Trump repeated the thought in Biarritz, claiming there was support among other members for the restoration of the G8. "I think it's a work in progress," he said. "We have a number of people that would like to see Russia back."
Macron is plainly one of those people. It was just after Trump sounded his theme amid Biarritz's faded grandeur and what an excellent choice for a convention of the Western powers that the French president made his own plea for repairing ties with Russia and for Europe to escape its fate as "a theater for strategic struggle between the U.S. and Russia."
"The European continent will never be stable, will never be secure, if we don't pacify and clarify our relations with Russia," Macron said in his address to Western diplomats. Then came his flourish on the imminent end of the Atlantic world's preeminence.
"The world order is being shaken like never before. It's being shaken because of errors made by the West in certain crises, but also by the choices made by the United States in the past few years and not just by the current administration."
Macron is an opportunistic main-chancer in European politics, and it is not at all certain how far he can or will attempt to advance his new vision of either the West or Europe in the Continent's councils of state. But as evidence of a new current in Western thinking about Russia, the non-West in general, and Europe's long-nursed desire for greater independence from Washington, the importance of his comments is beyond dispute.
The question now is whether or how soon better ties with Moscow will translate into practical realities. At present, Trump and Macron share a good idea without much substance to it.
Better US-Russia Ties May Be in Pipeline
But Trump may have taken a step in the right direction. Within days of his return from Biarritz, he put a hold on the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a military aid program that was to provide Kiev with $250 million in assistance during the 2019 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 and runs to Sept. 30, 2020. The funds are designated for weaponry, training and intelligence support.
Trump has asked his national security advisers to review the commitment. The delay, coming hard on his proposal to readmit Russia to a reconstituted G8, cannot possibly be read as a coincidence.
There will be other things to watch for in months to come. High among these is Trump's policy toward the Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Russian gas fields to terminals in Western Europe, thereby cutting Ukraine out of the loop. Trump, his desire to improve ties with Moscow notwithstanding, has vigorously opposed this project. The Treasury Department has threatened sanctions against European contractors working on it. If Trump is serious about bringing Russia back into the fold, this policy will have to go. This may mean going up against the energy lobby in Washington and Ukraine's many advocates on Capitol Hill.
To date, U.S. threats to retaliate against construction of Nord Stream 2 have done nothing but irritate Europeans, who have ignored them, while furthering the Continent's desire to escape Washington's suffocating embrace. This is precisely the kind of contradiction Macron addressed when he protested that Europeans need to begin acting in their own interests rather than acquiesce as Washington force-marches them on a never-ending anti-Russia crusade.
Macron may prove a pushover, or a would-be Gaullist who fails to make the grade. Or he may have just announced a long-awaited inflection point in trans-Atlantic ties. Either way, he has put highly significant questions on the table. It will be interesting to see what responses they may elicit, not least from the Trump White House.