Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, departs the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, on Sunday, June 2, 2024.(Ore Huiying/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

SHANGRI LA DIALOGUE — The president of Ukraine made an extraordinary and unexpected visit to Singapore this weekend, where he met with the American defense secretary, publicly asked for the support of Asian nations in an upcoming peace summit and accused China of being an “instrument” in Russian efforts to disrupt those talks.

“We need the support of Asian countries; it is much needed,” Volodymyr Zelenksyy said in a press conference at the Shangri-La Dialogue here today. “We know that many Asian nations do not support Ukraine with weaponry. We have never pressured them, never demanded it. We always ask for, first and foremost, political support, support of our people, civilians, our children.”

In his opening address to the audience here, Zelenksyy invited “your region, your leaders, countries, to join us so that your peoples are involved in [these] global affairs. …  We truly count that you will support the summit, you will be present in Switzerland.”

The peace conference, set in Switzerland in two week’s time, was organized by the Swiss federal government and, according to Zelenskyy, will host representatives from more than 100 nations, including more than 70 heads of state. China, however, has declined to attend, and the Ukrainian president said Beijing was actively working to sabotage attendance at Russia’s behest.

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“Today, once again … unfortunately, regrettably, Russia is using Chinese influence on the region, using Chinese diplomats, also does everything to disrupt [the] peace summit,” he said. “This is unfortunate that such a big, independent, powerful country as China is an instrument in the hands of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

It’s unclear so far whether US President Joe Biden will attend the summit, although senior US officials have committed to attend, Zelenskyy said, drawing a sharp contrast between years-long US support and China’s behavior relative to the war.

Specifically Zelenskyy criticized China after saying that in a talk with President Xi Jinping last year, Xi promised China would stay on the sidelines of the conflict. Instead, Beijing has support Russia with non-lethal aid, and the Ukrainian president suggested lethal aid from China was also making its way into Russian hands, though he stopped short of formally accusing China.

After Zelenskyy’s speech, the Pentagon issued a readout of his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, saying that in the meeting Austin “reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to maintaining the strong support of a coalition of over fifty countries to help Ukraine defend its freedom.”

Asked if the two discussed Biden’s recent decision to allow Ukraine to fire at targets in Russian territory in the battle for Kharkiv, Zelenskyy indicated that he welcomed the change, but said, “Is that sufficient? No.”

Russia launches attacks on Ukraine from inside its own territory beyond Kharkiv, so Ukraine cannot effectively defend itself unless it’s able to strike at those targets, he argued.

More from the Shangri-La Dialogue:

Austin, Chinese defense minister meet for first ‘constructive’ face-to-face
Defense Secretary Austin promotes new ‘unique’ Pacific ‘network of partnerships’
China’s defense minister hammers away on Taiwan, says peaceful unification chances ‘eroded’