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Zelenskiy laments UN weakness in face of Russia’s veto power, urges expansion of Security Council

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (The Presidential Office of Ukraine)
September 24, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the UN Security Council that the world can no longer rely on the organization to defend the “sovereign borders of nations,” specifically pointing to Russia’s veto power in the Security Council as blocking progress to any “real solutions” to global crises.

He called Russia’s invasion of his country “criminal” and said Moscow should be stripped of its veto power.

“Most of the world recognizes the truth about this war,” Zelenskiy said on September 20 as Russia’s UN ambassador sat before him. “It is a criminal and unprovoked aggression by Russia against our nation aimed at seizing Ukraine’s territory and resources.”

Zelenskiy said the UN General Assembly and its 193 members must be given a way to overcome the Kremlin’s veto and said that new permanent members should be added to the all-important Security Council.

“Germany has become one of the key global guarantors of peace and security,” Zelenskiy told a special session of the Security Council.

“This is a fact. It is also a matter of fact that Germany deserves a place among the permanent members of the Security Council,” he said, adding that Latin America, the Pacific states, Africa, and Asia must have more representation.

Currently, five nations — the United States, France, Britain, Russia, and China — are permanent Security Council members and wield veto power over resolutions.

Zelenskiy’s remarks to the council followed his speech a day earlier to the General Assembly in which he warned of the global threat from Russia.

The session marked the first time the defiant Ukrainian leader has publicly faced Russian officials in person and comes during a rare U.S. visit that could prove crucial in Kyiv’s ongoing efforts to rally international support for its defense against its much larger post-Soviet neighbor.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who also spoke to the council, was not present in the session while Zelenskiy spoke, but Moscow’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, was there.

Lavrov called Russia’s use of its veto power in the council a “legitimate tool” of international relations set out in the UN Charter.

In his September 19 speech, Zelenskiy accused Russia of “weaponizing” everything from food and energy to abducted children in its unprovoked full-scale invasion, which followed eight years since an occupation of Crimea and lower-grade fighting began with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskiy said “there are no real restrictions on [Russia’s] weaponization” plans in an effort to get international recognition for occupied regions of Ukraine.

It is Zelenskiy’s first in-person appearance at an annual UN General Assembly since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. His trip comes three months into a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has not advanced as fast or as well as hoped for at first, and has included meetings with foreign leaders. The visit will also take him to Washington for more appeals to U.S. President Joe Biden and leading lawmakers on September 21.

“When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there, Zelenskiy said. “Each decade Russia starts a new war. Parts of Moldova and Georgia remain occupied. Russia turned Syria into ruins. Russia has almost swallowed Belarus. It’s obviously threatening Kazakhstan and Baltic states.”

Zelenskiy also said Kyiv was working on preparing a global peace summit.

Speaking to the assembly earlier, Biden urged the leaders to stand by Ukraine against the invasion, saying, “Russia alone has the power to end this war immediately.”

Russia will address the General Assembly on September 23, when Lavrov is expected on the rostrum.

Back in Ukraine, that country’s military said it had destroyed 17 drones overnight on September 19-20 out of what it estimated to have been 24 Russian drones launched from the north and southeast.

The Ukrainian General Staff also said it was conducting offensives in the areas of Melitopol, in the southeastern Zaporizhzhya region, and the fiercely contested town of Bakhmut, in the eastern Donetsk region.

The British Defense Ministry said in its daily assessment that the reported capture of the villages of Andriyivka and Klilshchiyivka, about eight kilometers from Bakhmut, “brings Ukrainian forces closer to…one of the main supply routes into Bakhmut from the south,” although it said Russia still held a “readily defensible” railway line.

Ukraine’s military said there had been several strikes on an oil refinery in the central region of Poltava, resulting in a temporary halt to operations.

Acting Governor Dmytro Lunin said there did not appear to be any casualties.

In Russia, the mayor of the Black Sea resort of Sochi said a fire at a fuel tank near an airport there had been put out and “there were no casualties.” The mayor, Aleksei Kopaygorodsky, said “the airport and the entire transport system are operating as normal” and the cause of the blaze was under investigation.

Ukraine is thought to have stepped up its drone and other attacks in occupied Crimea and inside Russia in recent months, although it routinely avoids claiming responsibility.

RFE/RL cannot independently confirm battlefield accounts by either side in areas of heavy fighting, and strictures on the media make reporting inside Russia difficult.