UNITED NATIONS - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday denounced what he called U.N. Security Council inaction on Russia’s invasion of his country, in a rare interaction with senior Russian policymakers inside the United Nations.
Clad in an olive-green military-style shirt, Zelenskyy demanded that countries that violate U.N. principles and unjustly invade other nations be suspended from their Security Council seats. He spoke just steps away from the fiery Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, who scrolled through his phone and stared ahead with ambivalence as the Ukrainian leader delivered his address.
“Most of the world recognizes the truth about this war,” Zelenskyy told the chamber. “We should recognize that the U.N. finds itself in a deadlock on the matters of aggression,” he said. “World leaders are seeking new platforms and alliances that could reduce the disastrous scope of problems, the problems that are met here within these walls with rhetoric rather than real solutions, with aspirations to compromise with killers, rather than to protect lives.”
Zelenskyy’s appearance at a U.N. Security Council debate came a day before what U.S. and Ukrainian officials deem a series of crucial conversations in Washington. He is scheduled to start the day with meetings in Congress, visit the Pentagon to meet its top leadership and then visit the Oval Office in the afternoon.
Amid cracks in Republican support for continuing to fund Ukraine’s war effort, Zelenskyy’s Washington outreach received a boost Wednesday when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) agreed to host a meeting with him and other House members Thursday morning. The development followed days of ambiguity from the Republican leader, who had refused to say whether he’d talk to Zelenskyy as certain members of his fractious caucus seek to curtail U.S. support for the war.
The visit comes at a “critical time, as Russia is reaching out” to countries like North Korea and Iran, said White House spokesman John Kirby. Biden can get a “battlefield perspective from the Ukrainian commander in chief” as the counteroffensive aimed at retaking Russia-occupied territory grinds onward, Kirby said.
The Security Council debate was Zelenskyy’s second appearance at the U.N. gathering, following his speech to the full assembly Tuesday. His address Wednesday was filled with specific proposals to broaden Security Council representation and to suspend Russia’s veto power over the body, which has stymied the most punitive U.N. proposals in response to the invasion.
But it was the proximity of Zelenskyy to the Russian delegation that held the most charge on Wednesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov skipped Zelenskyy’s appearance.
Instead, it was Nebenzya in the Russian seat at the table. He only briefly glanced at the Ukrainian leader as Zelenskyy leveled complaints about the Russian “aggressor” and spoke of what he called the need for greater global representation among the permanent membership.
Zelenskyy left the Security Council following his remarks to the world body, declining a faceoff with Lavrov, as neither official appeared interested in dignifying the other with his presence.
Zelenskyy’s early departure also meant he missed the remarks of key Western allies, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who used his speaking slot to accuse Russia of demonstrating “contempt” for the U.N. system.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is “betting that if he keeps doubling down on the violence, that if he’s willing to inflict enough suffering on enough people, the world will cave on its principles, and Ukraine will stop defending itself,” Blinken said. “But Ukrainians are not giving up.”
Lavrov, who arrived at the council shortly before delivering his remarks, assailed the United States for meddling in Ukraine, accusing Washington of buying off Ukrainian officials. He also attacked the Security Council for “selectively” respecting the U.N. Charter.
Other leaders who were in the chamber said that Lavrov’s address left little hope for a resolution to the conflict anytime soon.
“With almost every country, including China, you can find some common ground,” Czech President Petr Pavel said in an interview. “With Russia, it’s like we move into parallel universes. Their vision of the world is, to a large extent, sometimes deliberately different from all the others.”
“I don’t see any chance on starting meaningful discussion,” he said.
China’s vice foreign minister, Ma Zhaoxu, touted China’s efforts at facilitating negotiations in the conflict, saying his country has “played a positive and constructive role” in attempting to resolve the crisis through its 12-point peace plan. That document, which calls for ending hostilities and beginning peace talks, has drawn little criticism from most countries, but it has not gained traction since Beijing put it forward earlier this year.
As leaders and diplomats filed into the chamber ahead of the debate, no one appeared to want to talk to the Russians. As others mingled, Nebenzya sat alone at the curving table and occasionally turned around to exchange words with the other Russian diplomats behind him.
Then, as proceedings got underway, he interrupted the debate, attempting to use procedural rules to force the Ukrainians to speak after all the members of the Security Council, rather than at the outset.
“They’re trying to transform [the Security Council] into a one-man stand-up show,” Nebenzya said.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who is holding the council president’s chair this month, fired back, saying “there is a solution for this, if you agree. You stop the war, and President Zelenskyy will not take the floor.”
Russia’s veto “has paralyzed the council but has not reduced it to silence,” he said later in the debate.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres also called for an end to the war, condemning Russian action that he said was endangering not only Ukrainians but also the entire world. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in clear violation of the United Nations Charter and international law, is aggravating geopolitical tensions and divisions, threatening regional stability, increasing the nuclear threat, and creating deep fissures in our increasingly multipolar world,” he said.
Ukraine’s fiercest backers had hoped for a White House announcement during the Zelenskyy visit to deliver the long-range ATACMS, the Army Tactical Missile System, that Ukraine has said would help it target Russian headquarters and critical resupply routes that are located far from the front. But Kirby, the White House spokesman, appeared to suggest that the move was unlikely this week.
“ATACMS are not off the table. We continue to have discussions about that particular weapons system, but no decision has been made,” he said.
Wednesday’s U.N. diplomacy coincided with a high-level Chinese visit to Moscow, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi opting to skip New York in favor of meeting Putin. The Russian leader praised “the high level” of Moscow’s relationship with Beijing, underscoring how the nations found common ground against U.S. “hegemony.”
“As for international affairs, we stand here from a united position on the formation of a multipolar world, and not a world based on some rules that no one has seen and which change every day for the benefit of those who came up with this ridiculous formula,” Putin said.
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Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, and Abigail Hauslohner and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.