A charismatic presence in his trademark green fatigues, Zelenskyy will presumably make the case that his nation’s survival hinges on a continued flow of money and sophisticated weaponry from the U.S. and its allies.
Recent polling shows that Americans are tiring of the war and are eager to see an end date. Russia failed to swiftly conquer its smaller neighbor but has given no sign that it is prepared to withdraw forces. Nor is Kyiv about to surrender. Ukraine is readying a counteroffensive to retake occupied land and showcase the difference Western support can make on the battlefield.
Biden, who last saw Zelenskyy in person during a surprise trip to Kyiv three months ago, vowed at the time that the U.S. would stand with Ukraine for “as long as it takes.”
That open-ended commitment will test the resolve and patience of Americans in an election season, as the Biden administration spends billions to help keep Ukraine in the fight.
The war figures to be an issue in the 2024 presidential race. Republican front-runner Donald Trump has stopped short of saying he wants Ukraine to win and told a recent CNN town hall that, if elected, he’d end the conflict in 24 hours by meeting with Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An unexpected domestic problem has intruded on Biden’s trip: The debt ceiling fight back in Washington.
Biden had originally planned to visit Papua New Guinea and Australia as part of an effort to rally U.S allies and curb China’s growing influence in the Pacific. He canceled those legs of the trip so that he could return to the White House on Sunday and resume talks over raising the debt ceiling and averting an unprecedented default that could have global implications.
“It’s a minor miracle that Biden went ahead with the trip to Hiroshima,” said Daniel Russel, former director of Asian affairs in the Obama White House. “I’m glad he did and we should all pray that this [debt ceiling fight] gets wrapped up, because the consequences would be devastating — and not only for the U.S. Everyone is concerned.”
Zelenskyy will join a summit meeting that is poised to make the war even costlier for Russia.
Biden attended a working luncheon Friday focused on the war — papers spread across a round table with flags of each country in the background. Present were the leaders of Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Commission and the European Council.
A Biden administration official told reporters on Thursday that the G-7 nations will take steps to isolate Russia that include closing loopholes that allow Russia to evade sanctions, reducing reliance on Russian energy, freezing assets and further restricting exports to Russia.
“Our commitment to continue tightening the screws on Russia remains as strong as it was last year,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. “And so, I think … you will see new steps taken to economically isolate Russia and to weaken its ability to wage war.”
Beyond sanctions, Zelenskyy has asked for advanced F-16 fighter jets to help repel Russian forces. So far, the Biden administration has declined to provide the planes out of concern that weapons capable of reaching Russian soil would risk escalating the war. But the U.S. has invited Ukrainian pilots to train on simulators to assess how long it would take them to learn to fly the aircraft.
At the summit, Zelenskyy will have a fresh opportunity to push for the jets.
“It’s very helpful,” Russel said of Zelenskyy’s visit. “If the industrialized countries get Ukraine fatigue before Russia gets war fatigue and tired of fighting, then there’s going to be a big problem. Zelenskyy has been brilliant in ensuring that the world sees the situation for what it is, and that it doesn’t burn out and get tired.”
The summit’s location is symbolic of the mortal threat that is an everyday concern for Ukraine as well as Asian countries living in the shadow of nuclear-armed China and North Korea.
During World War II, the U.S. leveled Hiroshima with a single atomic bomb. On Friday morning, Biden and his counterparts toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and met a woman who survived the attack.
In the park outside, the leaders laid wreaths and planted a tree overlooking the skeletal remains of a once-domed building that Japan has preserved as a reminder of the bomb’s toll.
Daryna Mayer contributed.