Ukraine and staying united top of mind as G7 leaders gather in Germany

The leaders of some of the most powerful democracies in the world are gathering in Germany on Sunday for a series of meetings, with Russia's war on Ukraine expected to be a top priority.

India, South Africa invited to observe meetings after missing Commonwealth Summit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, flanked by U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, speaks at the G7 summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany, on Sunday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The leaders of the world's top democratic economies arrived in Germany on Sunday, beginning a week of meetings where they will be under intense pressure to do more for Ukraine in its war with Russia and to stick together.

The meeting of G7 leaders in Schloss Elmau, nestled in the Bavarian Alps, will be followed immediately on Wednesday by a gathering of NATO powers in Madrid, at which time the Western military alliance is expected to sign off on a bulked-up presence in eastern Europe to deter further potential aggression by Moscow.

The fallout of Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour has cascaded throughout the world economy, driving up food and fuel prices — and, most significantly, inflation.

The G7 strategy has relied heavily on sanctions to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime, but instead of crippling the Kremlin's war machine, the effect has largely been blunted by China and India picking up the slack and buying more Russian oil.

Three politicians pose for photos near a walking trail.
Trudeau, left, speaks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, centre, and Britta Ernst, the minister of education for the state of Bradenburg, during an arrival ceremony at the G7 summit on Sunday. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

Both India and South Africa have been invited to observe the G7 meeting. The leaders of both countries skipped this week's Commonwealth Summit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he's already spoken with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and expects the message will be delivered loud and clear to both countries.

"If Putin continues to believe he can act with impunity — and not just cause horrific damage and loss of life in Ukraine but directly cause loss of life and opportunity for people around the world — the world needs to continue to stand up against him," he said Saturday at the conclusion of the Commonwealth leaders meeting in Kigali, Rwanda's capital.

As the G7 meeting opened, Russian missiles rained down on Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, striking at least two residential buildings, according to the city's mayor — attacks many military analysts interpret as Moscow's signal to G7 leaders.

Trudeau met one-on-one with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday. 

"Lots of hard work to do on climate change and on Ukraine and on growing the economy," Trudeau said. 

For his part, Johnson suggested the leaders will need to talk about the pressures each of them are facing at home and how that impacts what's happening on the international stage.

G7 leaders pose for a photo on Sunday. Left to right: Italy's Draghi; Trudeau; French President Emmanuel Macron; German's Scholz; Biden of the U.S.; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

"We're going to talk about the subjects Justin mentioned," Johnson said, "but also what's been so encouraging about the whole crisis is the way the G7 has been unified."

In a separate interview with Reuters, Johnson elaborated on the point more specifically, saying he believes that "the pressure is there and the anxiety is there" to stay united.

"NATO has been solid, the G7 has been solid and we continue to be solid," he said, "but in order to protect that unity, in order to make it work, you've got to have really, really honest discussions about the implications of what's going on, the pressures that individual friends and partners are feeling and populations are feeling, whether it's on the costs of their energy or food or whatever."

Food security already a concern before war

One of the most urgent items on the G7 agenda involves addressing growing food insecurity brought on by the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports and the bombing of grain terminals. Up to 500,000 metric tonnes of grain are stuck in Ukraine this year, driving up global food prices.

Caitlin Welsh, director of the Global Food Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said there was already concern about food security in the wake of COVID-19.

"It's important to remember that before the war, we were seeing perhaps the highest levels of food insecurity in the world," she said in a recent conference call briefing.

The host country, Germany, was preoccupied with the growing crisis long before the pandemic and the war. The last time it held the G7 presidency, it convinced other nations to commit to lifting 500 million people in the developing world out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Throughout their time at the Commonwealth Summit, Canadian officials have repeatedly dropped hints, on background, that Canada's expertise in grain storage on the Prairies might be useful to Ukraine.

They suggested they might have more to say in the coming days.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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