LA MALBAIE, Quebec, June 9 (Reuters) - Leaders of the Group of Seven countries urged Russia on Saturday to stop undermining democracies and said they were ready to step up sanctions against Moscow if necessary.
The leaders of the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Britain made the strongly worded statement just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump, who is part of the G7, said he wanted Moscow re-invited to the group.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilising behaviour, to undermine democratic systems and its support of the Syrian regime,” the leaders said in a statement at the end of their two-day meeting in La Malbaie, Quebec.
The G7 leaders condemned an attack in Salisbury in Britain on a former Russian spy using a Russian-made military grade nerve agent, saying it was highly likely Moscow was responsible because there was no other plausible explanation. Russia denies having anything to do with the attack.
The G7 leaders made a commitment on Friday, without naming Russia, to share information between themselves and work with internet service providers and social media companies to thwart foreign meddling in elections. The Kremlin has denied allegations by the United States and some European countries that Russia interfered in their elections.
Earlier on Saturday, Trump told a news conference the issue of Russia’s return to the group was discussed. Russia was a member of the then G8 until it was expelled for annexing Crimea in 2014.
“I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in. I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would be good for the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7,” Trump said.
Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti expressed similar sentiment.
But the final communique struck a different note, saying western sanctions against Russia would continue as long as Moscow failed to meet its obligations in Ukraine under the Minsk accord it signed, and could even be stepped up.
“We reiterate our condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and reaffirm our enduring support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders,” the G7 statement said.
“The continuation of sanctions is clearly linked to Russia’s failure to demonstrate complete implementation of its commitments in the Minsk Agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty,” it said.
The Minsk Agreement brokered by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France was to produce, among others, a ceasefire in the eastern Ukraine regions engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency and restore full control of Ukraine’s eastern border to Kiev.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he would welcome his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the next G7 summit to be held in France next year, but only if Russia delivered on its Minsk agreement commitments.
Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey and William James; editing by Grant McCool