Zelensky at the G7 summit: meeting the onlookers of war

At the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy is trying to win over Russia’s supporters in the Global South to his country’s side.

Modi and Zelenski shake hands

Diplomatic manual work: Ukraine’s President (right) meets his Indian counterpart Modi Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press via Reuters

TOKYO taz | When Chancellor Olaf Scholz and many other participants had already taken off, the most impressive, almost surreal moment of the three-day summit meeting of the G7 states took place: with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at his side, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was standing in a black sweatshirt with the inscription ” Ukraine” in Hiroshima Peace Park for a minute in front of the memorial to the victims of the first atomic bomb attack.

Perhaps he felt his own yearning for peace there, perhaps he was thinking of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons and possibly devastate Ukraine as the United States did to Hiroshima in 1945. Zelensky later told the press that during his visit to the Peace Museum, the photos of the ruins of Hiroshima reminded him of the destruction in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, even if the comparison was historically inappropriate.

Commentators on Japanese television openly addressed the contradiction that in the “City of Peace” of all places there was so much discussion about supplying arms to a country at war. For all their sympathy for Ukraine, some Japanese would feel uncomfortable about it.

As a surprise guest, Zelensky dominated the summit, which called for Russia’s “complete withdrawal” from Ukraine and decided on new sanctions against Moscow’s “war machine”. So far, his travels have taken him to Western allies to pick up new financial and weapons packages. In Hiroshima, too, the G7 countries assured Ukraine of aid “as long as it is necessary”. They also fulfilled a long-cherished wish of Zelenskiy: Ukrainian pilots are trained on F16 fighter jets. This clears the way for the delivery of modern aircraft to Kyiv.

Lula doesn’t want to talk

But Selenski saw the summit, with its many guests from the Global South, primarily as an opportunity to influence countries that have so far been watching the war as onlookers. He thanked Indian President Narendra Modi for his support of his country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and invited him to help implement Ukraine’s “peace formula”. India is a major buyer of oil and arms from Russia and allows Moscow to circumvent Western sanctions. Modi assured Zelenskiy that he and India “will do everything we can to end the war”.

Brazil’s President Lula da Silva, who had proposed forming a “peace club” with China, ignored Ukraine’s request for a meeting. But Zelenski was able to make his appeal at a G7 round of talks where da Silva sat with Modi and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol. The Ukrainian also conferred directly with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. France’s head of state Emmanuel Macron spoke of a “unique opportunity” for Selenski to “convey a message” to the countries of the south. Chancellor Scholz described the presence of the Ukrainian as “very important”, also because of the “completely new intensity of the talks on an equal footing” with the southern countries.

Before Hiroshima, Selenski made a surprising speech at the Arab League summit. The Saudi King Salman had invited him, although many Gulf States have good relations with Russia. “Unfortunately, some around the world and here in your circle are turning a blind eye,” Zelensky said in Jeddah. But he is here so that everyone can form their own impression. On the flight to Tokyo, Russia’s most important ally made a positive gesture: China allowed the French plane with Zelensky, organized by Macron, to cross its airspace.

However, the government in Beijing later expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” with the G7 statements. The group had accused China of “economic coercion” without naming the country and said it would reduce its economic dependency on the second largest economy. The G7 “suppresses the development of other countries,” criticized a foreign ministry spokesman. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the G7 of also wanting to eliminate Russia as a geopolitical competitor.

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