Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on screen as he remotely addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly
United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky demanded Wednesday that the world punish Russia in a dramatic video address to the UN General Assembly, where US President Joe Biden accused Moscow of violating basic international norms.
Laying out what he called his conditions for peace, Zelensky – the sole leader allowed to address the summit virtually – called 15 times for “punishment” of Russia over its invasion.
“Ukraine demands punishment for trying to steal our territory. Punishment for the murders of thousands of people. Punishment for tortures and humiliations of women and men,” Zelensky said in English in a pre-recorded video.
Sporting his signature green military T-shirt, Zelensky received a rare standing ovation in the General Assembly, which has returned in person after two years of pandemic restrictions.
Zelensky called for a special tribunal to hold Russia accountable, saying it would be a “signal to all would-be aggressors.”
US President Joe Biden addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly
He also demanded a compensation fund, saying Russia “should pay for this war with its own assets.”
His address came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin mobilized reservists and made a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons, signs that he is in no rush to end the war.
Zelensky made clear he saw no point to immediate talks, saying Russia only used diplomacy to buy time on the battlefield.
“Russia is afraid of real negotiations and does not want to fulfill any fair international obligations. It lies to everyone – as is typical for aggressors, for terrorists.”
- Wooing world on UN reform -
Zelensky has become a symbol of resistance in the West, which has responded with wide sanctions on Russia and billions of dollars in military equipment for Ukraine.
But the former actor appeared conscious of the resentment in the developing world about the focus on Ukraine. He pointed to the lack of African and Latin American representation on the Security Council as he called for Russia to be stripped of its veto power.
Biden also sought to woo the developing world, announcing another $2.9 billion to address global food insecurity – which has worsened markedly since the invasion of Ukraine, a major grain exporter.
Biden threw his support behind an expansion of the UN Security Council, an idea mulled for decades but which has previously seen low US enthusiasm
And he threw his support behind Security Council seats for Africa and Latin America.
“Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations Charter,” Biden told the General Assembly.
“Let us speak plainly. A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor – attempted to erase the sovereign state from the map.”
The United States has previously offered verbal support but little enthusiasm for years of calls to reform the Security Council. It has earlier backed bids by Japan and India.
Biden also promised the United States would “refrain from the use of the veto, except in rare, extraordinary situations, to ensure the council remains credible and effective.”
Russia in recent years has been the most frequent user of its veto power. The United States, China, France and Britain also enjoy vetoes, a legacy of the power dynamics at the end of World War II.
Russia has previously scoffed at US high-mindedness on the Security Council, pointing to how former president George W. Bush circumvented it to invade Iraq.
Kenyan President William Ruto, addressing the General Assembly, welcomed Biden’s remarks on reform as a “significant step in the right direction.”
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the Global Fund replenishment conference in New York
French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking on the sidelines of the General Assembly, said that the world must put “maximum pressure” on Putin whose decisions “will serve to isolate Russia further.”
The European Union said its foreign ministers would hold an emergency meeting late Wednesday in New York to address Putin’s speech.
New sanctions “for sure will be on the table,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters.
- No ‘Cold War’ with China -
Protesters attend a rally calling for the prosecution of the Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi near the UN headquarters
Amid warnings of rising global division, Biden also sought to calm tensions with China, days after he again promised US support to Taiwan if Beijing invades the self-governing democracy.
“As we manage shifting geopolitical trends, the United States will conduct itself as a reasonable leader. We do not seek conflict, we do not seek a Cold War,” Biden said.
The Biden administration has been encouraged by what it sees as China’s less than full backing of Putin, who recently acknowledged that Beijing has concerns about the Ukraine war
Among other leaders addressing the United Nations was Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who traveled to New York just as protests spread in his country over the death of a woman arrested by morality police.
Biden said that Americans “stand with the brave women of Iran” after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who allegedly was beaten to death after not wearing her headscarf in compliance with the clerical state’s guidelines.
Raisi accused the West of “double standards” as he mentioned the killings of Indigenous women in Canada.