Russia-Ukraine War - With Prospect of F-16s Closer, Zelensky Heads to the G7 Summit Strengthened
The New York Times - 20.05.23
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine landed in Japan on Saturday to meet with leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies, bolstered by a major shift from President Biden that opens a path for Ukraine to get the American-made F-16 fighter jets he has been pleading for.
A red carpet had been rolled out on the tarmac of an airport in Hiroshima, Japan, where live footage on the public broadcaster, NHK, showed Mr. Zelensky stepping off a French plane wearing an olive green hooded jacket — putting to rest intense speculation over whether he would attend the Group of 7 summit virtually or in person. He was immediately whisked away in a black sedan.
“Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on Twitter shortly after landing. “Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today.”
He later posted videos and photos of himself meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy, all of whom he visited in their own countries last weekend during a flurry of trips outside Ukraine to shore up support ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive. He also sat down with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, invited to the summit as an observer and whose refusal to condemn Russia over the invasion has frustrated Kyiv and its Western supporters.
Mr. Zelensky’s visit to Japan for the Group of 7 meeting — the details of which were kept murky until shortly before he stepped off the plane — followed a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he urged Arab leaders meeting there not to turn a “blind eye” to Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
It also came after Mr. Biden told U.S. allies that he would allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on American-made F-16 fighter jets, moving toward letting other countries give the planes to Kyiv, a major upgrade of the Ukrainian military and a sharp reversal in policy.
Early Saturday in Hiroshima, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, confirmed reports that the United States and its allies would discuss in the coming months how to supply Kyiv with the jets themselves, despite earlier reluctance by the administration, which feared the move could lead to further escalation. The United States is not expected, at least under current plans, to send its own F-16s.
Mr. Zelensky welcomed the “historic decision” by Mr. Biden, and said on Twitter that he would discuss its “practical implementation” at the summit. The Kremlin accused Western countries of escalating the war, with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Aleksandr V. Grushko, quoted by the Russian state news agency Tass on Saturday as saying that their strategy “carries enormous risks for them.”
He was expected to address G7 leaders on Sunday as part of his continued efforts to marshal more military aid for his country, an appeal that comes in a city that serves as a sobering reminder of the devastation of war.
The leaders gathered in Hiroshima — besides President Biden, they include the heads of government from Japan, Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Italy; and a top European Union official — will be talking over the weekend about all dimensions of Russia’s war in Ukraine. In addition to questions of when and how to provide Kyiv with the F-16 fighter jets, they may also discuss the possibility of negotiations over an armistice or peace treaty.
Mr. Zelensky will almost certainly meet one on one with Mr. Biden.
His presence is also a strong rebuff to President Vladimir V. Putin and a reminder of how thoroughly relations with Russia have deteriorated. Mr. Putin’s own participation in what was once known as the Group of 8 ended after he ordered the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russia was suspended from the group and left it entirely three years later.
The G7 leaders have already pledged at the summit to toughen punishments on Moscow and redouble efforts to choke off funding for its war. In a joint statement released on Saturday, the leaders condemned Russian aggression and reiterated those pledges, stressing their “unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
The State of the War
The Battle for Bakhmut: Ukraine’s recent advances have been small, and Moscow’s troops still hold most of the eastern city, but Ukrainian soldiers say they see a meaningful shift in momentum.
Allies Spar Over F-16s: European plans to help Ukraine obtain F-16 fighter jets have put the United States and some of its closest allies at odds again over what weapons the West should send Kyiv.
Putin’s Military Setbacks: Dwindling resources and disunity in Russia’s ranks are hindering President Vladimir Putin’s 15-month war — and Ukraine’s counteroffensive hasn’t even started in earnest.
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Donesk region: A Ukrainian soldier from the 79th Brigade. Credit: Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times.