Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia has committed genocide by deporting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children and is “weaponizing” everything from grain shipments to nuclear power plants in its ongoing invasion of his country.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York Tuesday afternoon, the Ukrainian President worked to shore up the coalition backing Kyiv by casting Moscow’s threat to the world as going far beyond Ukraine.
Once deported to Russia, Mr. Zelensky said, Ukrainian children are “taught to hate Ukraine” and their ties to their families are severed.
“We know the names of tens of thousands of children and we have evidence on hundreds of thousands of others kidnapped by Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” he said. “This is clearly a genocide. When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there. Each decade, Russia starts a new war.”
The International Criminal Court earlier this year issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the deportations. Mr. Zelensky’s comments Tuesday were the first to speak to such a large scale for the kidnappings.
This tactic, he said, is one that makes Mr. Putin and his cronies “terrorists” who operate outside the rules of conventional warfare. He also pointed to Moscow cutting off Ukrainian grain shipments and its occupation of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The references to grain were a clear signal to lower-income countries, which have sometimes been more reluctant than NATO members to back Kyiv, but which have depended on food imports from Ukraine.
“The mass destruction is gaining momentum. The aggressor is weaponizing many other things,” Mr. Zelensky, clad in his signature olive green military dress, said in a speech delivered in English.
The President pointed to Russia’s previous attacks on Georgia and Moldova, its use of chemical weapons in Syria, dominance of Belarus, and threats against Kazakhstan and the Baltic countries as proof that, if allowed to keep any of its conquered territory in Ukraine, it will not stop there.
He also compared the threat of Mr. Putin to that of climate change, describing him as “a natural disaster in Moscow,” and warned countries not to be fooled by any of his reassurances.
“Evil cannot be trusted. Ask Prigozhin if one bets on Putin’s promises,” he said, referring to the former Russian mercenary leader who abandoned a coup against Mr. Putin in exchange for an offer of exile, only to be killed in a plane crash.
Mr. Zelensky’s visit to the U.S. comes at a crucial moment for his country. Kyiv wants more weapons as its counteroffensives against Russian forces in recent months have made less progress than expected. But U.S. domestic politics are complicating the ability of Ukraine’s top military funder to commit more money.
The Ukrainian leader is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and Congressional leaders in Washington on Thursday before an expected jaunt to Ottawa to address parliament.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday exhorted the world – and wavering U.S. legislators – to keep backing Ukraine. He argued that a Russian victory there would embolden other countries to invade their neighbours.
“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence. But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the United States to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” the President said. “I’d respectfully suggest that the answer is no. We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.”
Mr. Biden did not name the other potential invasions he was referencing, but China, for instance, has long wanted to occupy Taiwan, which functions as a de facto independent country but which Beijing views as a renegade province.
“The United States, together with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity and their freedom,” Mr. Biden vowed to applause from the hall, including Mr. Zelensky. Russia’s representatives played on their phones during both Mr. Zelensky’s and Mr. Biden’s addresses.
Mr. Putin skipped the assembly, as did Chinese President Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, making Mr. Biden the only leader of a permanent member of the UN Security Council to attend.
The U.S. has sent more than US$44-billion in military aid to Ukraine since Mr. Biden took office. Mr. Zelensky has repeatedly pressed for more, including fighter jets.
A proposed US$24-billion additional package is currently tied up in the House of Representatives, where Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy is struggling to get any funding bills passed because of divisions in his caucus. While a bipartisan majority in Congress supports continued aid to Ukraine, a faction of far-right Republicans opposes it and has been holding it back, along with all of Mr. McCarthy’s efforts to pass spending legislation.
Mr. Biden acknowledged in his speech Mr. Zelensky’s insistence that Ukraine will not accept any negotiated end to the war that involves giving up land.
“Russia alone bears responsibility for this war” said Mr. Biden, who accused Moscow of making “Ukraine’s territory” and “Ukraine’s children” the price of a peace agreement.
He also said he favoured expanding the Security Council but stopped short of calling for Russia to be kicked off.