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The G7 Hiroshima Summit echoes nuclear fears

May 22, 2023 at 3:04 pm

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy arrives in Hiroshima, Japan to attend G7 Leaders’ summit on May 20, 2023. [Ukrainian Presidency/Handout – Anadolu Agency]

The G7 group of world leaders have had their sights on the Russia-Ukraine war. Over the past few weeks, speculation has been rife about a major Ukrainian counteroffensive, reflected by talks about supplying Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets. This development came after German Leopard-2 tanks were also supplied to the Ukrainian army. The main objective of these incremental steps is to impede Russia’s advance. The absence of a clear victor in this war has positioned the US as the primary beneficiary, since it considerably degrades the capabilities of a major power without Washington having to deploy troops on the ground.

The leaders of the world’s largest economies created the G8 platform in the 1970s to discuss economic policies and coordinate their efforts. From security concerns to climate change and human rights issues, the G8’s purpose evolved, growing in importance for state actors grappling with global matters. Russia was a member of the G8 from 1998 until 2014. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea as well as its involvement in supporting separatists in Eastern Ukraine led to its exclusion, so the group became the G7.

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After expelling Russia, there was a significant shift in the group’s dynamics. After all, Moscow’s non-democratic meddling worldwide was seen as incompatible with core principles promoted by the G7 membership, including ideals such as respecting international law, combined with democratic values and upholding human rights.

Japan’s hosting of this year’s G7 summit in Hiroshima carried much symbolism as the world faces another threat of nuclear war. More than 200,000 civilians were killed when the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. This remains the only use of nuclear weapons in conflict, and revealed the undeniable truth that they create an unacceptable human tragedy; Hiroshima and Nagasaki are forever etched on a black page in human history.

Russia’s failure to gain control over Ukrainian territory, along with the aid received by Ukraine from EU and NATO members, has led Moscow to up the ante and threaten to use nuclear weapons. Statements by President Vladimir Putin and former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev threatening to resort to such weapons have sparked new fears of nuclear war.

As per its nuclear doctrine, Russia reserves the right to deploy nuclear weapons when faced with aggression posed by conventional weaponry that threatens its territorial integrity. However, there are growing concerns that Putin, who has been in power in Russia for almost a quarter of a century, may not respect this doctrine scrupulously. The value of doctrinal statements can be disregarded easily when the regime experiences significant strain.

Moreover, Russia’s disputed takeover of Crimea and four regions in eastern Ukraine raises questions about Moscow’s stance on preserving the integrity of the state and defining its borders. Russia claims ownership of Ukrainian territories following a referendum held in the four regions, which many countries recognise as unlawful.

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Nevertheless, the Ukrainian army has retaken a significant part of the Kherson region from Russian troops, although it is one of the four regions recognised by the Kremlin as Russian territory. From the Russian perspective, this is thus seen as an attack on “Russian lands”.

The volatile situation presents challenges for the Kremlin now that Ukraine is taking steps towards reclaiming its territories occupied by Russia. To deter Western support for Ukraine and prevent any future advancements, the Kremlin has expressed its readiness to use nuclear weapons if necessary.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended the G7 summit in Hiroshima. During the summit, the leaders shared a common message of support for Ukraine. The victory statements made after Russia’s protracted operations to take full control of Bakhmut did not cast a shadow over the summit’s proceedings.

The US stepped back from withholding high-tech weapons to Ukraine and gave the green light for F-16 warplanes to be supplied, unveiling a new $375 million military aid package. Russia’s 2023 defence budget stands at approximately $84 billion, 40 per cent higher than its pre-war level, which places a further burden on the Russian economy already crippled by economic sanctions.

The post-summit statement made it clear that the G7 leaders would continue to assist Ukraine and strive to isolate Russia further.

The nuclear threat is ominous, not only for Ukraine, but also the rest of the world. Should a nuclear attack be launched by Russia against Ukraine, there are no guarantees about how the US and NATO will respond. This is not only about Russia and Ukraine. Other states have similar weapons and could complicate the situation. There are no clear winners in such a scenario; only the loss of our shared humanity.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.