Ukraine’s Zelensky to join Biden and other G-7 leaders in Hiroshima (2023)


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HIROSHIMA, Japan — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is planning to attend the Group of Seven nations summit in person this weekend, giving a powerful symbolic boost to his warnings about Russia’s potential to escalate the war in Ukraine by visiting Hiroshima, a site of nuclear destruction in World War II.

Zelensky, who has displayed a knack for resonant gestures and stark messages, has been pressing for more Western support for planes and military equipment, and he has earned new commitments for billions of dollars in military support during recent trips to Germany, France, Italy and Britain — all G-7 members.

Zelensky’s surprise visit, along with President Biden’s decision to truncate his trip because of the debt ceiling fight in the U.S., shifts his trip’s focus in many ways from confronting China to supporting Ukraine. The G-7 leaders Friday released their first-ever statement on nuclear disarmament, sharply criticizing Russia’s approach to the issue.


“Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, undermining of arms control regimes, and stated intent to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus are dangerous and unacceptable,” the statement said, adding, “We reiterate our position that threats by Russia of nuclear weapon use, let alone any use of nuclear weapons by Russia, in the context of its aggression against Ukraine are inadmissible.”

The statement also criticized the pursuit of nuclear weapons by North Korea and Iran and asserted that “China’s accelerating build-up of its nuclear arsenal without transparency nor meaningful dialogue poses a concern to global and regional stability.”

But the focus was on Russia, as the leaders of the seven powerful democracies took aim at Moscow’s decision to suspend its participation in New START, its current arms control treaty with the United States, as well as its efforts to capture Ukraine’s nuclear energy facilities.


Zelensky had been scheduled to attend the summit virtually on Sunday, but the Ukrainian leader is now expected to come in person on Saturday, according to people familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive travel. Zelensky’s visit, however, was not confirmed publicly by his office, and his precise plans were not clear.

His visit, first reported by the Financial Times, is the latest in a flurry of travel by Zelensky outside his war-torn country as he seeks to stave off any slacking of the global effort to help Ukraine, now well into its second year of war. This will be the Ukrainian president’s first visit to Asia since the Russian invasion in February 2022.

In another surprise trip, Zelensky on Friday traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he addressed the Arab League summit and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Zelensky, as he has often does, tailored his comments to his audience, highlighting the plight of the Muslim Tatar population in Crimea, part of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia in 2014.


“Look at how much suffering the long term wars have brought to Libya, Syria, Yemen, how many lives have been wasted by years of fighting in Sudan and Somalia, in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Zelensky told the Arab League. “Everyone who adds to suffering by his new aggressions, everyone who sows enmity, everyone who wants to bring back the old days of invading … every aggressor … will be cursed by the people.”

President Biden had initially planned a three-country swing through the Indo-Pacific aimed at countering China’s growing influence and economic expansion throughout the region. But his decision to cancel stops in Papua New Guinea and Australia to fly home to deal with an ongoing debt crisis — combined with Zelensky’s in-person visit — meant Ukraine would be a major focus of the economic summit.

Biden was initially scheduled to meet with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia — the other members of the “Quad” aimed at countering China — during his stay in Sydney. That meeting has now been rescheduled for Saturday in Japan.

But it’s clear that much of the talk at the G-7 will center on the Ukraine war. “There will be discussions about the state of play on the battlefield,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One before arriving in Japan. “There will be discussions about the state of play on sanctions, and the steps that the G-7 will collectively commit to on enforcement in particular.”

The emotional core of the summit revolves around its location in Hiroshima, one of the only two sites, along with the city of Nagasaki, where a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. The world leaders kicked off their summit Friday with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, paying their respects to the victims of the 1945 bombing by planting a cherry blossom tree grown from one that survived the nuclear attack.

The leaders also met privately with Keiko Ogura, a hibakusha, or a survivor of the bombing.


Ogura, 85, lived 1½ miles from the hypocenter of the blast as an 8-year-old in 1945. In 1984, she founded Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace, a group that translates the testimonies of A-bomb survivors into English and advocates for a nuclear-free world. Her late husband was the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Biden did not offer any public remarks Friday, spending the day mostly behind closed doors with other leaders. Before the visit, Sullivan said the president would not issue an apology on behalf of the United States for the use of the atomic bomb. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed more than 100,000 people, including from radiation poisoning in the days and years after the bombing itself; American leaders argued it was necessary to end the war and prevent even more deaths.

“This is not, from his perspective, a bilateral moment,” Sullivan told reporters. “This is him, as one of the G-7 leaders, coming to pay respects both for history but also respects to Prime Minister [Fumio] Kishida, who of course is from Hiroshima.”


Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said in an interview before the summit that he did not expect Biden to be asked for an apology, but rather for a commitment to do everything he can to avoid any use of nuclear weapons.

“If President Biden understands the inhumanity of the nuclear weapons, and has a true understanding, and has determination that this kind of tragedy should not be repeated, and works for a world with nuclear weapons, and has some concrete strategies or measures to achieve that goal — that’s what we expect from world leaders and President Biden,” Matsui said.

Japanese leaders acknowledge that they are making this pitch for disarmament at a time when many countries, from North Korea to Iran, are moving in the opposite direction.

“The destructive power of nuclear weapons is just beyond description,” Matsui said. “Reason, rational thinking, should be able to tell us that. That’s what I’d like to expect from world leaders. I know that it is not easy, but if we do not take that course, human beings will be annihilated.”

Japan's disarmament push runs into a rising nuclear tide

The G-7 leaders also touched on the novel subject of artificial intelligence and how it should be governed, though they deferred any decisions. The nations’ cabinet ministers will now launch a “Hiroshima AI process” aimed at producing a report by year’s end on how to ensure that AI develops in a way consistent with the G-7′s values.


To underline their united front against Russia, the leaders announced new sanctions on Moscow. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote on Twitter that the United Kingdom would be “banning all imports of Russian diamonds, copper, aluminum and nickel.”

The U.S. announced it was sanctioning 22 individuals and 104 entities, aimed especially at those who have sought ways of getting around the current penalties for engaging with Russia. “We will continue to expand export controls to make it even harder for Russia to sustain its war machine,” a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement.

The Treasury Department also said it was expanding sanctions to target new parts of Russia’s economy.

Biden launches Asia trip this week aimed at taking on China

“These will go after circumvention. These will go after financial facilitators, as well as future energy and extractive capabilities of Russia and other actors helping to support the war,” the official said. “This will include designations across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.”

Julia Mio Inuma and Toluse Olorunnipa in Hiroshima and David L. Stern in Kyiv contributed to this report.

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