TANZANIA – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested on Wednesday that Russia’s decision to mobilize some reservists shows that Moscow is not serious about negotiations to end its nearly seven-month war.
Talking on video with Meeting of world leaders of the UN General Assembly Hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement, Zelensky insisted that his country would prevail in repelling Russia’s attack and pushing out its troops.
“We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it by force of arms,” the president said. “But we need time.”
Putin decree of the middle about mobilization was stingy with details. Officials said up to 300,000 reservists could be involved. It was apparently an attempt to seize momentum after a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month retook swaths of Russian-held territory.
But the first such draft in Russia since the Second World War also brought the Russians a new way of fighting and risked deploying domestic anxiety and antipathy towards the war. Shortly after Putin’s announcement, flights out of the country quickly filled up and hundreds of people were arrested at anti-war demonstrations across the country.
A day earlier, Russian-controlled parts of eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold referendums on joining Russia. Ukrainian leaders and their Western allies consider the vote illegitimate.
Zelensky did not discuss the development of events in detail. But he suggested that any Russian talk of talks was just a stalling tactic, and that Moscow’s actions speak louder than its words.
“They talk about negotiations, but announce military mobilization. They talk about negotiations, but they announce pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” he said.
It has not yet been Russia’s turn to speak at the rally.
Putin, who is not at the event, said he sent his armed forces to Ukraine because of a risk to his country’s security from what he considers a hostile government in Kiev; to free Russians living in Ukraine — especially in eastern Donbass — from what he sees as oppression by the Ukrainian government; and to restore what he sees as Russia’s historic territorial claims to the country.
Zelensky’s speech impressed not only with its content, but also with its context. This happened after the announcement of extraordinary mobilization. It was the first time he addressed the world leaders, who have gathered since Russia invaded in February.
It was not announced at the August podium, where other presidents, prime ministers and monarchs speak, but instead of a video from a country at war after Zelensky special permission was granted does not come personally.
He appeared, as in many previous video appearances – in an olive T-shirt. He was sitting at a table with a Ukrainian flag over his right shoulder and a large image of the UN and Ukrainian flag over his left shoulder.
Zelensky’s speech was one of the most anticipated at the most famous annual meeting of international diplomacy, which this year was dedicated to the war in his country. Officials in many countries are trying to prevent the spread of the conflict and restore peace in Europe – although diplomats do not expect breakthroughs this week.
Nevertheless, this topic surfaced in the speeches of leaders from around the world. In the vast majority, the sentiment was similar: Russia’s invasion did not correspond to the cornerstone principles of the UN, including peace, dialogue and respect for sovereignty.
“This is an attack on this very institution where we are today,” said the president of Moldova, Maya Sandu, whose country borders Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden’s address also, paid great attention to the war in Ukraine.
“This war is a simple destruction of Ukraine’s right to exist as a state and Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what you believe, this should make your blood run cold,” he said. “If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequence, then we are jeopardizing everything that this institution stands for. Everything.”
Zelensky suggested that Moscow wants to spend the winter preparing its forces in Ukraine for a new offensive, or at least preparing reinforcements, mobilizing additional troops in Europe’s biggest military conflict since World War II.
“Russia wants war. This is true. But Russia will not be able to stop the course of history,” he said, declaring that “humanity and international law are stronger” than what he called a “terrorist state.”
Laying out various “preconditions for peace” in Ukraine, which at times drifted into broader prescriptions for improving the global order, he called on world leaders to strip Russia of its right to vote in international institutions and veto power in the UN Security Council, saying that aggressors must be punished and isolated . .
The fighting has already prompted some moves against Russia in UN bodies, especially after Moscow vetoed the UN Security Council resolution which would require stopping the attack on Ukraine a few days after it began.
The veto has angered a number of other countries and led to action in the wider General Assembly, where resolutions are not binding but there is no veto.
The assembly voted overwhelmingly in March to deplore Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, call for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of all Russian forces, and call for the protection of millions of civilians. The following month, a smaller but still overwhelming number of members voted to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
Although Zelenskiy was long-awaited, he was only one of dozens of leaders who spoke on Wednesday – among them President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi and the newly elected President of Kenya, William Ruta. Almost 150 heads of state and government are scheduled to speak during the six days of speeches.
It was also not the first time that the Ukrainian leader was in the center of attention at the annual meeting of the assembly.
His debut speech in 2019 came when Zelensky suddenly found himself embroiled in a political scandal engulfing the United States — then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to force the Ukrainian to investigate then-candidate Biden and his son Hunter.
Zelenskiy avoided the matter in a speech that year, but was peppered with questions about it at a press conference with Trump. Episode ultimately led to Trump’s first impeachment.
Zelensky at last year’s General Assembly memorably compared the UN to a “retired superhero who have long forgotten how great they once were,” as he repeated calls for action to confront Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and support for separatists.
Associated Press reporter Andrew Cattell contributed from New York.
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