Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed the United Nations’ ineffectiveness in the face of Russia’s war on Kyiv in a tension-filled special session of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
And that was just the start of what was likely to be a multi-hour meeting with plenty of diatribes and ripostes. Among the expected attendees: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Several heads of state and government — some from allies of Ukraine but others neutral — are also planning to speak. Among the chief diplomats on the schedule is Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Zelenskyy, dressed in his standard green military fatigues, urged the Security Council to suspend Russia’s veto power as a permanent member of the body in light of Russia’s actions during the war and bashed the U.N.’s failures to uphold its values amid the war.
“Ukrainian soldiers now are doing at the expense of their blood what the U.N. Security Council should do by its voting. They’re stopping aggression and upholding the principles of the U.N. Charter,” Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian president also called on the body to uphold his country’s territorial integrity as part of any peace process and urged it to consider reforms that would better include countries in Africa, the Americas and the Pacific and make the body “fully accountable to the nations of the world.”
He added that “547 days of full-fledged Russian aggression means 547 reasons for changes in this chamber.”
Zelenskyy’s primary foe during the session, which is occurring during this week’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, was set to be Lavrov, who is due to speak later in the day and did not immediately appear at the meeting. Some diplomats had anticipated a face-to-face showdown, but it’s possible the two will not be in the room at the same time.
Security Council gatherings are relatively staid affairs. They rarely devolve into shouting, but the words can be sharp, the tension thick and procedure used as a weapon.
At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, questioned why Zelenskyy was allowed to speak early on, predicting the whole event would be a “spectacle.”
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who was chairing the meeting because his country is the president of the Security Council this month, shot back at Nebenzia that the decision was within normal bounds.
“You stop the war, and President Zelenskyy will not take the floor,” Rama said.
In 2022, Russia launched its full-scale invasion as a Security Council meeting was underway, leading to improvised and stunned remarks from the ambassadors gathered.
Still, because Russia — and its supporter, China — are both permanent, veto-wielding members, the Security Council has been largely paralyzed and unable to enact any measures related to the war.
A special Security Council session was held during last year’s U.N. General Assembly gathering, drawing the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers as well as Blinken.
But Zelenskyy’s presence this year upped the diplomatic stakes — it’s his first in-person appearance at the General Assembly since the 2022 invasion. World leaders who spoke to voice support for Kyiv included Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Swiss President Alain Berset and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres opened the session by offering a laundry list of Russian actions that have harmed Ukraine and the world, including its efforts to block exports of Ukrainian grain.
Last year, Lavrov quickly dipped in and out of the meeting, making baseless claims about Ukraine being a Nazi country that had threatened his own. American officials argued then that Lavrov looked weak and isolated.
On Tuesday, in a traditional leader’s speech to the General Assembly, Zelenskyy urged countries that have tried to stay neutral to side with Kyiv, warning that they cannot trust Russia and its “shady deals.”
Zelenskyy is due to head to Washington this week for meetings with Biden, members of Congress and others.