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US President Joe Biden, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, France's President Emmanuel Macron and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend a family photo session at Itsukushima Shrine during G7 leaders' summit in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima prefecture western Japan May 19, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

HIROSHIMA, Japan: President Joe Biden on Friday endorsed plans to train Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 fighter jets, according to two people familiar with the matter, as he huddled with leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies on plans to toughen punishments on Russia for its 15-month war in Ukraine.

The Group of Seven leaders were convening in Hiroshima, where President Volodymyr Zelensky is to join them on on Sunday in his farthest trip from his country since the war began in February of last year.

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The leaders heard for the first time of Biden’s backing of training Ukrainian pilots on advanced fighter jets, as a precursor to sending the jets to Ukraine.

The G7 leaders also set out new sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.

“Our support for Ukraine will not waver,” the G7 leaders said in a statement released after closed-door meetings.

They vowed “to stand together against Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

“Russia started this war and can end this war,” they said.

The F16 training is to be conducted in Europe and will likely begin in the coming weeks. But Biden told the leaders that decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation fighter jets for Ukraine to use in battle will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway.

That’s according to the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Biden’s private conversations with allies.

Export licensing rules

Zelensky has consistently called for the supply of Western fighter jets to bolster his country’s defences against Russia’s war, but has until now faced scepticism from the US that they would turn the tide in the war. Now, as Ukraine has bolstered its air defences with a host of Western-supplied anti-aircraft systems, officials believe the jets could become useful in the battle and essential to the country’s long-term security.

Separately, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, confirmed on national television that Zelensky would attend the summit.

“We were sure that our president would be where Ukraine needed him, in any part of the world, to solve the issue of stability of our country,” Danilov said Friday. “There will be very important matters decided there, so physical presence is a crucial thing to defend our interests.”

European allies in recent weeks have warmed to the notion of sending fighter jets to Ukraine, as have elements of Biden’s Cabinet, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has emerged as a staunch advocate within the administration. Under export licensing rules, the US needed to sign off on any allied effort to train Ukrainian pilots or to provide them with the jets.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with the Indian diaspora in Hiroshima during his visit to attend the G7 Summit, on Friday. Image Credit: ANI
Modi to meet Zelensky on sidelines of G7 summit
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, India's foreign ministry said on Friday, their first meeting since Russia's war began Ukraine in February 2022.
News of the meeting came hours after Modi left New Delhi for Hiroshima, where he will be the most Russia-friendly of global leaders assembled for a summit that is expected to put fresh pressure on Moscow and tighten sanctions against it.
India is invited to the summit as a guest and Modi's meeting with Zelensky is set for Saturday evening, the ministry said.
Ukraine's First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Emine Dzhaparova, who visited New Delhi in April, said Ukraine wanted India more involved in helping resolve its conflict with Russia.
"India stands on the side of peace, and will remain firmly there," Modi said in an interview with Nikkei Asia published on Friday, without referring to his meeting with Zelensky.
"We maintain communication with both Russia and Ukraine.
Cooperation and collaboration should define our times, not conflict," Modi said.
New Delhi has refused to condemn its old ally Russia for the war in Ukraine and has increased its trade with Moscow to a record high, driven largely by the import of Russian oil.

The US and its allies also announced a series of actions meant to tighten restrictions on already-sanctioned people and firms involved in Russia’s war effort.

More than 125 individuals and organizations across 20 countries were hit with US sanctions. The financial penalties were primarily focused on sanctions evaders connected to technology procurement for the Kremlin. The Commerce Department also added 71 firms to its own list.

Additionally, new reporting requirements were issued for people and firms that have any interest in Russian Central Bank assets. The purpose is to “fully map holdings of Russia’s sovereign assets that will remain immobilized in G7 jurisdictions until Russia pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine,” a Treasury statement reads.

Putin’s nuclear threats against Ukraine, along with North Korea ’s months-long barrage of missile tests and China’s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal, have resonated with Japan’s push to make nuclear disarmament a major part of the G7 summit. World leaders Friday visited a peace park dedicated to the tens of thousands who died in the world’s first wartime atomic bomb detonation.

After group photos near the city’s iconic bombed-out dome, a wreath-laying and a symbolic cherry tree planting, a new round of sanctions were unveiled against Moscow, with a focus on redoubling efforts to enforce existing sanctions meant to stifle Russia’s war effort and hold accountable those behind it, a US official said. Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world, but there are questions about the effectiveness of the financial penalties.

The G7 nations said in Friday’s statement that they would work to keep Russia from using the international financial system to prosecute its war, would “further restrict Russia’s access to our economies” and would prevent sanctions evasion by Moscow.

They urged other nations to stop providing Russia with support and weapons “or face severe costs.”