With the skeleton of Hiroshima’s A-Bomb Dome as a backdrop, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida ended the G7 summit with a call for global peace and a world without nuclear weapons, after being upstaged by Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appearance.

Only a few weeks earlier, Kishida had thought “the hurdle was too high” for the Ukrainian president to attend the gathering in person. However, Zelenskyy was determined to make his first visit to Asia since the start of Russia’s invasion, according to people involved in the preparations.

Whether by accident or design, the timing of Zelenskyy’s arrival in Hiroshima presented a rare opportunity to meet — or ambush — non-G7 leaders in attendance from Brazil and India, two developing powers that have maintained ties with Moscow.

It was also the perfect setting to garner support for Ukraine’s plans to end the war, which have been vying with rival proposals by China and others that seek a ceasefire without calling for Russia’s full withdrawal, according to Japanese and European officials.

“By having President Zelenskyy in Hiroshima to take part in discussions, we were able to deliver a message with urgency that the threat of nuclear weapons cannot be used to change the status quo by force and, more importantly, that these weapons must never be used,” Kishida said.

When Zelenskyy joined the meeting of G7 leaders on Sunday, some speakers including French president Emmanuel Macron proposed the drafting of a “joint communication” to fully align the group behind the Ukrainian peace plan.

Dubbed the “Hiroshima peace principles” by one diplomat, it would have stood in contrast to the Chinese alternative and other proposals being suggested by various parties. The intention was to make it clear the G7 was in lockstep and to impress this upon their invited guests, not least India and Brazil.

“We are here in the city of peace and as such it’s a very good place to discuss the possibility of peace [in Ukraine],” said a European Commission official at the summit.

Fumio Kishida, left, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy lay wreaths at the cenotaph for victims of the atomic bomb at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park © Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan/AFP/Getty Images

But as the summit drew to a close, plans for a declaration fizzled out. However, its main messages were broadcast nonetheless. At his news conference, Kishida laid out four principles that the participants had agreed on, including the importance of the UN Charter and the rule of law, as well as achieving the original aim of projecting solidarity with Ukraine.

“This war isn’t just European,” Macron told reporters ahead of Sunday’s talks. “It’s the opportunity to discuss, exchange and convince partners of this enlarged G7 . . . India, Brazil, Indonesia and several other countries from the south, who have sometimes not exchanged as much with Ukraine.”

“This allows Zelenskyy to express himself to powers of the world who at times are exposed to just one discourse,” Macron added, making reference to the upcoming summit of the Brics countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

After arriving on Saturday, Zelenskyy held bilateral talks with the G7 members as well as the leaders of India and South Korea.

“The continuing war in Ukraine is a huge problem for the entire world. India and I will do everything we can for a resolution,” said India’s prime minister Narendra Modi with Zelenskyy beside him.

It was the first time the two leaders had met since Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine last February. Modi, who was seated next to Zelenskyy during the final session at the summit, greeted the Ukrainian leader with a warm handshake and joked with him as members of the press were ushered out.

Later at the summit table, Modi also called for UN reform, noting the organisation was not able to take any effective action since Russia was a member of its Security Council, according to officials who witnessed the discussions.

India’s Narendra Modi greets Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Hiroshima © Ukrainian Presidential Press Ser/AFP/Getty Images

A meeting with Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva proved to be more difficult. Zelenskyy ultimately left Japan without speaking directly to Lula, a leader who rolled out the red carpet for Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Brasília.

When asked whether he was disappointed that the meeting did not happen, Zelenskyy replied: “I think he [Lula] should be the one disappointed.” Macron even made a personal plea for Lula to take the meeting, according to one person briefed on their conversation.

But several Brazilian officials disputed the idea that Lula declined a meeting, saying a scheduling clash simply occurred. One said Lula had agreed to a meeting on Sunday at a time requested by Ukraine. The Brazilian team had even secured a Ukraine flag to display in the room in the Ana Crowne Plaza Hotel where the two leaders might come face to face. “We were available,” the Brazilian official said.

Despite the differences on each country’s stance against the war, Mark Brown, the prime minister of Cook Islands who was also invited to the summit, said all the participants were aligned in upholding the rule of law.

“The level of support to Ukraine, of course, varies from country to country . . . but the solidarity in supporting Ukraine against the invasion by Russia was a common message,” Brown told the Financial Times. “We’ve seen conflict in Europe today. And we don’t want it to escalate to a nuclear conflict. And Hiroshima reminded us of the price that was paid,” he added.

Kori Schake, head of foreign and defence policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said Zelenskyy’s attendance was important from a US domestic and an international perspective.

“It’s hugely significant to give Ukrainians heart as they fight on, show Russia the breadth of support for Ukraine, cement pledges of assistance and show recalcitrant Republicans in Congress that withholding further assistance won’t just be injurious to Ukraine but damaging to US leadership,” she said.

After laying flowers in memory of at least 80,000 people who died after the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, Zelenskyy said photos of the city’s destruction echoed Bakhmut and other Ukrainian cities destroyed by Moscow’s invasion.

“Our dream is to win this war and to have peace,” said Zelenskyy. “That is why it is important to seek for solidarity on Ukraine in Hiroshima.” 

Additional reporting by Michael Pooler in São Paulo

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