POLITICS
03/24/2014 04:56 EDT | Updated 05/24/2014 05:59 EDT

G8 Facts: The G8 was born in 1998 when Russia became a full member

Seven members of the Group of Eight industrial countries said Monday they were suspending their participation in the major international group until Russia, which has annexed Crimea, "changes course." Here's a brief primer on the G8:

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Who: The countries that comprise the G8 are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Ministers from the participating countries meet a few times throughout the year, but the main event is a mid-year summit to discuss global affairs involving the leaders of all participating countries. Representatives of the European Commission have also been attending G8 summits since 1977. Other countries and major international bodies can be invited to attend the summits as well.

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When: The G8 has evolved over time and traces its roots back to 1975 when France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. first met to discuss economic issues of the day. Canada officially joined their ranks a year later. It took another 20 years before the organization evolved into its current form. The Group of Seven industrialized economies began having post-summit talks with Russia starting in 1994. In 1998, Russia became a full member of the organization, which changed its name to the G8.

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Where: There are no fixed headquarters for the G8. Member countries take turns hosting the annual leader's summits, with the host country becoming president of the organization for that year. The rotation order is as follows: France, the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. Russia is slated to host the 2014 summit, but British Prime Minister David Cameron has said the summit is suspended due to Russia's invasion of the Crimea. This has sparked discussion of whether to allow Russia to continue as a G8 member.

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Why: Though the organization's original focus was on broad economic issues, annual summits between leaders of G8 countries now discuss and try to shape policies on topics as diverse as terrorism, the environment, relations with developing countries, the global food supply and human rights. Critics argue, however, that the organization has limited power to guide the global agenda, since it currently excludes economic powers such as China and India.