal was “to include a more diverse gathering of countries that better represents the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

That was a different emphasis than one provided to reporters on Saturday by the White House’s director of strategic communications, Alyssa Farah, who said China would be the focus of such a gathering.

Mr. Trump floated his new plan on Saturday evening, hours after Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany dealt a seemingly fatal blow to an earlier proposal that he host the summit in the Washington area in June, despite the continued threat of the coronavirus. The president’s idea had drawn lukewarm support from other member states even before a spokesman for Ms. Merkel said that the German leader, who has cool relations with Mr. Trump, would not confirm her attendance at such a gathering.

“Trump’s gambit on readmitting Russia to the G8 is merely a ploy to divert attention from the embarrassing news that Angela Merkel, America’s most important European ally in fighting the pandemic and a resurgent Russia, doesn’t want to participate in a photo-op summit in D.C.,” said Andrew S. Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Trump has floated this idea, which he surely knows is a total nonstarter, multiple times in the past to change the subject from pressing issues where the U.S. is totally isolated or at odds with our closest allies such as trade, climate change and Iran,” Mr. Weiss added.

As for the cause of its expulsion from the Group of 8 — the annexation of Crimea — Mr. Trump has long shown little sympathy for the Ukrainian government’s outrage, suggesting in mid-2016 that Crimea is rightfully Russian territory.

The Kremlin statement said that the leaders had also discussed oil markets and “strategic stability,” and that Mr. Putin congratulated Mr. Trump on the SpaceX rocket launch on Saturday. The Kremlin statement did not mention the protests rocking American cities.

The White House statement noted that the Trump administration had shipped 200 ventilators to Russia in mid-May, several weeks after a Russian military cargo plane carrying masks and ventilators landed in New York. Many experts said the Russian shipment had been a public relations ploy, a notion Mr. Trump rejected in a briefing in April.

“It was a very nice gesture on behalf of President Putin,” he said, adding: “I’m not concerned about Russian propaganda. Not even a little bit.”

Katie Rogers contributed reporting.

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