Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy landed in Japan on Saturday with intentions to urge the world’s wealthiest democracies to stand with him as Moscow bets the West is growing weary at the cost and fallout of the war.
Mr Zelenskyy had a dramatic invasion of Hiroshima, landing on a French plane after days of Ukrainian and Japanese officials insisting, presumably for security reasons, that he would only virtually join leaders at the G7 summit. Wearing his signature hoodie, he stood out from the diplomatic crowd in coat and tie at this annual summit.
US and British officials say Mr. Zelenskyi seems to feel that by showing up in person he can both break through American resistance to sending more powerful weapons and pressure nations like India and Brazil that have remained on the sidelines.
His presence could make it harder for them to maintain their posture as onlookers, several officials said. And while Mr Zelenskyj was consulting with countries already in his corner, he sat down with Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, to make his case for support, much like he did in Saudi Arabia earlier in the week .
Zelenskyi was expected to address leaders of the Group of Seven on Sunday as part of his ongoing efforts to provide more military aid to his country. He holds his appeals in a city that serves as a sobering reminder of the devastation that follows when a bitter war leads to the use of a nuclear weapon.
Mr Zelenskyy plans to visit the Peace Park built on the island that was the site of the 1945 explosion that ushered in the age of nuclear weapons – an era that has returned amid occasional threats from Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to turn to his own arsenal.
Even before he landed, Mr. Zelenskyy had won a significant victory: On Friday night, President Biden told other leaders he would join the largely European effort to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 fighter jet. Reversing his earlier stance, Mr Biden said he would work with allies to begin supplying the fighter jets to Ukraine and wean them off their ailing Soviet-era fighters.
Government officials said they increasingly realized that sooner or later Ukraine would need the new fighter jets as part of a long-term program to deter Russia from invading again and decided they should forestall the attacks. But the planes would be of little use in the current phase of the war, when urban rather than air warfare prevails.
Mr Zelenskyy arrived here just as the leader of the paramilitary group Wagner said his troops had captured the devastated town of Bakhmut on Saturday, suggesting the months-long struggle for control is over. The Ukrainian military denied the claim of the mercenary group’s leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who is prone to bombastic remarks.
Much of the discussion here over the past two days has focused on how to tackle sanctions evasion, as countries that wanted to play both sides of the war – including India and the United Arab Emirates – have done nothing to curb the black market trade in semiconductors and materials Russia needs to continue the war.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelenskyy – and most of the core members of the Group of Seven – seem intent on maximizing Moscow’s pain until it comes to the negotiating table and pulls out of Ukrainian territory. Despite denying that a new Cold War is underway, the spate of sanctions announced over the past two days appears to be a modern version of the containment strategy that guided the West’s confrontation with the collapsed Soviet Union more than three decades ago.
This was the first time Mr Zelenskyy made his diplomatic trip to Asia, and he landed late Saturday afternoon in the city known around the world for having resurrected itself in a monumental reconstruction task similar to the one many believe that Ukraine must overcome them.
A red carpet had been rolled out on the tarmac at a Hiroshima airport, on which live footage from public broadcaster NHK showed Mr Zelenskyy stepping off a French plane in his olive-green hoodie. He was immediately taken away in a black sedan.
“Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine,” Mr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter shortly after landing. “Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will come closer today.”
Mr Zelenskyy’s visit to Japan for the Group of Seven meeting followed a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he urged Arab leaders gathered there not to “turn a blind eye” to Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
His appearance was arranged after Mr Zelenskyi expressed his “strong desire” to attend the summit in person, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement. The visit is the latest in a series of trips outside Ukraine to bolster support ahead of an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive.
In addition to President Biden, the leaders include the leaders of Japan, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy; and a senior European Union official – will be speaking at the weekend on all dimensions of Russia’s war in Ukraine. In addition to the question of when and how Kiev should be supplied with the F-16 fighter jets, they could also discuss the possibility of negotiations for a ceasefire or a peace treaty.
G7 leaders have already pledged at the summit to tighten penalties against Moscow and redouble their efforts to curb funding for its war.
Mr Biden cut short his trip to return to Washington for debt and spending talks. The President had planned to fly from Japan to Papua New Guinea and then fly to Sydney for a meeting of the so-called Quads: the United States, Australia, India and Japan.
Instead, the leaders of the Quad countries came to Mr Biden and met him in Hiroshima on Saturday night.
Motoko Rich and Jim Tankersley contributed coverage.