Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky landed in Hiroshima on Saturday afternoon, his longest journey since Russia invaded his country.
He arrived in Japan shortly after President Joe Biden changed course and gave the green light to European allies to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to fight Russia.
Zelensky will meet with Biden on Sunday as part of his campaign to bolster support from Western allies ahead of a planned spring offensive to try to drive Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops out of his country.
He arrived on a French plane at the heavily guarded Hiroshima airport.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives at Hiroshima airport on Saturday
Before arriving at the G7, Zelensky stopped in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to address the top Arab League leaders. In his remarks, he accused some Arab leaders of ignoring the horrors of the Russian invasion of his country.
“Unfortunately, there are some in the world and here, among you, who turn a blind eye to those cages and illegal annexations,” he said, urging them to “look at the war honestly.”
Prior to Zelensky’s arrival, Biden, under pressure from Europe to help Ukraine end the conflict, agreed to allow European countries with F-16s to transfer some of the warplanes to the embattled country.
“President Biden has informed his G7 counterparts that the United States will support the concerted effort to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter jets, including F-16s,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Saturday.
“In recent months, we and our allies and partners have really focused on providing Ukraine with the weapons and training the system needs to conduct effective offensive operations this spring,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, during a personal meeting with Kuwaiti Crown Prince Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, left, on the sidelines of the Arab League summit
President Biden (left with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak) gave in to European pressure and gave allies the green light to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in the fight against Russia
Ukraine is planning a massive counter-offensive to retake its territory and drive out the forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the delivery of F-16s – and the training to operate them – will take months.
Biden meets Zelensky on Sunday. Zelensky’s surprise performance comes after a stopover in Jeddah to address the Arab League. He travels on a French military plane.
“I welcome the historic decision by the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly strengthen our army in the air,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter.
Zelensky was in Europe this week to meet with leaders from France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany to strengthen alliances and ask for more help.
Early in the conflict, Biden had resisted sending the advanced military fighter plans to Ukraine, fearing they would use them to attack Russia’s heartland, provoking the Kremlin to take the conflict beyond its borders. of Ukraine to expand.
But several European countries have F-16s in their arsenal and want to send them to Kiev, but need US permission to give them to a third party because of the advanced US technology on the planes.
Sullivan argued ‘nothing has changed. Our approach to supplying arms, equipment and training to the Ukrainians followed the demands of the conflict.”
“Having delivered everything we promised to deliver,” he added, “we have enabled the Ukrainians to advance on the battlefield through the counter-offensive.”
President Biden will meet President Zelensky at the G7 on Sunday
F-16 fighter jets have long been at the top of Ukraine’s wish list
The F-16 training will be conducted by American personnel in the coming weeks. The timeline for that training remains unclear, but U.S. officials rather estimate it could take up to 18 months.
“As training progresses in the coming months, we will work with our allies to determine when aircraft will be delivered, who will deliver them and how many,” Sullivan said.
The United States Air Force maintains two F-16 air wings in Europe: the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy and the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. The US also routinely sends F-16 fighters in and out of Europe on a rotational basis in smaller groups.
Until now, Ukraine has relied on much older MiG fighters, 27 of which were given to them by Poland and Slovakia. Only a few European countries have a stock of F-16s, including the Netherlands with 40 and Denmark with 30, in addition to Poland and Norway.
F-16s have been at the top of Ukraine’s weapon wish list ever since it received main battle tanks from the likes of the US, UK and Germany.
Western allies have taken even tougher measures against Russia in an attempt to pressure Putin to end the war. G7 leaders announced a new round of sanctions against Russia’s energy sector and military complex on Friday.
Moscow has stepped up its bombing campaign in Ukraine in response.