UN Assembly: Zelenskyy accuses Russia of weaponising food, energy, children in war against Ukraine

Zelenskyy’s presence at the podium on Tuesday marked his first time at the United Nations since the Russian invasion, facing a fragmented international community shaken by serial crises, in particular the war in Ukraine.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for international cooperation and consensus in member states’ approach to Russia. 

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Labelling the invading country as “terrorists,” he warned that Moscow was weaponizing everything from food to energy to children in its war against Ukraine. He also called for sanctions and denuclearisation of the Russian Federation.

While individual nations have various agreements that restrict arms, “There are no real restrictions on weaponization,” Zelenskyy said. 

He also slammed certain European governments for their “political ” theatre, a thinly veiled inference to Hungary, Poland and Slovakia who have vowed to maintain a ban on domestic sales of Ukrainian foodstuffs.

Zelenskyy’s presence at the podium on Tuesday marked his first time at the United Nations since the Russian invasion, facing a fragmented international community shaken by serial crises, in particular the war in Ukraine.

A year ago, he was exceptionally authorised to deliver his speech via a video message.

This time, he is there in person, for the high-level session of the annual United Nations General Assembly, and a special meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday. 

Zelenskyy took to the world stage at a sensitive point in his country’s campaign to maintain international support for its fight. Nearly 19 months after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion, Ukrainian forces are three months into a counteroffensive that has not gone as fast or as well as initially hoped.

Ukraine and its allies cast the country’s cause as a battle for the rule of international law, for the sovereignty of every country with a powerful and potentially expansionist neighbour, and for the stability of global food, fuel and other supplies that have been rocked by the war. The commodity upheaval has triggered inflation and caused serious hardships for poor countries.

Russia’s seat at the table

Ahead of his visit, Zelenskyy suggested that the UN needs to answer for allowing his country’s invader a seat at the tables of power.

Russia is a permanent, veto-wielding member of the council, and Foreign Minister Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to make remarks.

Asked whether he’d stay in the room to listen, Zelenskyy said, “I don’t know how it will be, really.”

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“For us, it’s very important that all our words, all our messages, will be heard by our partners. And if in the United Nations still – it’s a pity, but still – there is a place for Russian terrorists, the question is not to me,” Zelenskyy said Monday after visiting wounded Ukrainian military members at a New York hospital. 

“I think it’s a question to all the members of the United Nations,” he added.

The Ukrainian president is in the US this week to make his country’s case to the world, and to Washington, for continued help trying to repel Russia’s full-scale invasion, nearly 19 months into what has become a grinding war. 

Russia says it is justified. Ukraine’s Western allies have supplied weapons and other assistance, and the US Congress is currently weighing President Joe Biden’s request to provide as much as $24 billion more in military and humanitarian aid.

Zelenskyy will be at the White House for a meeting with Biden on Thursday, however, US lawmakers are increasingly divided over providing additional money to Ukraine. 

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The Ukrainian president has taken the United Nations to task before – even before the war launched by a neighbour that, as a Security Council member, is entrusted with maintaining international peace and security. 

In one memorable example, he lamented at the General Assembly in 2021 that the UN was ”a retired superhero who’s long forgotten how great they once were.”