Russia-Ukraine War Set to Dominate UN Leaders Gathering

The UN General Assembly
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by Alex Gangitano and Brett Samuels

Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

 

The United States and other countries opposed to Russia’s war in Ukraine will be brought to the table at this week’s United Nations General Assembly with nations that sympathetic to Moscow or have refused to take a side, posing a major test for the U.N.

The war will likely be the dominating topic for the U.S. and its allies in the New York discussion, which will put those countries that haven’t joined in on condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin in the hot seat.

While the war itself will be a major point of discussion, so will many of its ripple effects in terms of the global energy supply, economics, human rights, food security and more.

“I think it’ll be sort of a sub-theme of the event that many countries are more sympathetic to the Russian perspective, or at least that they’re benefiting from — in the case of China — lower oil prices,” said Michael Allen, special assistant to former President George W. Bush on the National Security Council.

Biden will address the General Assembly on Wednesday and is likely to focus on Putin’s aggression, along with other priorities, including addressing climate change.

“A core message that I think you’re going to hear from leaders across the U.S. government is that respect for the core principles of the international order is needed now more than ever,” John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Friday.

The U.N. was founded in response to the type of land war in Europe that many worried would unfold if Russia captured major Ukrainian cities and opted to move into other nations.

While the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada and other allies have banded together to impose economic sanctions on Russia and provide military aid to Ukraine, this week’s meetings will underscore both the limits of the United Nations in confronting the Kremlin and the fractured nature of the organization.

The U.N. has had limited success in pushing back on Russia, specifically by suspending it from the Human Rights Council. But Russia sits on the powerful U.N. Security Council, giving it veto power over more sweeping proposals, as well as a platform to grandstand.

Russia has also found allies in China, Brazil, India and other nations that have not been willing to go nearly as far in imposing sanctions or even outright condemning Moscow’s actions.

In the lead-up to the General Assembly, Putin has held meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian President Narendra Modi.

Daniel Hamilton, a Europe expert at the Brookings Institution, said that U.S. and allies will be tasked this week with trying to convince more countries to oppose the war because it has global ramifications.

“They’ve been playing catch-up, frankly, in making an argument around the world, to the rest of the world. So, many countries around the world don’t really buy the argument or they’re sitting on the fence either because they have contacts to Russia or are the skeptical of the U.S. or European claims,” Hamilton said.

The meetings in New York also come amid successful counteroffenses from the Ukrainian military. Ukraine has recently regained thousands of miles of territory in the country’s northeast and forced thousands of Kremlin troops to retreat.

Biden in his speech is likely to highlight how Kyiv’s success on the battlefield is due in part to the steady stream of aid provided by the U.S. and its allies. The Biden administration has committed roughly $15 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the invasion began in February, including a fresh $600 million announced days before the meeting in New York.

He will also likely use the fight between Kyiv and Moscow to emphasize a long-standing theme of his presidency: that the world is at an inflection point in the struggle between democracies and autocracies, and that it is up to world leaders to band together to ensure democratic values survive and thrive.

“He’s going to have to try to walk the line between not declaring victory too early, but making the argument for why we need to keep providing that support to Ukraine,” said Carrie Filipetti, executive director of the Vandenberg Coalition and a former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has delivered stirring speeches to Congress and other governing bodies around the world to rally support for his country, may appear via video at the General Assembly. But Reuters reported that Russia is seeking to block the message on the grounds that Zelensky should have to attend in person to speak.

Putin will not be in New York for the gathering of leaders, but the U.S. approved a visa for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to attend.

Experts also predict that there will be some sanctions coordination meetings between the U.S. and its allies, even on the sidelines of the meetings.

Kirby told reporters on Friday that he believed the recent images out of Izyum in Ukraine, where officials have discovered mass graves, should make leaders sympathetic to Russia reconsider their connections to Putin.

“I think you’re starting to see even countries who were not vociferous and strident in opposing him are beginning to question what he’s doing in Ukraine and rightly so because it’s just, it’s just brutal,” he said. “It’s absolutely depraved and brutal. And I think it’s becoming more and more obvious to the rest of the international community.”

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