Wednesday, 24 Apr 2024

Biden Announces More Aid for Ukraine as Group of 7 Powers Convene in Japan

HIROSHIMA, Japan — President Biden and other leaders of the world’s major industrial democracies rallied around Ukraine on Sunday with vows of resolute support and promises of further weapons shipments even as Russian forces claimed to have seized full control of a bitterly contested city.

Mr. Biden and his counterparts figuratively and, in some cases, literally wrapped their arms around President Volodomyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who made an audacious journey halfway around the world from his ravaged homeland to Hiroshima, Japan, to solicit aid for the first time in person from the Group of 7 powers at their annual summit.

“Together with the entire G7, we have Ukraine’s back, and I promise we’re not going anywhere,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Zelensky while announcing another $375 million in artillery, ammunition and other arms for Ukraine. At a later news conference, Mr. Biden voiced defiance of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“I once more shared and assured President Zelensky, together with all G7 members and our allies and partners around the world, that we will not waver,” he said. “Putin will not break our resolve, as he thought he could.”

The scene of Mr. Zelensky in his trademark war-zone-olive shirt sitting as an honored guest of the world’s powerhouse figures in their business suits underscored the shifting geopolitical landscape since the days when Mr. Putin himself was at that table. Expelled in 2014 after its original partial invasion of Ukraine, Russia now stares in from outside the world’s most exclusive club in a mark of its isolation, while the nation that it claims is not a nation commands the support of the established democracies that have given up on Moscow.

How much difference it will make for Ukraine remained to be seen. Even as he worked his way from meeting to meeting, a visibly fatigued Mr. Zelensky was coping with grim news from back home, where Russian officials were claiming to have captured the city of Bakhmut. Mr. Zelensky refuted Moscow’s assertion, but offered a lament for the city, suggesting it had been destroyed so thoroughly that it was hardly worth the cost inflicted on the Russians even if it had been captured.

“You have to understand that there is nothing,” Mr. Zelensky told reporters in subdued tones. “They’ve destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It’s a pity, it’s tragedy, but for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts.”

While he appeared to stiffen the determination of the G7 members — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — Mr. Zelensky made no evident progress in winning over more skeptical leaders attending the gathering as observers. Despite an outwardly convivial meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India afterward issued a statement focused mainly on “dialogue and diplomacy” and offered only “humanitarian assistance,” not military aid. Nor did Mr. Zelensky seem to convert the leaders of Brazil or South Korea, who have resisted sending weapons.

“I would like all of the states that are capable to provide help to us,” Mr. Zelensky said, acknowledging that some countries, including Japan, his host, had legislative or constitutional limitations to such assistance. But he added that he had received pledges of more military aid during his meetings and while he would not give details said “weapons of high quality will be provided.”

Mr. Zelensky won the major prize he sought a day before arriving in Hiroshima when Mr. Biden reversed himself and agreed to make it possible for Ukraine to obtain F-16 warplanes. Mr. Biden on Sunday defended his long reluctance to allow such jets to be sent to Ukraine by saying the time had not yet been right and arguing that they would not have stopped Russia from taking Bakhmut in months of grinding ground combat.

“F-16s would not have helped in that regard at all,” he told reporters. “It was unnecessary. For example, let’s take just Bakhmut, for example. It would not have any additional added consequence.”

In authorizing the F-16 training now, Mr. Biden said he was preparing Ukraine for the day down the road when it would need to deter further Russian aggression.

Moreover, Mr. Biden, who has sought to calibrate arms supplies to Ukraine to avoid provoking Russia into a perilous escalation, said he secured a promise from Mr. Zelensky not to use the F-16s to attack Russia on its own soil. “I have a flat assurance from Zelensky that they will not, they will not use it to go on and move into Russian geographic territory,” he said.

In return, Mr. Zelensky offered nothing but gratitude for what he characterized as the “difficult decisions” Mr. Biden had made, citing specifically the F-16s. “I think it will give us more strong positions on the battlefield,” he said. “So we are very thankful.”

Mr. Zelensky’s presence in Hiroshima, where in 1945 the United States dropped history’s first atomic bomb in combat to force Japan to surrender and end World War II, offered a potent symbolic statement about the risks in the war with Russia, which has threatened to use its nuclear weapons in the current conflict.

Mr. Zelensky joined Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan to lay flowers at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and said afterward that the experience of visiting the atomic bomb museum brought tears to his eyes. While it “wouldn’t be fair” to compare the attack on Hiroshima to what was happening in his country, Mr. Zelensky said, “the pictures of ruined Hiroshima really totally remind me of Bakhmut,” where “nothing alive is left.”

Mr. Kishida hoped to use the meeting in Hiroshima to rejuvenate stalled efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Speaking in a speech earlier in the day before an eternal flame and cenotaph commemorating the victims, Mr. Kishida said he wanted to work “toward the ideal of our children, grandchildren‌ and descendants living on a planet free of nuclear weapons.”

He added: “Let’s take realistic steps forward.”

The meeting’s other priorities, such as economic diversification, clean energy, food security and infrastructure, were overshadowed by Mr. Zelensky’s visit as well as Mr. Biden’s troubles back home, where spending and debt negotiations with Republicans have stalled. Already forced to cut his trip short by canceling further stops in Papua New Guinea and Australia so he could return home late Sunday night, Mr. Biden spent some of his time in Hiroshima on video calls with aides in Washington.

While Russia was the front-and-center threat, China loomed in the background as the leaders sought to align their approaches. Mr. Biden brought together Mr. Kishida and President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea in a three-way meeting on Sunday to encourage the recent warming ties between the two fractious neighbors so they could better confront the dangers from Beijing.

“We’re more united than we’ve ever been in the Pacific,” Mr. Biden said. At the same time, he sought to play down tension. “We’re not looking to decouple from China, we’re looking to de-risk and diversify our relationship with China,” he said, using the favored new term meant to suggest decreasing dependence on China’s supply chains without pulling out altogether.

“I don’t think there’s anything inevitable about the notion that there’s going to be this conflict between the United States and the West” with China, Mr. Biden added.

But China was hardly assuaged. Its government sharply denounced the G7 summit over the weekend, warning the leaders against pressing Beijing about Taiwan, economic coercion and other contentious topics.

“The Group of 7 talks in lofty tones about ‘moving toward a peaceful, stable, prosperous world,’ but what it is doing is obstructing international peace, harming regional stability, and oppressing the development of other countries,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in the statement. “The Group of 7 has ignored China’s grave concerns and insisted on manipulating topics related to China, vilifying and attacking China, and crudely meddling in China’s domestic affairs.”

China has been a key ally of Russia throughout the Ukraine war, although it has not sent lethal aid, according to American officials. In a sign that Beijing and Moscow remain close despite tensions over the war in Ukraine, China announced that a senior envoy, Chen Wenqing, the head of the Communist Party’s political and legal affairs committee, would go to Russia for meetings about security cooperation.

Russia had its own way of responding to the message of solidarity for Ukraine emerging from the G7. The Russian navy positioned two warships and two submarines in the Black Sea, seemingly hinting at a planned missile strike on Ukraine to coincide with the G7 summit, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern military command said on Ukrainian television.

The meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelensky was their first since the American president made a surprise trip to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in February. The two reminisced on Sunday about that visit, when they marched outside to pay tribute to fallen Ukrainians even as air raid sirens were sounding. Mr. Biden remembered following Mr. Zelensky, who appeared unruffled. “And I thought, ‘Well, if he doesn’t care about the sirens, I don’t care about the sirens.’”

Jim Tankersley, Chris Buckley, Andrew E. Kramer and Hikari Hida contributed reporting.

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