Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the United Nations to punish Moscow for its invasion, calling for a special tribunal and for Russia to be stripped of its UN Security Council veto.
“A crime has been committed against Ukraine and we demand just punishment,” Zelenskyy said in a pre-recorded video address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) delivered just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilisation of 300,000 reserves nearly seven months after he first ordered troops to cross the border into Ukraine.
Zelenskyy, wearing his trademark khaki-coloured t-shirt, said Kyiv had a five-point plan to establish a durable peace, which included not only punishing Moscow for its aggression, but the restoration of Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity and the provision of security guarantees.
“Punishment for the crime of aggression. Punishment for violation of borders and territorial integrity. Punishment that must be in place until the internationally recognised border is restored,” he told the assembly, with his wife, Olena Zelenska, among those in the auditorium.
It was the first time Zelenskyy had addressed the world’s leaders gathered together since the Russian invasion, and several delegations rose to their feet and applauded at the end of the speech. Russia and some other delegations remained seated.
Zelenskyy poured scorn on Moscow’s talk of negotiations saying its actions spoke louder than its words.
“They talk about the talks but announce military mobilisation. They talk about the talks but announce pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” he said.
On Wednesday, Russian-backed separatists in four occupied regions of Ukraine announced they would hold referendums on whether to become part of Russia over four days starting from September 23.
Russia does not fully control any of the four regions where it plans to hold what Ukraine and its allies have condemned as “sham” votes.
Russian forces have been accused of war crimes in parts of the country that they have occupied. Russia denies the allegations and says it does not target civilians.
Russia has not yet had its turn to speak at the UNGA, and Putin is not in New York for the event.
Zelenskyy’s speech was one of the most keenly anticipated at the annual gathering, which has been dominated by the war in his country. Officials from many countries have spoken of their concern at the situation and argued that Russia’s invasion undermines the principles underpinning the UN, including peace, dialogue and respect for sovereignty.
“It’s an attack on this very institution where we find ourselves today,” said Moldovan President Maia Sandu, whose country borders Ukraine.
United States President Joe Biden also focused heavily on the war in Ukraine as he addressed the assembly.
“This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should make your blood run cold,” he said. “If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this very institution stands for. Everything.”
The fighting has already prompted moves against Russia in some UN bodies, particularly after Moscow vetoed a UN Security Council resolution put forward days after the invasion that demanded Russia end its attack on Ukraine.
The veto led to action in the broader General Assembly, which voted overwhelmingly in March to deplore Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, call for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of all Russian forces, and urge protection for millions of civilians. Resolutions at the assembly are not binding, but there are no vetoes.
The following month, a smaller but still commanding number of member states voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
Last week, the UNGA voted overwhelmingly to allow Zelenskyy to make the video address even as the summit returned fully in-person to UN headquarters in New York following the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there were a few holdouts and Zelenskyy did not let them off the hook.
“I want to thank the 101 countries that voted for my video address to take place. It was a vote not only about the format. It was the vote about principles. Only seven countries voted against: Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria,” Zelenskyy said. “Seven. Seven who are afraid of the video address. Seven who respond to principles with a red button. Only seven. One hundred and one — and seven.”
There were also 19 abstentions.