G7 summit: Zelensky accuses some Arab leaders of ‘blind eye’ to war ahead of Japan trip

  • By Tessa Wong in Hiroshima & James Gregory in London
  • BBC News

Image caption,

The Ukrainian leader was in Saudi Arabia ahead of an expected trip to the G7 in Japan

Volodymyr Zelensky has accused some Arab leaders of “turning a blind eye” to Russia’s invasion ahead of his expected appearance at the G7 summit in Japan.

It is thought the Ukrainian president will arrive in Hiroshima on Sunday in a bid to secure further military support for a planned counter-offensive.

On Friday, Mr Zelensky was in Saudi Arabia for an Arab League summit.

Of the Arab League nations, only Syria has openly supported Russia’s invasion.

Other member nations have sought to maintain good relations with Moscow.

“Unfortunately, there are some in the world and here among you who turn a blind eye to those [prisoner of war] cages and illegal annexations,” said Mr Zelensky.

“I’m here so that everyone can take an honest look, no matter how hard the Russians try to influence, there must still be independence.”

Mr Zelensky also told the assembled leaders in Jeddah that his country was defending itself from colonisers and imperialists, appearing to invoke the Arab world’s own history of invasion and occupation.

Host nation Saudi Arabia has walked a delicate line on the conflict – on the one hand supporting a UN resolution calling for Russia to withdraw its troops and pledging $400m in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, while on the other hand resisting imposing sanctions on Russia, preferring to see itself as neutral on the conflict.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman renewed his offer for Saudi Arabia to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv to end the fighting at the summit.

Syria meanwhile has only just been readmitted to the Arab League – its leader Bashar al-Assad told the summit there was an historic opportunity for the region to reshape itself without foreign interference.

Mr Zelensky also took aim at Iran, which is not a member of the Arab League, for supplying Shahed drones to Russia. Iran denies supplying drones for the conflict.

The Ukrainian leader is expected to travel from Saudi Arabia to the G7 summit, although his office has not confirmed the visit.

The G7 summit kicked off on Friday with a renewed condemnation of Russia and an announcement of further sanctions.

The group of seven nations, made up of the US, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Japan, represent the world’s richest democracies. This year, eight other countries including Australia and India have also been invited.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

G7 leaders slapped more sanctions on Russia on the summit’s opening day

The trip would be the furthest Mr Zelensky has travelled from Kyiv since the war began in February 2022, and like other trips outside of Ukraine it could pose a potential risk to his safety.

But the calculation is that the risk is worth taking if it means securing even more help in his fight against Russia.

“When a person is somewhere far away, across the ocean, somewhere else, they do not always feel and understand what is happening on the territory of our country. It is the physical presence of our president that is extremely important at such events,” said Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s powerful National Security and Defence Council.

In the past few days Mr Zelensky has visited Italy, Germany, France and the UK, where he nailed down promises of military support. He also continues to push allies to provide advanced fighter jets to Ukraine, but so far no country has committed to directly providing them.

Once he reaches Hiroshima he will probably try to persuade more cautious leaders to provide aid, such as Japanese PM Fumio Kishida and Indian leader Narendra Modi.

“By showing up in person, it is a chance for him to ensure he does not come away empty-handed, and that he will head back to Kyiv his arms full with the weapons deals that he wants”, including a promise of lethal weapons from Japan, said John Kirton, director of the G7 Research Group think tank.

Though Japan has been hugely sympathetic to Ukraine, its strict military laws have meant that so far it has only given non-lethal defence equipment.

Earlier on Friday, G7 leaders were welcomed by Mr Kishida at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where they laid wreaths to honour those who died in the US atomic bombing which hastened the end of World War Two.

The summit’s first day ended with a statement in which member countries pledged “new steps” to stop the war in Ukraine and promised further sanctions to “increase the costs to Russia and those who are supporting its war effort”.

They said they would “starve Russia of G7 technology, industrial equipment and services that support its war machine” and limit Russia’s revenue from energy and diamond sales.

The summit, which ends on Sunday, is expected to end with a communique on the war in Ukraine.

2023-05-19 14:43:37