Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made an unannounced visit to Ukraine's capital Kyiv on Tuesday ahead of a Group of Seven summit he will host in May, vowing as he stood alongside President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to keep supporting the country in its struggle against Russia's invasion.
After meeting with Zelenskyy, Kishida said at a joint press conference that he invited the president to participate online in the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, while promising to supply $30 million worth of nonlethal equipment to Ukraine through a NATO fund.
In a joint statement, Kishida and Zelenskyy pledged not to leave unpunished any "war crimes and other atrocities" committed during the Russian invasion. They also confirmed their "unwavering solidarity" and demanded Moscow withdraw all forces from Ukraine "immediately and unconditionally."
The International Criminal Court issued last week an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over his alleged involvement in forcible deportation of Ukrainian children during the war.
With Japan holding this year's G-7 presidency, Kishida had been the sole G-7 leader yet to visit Ukraine after Russia launched the attack on its neighbor in February 2022. U.S. President Joe Biden traveled to Kyiv last month in advance of the first anniversary of the invasion.
Kishida's visit to Ukraine came as Chinese President Xi Jinping, who began a three-day trip to Russia on Monday, met with Putin.
Having previously voiced hope to make a trip to Ukraine under the right conditions, Kishida told reporters ahead of his departure for India on Sunday that any plans to visit Kyiv had yet to be made.
Following his talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Monday, Kishida entered Ukraine through Poland. The Japanese government did not announce his departure for Kyiv in advance for security reasons, but later confirmed media reports about the planned visit while he was in transit to the country.
Although ministers have to receive Diet approval when they go abroad while parliament is in session, the Diet affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said pre-approval was not necessary in the case of Kishida visiting Ukraine given the security concerns.
Kenta Izumi, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, hailed Kishida's visit to Ukraine but said the premier should swiftly report on the outcome of his trip at the Diet after returning to Tokyo.
After arriving in Kyiv, Kishida visited Bucha, a town where many civilians were found dead following an earlier occupation by Russian troops.
In Bucha, Kishida told reporters that Japan "will continue to make utmost efforts to support Ukraine to restore peace."
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offers flowers at a church in Bucha near the capital Kyiv during a visit to Ukraine on March 21, 2023. People killed in a massacre allegedly committed by Russian soldiers are buried at the church. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
Japan has offered financial support to Ukraine, along with humanitarian and medical supplies as well as defense equipment such as bulletproof vests and helmets.
But Tokyo has not delivered weapons to Ukraine as Japan's postwar pacifist Constitution effectively bars the Self-Defense Forces from providing military arms to foreign forces.
Kishida has expressed willingness to support the reconstruction of conflict-torn Ukraine.
The two leaders have confirmed that they will work together to maintain the international order based on the rule of law while sharing the view that they oppose Russia's attempt to unilaterally change the status quo.
Issues surrounding Ukraine are set to become a major agenda item at the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, as China, a country friendly with Russia, has called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Tuesday criticized Kishida, saying at a press conference that the international community should accelerate peace talks and create conditions for a political settlement of the conflict in Ukraine.
China hopes Japan will "do more to help de-escalate the situation instead of the opposite," Wang said.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, however, said in a Twitter post that Kishida is "making a historic visit to Ukraine to protect the Ukrainian people and promote the universal values enshrined in the U.N. Charter."
Kishida plans to demonstrate Japan's commitment to supporting the war-torn nation in the run-up to the G-7 summit. He is scheduled to preside over the three-day summit from May 19 in Hiroshima, a city devastated by a U.S. atomic bomb in August 1945.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (far R) arrives at a railway station in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on March 21, 2023, in a surprise visit to the Eastern European country to hold talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
The prime minister, who is elected to the Diet from the western Japan city, has pledged to pitch his vision of a world without nuclear weapons amid fears that Russia could use one against Ukraine in the ongoing war.
A Japanese government official had previously said it would be difficult to arrange a visit to Ukraine by Kishida for security reasons, despite his eagerness to travel there as chair of the upcoming G-7 summit.
Meanwhile, relations between Japan and Russia have been deteriorating as Tokyo has joined other G-7 members in imposing punitive economic sanctions on Moscow over its aggression against Ukraine.
Zelenskyy had invited Kishida to visit his country. On Feb. 24, the president attended a G-7 online summit at Kishida's request on the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Kishida is slated to revisit Poland on Wednesday before returning to Tokyo on Thursday morning, a government official said.