Trudeau heads to Italy as shadows of war in Ukraine, Gaza loom over G7 summit

By Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is headed to Italy on Wednesday to attend the annual G7 leaders’ summit, which is taking place as two major geopolitical conflicts weigh on the international community.

The three-day summit kicks off on Thursday in Apulia, Italy, where leaders of the seven wealthy democratic nations are expected to discuss the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, the energy transition, artificial intelligence, migration and collaboration with Africa.

Trudeau is also set to attend the Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland on Saturday and Sunday before flying back to Ottawa.

“It’s an unprecedentedly large, interconnected, complex and demanding agenda,” said John Kirton, a political science professor who heads the G7 research group at the University of Toronto.

Leaders of G7 countries — Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Japan — meet annually to collaborate on shared goals.

“In a world in which many international institutions have become paralyzed because of divisions, it is even more important for this group of like-minded democracies to be able to work together,” said Roland Paris, an international affairs professor at the University of Ottawa who previously served as a senior adviser to Trudeau.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plane getting ready for take off. (Darcy DeToni/ CityNews files)

Among Canada’s top priorities at the summit will be the clean energy transition, misinformation and foreign interference, as well as artificial intelligence.

In a publication previewing the G7 leaders’ summit co-edited by Kirton, Trudeau emphasized the clean energy transition as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity that Canada along with our G7 partners are helping lead.”

Trudeau is also expected to hold bilateral meetings with other world leaders. Canada is set to host the G7 summit next year.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hosts this week’s summit as the most stable of the alliance’s European Union leaders, after her German and French counterparts were shaken by European parliamentary elections.

The results fortified Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy as the strongest party in the country, setting her up as a possible bridge-maker, if not kingmaker, in Europe.

As the host country, Italy is focusing the summit on defending the “rules-based international system.”

“Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine has undermined its principles and triggered growing instability, with multiple crises unfolding worldwide. The G7 will give equal importance to the conflict in the Middle East, with its consequences for the global agenda,” the country’s G7 website said.

Paris said he doesn’t expect major news on the Israel-Hamas war from the leaders, though he noted real-time events unfolding in the Middle East may prompt the group to respond.

The G7 leaders put out a statement last week endorsing the peace plan unveiled by U.S. President Joe Biden that would include an immediate ceasefire, the release of all Israeli hostages by Hamas and increased humanitarian assistance for Gazans.

Arguably the most anticipated outcome of the summit may be a decision on using frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine.

Last month, G7 finance ministers said they had moved toward agreement on a U.S. proposal to squeeze more money for Ukraine out of Russian assets frozen in their countries.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is pushing for an approach that would borrow against the future interest income from the frozen assets. It could give Ukraine as much as $50 billion immediately.

But the ministers left a final deal to be worked out ahead of the June summit of national leaders.

“I think, finally, the leaders themselves will make the long-awaited decision,” Kirton said.

Paris said Ukraine is in need of three things: weapons, personnel and money. Canada, he said, is only able to help with one of those things.

“We’re not going to be able to provide people, our weapons stocks are limited. So we need to be supporting Ukraine financially,” he said.

The G7 summit will be followed by the Ukraine Peace Summit hosted by Switzerland.

Switzerland’s president Viola Amherd said on Monday that nearly 90 countries and organizations, half of them from Europe, have confirmed their attendance.

Russia will not attend the summit, which was organized at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Swiss officials said the conference aims to set a course toward “lasting peace” in Ukraine, to reach a “common understanding” toward getting there and to draw up a road map for how to get both sides involved in talks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press.

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