G7 ministers agree to call Russia out on ‘malign’ behaviour, Johnson says


TORONTO — Ministers from the G7 countries have committed to taking Russia to task for what British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is describing as a broad range of “malign” behaviour.

The G7’s foreign and interior ministries are holding overlapping talks in Toronto, where Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, has pushed Russia to the top of a packed agenda that includes North Korea, Iran and the ongoing Syrian crisis.

The G7 ministers agreed in their Sunday discussion about the need to address the disruptive influence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Johnson said Monday.

“What we decided … was that we were going to set up a G7 group that would look at Russian malign behaviour in all its manifestations, whether it’s cyberwar, whether it’s disinformation, assassination attempts, whatever it happens to be and collectively try and call it out,” he said.

“Russia is so unbelievably clever at kind of sowing doubt and confusion and spreading all this fake news and trying to muddy the waters. We think there’s a role for the G7 in just trying to provide some clarity.”

The G7 ministers will also be tackling the issue of how best to deal with foreign fighters who are returning from Middle East battlefields.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the defeat of Islamic State militants last year in Syria has caused them to spread out — geographically as well as on the internet — and pose a renewed and potentially more insidious threat.

The ministers have a full slate of international security issues, including the nuclear standoff with North Korea, the crisis in Venezuela, possible war crimes being committed against Rohingya Muslims and ongoing civil unrest in Syria and the Middle East.

The three days of talks are part of a series of ministerial-level gatherings in the run-up to the G7 leaders’ summit which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will host in June in Charlevoix, Que.

Goodale told The Canadian Press that his G7 counterparts began their discussion last year following ISIL’s defeat in Raqqa.

“If they’re defeated on the battlefield, where do they go? Do they migrate into the northern Africa? Do they try to make their way to Europe? Will some of them try to make their way back home to their original countries?” Goodale said ahead of the talks.

“They move more aggressively on to the internet and various types of social media and the dark web.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press