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G7 ends with Ukraine in focus as Zelenskyy meets world leaders and Russia claims disputed gains

US President Joe Biden (far left), Japan's Fumio Kishida, (far right) Canadian leader Justin Trudeau and France's Emmanuel Macron stand with Ukrainne's Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
US President Joe Biden (far left), Japan's Fumio Kishida, (far right) Canadian leader Justin Trudeau and France's Emmanuel Macron stand with Ukrainne's Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Copyright Susan Walsh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Susan Walsh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP
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World leaders ratcheted up pressure Sunday 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 rich-world democracies.

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Zelenskyy's in-person attendance at one of the world's premier diplomatic gatherings is meant to galvanize attention on his nation's 15-month fight against Russia. 

Even before he landed 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 Japan's brutal 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean Peninsula. 

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 6 August, 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.

“Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today,” Zelenskyy tweeted after his arrival.

Susan Walsh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ahead of a working session on Ukraine during the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, May 21, 2023.Susan Walsh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Hanging over Sunday’s talks was the Russian claim that its forces and the Wagner private army had seized the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. The eight-month battle for the eastern city - seen by both sides as a major symbolic prize - has been the longest and likely bloodiest of the war.

Comments by Zelenskyy earlier in the day suggested that the Russians had finally taken the city. But he and other Ukrainian officials later cast doubt on that assessment, with Zelenskyy telling reporters in Ukrainian: “Bakhmut is not occupied by the Russian Federation as of today.”

US President Joe Biden announced new military aid worth $375 million for Ukraine, saying the  US would provide ammunition and armoured vehicles. That pledge came after his country agreed to allow training on American-made F-16 fighter jets, laying the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine.

“It is necessary to improve [Ukraine’s] air defence 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 summit's sidelines with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their first face-to-face talks since the war, and 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 Center 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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the G7 summit for aiming to isolate both China and Russia.

“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,” he said.

The G7, however, has vowed to intensify the pressure.

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Stefan Rousseau/live
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet at the Grand Prince Hotel, during the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan.Stefan Rousseau/live

“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,” the group said in a statement.

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 program, 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, “recognizing 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.”

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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.”

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 leaders’ statement said.

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