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Ukraine, Middle East expected to loom large on Day 1 of G7 Summit

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Savelletri, Italy -

Two major geopolitical conflicts are expected to loom large today as leaders of the some of the world's largest economies meet in a seaside Italian town for the annual G7 summit.

"This has such enormous unlimited potential," said Aurel Braun, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. "This is a group of democracies, and there's that homogeneity that we agree on values, and that is crucial at the same time as we are facing a world of assault."

The three-day summit is being hosted by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni who has said the Russia-Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas wars will be key priorities for summit participants. Meloni is fresh off a strong showing in the European Parliamentary elections that set her and the far-right Brothers of Italy as a potential bridge-maker in Europe.

"The G7 is still very relevant," said Paul Samson, the president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation. "They have some coherence that is rare out there right now."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will kick-start the summit by attending several working sessions including in two on Ukraine, one session on Africa, Climate Change and Development and one on the Middle East.

Trudeau will also hold bilateral meetings with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy, who has been specially invited to participate in the G7.

"The G7 ought to have urgency and this is one of the things we will look for," said Braun.

Canadian government officials have said that in addition to talking about the two wars, Trudeau also intends to bring up artificial intelligence, misinformation and foreign interference, the energy transition and fight against climate change while in Italy.

Consensus on frozen Russian assets

Even before the G7 began, U.S. officials were trying to get European allies on board with a plan to turn frozen Russian assets into further support Ukraine.

"This could be a game changer, especially if it is done rapidly and Ukraine is able to use those funds both in order to keep its economy afloat to build the military industries of its own, and to be able to pay the troops to be able to better recruit and so on,” said Braun.

Western allies seized an estimated nearly $300 billion in Russian sovereign assets shortly after the invasion in February 2022, and it’s estimated those assets are generating billions of dollars in interest every year.

One proposal being pitched by the United States is to offer a $50 billion dollar loan to Ukraine, guaranteed by the future interest accrued on those frozen Russian assets.

"We will announce new steps to unlock the value of the immobilized Russian sovereign assets to benefit Ukraine and to help them recover from the destruction that Mr. Putin's army has caused," White House spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday.

But most of that money is in the European Union where leaders are not all on side with the U.S. proposal. There is concern among some European allies about possible legal ramifications, and the potential impact on the Euro.

"There’s a huge debate around that and the G7 is divided," said Samson. "The idea of using $50 billion leveraged out of the total assets is possible, but that seems to me unlikely to get the final approval at this summit."

Canada, meanwhile, appears on side with the idea. Government officials speaking on background before the summit got underway told reporters this is something Canada thinks is "incredibly important," and a move government officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister, have been working "very hard at."

"Canada would be fully aligned with those that want to take the strongest line," said Samson.

These conversations will happen with Zelenskyy in the room, which experts say is a recognition that what is happening in Ukraine is not just a regional problem, but an attack on democratic values and global security.

Consensus on the Middle East

Canadian government officials have framed the G7 summit as an important moment to consider the impact of the crisis in Gaza and the broader questions of regional stability.

The European Union and G7 nations – the United States, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and Germany – recently released a joint leaders' statement endorsing the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The statement was issued in response to a comprehensive U.S. peace deal released by Biden on May 31 which calls for an immediate six-week ceasefire, the release of all hostages, a sustained increase in humanitarian assistance for distribution throughout Gaza and an enduring end to the crisis.

Canada has already stated its strong support for the Biden peace plan.

"Canada has been calling for an immediate ceasefire, an urgent increase in unhindered humanitarian assistance, and the release of all hostages," Trudeau said in a post on social media platform X the day the plan was released.

"The proposal put forward by (Biden) is an opportunity to end the suffering and return to a path to peace. All parties must seize it."

Despite that joint statement, some experts are not optimistic that a consensus on a path forward can be achieved this week while in Italy.

"The situation is rather complex because now we have many countries in the world that are on one page and a smaller set of countries on a different page," said Dani Belo at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs. "It becomes quite a challenge to also bring together and harmonize all of these different interests."

Experts point out that the world leaders have different opinions on a multitude of fronts involving the conflict from Ireland, Norway and Spain recently recognizing the State of Palestine, to the United States and France’s drastically different reactions to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to seek warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of Hamas. France said it supports the ICC and its fight against impunity, while the United States called the international tribunal's attempts to prosecute Netanyahu "outrageous."

"We’re in this sort of very complicated situation where there are competing agendas and not many people are willing to actually arrive at a solution," said Errol Mendes, an international law professor at the University of Ottawa. "There has to be some out of the box thinking if there’s going to be progress."

Questions about how a ceasefire and ultimately peace can be achieved are likely to come up on Thursday when leaders meet for a working session focused on the Middle East. Speaking ahead of the summit, Canadian officials would not say what they hope to achieve out of this meeting.

What else to watch for?

Experts anticipate that domestic politics may play into this year’s G7 summit more than before, bringing a unique dynamic to the meeting. The leaders of France, Britain and the United States are all in the midst of election campaigns, with Canada's election scheduled to happen in less than a year and a half.

"Now we have the complication that some of them are now in danger of actually not being leaders anymore because of the pressing catastrophic results of the European elections," said Mendes.

In addition to the leaders of the G7 nations, Argentina, Brazil, India and Ukraine, among others, were invited to participate in the annual meeting.

The meeting in Italy marks the first time Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be together since the prime minister said credible intelligence linked the death of Canadian Hardeep Singh Nijjar to the Indian government.

India has denied any involvement in the case.

Nijjar, who had long advocated for the creation of the Sikh country called Khalistan, was shot dead in June 2023 outside his Surrey, B.C. temple. Four Indian nationals have been accused of the activist’s murder and already appeared in court.

Canada-India relations were already frosty, but worsened after Canada linked New Delhi to the murder. The Canadian government paused trade talks with India a month before Trudeau publicly made the link.

Though the two have no meeting scheduled, they will be at the same summit, attending the same working sessions, dinners and luncheons.

Mendes believes Modi’s recent loss of his majority government could help warm up relations between the two leaders.

"Now he has to go into a coalition with people who are far less authoritarian than he is," he said. "Part of the reason those things happened with the assassination in Canada was the feeling that he has so much power in India and that India is becoming such a rising star that he can basically treat Canada the way China used to."

Trudeau will attend a Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland this weekend before returning to Canada. 

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