BERLIN (Reuters) - The Group of Seven (G7) leading industrial nations should quickly allow Russia to rejoin the economic organization, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview published on Thursday.
"Russia is an important global player and not a regional power," Gabriel told the Russlandkontrovers.de website.
"That is why I am calling for Russia to rejoin the group, and turn the G7 back into the G8."
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Russlandkontrovers.de is the website of the established German-Russian Forum, which was founded in 1993 and includes over 400 leaders from industry, politics and academia.
Russia and the G7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- made up the G8 until Moscow's membership was suspended in 2014 after Russian troops invaded and annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Gabriel, who leads Germany's Social Democratic Party, said Russia remained an important economic partner for Germany and German industry, despite current tensions and problems. It was particularly important to strengthen international bodies when there were differences to overcome, he said.
He said Russia was moving in a political direction that troubled Germany in many respects, but that the country's reform process was continuing.
"Russia will not want to reverse the political and economic integration that has already been achieved with the rest of the world," Gabriel told the website. "A long-term exclusion (of Russia) will only deepen the existing divisions and will not help achieve a political solution."
Gabriel said Russia had repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to participate in constructive dialogue, and it was critical to listen to the reform-oriented voices that existed within Russian power structures.
Gabriel's comments come just days after a top adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who leads the Christian Democratic Party, said it was far too early to discuss a lifting of sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine.
Merkel's conservatives govern in coalition with the SDP led by Gabriel.
G7 leaders last month condemned Russia's "illegal annexation" of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
In a communique, the group threatened "further restrictive measures" to raise the costs on Moscow but said sanctions could be rolled back if Russia implemented previous agreements and respected Ukraine's sovereignty.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Catherine Evans)