Zelensky urges Japan to dial up pressure on Russia, cites nuclear peril in Ukraine

A man looks at a live broadcast of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivering a virtual address to Japan's Parliament in Tokyo on March 23, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday (March 23) urged Japan to dial up pressure on Russia, which he said was preparing to launch a chemical weapons attack on his country.

In his first address to an Asian country after a series of passionate speeches to a number of Parliaments in the West, including the United States Congress, Mr Zelensky appealed to Japan to impose a complete trade embargo against Russia “to stop the tsunami of brutal invasion”.

He also called on Tokyo to take the lead to reform “dysfunctional” international organisations like the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Dressed in green overalls and sporting a full beard, Mr Zelensky warned, without providing evidence, of the spectre of a sarin attack on Ukraine and reiterated that Ukraine’s nuclear plants were in a dangerous state.

UNSC has been hamstrung because Russia, as a permanent member, has vetoed a number of resolutions against what it calls a “special military operation to de-Nazify” Ukraine.

Even before the Russian invasion, Japan has been calling for UNSC reforms given that its composition has not changed much since it was formed in 1945.

Mr Zelensky, in a 12-minute speech in Ukrainian that was simultaneously interpreted into Japanese, said: “Responsible states unite to protect peace. There will be future invaders and aggressors and we need to be very careful about that.”

He drew a standing ovation from lawmakers of both the Lower and Upper Houses when he added: “I am grateful to Japan for its principled position at such a historical moment, and for rendering real assistance to Ukraine.”

Wednesday’s virtual address was shown at two separate auditoriums near the Japanese Diet, which has hosted foreign heads of state in person but is technologically ill-equipped for a live-stream.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, speaking to reporters after the address, said Japan would consider additional humanitarian aid for Ukraine and more sanctions against Russia. Mr Kishida was scheduled to leave Tokyo later in the evening to attend a Group of Seven (G-7) leaders’ summit on the sidelines of an emergency North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting.

Japan has imposed sanctions on 76 individuals, seven banks and 12 other bodies in Russia covering defence officials and state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport, and has also revoked Russia’s “most favoured nation” trading status.

It has sent bulletproof vests, helmets and other non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine, and offered to take in Ukrainian refugees.

But, citing its own energy security vulnerabilities, Japan has declined to turn off the tap on Sakhalin-2, a liquefied natural gas joint venture with Russia. 

Still, Moscow responded to the Japanese measures this week by suspending negotiations with Tokyo over a territorial dispute and a World War II peace treaty.

Members of Japan's lower house of parliament applauding Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the House of Representatives office building in Tokyo on March 23, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Mr Zelensky thanked Japan for being the first Asian country to stand up to Russia.

He said: “The biggest country started this war. But in terms of capability, they are not big and in terms of morality, they are the smallest.”

In the series of emotionally charged speeches to Parliaments elsewhere, Mr Zelensky has sought to evoke past events. 

He cited the Pearl Harbour attack while addressing the US Congress, evoked wartime British leader Winston Churchill in the British Parliament, and referenced the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall when he spoke to German lawmakers.

He did not explicitly do anything similar in Japan, but tailored his speech by referring to the potential nuclear fallout with Russia which has seized the Chernobyl plant, crippled after a nuclear accident in 1986, and the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power station.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only two cities in the world to have suffered atomic bombings, while Fukushima ranks with Chernobyl as the world’s worst nuclear accidents. Tokyo was also the site of a deadly 1995 sarin attack.

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Mr Zelensky noted the immediate impact of the war with 121 children now among the thousands of Ukrainians who have died as well as the millions who have fled their homes. He  warned of longer-lasting damage if nuclear weapons were used in the conflict.

He accused Russia of using the 30km exclusion zone around Chernobyl to attack Ukraine, with its tanks potentially dredging up buried radioactive dust into the air.

“We have working nuclear reactors and they are in a perilous situation,” he said. “In order to investigate the kind of environmental damage and radiation in the air, it will take many years after the war ends.”

Mr Zelensky added that the brutal invasion has upended the world and driven it into the verge of unprecedented crises in food security, energy and supply chains.

The Ukrainian leader was due to address the French Parliament later on Wednesday. 

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