Ukraine’s president spoke in a video address ahead of the UN meeting just hours after Russia announced plans to call up 300,000 reservists.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the UN to punish Moscow for its invasion, calling for a special tribunal to be set up and for the UN Security Council to remove the veto.
“A crime has been committed against Ukraine and we demand a just punishment,” Zelenskyy said in a pre-recorded video address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement, nearly seven months long announced a mobilization of 300,000 reservists after ordering troops to cross the border into Ukraine for the first time.
Zelenskyy, wearing his signature khaki T-shirt, said Kyiv has a five-point plan to bring about a lasting peace that includes not only punishing Moscow for its aggression but also restoring Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity and the provision of security included guarantees.
“Punishment for the crime of aggression. Punishment for violating borders and territorial integrity. A punishment that must be imposed until the internationally recognized border is restored,” he told the gathering, along with his wife Olena Zelenska, who were seated in the auditorium.
It was the first time Zelenskyy had addressed the assembled world leaders since the Russian invasion, and several delegations stood and applauded at the end of the speech. Russia and some other delegations remained seated.
Zelenskyi despised Moscow’s talk of negotiations, saying his actions speak louder than his words.
“They talk about the talks but announce a military mobilization. They talk about the talks but announce pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” he said.
On Wednesday, Russian-backed separatists in four occupied regions of Ukraine announced they would hold four days of referendums starting Sept. 23 on whether to become part of Russia.
Russia does not fully control any of the four regions where it intends to hold what Ukraine and its allies have condemned as “sham” votes.
Russian forces have been accused of war crimes in parts of the country they occupy. Russia denies the allegations and says it is not targeting civilians.
It has not yet been Russia’s turn to speak at the UNGA, and Putin is not in New York for the event.
Zelenskyi’s speech was one of the most eagerly awaited at the annual gathering dominated by his country’s war. Officials from many countries have expressed concern about the situation, arguing that the Russian invasion is undermining the principles on which the UN is founded, including peace, dialogue and respect for sovereignty.
“It is an attack on the very institution that we are in today,” said Moldovan President Maia Sandu, whose country borders Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden also focused heavily on the war in Ukraine when addressing the gathering.
“This war is about wiping out Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, pure and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should make your blood run cold,” he said. “If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, we are jeopardizing everything that this very institution stands for. All.”
The fighting has already prompted action against Russia in some UN bodies, notably after Moscow vetoed a UN Security Council resolution tabled days after the invasion demanding that Russia end its attack on Ukraine.
The veto prompted action in the broader General Assembly, which voted overwhelmingly in March to deplore Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, to call for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of all Russian forces, and to demand the protection of millions of civilians. Resolutions of the assembly are not binding, but there is no right of veto.
The following month, a smaller but still overwhelming number of member states voted to exclude Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
Last week, the UNGA voted overwhelmingly to allow Zelenskyy to address the video, even as the summit returned fully in-person to the UN headquarters in New York following the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there were a few holdouts and Zelenskyy didn’t let them off the hook.