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KYIV, Ukraine and HIROSHIMA, Japan — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to personally attend the group of seven leading industrial nations’ meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, this weekend, as member states intensify sanctions on Russia.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Ukraine’s ICTV on Friday that important decisions will be made in Hiroshima and Zelenskyy’s “physical presence is an absolutely important thing in order to defend our interests.”
“Because when people are far away, across the ocean, they do not always feel and understand what is happening in our country,” Danilov said. “It is the physical presence of our president that is extremely important at such events.”
The Japanese prime minister’s office declined to comment on reports of Zelenskyy’s attendance. But a source close to Zelenskyy confirmed to NPR that the Ukrainian president would appear at the G-7 summit this weekend.
This is Zelenskyy’s first trip to Asia since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Hiroshima, destroyed by a nuclear attack in World War II, is also laden with symbolism, as Zelenskyy has warned that nuclear-armed Russia could escalate its war on Ukraine.
The G-7 leaders gathered in Hiroshima include President Biden as well as the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Amid talk of Russia potentially deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s appearance in a city that became the victim of nuclear bombs in 1945 would send a strong message, analysts say.
At the G-7, Zelenskyy is expected to campaign for more sophisticated weapons – especially F-16 fighter jets – ahead of a planned counteroffensive to push Russian forces out of Ukrainian land. He has already secured pledges of millions in aid in recent days after stops in major European countries, including the U.K., France, Italy and Germany. Before arriving in Japan, Zelenskyy is expected to appear at the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia.
In an address Thursday night, Zelenskyy said his government must “maintain the momentum of international support and communication for Ukraine.”
“I am confident that we will accomplish this task,” he said.
Zelenskyy’s visit comes as Ukraine faces pressure to achieve clear victories in a pending counteroffensive to liberate Russian-occupied land. There has been little movement since November, when Ukraine liberated the southern city of Kherson. Ukrainian troops are exhausted after months of defending the eastern city of Bakhmut, which is largely destroyed and mostly occupied by Russian forces.
Reports say Zelenskyy will travel on a U.S. plane, indicating he will likely hold a one-on-one meeting with President Biden. He will also have the opportunity to meet the leaders of India and Brazil, who are attending the G-7 as observers and who have refused to support Ukraine.