- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Senate Democrats told President Trump on Tuesday to drop his idea of welcoming Russia back into Group of Seven nations, saying Vladimir Putin’s interference in U.S. elections and forays in the Ukraine, United Kingdom and Syria make him wildly unfit to rejoin the club of industrialized nations.

Mr. Trump has been pushing to readmit the Russian president ahead of next year’s G-7 gathering, which the U.S. will host.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and three of his high-ranking Democratic colleagues said that would be seen as rewarding Mr. Putin for backsliding on democracy and abusing his neighbors.

Russia was ejected from the G-7 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“If President Putin’s regime is willing to directly and flagrantly violate these international agreements and disregard the sovereignty of its neighbors, the Russian government should not be trusted with a leadership position on the world stage,” Mr. Schumer wrote alongside Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Mr. Trump says it makes little sense to talk about issues that affect Mr. Putin’s nation without him in the room.

“If he was in the room, we could’ve solved those things. Now they’re just in limbo,” the president said Monday at a press conference in France.

He also says Mr. Putin’s ouster was a fit of spite by former President Barack Obama, who Mr. Trump says was “outsmarted” by Mr. Putin with his annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine.

Mr. Putin, meanwhile, is firing back at congressional critics.

On Tuesday, Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, revealed Russia denied him a visa to enter the country as part of an upcoming congressional delegation — one day after Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, reported that Moscow had denied his request.

Both men are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Murphy said it’s important to maintain an open channel with Russia, given its nuclear arsenal, but the Kremlin is “further isolating their country” by refusing to allow senators to visit.

“With the collapse of recent arms control agreements and significant domestic opposition to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule, this is potentially a perilous moment for our two nations’ fragile relationship, and it’s a shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue,” the senator said.

The denials could complicate Mr. Trump’s insistence that Mr. Putin is ready to be readmitted to the G-7 stage.

Mr. Schumer’s letter said it would send a particularly bad signal to allies in the G-7 such as the U.K., where a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned. And he pointed to other bad behavior, including the continued “illegal occupation” of Georgia, once a Soviet republic; support for the Assad and Maduro regimes in Syria and Venezuela; and persecution of minority groups and political opponents within Russia.

“Under no circumstances should President Putin be invited to participate in the G-7 until the Russian government undertakes demonstrable actions to show its willingness to behave responsibly both domestically and abroad,” the senators wrote. “Readmitting Putin’s Russia to the G-7 would be contrary to our values and a clear abdication of the United States’ responsibilities as the world’s leading democracy.”

Mr. Trump’s concern for Mr. Putin comes as the U.S. president is battling potential impeachment in Congress, where Democrats say the 2016 presidential race was tainted by Russian interference on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

Mr. Trump said Monday he would consider inviting Mr. Putin to the G-7 as an observer, but isn’t sure the Russian president would come under those circumstances.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday backed Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who reportedly was the only G-7 leader in France to openly back Mr. Trump’s push to admit Mr. Putin back into the fold.

“Represented Italy powerfully at the G-7,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Loves his Country greatly & works well with the USA. A very talented man who will hopefully remain Prime Minister!”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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