World leaders ratcheted up pressure on Sunday (May 21) on Russia for its war against Ukraine, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the centre of a swirl of diplomacy on the final day of the Group of Seven summit of wealthy democracies – the G7.
Zelenskyy’s presence at one of the world’s premier diplomatic gatherings is meant to galvanise attention on his nation’s 15-month fight against Russia. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the G7 summit for aiming to isolate both China and Russia.
Even before he landed on Saturday on a French plane, the G7 nations had unveiled a slew of new sanctions and other measures meant to punish Moscow and hamper its war-fighting abilities.
Ukraine is the overwhelming focus of the summit, but the leaders of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union, are also working to address global worries over climate change, AI, poverty, economic instability and nuclear proliferation.
Two US allies South Korea and Japan continued efforts Sunday to improve ties that have often been hurt by lingering anger over issues linked to Japans brutal 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean Peninsula.
Also read: G7 urges China to press Russia to end Ukraine war, respect Taiwan’s status, fair trade rules
Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol visited a memorial to Korean victims, many of them slave labourers, of the August 6, 1945, atomic bombing.
Washington wants the two neighbours, both of which are liberal democracies and bulwarks of US power in the region, to stand together on a host of issues, including rising aggression from China, North Korea and Russia.
Bolstering international support is a key priority as Ukraine prepares for what’s seen as a major push to take back territory seized by Russia in the war that began in February last year.
Zelenskyy’s visit to the G7 summit closely followed the United States agreeing to allow training on potent American-made fighter jets, which lays the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy tweeted after his arrival, “Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today.”
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that president Joe Biden and Zelenskyy would have direct engagement at the summit. On Friday, Biden announced his support for training Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 fighter jets, a precursor to eventually providing those aircraft to Ukraine.
Also read: Will do whatever possible to end Ukraine war: PM Modi to President Zelenskyy
“It is necessary to improve (Ukraine’s) air defense capabilities, including the training of our pilots,” Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel after meeting Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, one of a number of leaders he talked to.
Zelenskyy also met on the sidelines of the summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their first face-to-face talks since the war. He briefed him on Ukraine’s peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country before any negotiations.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has avoided outright condemnation of Russia’s invasion. While India maintains close ties with the United States and its Western allies, it is also a major buyer of Russian arms and oil.
Summits like the G7 are a chance for leaders to put pressure on one another to align or redouble their diplomatic efforts, according to Matthew Goodman, an economics expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.
Zelenskyy’s presence puts some pressure on G7 leaders to deliver more or explain to him directly why they can’t, he said.
Russia hits out
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said, “The task has been set loudly and openly: to defeat Russia on the battlefield, but not to stop there, but to eliminate it as a geopolitical competitor. As a matter of fact, any other country that claims some kind of independent place in the world alignment will also be to suppress a competitor. Look at the decisions that are now being discussed and adopted in Hiroshima, at the G7 summit, and which are aimed at the double containment of Russia and China.”
G7 vows to intensify pressure
The G7, however, has vowed to intensify the pressure.
The group said in a statement, “Russia’s brutal war of aggression represents a threat to the whole world in breach of fundamental norms, rules and principles of the international community. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”
G7 target China
Another major focus of the meetings was China, the world’s No 2 economy.
There is increasing anxiety that Beijing, which has been steadily building up its nuclear weapons programme, could try to seize Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict. China claims the self-governing island as its own and regularly sends ships and warplanes near it.
The G7 said they did not want to harm China and were seeking constructive and stable relations with Beijing, recognising the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly to China.
They also urged China to pressure Russia to end the war in Ukraine and support a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.
Xun Hou, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said that gone are the days when a handful of Western countries can just willfully meddle in other countries’ internal affairs and manipulate global affairs. “We urge G7 members to … focus on addressing the various issues they have at home, stop ganging up to form exclusive blocs, stop containing and bludgeoning other countries,” Hou said.
The G7 also warned North Korea, which has been testing missiles at a torrid pace, to completely abandon its nuclear bomb ambitions, including any further nuclear tests or launches that use ballistic missile technology, the statement further said.
US arms Ukraine
The green light on F-16 training is the latest shift by the Biden administration as it moves to arm Ukraine with more advanced and lethal weaponry, following earlier decisions to send rocket launcher systems and Abrams tanks.
The United States has insisted that it is sending weapons to Ukraine to defend itself and has discouraged attacks by Ukraine into Russian territory.
We’ve reached a moment where it is time to look down the road again to say what is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force, to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression as we go forward, Sullivan said.
Biden’s decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway, Biden told leaders.
New wave of global sanctions on Moscow
The G7 leaders have rolled out a new wave of global sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain President Vladimir Putin’s war effort. Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world, but there are questions about the effectiveness.
Russia had participated in some summits with the other seven countries before being removed from the then-Group of Eight after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The latest sanctions aimed at Russia include tighter restrictions on already-sanctioned people and firms involved in the war effort. More than 125 individuals and organisations across 20 countries have been hit with US sanctions.
Kishida has twice taken leaders to visit the peace park dedicated to the tens of thousands who died in the world’s first wartime atomic bomb detonation. Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, wants nuclear disarmament to be a major focus of discussions.
The G7 leaders also discussed efforts to strengthen the global economy and address rising prices that are squeezing families and government budgets around the world, particularly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The group reiterated its aim to pull together up to US₹600 billion in financing for the G7’s global infrastructure development initiative, which is meant to offer countries an alternative to China’s investment dollars.