Just before heading to the Group of Seven meeting of the world's largest economies in Canada, President Donald Trump said that Russia, which was kicked out of the group in 2014, should be welcomed back in.
"It used to be the G8 because Russia was in it," Trump said in response to a reporter's question outside of the White House Friday morning. "Now Russia's not in it. Now, I love our country. I have been Russia's worst nightmare. If Hillary got in, I think Putin is probably going, 'Man, I wish Hillary won.' Because you see what I do. But with that being said, Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?"
The United States and other countries in the group removed Russia from the G8 in response to Russia's move to annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. In a statement at the time announcing Russia's removal, the then-leaders of the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom joined with the heads of the European Council and the European Commission to condemn "Russia's illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations."
"We will suspend our participation in the G8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G8 is able to have a meaningful discussion and will meet again in G7 format at the same time as planned, in June 2014, in Brussels, to discuss the broad agenda we have together," the statement later continued.
Trump's comments were almost immediately seconded by Italy. "I agree with President Trump: Russia should return to the G8. It's in everyone's interest," Giuseppe Conte, the country's new prime minister, tweeted Friday.
Despite the enthusiasm for Russia to rejoin, however, Russia does not appear to be interested. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday his country is "putting an accent on other formats."
Trump has long taken an open stance toward Russia and Putin, including during 2016's presidential campaign, when he once said Putin had been a leader "far more than" Barack Obama had been. Trump's attitudes toward the country are now, of course, under tight scrutiny as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether or not Trump's campaign had any role in Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
Investigators have taken a particular look at how the Republican's 2016 campaign platform was altered to take a lighter position on US assistance to the government in Ukraine, which was fighting a war against separatist forces backed by Russia. The Trump administration did ultimately approve the sale of weapons to Ukraine.
Russia became a full member of the G8 in 2002, after years of being a part-time participant. "This decision reflects the remarkable economic and democratic transformation that has occurred in Russia in recent years and in particular under the leadership of President Putin," the G8 parties said at the time.
Russia, however, is not exactly one of the very top global economies. The latest gross domestic product data from the International Monetary Fund places Russia just outside the top 10, with other non-G7 countries like Brazil and India ahead. China, which is also not part of the G7, has the second-largest economy in the world.