Hiroshima — Leaders of the world’s richest democracies said on Sunday they would not back down from supporting Ukraine, in a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin as he claimed to have taken the eastern city of Bakhmut, something Kyiv denied.
The Group of Seven (G7) summit in the Japanese city of Hiroshima took a dramatic turn this weekend with the arrival of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who flew in on a French government plane to canvass for greater support against Russia’s invasion.
Zelensky, who earlier laid flowers at the cenotaph to victims of the world’s first atomic bombing of a city, said photographs of Hiroshima’s destruction during World War 2 reminded him of Bakhmut and other destroyed Ukrainian cities. He also told a press conference there were still soldiers in Bakhmut and the city had not been captured by Russia.
Earlier, he told reporters on the sidelines of the summit that the battered eastern city, the focus of fighting in recent months, was destroyed. “It is tragedy,” Zelensky said. “There is nothing on this place” — what remained was “a lot of dead Russians”.
During the final day of the three-day G7 summit, US President Joe Biden announced a $375m package of military aid, including artillery and armoured vehicles, for Ukraine. He told Zelensky the US was doing all it could to strengthen Ukraine’s defence against Russia.
“Together with the entire G7 we have Ukraine’s back and I promise we’re not going anywhere,” Biden said.
Putin hailed what he said was a victory for his forces, describing it as the “liberation” of Bakhmut in a statement on the Kremlin’s website. The assault on the largely levelled city was led by troops from the Wagner Group of mercenaries, whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said his troops had finally pushed the Ukrainians out of the last built-up area inside the city.
Other leaders of the G7 — the US, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — echoed Biden’s sentiments. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that his country would back Ukraine for as long and as much as necessary.
Biden told G7 leaders Washington supported joint allied training programmes for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 warplanes, though Kyiv had not won commitments for delivery of the fighter jets. The potential for such training on US-made F-16s was a message to Russia that it should not expect to succeed in its invasion by prolonging conflict, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said training would start this summer and Ukraine would get the air force it needed for the future. It was “significant” that the G7 nations showed solidarity in their intention to uphold international law and order during a summit attended by Zelensky as a guest, said the prime minister of host nation Japan, Fumio Kishida.
Scholz said that while the immediate priority was supporting Ukraine’s defence, security guarantees for Ukraine needed to be established once the war was over.
Both Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to stand with Ukraine in opposing any notion of the war becoming a “frozen conflict”, or any proposal for peace talks without Russian troops withdrawing.
As Moscow’s 15-month-old invasion has dragged on, several analysts and diplomats have floated the idea that it could become frozen like the conflict on the Korean Peninsula. North and South Korea remain technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended with a ceasefire.
“Peace should not make Ukraine a frozen conflict because that would lead to a war in the future. It needs to resolve the problem,” Macron said.
The Hiroshima summit also gave Zelensky a chance to lobby for support from other attendees, like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who have remained uncommitted.
De-risk from China
While determination to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion was a key message from the G7 summit, the other was distrust of China as a trading partner.
Biden met the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday to discuss military interoperability and the economic coercion they face from China, a US official said.
A day earlier, the G7 leaders outlined a shared approach towards China, looking to “de-risk, not decouple” economic engagement with a country regarded as the factory of the world.
In a statement the G7 also reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, where Chinese military exercises have raised concerns over the security of Taiwan, the democratic, self-governed island that China regards as part of its territory.
China’s foreign ministry issued a complaint to Japan expressing firm opposition to the G7 statement, saying it disregarded China’s concerns, had attacked it and interfered in its internal affairs, including Taiwan.
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