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Zelenskyy's recent diplomatic moves signal a new phase for the war in Ukraine

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Ukraine's president spoke to G-7 leaders in Hiroshima today and secured more military aid to counter Russian attacks. President Biden announced a $375 million arms package and said the U.S. will not waver in its support of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia is claiming victory in the war's longest and bloodiest battle in the city of Bakhmut. Ukraine says its forces are still fighting and have not conceded. Joining us now from Kyiv is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hello.

RASCOE: So President Zelenskyy's visit has been highly symbolic. Did he get what he wanted?

KAKISSIS: So yeah, mostly. He had a couple of goals. One was to publicly reiterate that Ukraine will not consider peace talks until every Russian soldier leaves Ukrainian land. And another goal, a big one, was to secure more military aid for Ukraine, and that's something he got. Ukraine has already received billions from the West, with the U.S. alone contributing something like 37 billion. And today, President Biden promised an additional 375 million in arms, including ammunition and armored vehicles. And President Biden also said that, you know, the U.S. is doing everything possible to strengthen Ukraine's defense. And that includes something like endorsing the training of Ukrainian pilots on American-made F-16 fighter jets, which is the - something also that's a big deal. This will allow countries to supply these planes to Ukraine. We've spoken with many Ukrainian defense officials who say, you know, these planes would be game changers. They would allow Ukraine to defend itself from an increasing number of Russian air attacks. And they would help Ukraine make gains in counteroffensives to take back land occupied by Russian forces.

RASCOE: Ukraine's allies rallied around Zelenskyy, of course, but he also made some headway with leaders who haven't exactly condemned Russia, right?

KAKISSIS: That's right. So, you know, first of all, you're right to point out that Zelenskyy was very clearly among friends. He flew into Hiroshima on a French government plane. And his meetings with European and Japanese leaders - you know, these made headlines, and there were photo-ops everywhere.

He also met a leader who has not publicly condemned Russia, and that's India's Narendra Modi. India is not in the G-7, and Modi attended the G-7 as a guest. Modi has not directly condemned the Russian invasion. And I should point out that India has increased imports of Russian oil, coal and gas since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. This has helped circumvent sanctions against Russia. That's been a problem for Zelenskyy, obviously, and for the Western coalition. Modi and Zelenskyy had a cordial meeting - again, photo-ops and happy smiles and handshaking. Modi promised to do whatever he can to end the war. And this meeting hasn't produced a change in India's position. Maybe it's too soon. But Zelenskyy has indicated that he won't stop trying to win the support of countries in the global South. He wants to show them why it's important to support Ukraine in this battle.

RASCOE: The battle for the city of Bakhmut really has become a centerpiece of the war. What is the latest there?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. So on Saturday, the leader of a private mercenary army from Russia called the Wagner Group - he claimed his fighters had captured Bakhmut, which is in eastern Ukraine. And today the Kremlin said the same thing. And Russian President Vladimir Putin is congratulating the Wagner fighters and Russian soldiers. Bakhmut came up at the G-7. Here's how Zelenskyy responded when he was asked if the Russians had taken the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: I think no. But you have to understand that there is nothing. They destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It's a pity. It's tragedy. But for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts.

KAKISSIS: So the president was trying to point out that that in 10 months of fighting, the city has been destroyed. It's now gone. But the Ukrainian forces are still fighting for its land.

RASCOE: NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thank you so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.
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