After a Show-Stopping Entrance at the G7, Zelensky Pleads for More Aid

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine landed in Japan on Saturday determined to urge the world’s richest democracies to stick with him as Moscow bets on the West, increasingly fatigued by the cost and consequences of war.

Zelensky made a dramatic entrance in Hiroshima, landing on a French plane after days in which Ukrainian and Japanese officials insisted, presumably for security reasons, that he would join leaders at the Group of 7 summit only virtually. He was dressed in his signature hoodie, standing out from the suit-and-tie diplomatic crowd at this annual summit meeting.

Hours after Zelensky arrived in Japan, the Russian government said its forces had occupied the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. The city had become an important symbol of Ukrainian defiance and Russian determination, and its fall would reinforce and complicate Zelensky’s appeal for help.

Zelensky, American and British officials say, seems to feel that when he appears in person, he can break American resistance to sending more powerful weapons and put pressure on nations like India and Brazil that have stood by.

Their presence could make it more difficult for them to maintain their position as fence keepers, several 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 make his case for support, as he had done earlier. of week. in Saudi Arabia.

“I think this is a unique opportunity” for Mr. Zelensky to have “exchanges with many southern countries and express their situation, express a message and share an opinion,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. “I think he can be a game changer.”

Zelensky was expected to address the leaders of the Group of 7 on Sunday as part of his continuing efforts to rally more military aid for his country. He is making his appeal in a city that serves as a sobering reminder of the devastation that comes when a bitter war leads to the use of a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Zelensky plans to go to the peace park that was built on the island that was ground zero for the explosion in 1945 that ushered in the era of nuclear weapons, an era that has returned amid episodic threats from Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to resort to his own arsenal.

Even before landing, Zelensky had won a significant victory: On Friday night, President Biden told other leaders that he would join the largely European effort to train Ukrainian pilots how to fly the F-16 fighter jet. Reversing his earlier stance, Biden said he would work with allies to start supplying Ukraine with fighter jets, weaning it from its dilapidated Soviet-era fighters.

Administration officials said they increasingly realized Ukraine would need the new fighters sooner or later as part of a long-term program to deter Russia from a new invasion, and they decided they should get ahead of the effort. . But the planes would be of little use at the current stage of the war, where urban warfare has dominated rather than air warfare.

Zelensky arrived here just as the head of the Wagner paramilitary group said his forces had captured the devastated city of Bakhmut on Saturday, suggesting the months-long fight to control it was over. The Ukrainian military rejected the claim of the mercenary group’s leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who is prone to making grandiose comments.

Much of the discussion here in the past two days has focused on cracking down on sanctions evasion, as countries looking to play both sides of the war, including India and the United Arab Emirates, have done nothing. to reduce the black market trade in semiconductors. and materials Russia needs to continue fighting the war.

Biden and Zelensky, and most of the leading members of the Group of 7, seem intent on maximizing Moscow’s pain until it reaches the negotiating table and withdraws from Ukrainian soil. While they deny that a new Cold War is underway, the increased sanctions announced in the past two days look like a modern version of the containment strategy that guided the West’s confrontation with the Soviet Union, which collapsed more than three decades ago. .

This was the first time Mr. Zelensky had made his diplomatic tour of Asia, and he landed on Saturday afternoon in the city known to the world for being resurrected, in a monumental task of reconstruction similar to what many believe Ukraine will have. what to undertake

A red carpet had been rolled out on the tarmac at a Hiroshima airport, where live footage from public broadcaster NHK showed Zelensky getting off a French plane in his olive-green hoodie. They immediately took him away in a black sedan.

“Japan. G7. Important meetings with Ukrainian partners and friends”, Mr. Zelensky wrote on Twitter shortly after landing. “Enhanced security and cooperation for our victory. Peace will be closer today.”

Mr. Zelensky’s visit to Japan for the Group of 7 meeting followed a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he urged the Arab leaders gathered there not to “turn a blind eye” to Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

His appearance was arranged after Zelensky expressed a “strong desire” to participate face-to-face at the summit, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said. in a sentence. The visit is the latest in a series of trips outside of Ukraine to bolster support ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive.

The leaders, in addition to President Biden, include the heads of government of Japan, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy; and a senior European Union official, will speak over the weekend on all dimensions of Russia’s war in Ukraine. In addition to questions about when and how to provide Kiev with F-16 fighter jets, they can also discuss the possibility of negotiations on an armistice or a peace treaty.

The G7 leaders have already pledged at the summit to toughen punishments on Moscow and redouble efforts to cut funds for its war.

Mr. Biden has cut his trip short to return to Washington for debt and spending talks. 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, the leaders of the Quad countries reached out to Biden and met him in Hiroshima on Saturday night.

motoko rich and jim tankersley contributed reporting.