Putin says Russia 'would not refuse' G8 invite during Macron visit



PARIS, Pol O Gradaigh and Peter Spinella (dpa)- Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested on Monday that Russia would like to be allowed back into the Group of Eight leading economies, just days before the next G7 summit in France.
Russia was a member of the G8 - now the G7 - between 2002 and 2014. It was suspended from the group due to its annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.




"We would not refuse," Putin said alongside French President Emmanuel Macron in televised comments to reporters in France that came in reply to a question about working within the previous G8 format.
The leaders of the Group of Seven largest advanced economies - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - are meeting in the coastal resort of Biarritz from August 24 to 26.
"Any contacts with our partners, in any format, are useful," Putin said at the French president's summer retreat in the seaside fortress of Bregancon.
Macron called for rapprochement between Russia and the European Union, with a caveat. 
"It's clear that a return to the Group of Eight as well as a return to fully normalized relations with the European Union requires a solution to the Ukraine question," Macron said.
The French president added that more trust between the two sides could help dispel many of the misunderstandings that had arisen between Russia and the EU over the last few decades.
Ukraine's recently inaugurated president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been pushing for renewed peace talks with Russia under the so-called Normandy format, with brokering by France, Germany and Belarus.
Russian-supported separatists and the Ukrainian military have been fighting in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, for half a decade.
The conflict and Russia's annexation of Crimea were in response to Kiev ousting its pro-Russian president in a political pivot towards the West. About 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations.
"This conflict has already lasted five years. The civilian population is suffering," Macron said alongside Putin, supporting Ukraine's initiative for a renewed peace summit in Minsk.
Macron pressed for talks on the Ukraine crisis to happen in the "next few weeks," saying there have been "real changes" since Zelensky came to office in May.
Putin has previously represented the rebels at international peace talks. Russia denies direct involvement in the conflict.
Putin expressed "cautious optimism" about progress for the peace effort in his comments to reporters.
Macron, speaking cordially to Putin, also welcomed Russia back into the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe. Russia's voting rights in the council's parliamentary assembly, which had been taken away following the Crimea annexation, were reinstated two months ago.
Ukraine has denounced the decision.
Macron emphasized to reporters that Russia belongs in the council, saying: "Russia is a European country and has its place in the European architecture."
In their private talks, the two leaders were expected to focus on crisis situations including the Syrian, Libyan and Ukrainian conflicts, according to a source in Macron's office.
Tensions between the United States and Iran were also to be a key topic.
France and Russia, as guarantors of the 2015 agreement on Iran's nuclear activities, which the US pulled out of last year, need to work together to defuse the situation, the source said.
As for Syria, Macron was expected to press Putin to use his influence on Russian ally President Bashar al-Assad to end a government offensive against the remaining rebel stronghold of Idlib, the source said.
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Monday, August 19th 2019
Pol O Gradaigh and Peter Spinella (dpa)
           


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