By Patsy Widakuswara
In a sign that the United States is listening to the Global South, President Joe Biden addressed a myriad of their concerns even as he rallied support for Ukraine in his address before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence,” Biden said. “But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the U.N. Charter 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?”
Biden spent the majority of his speech highlighting progress made in global poverty reduction, education and health care, while acknowledging the need for continued progress and reform. He underscored the importance of multilateral institutions like the U.N. and called for expanded leadership and capability to address the complex challenges of the 21st century.
Biden addressed the climate crisis, global development needs, the conflict in Haiti, peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians, and struck a sober but conciliatory note on U.S. strategic competition with China, before denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of the core tenets of the U.N. Charter — the clear prohibition against taking another nation’s territory by force.
Shift in tone
The beginning of Biden’s speech signaled a shift in tone as the president spoke of his recent visit to Hanoi where he said he witnessed a “culmination of 50 years of hard work on both sides to address the painful legacies of war” and work towards peace.
“It’s a powerful reminder that our history need not dictate our future,” he said. “With concerted leadership and careful effort, adversaries can become partners.”
Avoiding the phrase “as long as it takes,” often used by Western officials to emphasize lasting support for Kyiv’s war efforts, Biden, who has galvanized a broad international coalition and marshaled billions of dollars for Ukraine, emphasized his support for Kyiv’s efforts to bring about diplomatic resolution that delivers a “just and lasting peace.”
He tempered that with a warning that, right now, the price for peace demanded by Russia is “Ukraine’s capitulation, Ukraine’s territory and Ukraine’s children.”
This is the second time Biden has condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine in front of the world body. In September of last year, in his first UNGA address since the invasion, Biden accused Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, of attempting to “erase a sovereign state from the map.”
Leaders from at least 145 countries are attending the annual UNGA meeting this week in New York, with a few notable exceptions — China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom will be represented by senior officials.
This means that the United States is the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council whose top leader will be present.
Global South concerns
More than 140 U.N. member countries last year supported a General Assembly resolution that condemned Russian aggression against Ukraine.
But with the protracted conflict continuing to inflict a toll on global energy and food prices, there are growing calls from lower- and middle-income nations, often grouped as the Global South, to fast-track peace negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, incoming chair of the 20 largest economies — known as the G20 — and a politician who has cast himself as a leader of the Global South, underscored that there is no “sustainability or prosperity without peace.”
“We do not underestimate the difficulties in achieving peace, but no solution will be lasting If it is not based on dialogue,” he said through an interpreter. “I have reiterated that work needs to be done to create space for negotiations.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his case later Tuesday, speaking directly to the General Assembly in his first in-person appearance in front of the world body since Russia’s invasion. Last year he was exempted from U.N. rules and delivered a videotaped speech to the Assembly.
Targeting countries — many of them in the Global South that have refrained from condemning the Russian invasion — Zelenskyy underscored that the outcome of the war would affect the entire international community. The Kremlin’s goal was to turn Ukraine into “a weapon against you, against the rules based international order,” he said, as he warned against “shady deals” to negotiate the ending of the war on unjust terms.
“Evil cannot be trusted, just ask Prigozhin,” Zelensky said, referring to the former head of a private military group who mounted a mutiny against Putin and died in an airplane crash two months later.
On Wednesday at the Security Council meeting on Ukraine, Zelenskyy is scheduled to discuss his 10-point peace plan, endorsed fully or partially by more than 140 countries. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is also expected to attend the Council meeting, potentially bringing Ukraine’s leader to the same table with a senior Russian official for the first time since the war began.
As part of Ukraine’s diplomatic outreach to the Global South, Kyiv has also supported the broadest peace initiative to date from Saudi Arabia. In August, the Saudis hosted senior officials from some 40 countries including the U.S., China, and India, but not Russia, to work toward a broad agreement on key principles for a peaceful end to the war.
Anita Powell contributed to this report.