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Kicking Russia out of G20 would 'fragment' institution: Australian Sherpa

OTTAWA - Russia will remain a member of the G20 because it's too difficult to kick it out of the economic group.

That's the assessment of the Australian organizer of this year's leaders' summit, being held this fall in Brisbane.

Heather Smith, the Australian Sherpa, was in Ottawa on Wednesday as part of her continuing tour of the economic alliance's 20 member countries.

Russia has been kicked out of the downsized former G8 — now the G7 — because of its annexation of Crimea and the continuing unrest being sown by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.

But Smith says the G20 can't banish Russia in the same way because there is simply no consensus to do that among its wide variety of countries.

She suggests that would be bad for the future stability of the six-year-old G20 if it were to go down a path of kicking out member countries for political or security reasons.

"The reality is you will not get consensus within the G20 to exclude another member from the G20," Smith said in an interview at the Australian High Commission in Ottawa.

"It's a very young institution. It doesn't make sense to fragment an institution that is really core in terms of economic co-operation for Canada or for Australia.

"It would just fragment the organization. That's how we see it."

That said, the issue could be revisited depending on the circumstances on the ground in Ukraine, Smith added.

"Clearly if things changed and there was more provocative action, you need to look at the issue again."

NATO, the transatlantic military alliance, has also severed its co-operation agreement with Russia because of the provocations in Ukraine and Crimea.

Smith said Australia, which has reached the half-way mark of its one-year presidency of the G20, wants to use its coming summit to cement the organization's relevance as the key forum for strengthening the global economy.

The G20 was formed in 2008 to deal with the global financial crisis. Since then, there has been a debate over whether it continues to be relevant or even has the mandate to make large-scale international financial decisions.

"The sense now is how do you win the peace after the war," said Smith.

Its diverse membership includes many Western countries such as Canada, the U.S., Britain, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, Korea and Japan. But some European countries that are not individual members, as well as some South American, African and Asian nations say they are unfairly excluded.

Smith said that under Australia's leadership the G20 is staking its future on getting full buy-in of a key goal: two per cent economic growth over current projections over the next five years.

"What it does, paradoxically, is it raises the cost of failure but in a way that really forces all of us to raise our level of ambition," said Smith.

"It highlights the credibility of the G20," she added.

"By putting a numeric target, saying we politically commit to raising growth by two per cent over five years over current projections, we're setting ourselves as saying we must deliver on this."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is to attend the November summit. He recently hosted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Ottawa.

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