Correspondent in Washington
Zelensky is returning to the United States, both to ensure continued American military aid, but also to try to expand international diplomatic support for his country. The Ukrainian president, who addressed the UN from kyiv by video last year, this time went in person to the UN General Assembly in New York.
Dressed in his military fatigues that he has worn in all circumstances since the start of the war, Volodymyr Zelensky repeated a fairly clear message: Russia's unjustified invasion of Ukraine is a violation of the sovereignty of his country and of one of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter.
He thus accused Moscow of using food and energy “as weapons” and considered that Russia had “no right to hold nuclear weapons”. Concerning Russia's transfer of “tens of thousands” of Ukrainian children to the territories it occupies in Ukraine, he denounced a “genocide”. He finally announced that his country was preparing a “world peace summit” to which he wants to invite all the leaders of the planet opposed to the Russian invasion.
His historic speech aimed to gain military and diplomatic support for Ukraine's war effort, but was particularly aimed at states in Latin America, Africa and Asia, whose support for Ukraine remains mixed.
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The American President, Joe Biden, the only head of state permanent member of the Security Council to have visited the United Nations General Assembly this year, also recalled in his speech the patent violation of the charter of the organization by Russia. “Certain principles of international relations are sacrosanct: sovereignty, territorial integrity and respect for human rights,” Biden recalled, “and yet, for the second year in a row, this assembly dedicated to peaceful resolution conflict is overshadowed by war, an illegal and unjustified war of conquest on the part of Russia against a neighboring country, Ukraine. Russia alone bears responsibility for the war, Russia alone has the power to stop this war immediately.”
“If we abandon the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter to appease an aggressor, can member states feel protected?” warned the American president. “If we allow the carving up of Ukraine, is the independence of a nation assured? The answer is no. We must oppose this overt aggression today in order to deter other potential aggressors tomorrow. “That is why the United States, its allies and partners around the world will continue to support the courageous people of Ukraine in defending their sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom.”
But on the international diplomatic scene, as in domestic politics, facts are less important than their perception, or than prejudices. For varied reasons, but often linked to a distrust of the United States and Western countries, the Russian version of the Ukrainian war found an echo across what we now call the “Global South”. Rather than seeing Russia's aggression as an attack on international norms, this alternative narrative asserts that it is instead the United States and its Western allies who are destabilizing international peace and security and escalating the conflict.
Brazil, India and South Africa have adopted an ambiguous attitude since the start of the Russian invasion. Brazilian President Lula da Silva has regularly blamed Russia, the United States and the European Union as equally responsible for the war. Brazil nevertheless voted last February for a resolution calling for an end to the Russian invasion. India, China and South Africa, however, abstained.
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The Security Council, paralyzed by Russia's veto, took the United Nations back to the days of the Cold War, when the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, blocked resolutions deemed hostile to their interests. The fact that Washington regularly vetoes any text condemning Israeli policy is also considered by many countries as an example of the “double standards” applied by the United States. The episode of the invasion of Iraq without a UN mandate in 2003 is also remembered as a case where Washington showed itself less respectful of international norms.
Zelensky, who plans to visit Washington on Thursday, must also worry about American domestic politics. An isolationist faction of the Republican Party is calling for stricter limits on the amount of aid given by the United States to Ukraine, and threatening to suspend the functioning of the federal state if its budgetary conditions are not accepted.