Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on world leaders to show unity in the face of Russia’s continued “aggression” in Ukraine, telling the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that Moscow is “weaponising” food and energy.
Speaking from the UN headquarters in New York for the first time since the conflict broke out last year, Zelenskyy on Tuesday portrayed the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an existential threat to the global order akin to nuclear weapons.
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“We must act united to defeat the aggressor and focus all our capabilities and energy on addressing these challenges,” he said in English. “It takes our unity to make sure that [such] aggression will not [happen] again.”
Zelenskyy criticised Moscow for what he said was an “attempt to weaponise [a] food shortage on [the] global market in exchange for recognition of some, if not all, of captured territories”.
He also accused Russia of committing genocide by kidnapping Ukrainian children and said Kyiv was working on preparing a global peace summit.
The war in Ukraine has figured prominently on the first day of the high-level UN General Debate, with several world leaders pledging continued support for Kyiv during the most widely watched event of the UN’s annual calendar.
The United States and its allies have provided billions of dollars worth of humanitarian and security aid for Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022.
At the UNGA on Tuesday morning, US President Joe Biden – who will meet Zelenskyy later this week at the White House – told other leaders that “Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalise Ukraine without consequence.”
“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” Biden asked during his UNGA speech, drawing applause when he said the US and its allies would stand with Ukraine in its fight.
“Russia alone bears responsibility for this war,” he said. “Russia alone has the power to end this war immediately.”
Biden’s address at the annual gathering was the centrepiece event of his three-day visit to New York, which will include meetings with the heads of five Central Asian nations, and the leaders of Israel and Brazil.
The Democratic president has made rallying US allies to support Ukraine a leading component of his administration’s foreign policy amid criticism from some Republican legislators over the breadth and cost of that assistance to Kyiv.
More than 140 heads of state and government ministers are taking part in this week’s 78th session of the UNGA, which offers a chance for countries to present issues of particular concern in a series of live public speeches.
In-person attendance has steadily recovered since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced leaders three years ago to send in prerecorded video messages due to safety precautions. The UN is composed of 193 member states.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from the UN on Tuesday afternoon, said Zelenskyy used his UNGA speech to make it “very clear” that Ukraine needs support. However, Hanna said the address was unlikely to change the views of nations that have remained neutral.
“Among some members of the Global South, as well, there’s been public discontent about the amount of time the UN spends on the Ukraine issue at the expense, they believe, of the problems facing the Global South in particular,” he added.
Zelenskyy is also expected to speak at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Wednesday, which could place him at the same table as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The Ukrainian leader will then travel to Washington, DC, on Thursday to meet with Biden. He will also visit the US Capitol, where lawmakers face a September 30 deadline to pass a federal spending bill that will include further aid to his war-torn country.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters last week that he believed Zelenskyy was “looking forward” to visiting congressional leaders “to make the case” for continued US support for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Reuters news agency on the sidelines of the UNGA, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that Ukraine urgently needs air defences, including ammunition and spare parts.
Stoltenberg said the conflict was a “war of attrition” but not a stalemate, given the gains Ukraine has made with a counteroffensive it began in June to try to reclaim territory occupied by Russian forces.
“If we want an end to the war, if we want a just and lasting peace, then military support to Ukraine is the right way,” the NATO chief said. “Ukraine needs many different types of support.”