President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine landed in Japan on Saturday determined to urge the world's richest democracies to stay with him as Moscow bets on a West growing tired of the costs and consequences of war.
Zelensky made a dramatic entrance to Hiroshima, landing on a French plane after days in which Ukrainian and Japanese officials insisted, perhaps for security reasons, that he would join leaders at the Group of 7 summit virtually only. He wore his trademark hood, standing out from the suit-and-tie diplomatic crowd of this annual summit.
Mr Zelensky, said American and British officials, apparently sensed that when he emerged in person, he could break through American resistance to deliver more powerful weapons and pressure countries like India and Brazil that remained on the sidelines.
Its presence could make it difficult for them to maintain their guard of the fence, officials said. And even as Mr Zelensky consulted with countries already on his side, he sat down with Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, who was there as an observer, to pitch support, as he had done earlier in the week. in Saudi Arabia.
“I think this is a unique opportunity” for Mr Zelensky to “exchange with many countries from the south and express your situation, express messages and share views,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. “I believe this can be a game changer.”
Mr. Zelensky is expected to address Group 7 leaders on Sunday as part of his ongoing efforts to drum up more military aid for his country. He made his plea in a town that serves as a sobering reminder of the devastation that comes when fierce wars lead to the use of nuclear weapons.
Mr Zelensky plans to go to the peace park he has built on the island that was ground zero in the 1945 explosion that ushered in the era of nuclear weapons – an era that has returned amid episodic threats by the Russian president, Vladimir V.Putin, to turn to his arsenal. Alone.
Before he even touched down, Zelensky had won a significant victory: On Friday night, President Biden told other leaders he would join a largely European effort to train Ukrainian pilots how to fly F-16 fighter jets. Reversing his previous stance, Biden said he would work with allies to start providing fighter planes to Ukraine, cutting it off from dilapidated Soviet-era fighters.
Administration officials said they increasingly recognized that sooner or later Ukraine would need new fighters as part of a long-term program to deter Russia from invading again, and decided they needed to get out before that effort. But the planes will have little use in the current stage of the war, where urban warfare predominates over aerial warfare.
Mr Zelensky arrived here just as the head of the paramilitary group Wagner said his troops had captured the devastated town of Bakhmut on Saturday, indicating that the months-long struggle for control was over. The Ukrainian military has rejected claims by the leader of the mercenary group, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who tends to make bombastic statements.
Much of the discussion here in the past two days has focused on cracking down on sanctions evasion, as countries seeking to play both sides of the war — including India and the United Arab Emirates — have done nothing to curtail black market trade in semiconductors. and the materials needed by Russia to continue the war.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelensky — and most of the core members of the Group of 7 — appear intent on maximizing Moscow's pain to get to the negotiating table and withdraw from Ukrainian territory. While they deny a new Cold War is underway, the spike in sanctions announced over the last two days appears to be a modern version of the containment strategy that guided the West's confrontation with the Soviet Union, which collapsed more than three decades ago.
It was Zelensky's first time on his diplomatic tour of Asia, and he landed Saturday afternoon in a city known to the world for having resurrected itself, in a monumental reconstruction task similar to what many believe Ukraine must undertake.
A red carpet was rolled out on the tarmac at the airport in Hiroshima, where live footage on public broadcaster NHK showed Zelensky getting off the French plane in his olive green hoodie. He was immediately taken away in a black sedan.
“Japan. G7. Important meeting with partners and friends of Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on Twitter shortly after landing. “Security and increased cooperation for our victory. Peace will be closer today.”
Zelensky's visit to Japan for the Group of 7 meeting followed a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he urged Arab leaders meeting there not to “turn a blind eye” to Russia's atrocities in Ukraine.
His appearance was arranged after Zelensky expressed his “strong desire” to participate in the summit in person, Japan's Foreign Ministry said. in a statement. The visit is the latest in a series of trips outside Ukraine to shore up support ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The leaders — besides President Biden, they include the heads of government from Japan, Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Italy; and a top EU official — will be speaking over the weekend about all dimensions of Russia's war in Ukraine. As well as questions about when and how to provide Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets, they may also discuss the possibility of negotiating a ceasefire or peace agreement.
G7 leaders have vowed at the summit to toughen penalties against Moscow and redouble efforts to halt its war financing.
Mr. Biden has cut short his trip to return to Washington to discuss debts and expenses. The president had planned to fly from Japan to Papua New Guinea, before heading to Sydney for a meeting of the so-called Quad: United States, Australia, India and Japan.
Instead, Quad state leaders went to Mr. Biden, meeting him in Hiroshima on Saturday night.
Rich Moto And Jim Tankerley reporting contribution.