G7 to set up group to study Russian 'malign behaviour': Britain

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at the G7 Foreign Minister meeting in Toronto, Ontario on April 23, 2018.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at the G7 Foreign Minister meeting in Toronto, Ontario on April 23, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

TORONTO (REUTERS) - Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations will create a working group to study Russia's "malign behaviour" given concerns about Moscow's actions, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday (April 23).

Tensions between Moscow and the West have increased steadily over recent years as Russia has become involved in conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

US intelligence agencies have said Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election campaign, and Russia is also blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain last month.

Johnson said the G7 ministers, wrapping up a two-day meeting in Toronto, had agreed on the need to be vigilant about Russia, which denies interfering in the US election, or involvement in the attack in Britain.

"What we decided yesterday was that we were going to set up a G7 group that would look at Russian malign behaviour in all its manifestations - whether it's cyber warfare, whether it's disinformation, assassination attempts, whatever it happens to be and collectively try to call it out," he told reporters.

The challenge for the G7 is that it also needs Moscow's help to solve the crisis in Syria, where Russia and Iran are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that the final communique "establishes again that there will be no political solution in Syria without Russia ... and that Russia has to contribute its share to such a solution."

 

The G7 meeting is the first high-level gathering of the allies since the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack on April 7.

The Western countries blame Assad for the attack that killed dozens of people. The Syrian government and its Russian ally deny involvement or using poison gas on April 7.

"We spent a considerable amount of time talking about Russia ... we all share deep concerns about what we agree is unacceptable behavior including the despicable nerve agent attack in the UK," Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told a closing news conference.

"The countries of the G7 are united in our resolve to work together to respond to this continued flaunting of international laws," she said, adding that the working group would help democracies from being undermined.

Maas also said the leaders of France and Germany would urge U.S. President Donald Trump not to pull out of an Iran nuclear deal with major powers.

Trump has given the European signatories of the deal a May 12 deadline to "fix the terrible flaws" of the 2015 nuclear agreement, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

The agreement offered Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

"We accept that Iranian behavior has been disruptive in the region, we accept the president has some valid points that need to be addressed but we believe they are capable of being addressed (inside the deal)," said Johnson.