The culmination of the Group of Seven talks on Sunday witnessed a series of compelling appeals delivered in person by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. His aim was to urge leaders gathered in Japan to maintain their unity in the face of Russian aggression. Zelensky’s decision to travel halfway across the world to personally deliver his entreaties underscored the complex blend of solidarity and uncertainty that leaders have grappled with in the fourteen months since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine commenced.
This appeal unfolded against the backdrop of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group claiming to have seized control of Bakhmut, a Ukrainian city that had been a site of intense and protracted conflict. In a remarkable morning photo-op, held in a city that had previously been decimated by a nuclear bomb, world leaders, adorned in suit jackets, stood shoulder to shoulder with Zelensky, dressed in his customary military green attire, symbolizing their unwavering support for Ukraine moving forward.
Zelensky’s unexpected appearance at the talks, which was confirmed only at the eleventh hour on Saturday, allowed him to utilize the final day of the gathering to reiterate his calls for more substantial weaponry and stricter sanctions against Moscow. Taking to Twitter, he affirmed, “As long as invaders remain on our land, no one will sit down at the negotiating table with Russia,” while also expressing his belief that “the world has enough power to force Russia to restore peace step by step.” Zelensky further emphasized the interconnectedness of nations, stating, “Our world is vast, but we are all in it together. From Japan to the Arab countries, from Europe to Latin America, we find support for our formula. And we continue this work.”
Throughout the weekend, Ukraine’s wartime leader engaged in a flurry of meetings, including a crucial encounter with US President Joe Biden. This marked their first meeting since Biden’s visit to Kyiv in February, during which the US President announced a fresh $375 million security assistance package for Ukraine. Biden emphasized the United States’ ongoing commitment to bolster Ukraine’s defense capabilities, citing recent decisions to supply F-16 fighter jets and provide training for Ukrainian pilots in the United States. He assured Zelensky, “Together with the entire G7, we have Ukraine’s back, and I promise we’re not going anywhere.”
The fate of Bakhmut serves as a poignant illustration of the stakes involved for Ukraine. In his meeting with Biden, Zelensky denied that the city had fallen, but acknowledged that little remained. He lamented, “They destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It’s a pity, it’s a tragedy, but for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts.” Ukraine’s military also refuted Wagner’s claim, asserting that the battle for Bakhmut was ongoing.
Ukraine’s resolve has been fortified by the provision of increasingly advanced weaponry from Western nations. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that the United Kingdom would commence training Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 fighter jets “this summer” to bolster Ukraine’s air force and equip it for future challenges. Sunak affirmed, “Ukraine must not only win the war but also achieve a just and lasting peace.”
However, concerns persist that waning support and political pressures may eventually erode Western backing. Dysfunctions in Washington, exemplified by the recent deadlock over negotiations to raise the federal borrowing limit, have contributed to doubts among G7 leaders regarding the sustainability of political support for Ukraine. The debt ceiling talks have been a topic of interest during the discussions, with Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, noting the need for assurances that the United States will avoid defaulting on its debt. Biden himself expressed optimism about avoiding default, dismissing statements from both negotiating sides as bluster and suggesting that some posturing is to be expected in the negotiation process. Biden is expected to address reporters’ questions at a later news conference on Sunday.
The backdrop of Hiroshima, a city devastated by an American atomic bomb during World War II, lent significant symbolic weight to Zelensky’s warnings of potential Russian escalation. Against this historical context, Zelensky’s appeals for international support carried a sense of urgency and gravity.
Earlier in the summit, G7 leaders reached a consensus on implementing a substantial new sanctions package aimed at tightening the noose on Russia’s war machinery. The united front presented by the bloc, which had previously included Russia as a member of the G8 before its expulsion following the annexation of Crimea, highlighted the isolation faced by Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. It was a remarkable turn of events to see Zelensky seated at the summit table alongside world leaders, underscoring the seismic shift in dynamics.
However, the summit also exposed challenges in garnering global consensus behind the Western initiative. Some invited guests, including the leaders of India, Brazil, and Indonesia, have been more hesitant to unequivocally condemn the war in Ukraine. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who met with Zelensky, pledged to do “everything we can” to seek a resolution to the conflict. Modi emphasized that the war in Ukraine transcends mere economic and political concerns, calling it a matter of humanity. Yet, Modi has refrained from explicitly condemning Russia’s invasion, and India remains a significant buyer of Russian oil.
Amidst these developments, concerns arise about the potential erosion of Western support for Ukraine. Fatigue and political pressures may undermine the sustained backing that Ukraine needs. The recent political deadlock in Washington over the debt ceiling negotiations has raised questions among G7 leaders about the durability of their support. Jake Sullivan acknowledged that the debt ceiling talks have been a topic of interest during the summit, with leaders seeking assurances that the United States will not default on its debt obligations.
However, President Biden remains optimistic about avoiding a default, dismissing the heated rhetoric from both sides as part of the negotiation process. He is confident that a resolution will be reached, drawing on his experience with similar negotiations in the past.
As the G7 talks draw to a close, the world’s attention remains focused on Ukraine and its ongoing struggle for sovereignty and peace. The appeals made by President Zelensky and the commitments of support from leaders like President Biden demonstrate the determination to stand united against Russian aggression. The path ahead remains challenging, but the hope for a just and lasting peace for Ukraine perseveres, fueled by the support and collective efforts of the international community.