BIARRITZ • The future re-integration of Russia into the elite G-7 group of the world's rich nations divided leaders at its summit in France, as US President Donald Trump pushed for Moscow to be allowed back after its 2014 expulsion.
Russia was kicked out of what was then the Group of Eight - even as Moscow was holding its presidency - after it annexed Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a move never recognised by the international community.
But President Trump, who will host next year's Group of Seven summit, said he would certainly invite Russia to the event, though he doubted his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would want to come if it was only as a guest.
And the host of this year's event, French President Emmanuel Macron, has also said it would be appropriate to include Russia if key conditions concerning the conflict in Ukraine are met.
But Britain, whose ties with Russia hit a new low following the 2018 chemical poisoning on its territory of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, which London blamed on the Kremlin, has spoken out against Moscow's re-admittance.
The issue came to a head during lengthy discussions at the first official G-7 dinner last Saturday, where the premiers and heads of state - including those of Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada - put forward "forthright" positions on the issue, said a source close to the discussions, asking not to be named.
"You did very well last night, President Macron," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his French host on Sunday as the leaders met for a session to discuss the world economy. "That was a difficult one."
Sources later confirmed that Mr Johnson had been referring to Mr Macron's stewardship of the dinner in the debate over Russia as the leaders pushed their "strong" views on the matter.
Diplomats said the leaders were generally in favour of reinforcing coordination with Russia, but felt it was too early for re-integration.
"I'd certainly invite him (Mr Putin)," Mr Trump told a press conference as the G-7 wound up on Monday.
"Whether he could come or not, psychologically, I think that's a tough thing to do," the United States leader added.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who shares Britain's wariness about Russia rejoining the group, said she, Mr Macron, Mr Putin and new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would soon meet in a bid to relaunch the peace process.