Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has taken centre stage at the United Nations General Assembly, with Germany and France condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “imperialism”, Qatar, Senegal and Turkey calling for immediate peace talks, and Lithuania urging the establishment of a war crimes tribunal to punish Moscow’s atrocities.
Standing at the UN rostrum in New York late on Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there was “no justification whatsoever” for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine in February. “This is imperialism, plain and simple,” he said, adding that it spelled disaster not just for Europe, but also for the global, rules-based order.
“If we want this war to end, then we cannot be indifferent to how it ends,” Scholz said. “Putin will only give up his war and his imperialist ambitions if he realises that he cannot win.” Germany, therefore, he pledged, will not accept a peace dictated by Russia and will continue supporting “Ukraine with all our might financially, economically, with humanitarian assistance and also with weapons”.
The ongoing General Assembly is the UN’s first full, in-person leader’s summit since the COVID-19 pandemic and comes as the war in Ukraine approaches its seventh month. That conflict has become the largest war in Europe since World War II, with thousands killed and millions forced to flee their homes.
The loss of important grain and fertiliser exports from Ukraine and Russia has meanwhile triggered a global food crisis, especially in developing countries.
In two General Assembly votes soon after the Russian invasion, about 140 of the UN’s member nations overwhelmingly deplored Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and called for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory. But more than 30 countries abstained, including China, India and South Africa.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in an impassioned speech, said no country should stay neutral about condemning the Russian invasion.
“Those who remain silent today – despite themselves or secretly with a certain complicity – are serving the cause of a new imperialism, a contemporary cynicism that is destroying the world order,” he said, dismissing the narrative that the West was trying to defend outdated values to serve its interests.
“Who here can defend the idea that the invasion of Ukraine justifies no sanction?” he asked. “Who of you here can consider that the day when something similar with a more powerful neighbour happens to you, there’ll be silence from the region, from the world?”
“I call on all the members of this assembly to support us on the path to peace and act to force Russia give up the choice of war so that it realises the cost on itself and us and ends its aggression,” he said. “It’s not about choosing a camp between East and West, but the responsibility of everybody to respect the UN charter.”
‘New Cold War’
Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda meanwhile called on UN member states to create a tribunal to punish alleged Russian war crimes.
“There must be no impunity for the brutal crimes and atrocities committed during the war. Guaranteeing justice and accountability is of vital importance from the standpoint of credibility of the United Nations and the international community,” he said, also urging countries buying Russian oil to end imports and “stop financing this bloody war”.
But some countries expressed unease at having to choose sides.
“I have come to say that Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history; that it does not want to be the breeding ground of a new Cold War, but rather a pole of stability and opportunity open to all its partners, on a mutually beneficial basis,” said Macky Sall, the president of Senegal and the current chairman of the African Union.
“We call for a de-escalation and a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine as well as for a negotiated solution to avoid the catastrophic risk of a potentially global conflict,” he said. “Negotiations and discussions are the best tools we have to promote peace. I launch an appeal to put together a high-level mediation mission to which the African Union stands ready to contribute.”
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani echoed the call for peace.
“We are fully aware of the complexities of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and its international dimension, nevertheless, we call for a ceasefire and the immediate pursuit of a peaceful solution to the conflict,” he said. “This is how the matter would eventually end anyway, no matter how long the war lasts. Its continuation would not change this result, but would rather increase the number of victims, and double its severe consequences for Europe, Russia and the global economy in general.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, said the deal his country and the UN had recently helped broker on Ukrainian grain exports was one of the global body’s greatest achievements in recent years.
“As a result of our intense efforts with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, we have ensured that Ukrainian grain reaches the world via the Black Sea,” Erdogan said in his address. “This agreement, which is of critical importance in maintaining global grain supplies, is one of the greatest achievements of the UN in recent years.”
Turkey, he said, will continue its efforts to end the war with an agreement that is “based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence”.
Other leaders who spoke on the first day of the general debate included Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Swiss President Ignazio Cassis.
United States President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.
Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are not attending. They sent their foreign ministers instead.