Japan’s Prime Minister Becomes Last G7 Leader to Visit Ukraine

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was paying an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, becoming the latest leader of the Group of 7 nations to go to the country seeking a more active role for Japan in international affairs.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has galvanized Japan’s foreign and defense policy, stoking concerns about the costs of geopolitical instability. Lawmakers and the general public are concerned that the country is not prepared to handle a crisis in its own backyard, be it aggression by North Korea or an attempt by China to seize the self-governing island of Taiwan.

The war has also raised concerns about Japan’s dependence on other countries for food and energy, most of which it imports. Prices for commodities such as natural gas soared after the invasion, putting cost pressures on Japan’s electricity production. In response, the country has pushed for closer ties with its allies and broke a decades-long deadlock on military spending, doubling its budget.

It was a significant change for Japan, where the constitution limits the country’s ability to engage in military action and the public has long resisted any policy that even hints at backtracking on its long-standing official stance of pacifism. The increase brought spending to about 2 percent of annual economic output, aligning Japan with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The move was seen as indicating its readiness to play a more active role in any military crisis in the Asia-Pacific region.

In a fresh break with past behavior, Japan has drawn a clear line on the war in Ukraine, joining other G7 nations in imposing sanctions on Russia and providing billions of dollars in financial aid, as well as non-lethal military aid, such as helmets and bulletproof vests. Late last month, Mr. Kishida pledged $5.5 billion in additional support.

Mr. Kishida sailed for Ukraine from India, where he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss issues such as protecting the freedom of navigation in the Pacific.

In a speech Monday at the Indian Council for World Affairs, a think-tank in New Delhi, Kishida said the war in Russia had spurred a “paradigm shift” in global affairs.

“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine forces us to face the most fundamental challenge: defending peace,” he said, according to prepared remarks.

Kishida flew from India to Poland, where he boarded a train to kyiv, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK. The secret trip was highly unusual for a prime minister in Japan, where the leader’s movements are usually broadcast well in advance and reported in detail.

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.