G-7 stiffens resolve to thwart Russia, gives Zelenskyy chance to win over fence sitters

G-7 stiffens resolve to thwart Russia, gives Zelenskyy chance to win over fence sitters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (C-Rear) joins G7 world leaders at a working session on the final day of the G7 Summit on May 21, 2023 in Hiroshima, Japan.

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The Group of Seven (G-7) rich nations signalled to Russia their readiness to stand by Ukraine for the long haul while giving President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a chance to win over countries such as Brazil and India on the last day of a summit in Japan.

Distrust of China as a trading partner and determination to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion were the key messages delivered by the world’s leading democracies at the gathering in the city of Hiroshima.

But even as the G-7 leaders began wrapping up their three-day meeting on Sunday, Russia claimed to have finally captured the battered eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, following a months-long siege that marked the bloodiest battle of the war.

The leaders of the G-7 nations — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — have debated how to respond as the conflict that began in February last year drags on.

Potential joint allied training programmes for Ukrainian pilots on U.S.-made F-16 warplanes was a message to Russia that it should not expect to succeed in its invasion by prolonging conflict, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Sunday.

Ukraine has not won commitments for delivery of the planes, but President Joe Biden and senior U.S. officials told G-7 leaders Washington supports joint allied training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said the summit was an opportunity to convince big emerging states such as India and Brazil to come off the fence and put their support behind Ukraine.

Macron made the comment to reporters a day after calling Zelenskiy’s surprise visit at the summit a “game changer”. Shortly after Zelenskiy arrived in Japan, Russia claimed victory in Bakhmut. Hours before the claims from Moscow, Ukraine had rejected a claim by Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin that his Wagner fighters had completed the capture of the city.

No ‘frozen conflict’ in Ukraine

During the first day of the summit on Friday, in addition to Biden’s endorsement of F-16 training, the G7 announced new sanctions on Russia. Biden is planning to roll out a $375 million military aid package for Ukraine in Japan as well, according to a U.S. official.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the package will include artillery, ammunition and HIMARS rocket launchers. Zelenskyy has pushed the countries to go further on both economic and military measures.

Scholz said that while the immediate priority was supporting Ukraine’s defence, security guarantees for Ukraine needed to be established once the war was over.

The German leader said it was important for Zelenskyy to meet leaders of the Global South — a term encompassing major emerging economies like Brazil, India and Indonesia — to convey the message that any proposals for peace talks could not be with the aim of creating a “frozen conflict” and should involve the withdrawal of Russian troops.

As Moscow’s 15-month-old invasion has dragged on, several analysts and diplomats have floated the idea that it could become a frozen conflict like the Korean Peninsula.

North and South Korea remain technically at war their 1950-53 conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty. Macron struck a similar theme, saying: “Peace should not make Ukraine a frozen conflict because that would lead to a war in the future. It needs to resolve the problem.”

‘Shouldn’t be naive over China’

Biden was set to meet with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday to discuss military interoperability and the economic coercion they face from China, a U.S. official said.

A day earlier, the G-7 leaders outlined a shared approach towards China, looking to “de-risk, not decouple” economic engagement with a country regarded as the factory of the world.

The leaders said cooperation with China was necessary given its role in the international community and heft as the world’s second-biggest economy, as well as areas of common interest such as climate and conservation efforts. But they said they would take steps to protect sensitive technology that could threaten national security, without unduly limiting trade and investment.

“We shouldn’t be naive. We know where we need to engage with China,” Macron said, citing biodiversity, climate and artificial intelligence.

“But we need to preserve interests and have elements of reciprocity and protect value chains. We don’t want an escalation … but on key elements we have to protect ourselves.”

German’s Scholz told broadcaster ZDF on Sunday that the United States, Germany and other rich nations would make sure their big investments into China continue, as would supply chains and exports to China, but the G-7 was sending a clear sign it was looking to pare back risk.

In a statement the G-7 reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, where Chinese military exercises have raised concerns over the security of Taiwan, the democratic, self-governed island that China regards as part of its territory.

China’s foreign ministry issued a complaint to Japan, the G-7 host, expressing firm opposition to the G-7 joint statement, saying it disregarded China’s concerns, had attacked it and interfered in its internal affairs, including Taiwan. While in Hiroshima, Biden has had the impasse over the U.S. government debt ceiling hanging over him.

Before leaving Japan he has ordered a call with Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, knowing failure to strike a deal would trigger a first-ever default and lead to recession in the United States, spelling more trouble for the global economy.