Jeddah, sleep, and a French plane, how Zelenskiy reached Japan's G7

By John Irish

HIROSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - As Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskiy touched down in the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Saturday, cameras zoomed in on the plane: a French government-labelled military aircraft.

At times since Russia invaded Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron's diplomatic overtures have made some of his allies angry and wary of his intentions despite Paris providing substantial military and financial aid to Ukraine.

But on Friday as Zelenskiy first landed in Jeddah to address the Arab League, the French Airbus emblazoned with the tricolour flag marked an achievement for Macron.

According to French officials, the idea of bringing the Ukrainian leader to the G7 had been in the works for several weeks after initial discussions with the Japanese hosts in particular given a broader list of attendees.

Members of the Global South, a term for some mostly low- and middle-income nations, including India and Brazil, two countries that have not distanced themselves from Moscow, are also attending the summit.

"The Ukrainians asked that President Zelenskiy be transported by the French army," a French presidential official said, adding that the decision had been made on Wednesday.

According to the officials, the Ukrainian delegation was picked up from the Polish border before embarking on a four-hour flight to Jeddah as part of Zelenskiy's broader effort to reach out to countries that have remained on the fence in the conflict.

"It was an opportunity for him to explain his position with countries he doesn't usually talk to," a second French official said.

Speaking ahead of a bilateral meeting with Macron in Hiroshima, Zelenskiy thanked France and said he had received "positive signals" from Arab states without elaborating.

One of the officials, who travelled on the plane with the Ukrainian delegation, said it had been striking how tired they were and had taken the opportunity to catch up on sleep in the 15-hour flight from Saudi to Japan, crossing Chinese airspace on its route.

But, the official said, Zelenskiy had on several occasions called his diplomatic and military teams in to prepare how they would handle the different dynamics and views each of their potential interlocutors had on the war. The aim, French officials said, was to sway their stances.

It wasn't the first time Paris had stepped in to offer its aviation comforts. A French government Falcon jet had taken Zelenskiy from Brussels to Poland in February after a European heads of state summit, the French officials said.

"A plane in the colours of the French Republic has arrived in Hiroshima," Macron tweeted after meeting Zelenskiy. "On board, the Ukrainian delegation came to the G7 to work with us and our partners for Ukraine's victory and to restore peace in Europe."

(Reporting by John Irish, Editing by Louise Heavens)