Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took center-stage at the United Nations on Tuesday where US President Joe Biden warned the world of consequences if it tries to “appease” Russia’s “naked aggression.”
Wearing the military fatigues that have become his trademark, Zelensky joined the annual UN General Assembly for the first time since the war.
Biden, who will address the UN earlier, issued speech excerpts warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin – who did not come to New York – is expecting that the world “will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence.”
“But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the UN Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?”
Biden was to say. “We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.”
Zelensky is also set to meet leaders with differing views including Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has previously said that Ukraine shared blame for the war and faulted the billions of dollars in Western military aid to Kyiv.
Zelensky, who until recently would travel in utmost secrecy, will on Wednesday also take part in a special session on Ukraine at the UN Security Council, where Russia is a permanent member wielding a veto over any binding actions.
Asked about the meeting during a visit to a hospital in New York where wounded Ukrainian soldiers are being treated, Zelensky said that the United Nations still provides “a place for Russian terrorists.”
Zelensky will take center-stage Tuesday as world leaders gather for the UN General Assembly, throwing a spotlight on the war that has divided the global body.
He earlier told CBS News in an interview that Putin was a “second Hitler.”
The world must “decide whether we want to stop Putin, or whether we want to start the beginning of a world war,” Zelensky said.
Russia has met overwhelming criticism at the General Assembly over its February 2022 invasion, but the focus on the war has also drawn criticism from developing countries who believe it has distracted the West especially from other urgent priorities.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres devoted the start of the UN week to development and, in a bleak speech opening the General Assembly, pointed to the recent floods that killed thousands in Derna, Libya.
“Even as we speak now, bodies are washing ashore from the same Mediterranean Sea where billionaires sunbathe on their super yachts,” Guterres said.
“Derna is a sad snapshot of the state of our world – the flood of inequity, of injustice, of inability to confront the challenges in our midst.”
In similarly dark language, Biden used his speech to highlight the flooding as well as wildfires in North America and Europe and drought in the Horn of Africa.
“Taken together these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof our world,” Biden said in the excerpts.
Zelensky will use his United Nations trip to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who have both maintained relations with Russia – as well as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a key ally.
Addressing a reception to mark Germany’s 50 years in the United Nations, Scholz voiced alarm about the “new rifts opening up in the world.”
“Imperialism is once again showing its ugly face,” he said.
Erdogan, who will also address the General Assembly on Tuesday, has been seeking to restore a UN-backed arrangement terminated by Russia to let Ukraine, a major breadbasket for the developing world, ship grain through the Black Sea.
Guterres in his remarks vowed not to give up, saying that the world “badly needs” food from both Ukraine and Russia. A meeting that is definitely not expected at the United Nations is one between Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
The hardline Iranian leader headed to the United Nations just as Iran and the United States completed a swap of five prisoners each, after Biden worked to unblock $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that had been frozen in South Korea.
The Biden administration, facing domestic criticism for the deal with the arch-enemy, has made clear it does not see the swap as an opening.