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G7 agrees measures to respond to hostile Russian activity despite splits

US President Donald Trump has suggested Russia should be at the summit, but Theresa May has pushed for tougher action to tackle Moscow’s activities.

Divisions over how to deal with Russia have been revealed as the G7 agreed a robust set of measures to counter hostile activity directed by Moscow.

Theresa May’s tough line on Russia has been undermined by US President Donald Trump and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte who have suggested that Vladimir Putin should be readmitted to the group of world leaders.

The Prime Minister insisted that Russia needs to “change its approach” before any consideration of whether it should resume its place in the group of leading industrialised nations after being thrown out in 2014.

Shortly before arriving at the summit in Canada Mr Trump said: “Russia should be in the meeting, should be a part of it.”

But Mrs May told the BBC: “We should remind ourselves why the G8 became the G7, it was because Russia illegally annexed Crimea.

“We have seen malign activity from Russia in a whole variety of ways, of course including on the streets of Salisbury in the UK.

“So we need to say, I think, before any such conversations can take place Russia needs to change its approach.”

The Prime Minister has been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to build an alliance against Russia after the Salisbury nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Despite Mr Trump’s comments, the US had signed up to a G7 initiative to establish a new mechanism to respond to hostile activities directed by states such as Russia.

Under the plans agreed by the UK, US, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan at the summit in Quebec, there will be greater co-ordination to identify and respond to threats including cyber attacks and other breaches of international rules.

Mrs May also pushed for action to tackle Russian “dirty money” and work to curtail the movement of Moscow’s spies.

And the Prime Minister urged other countries to back giving the chemical weapons watchdog the power to identify states responsible for attacks such as the nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury.

At the summit in La Malbaie, in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, the G7 leaders formally agreed to set up a new rapid response mechanism.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had already preempted the announcement of the measure in a leaked recording of him telling a private dinner that Mrs May would use the summit to set up the rapid response unit to “identify Russian malfeasance … whether it’s cyber warfare, assassinations, calling it out and identifying it”.

At the summit the Prime Minister emphasised that recent events, including the reckless use of NotPetya ransomware and the attempted murder of the Skripals, demonstrated the importance of a unified international response.

The new mechanism involves the sharing of threat intelligence and measures to protect physical and digital infrastructure from attack.

It also calls for co-ordinated attribution of hostile activity so more countries name and shame perpetrators of cyber attacks and other abuses.

In an effort to counter propaganda, the G7 leaders agreed to work together to  assert a “common narrative and response” to incidents.

At the summit on Friday, Mrs May said: “There is no doubt that foreign interference in our democratic institutions and processes, and other forms of hostile activity, pose a strategic threat to our shared values and interests.

“So I welcome today’s agreement that the G7 will exchange information, co-ordinate action, and develop strategies to reinforce our democracies, strengthen our societies’ resilience and uphold freedom of expression and a free and independent media in the face of this growing threat.

“Today’s announcement shows that the G7 will not tolerate foreign interference in any one of our democracies, that we are getting organised, and that we will take coordinated action against those who seek to violate the rules-based international system.

“Calling out malicious activity helps to end hostile states’ false sense of impunity, demonstrates our awareness of their activity, and underlines our unwavering willingness to defend ourselves.”

A senior UK Government source said despite Mr Trump’s comments “the Americans have been very clear in negotiating they are signed up to the rapid response mechanism”.

Mrs May was also pushing the leaders to do more together as the G7 to better understand illicit money flows and then agree concrete actions to stop dirty cash being used to undermine democracy.

The Prime Minister also called for G7 countries to share information so that Russians expelled from one state do not simply redeploy to another.

Ahead of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) special conference of states parties, expected to take place later this month, Mrs May urged her counterparts to back calls to allow the watchdog to point the finger at states behind chemical weapons attacks rather than simply confirming an incident has taken place and identifying the substance.

Mrs May’s attempts to strengthen the international response against Russia comes ahead of a meeting with Italy’s new prime minister Mr Conte who has called for sanctions against Moscow to be eased.

The Prime Minister told reporters accompanying her to the summit: “I’ve had a telephone conversation with the new Italian PM and I’ll be having further discussions with him here at the G7.

“I will continue to make the case as I have done within the European Council of the importance of those sanctions against Russia.

“They were of course part of the response that the EU gave in relation to Russian activity in Crimea, the importance that we get the full implementation of the Minsk agreement. “

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