Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, making his first visit to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion, offered strong support to Ukraine and invited President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to participate in the Group of Seven summit in May.
Kishida, the last leader from a G-7 country to visit since Ukraine was attacked more than a year ago, made the trip after stopping in New Delhi to pressure Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join other leaders in shunning Russia over its aggression. Japan is set to host the G-7 summit in Hiroshima.
“Japan will support Ukraine until peace is restored,” Kishida said Tuesday at a news press conference with Zelenskiy in Kyiv.
The visit by Kishida to a country with a pressing security risk is a departure from Japanese precedent and serves as the clearest sign yet of support from Tokyo for Zelenskiy. The Ukraine leader has spoken with Kishida at online conferences and addressed Japan’s parliament through a video link in March of last year.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an outrageous act that shakes the very foundations of the international order,” Kishida said in Ukraine.
While Kishida’s government has joined Western-led sanctions against Russia, the Asian nation has stopped short of taking strict measures on energy supplies. His government has said that Russia’s Sakhalin-2 export project is a key source of liquefied natural gas, and that Japan’s economy requires Russian oil for stable operations.
Kishida visited the town of Bucha outside Kyiv, where evidence emerged last year of atrocities against civilians under Kremlin occupation. He said he “saw with my own eyes the consequences of Russia’s aggression.”
Zelenskiy said he encouraged Kishida to join in Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction, focusing on the auto industry and green energy projects, as well as mine-clearing. “Japan could be one of the key partners” in rebuilding, he said.
Kishida said he wanted to make his way to Kyiv before the Hiroshima summit in mid-May to speak in person with Zelenskiy, who agreed to participate in the meeting via video link.
Kishida’s trip coincides with a three-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader pledged even closer ties with Beijing and hailed Xi’s proposal for ending the war in Ukraine as a potential blueprint.
The US offered its support of Kishida’s visit. Jake Sullivan, national security adviser for the White House, said on Twitter: “As the G7 President this year, Japan is a global leader in supporting Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s brutal and unlawful invasion.”
Standing alongside Kishida, Zelenskiy said he’d received no concrete proposals on expected talks with Xi, which would be the first with the Ukrainian leader since the beginning of the invasion.
But tensions remain fraught, and the visits of the two Asian nations have only underscored wider global geopolitical divisions that have seen the US and European Union nations clash with China over everything from computer chips and trade to security and defense technology.
Kishida and Zelenskiy also raised concerns about China’s moves toward Taiwan. “The leaders also emphasized the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element in security and prosperity in the international community,” they said in a statement.
Many people in Japan have expressed fear that failing to respond to Russia’s attack could embolden China to make a similar move against Taiwan, whose stability Tokyo sees as key to its own security. Kishida’s government has sent military equipment to Ukraine — albeit nonlethal — breaking with tradition it has maintained under its pacifist constitution.
At the same time, Moscow flexed its muscles during Kishida’s visit, sending two strategic bombers on a planned flight over international waters of the Sea of Japan for more than seven hours, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Telegram.
--With assistance from Mark Sweetman, Jon Herskovitz and Paul Jackson.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.