Wed 20 Sep 2023 9:04 pm - Jerusalem Time

Zelensky to UN Security Council: Russian invasion is “criminal” and “unjustified”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday confronted Russia directly at the UN Security Council, saying that the invasion of his country was “criminal” and demanding that Moscow be stripped of its veto power.

For the first time since the Russian invasion in February 2022, Zelensky sat in his military uniform in the same room with a Russian official.

“Most of the world knows the truth about this war,” Zelensky said, as Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations sat in front of him. “It is a criminal and unjustified aggression by Russia against our country aimed at controlling Ukraine’s territory and resources.”

He called on the United Nations to strip Russia of its veto power in the Security Council, saying it was a fundamental reform that would at the same time strengthen the representation of the developing world -- where support for Ukraine has been lukewarm -- at the United Nations.

Zelensky said, “The presence of the veto in the hands of the aggressor is what pushed the United Nations into a dead end. ...

It is impossible to end war because all efforts are blocked by the aggressor or by those who condone the aggressor.”

He reiterated the Ukrainian position that the veto power belonged to the Soviet Union, one of the victors in World War II after which the United Nations was established, and not Russia under President Vladimir Putin.

“Unfortunately, this seat on the Security Council that Russia illegally occupies... has been seized by liars whose mission is to whitewash aggression and genocide,” Zelensky said.

But depriving Russia of the veto would be extremely difficult.

However, there is a precedent. In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly stripped Taiwan of the veto power it enjoyed as China's representative, granting it instead to the communist government on the mainland.

But the tension began even before Zelensky spoke, when the Russian side expressed its dissatisfaction with the decision of Albania, which currently presides over the Security Council and is represented by Prime Minister Edi Rama, to allow the Ukrainian president to take the podium first.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia, who has repeatedly requested to speak to Rama, said that allowing Zelensky, a former comedian, to take the stage to speak first risks “undermining the authority of the Security Council” and turning it into a “one-man show.”

Rama responded to the Russian envoy calmly but with clear resentment, saying, “There is a solution. Stop the war, and President Zelensky will not take the stage.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke before Zelensky and strongly criticized Russia.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which clearly violates the United Nations Charter and international law, exacerbates geopolitical tensions and divisions, threatens regional stability, increases the nuclear threat, and causes deep fissures in our increasingly multipolar world," he said.

Albania allowed 63 speakers to attend this session, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and American Anthony Blinken, who used the session to accuse Moscow of committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

He said in his speech, "Russia commits war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine on a daily basis."

Lavrov, a former ambassador to the United Nations and known for his harsh statements, arrived in New York late Tuesday, and Russian state media reported that his plane took a circuitous route to avoid European airspace.

This year, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely goes to the United Nations, did not attend. He has been absent from other high-level diplomatic meetings this year as Western countries seek to isolate him, while he faces an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against him.

In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Zelensky said that Russia's deportation of Ukrainian children, which led to the issuance of the warrant against Putin, constituted "genocide."

Zelensky pointed out that the war affected the interests of countries around the world, accusing Russia of using food and energy as “weapons,” including by halting arrangements supported by the United Nations that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments to pass safely through the Black Sea.

“For the first time in modern history, we have the opportunity to put an end to aggression based on the conditions of the country that was attacked,” Zelensky said in a speech that was met with applause from Western leaders but prompted others to leave the hall.

But some developing countries criticized the attention given to Ukraine, knowing that it received military aid from the United States alone worth about $43 billion.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, "It is a grave indictment of the international community that we are spending all this money on war while we cannot support the necessary action to cover the basic needs of billions of people."


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Zelensky to UN Security Council: Russian invasion is “criminal” and “unjustified”