Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan was making an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, becoming the last leader of the Group of 7 nations to go to the country as he seeks a more active role for Japan in international affairs.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has galvanized Japan’s foreign and defense policy, stoking concerns about the costs of geopolitical instability. Policymakers and the public alike are worried that the country would be unprepared to handle a crisis in its own backyard, whether North Korean aggression or an attempt by China to take the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
The war has also raised concerns about Japan’s reliance on other countries for food and energy, most of which it imports. Prices for commodities such as natural gas jumped following the invasion, putting cost pressures on Japan’s production of electricity. In response, the country has pushed for closer relationships with its allies and broken a decadeslong deadlock in military spending, doubling its budget.
It was a significant change for Japan, where the constitution limits the country’s ability to engage in military action and the public has long resisted any policies that even hinted at walking back its longstanding official stance of pacifism. The increase raised spending to around 2 percent of annual economic output, aligning Japan with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The move was seen as signaling its preparedness to play a more active role in any military crisis in the Asia-Pacific region.
In a further break from past behavior, Japan has drawn a clear line on the war in Ukraine, joining with other G7 nations to impose sanctions on Russia and providing billions of dollars in financial aid, as well as nonlethal military aid, such as helmets and bulletproof vests. Late last month, Mr. Kishida pledged $5.5 billion in additional support.
Mr. Kishida embarked for Ukraine from India, where he had met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues including protecting freedom of navigation in the Pacific.
In a speech on Monday at the Indian Council of World Affairs, a research institute in New Delhi, Mr. Kishida said that Russia’s war had driven a “paradigm shift” in global affairs.
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine oblige us to face the most fundamental challenge: defending peace,” he said, according to prepared remarks.
Mr. Kishida flew from India to Poland, where he boarded a train to Kyiv, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK. The secretive journey was highly unusual for a prime minister in Japan, where the leader’s movements are typically broadcast well in advance and reported in detail.
Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.