Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared somber and, at times, angry in a blistering address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, as he sought to shore up support for his country’s war effort and demand that Russia be punished for the invasion.
Wearing his trademark green fatigues at the dais at the front of the hall, Zelenskyy furrowed his brow as he called for other countries to recognize that Russia was not just a threat to Ukraine — but to the entire world. He appealed for other countries to help hold the line against Moscow, as “mass destruction is gaining momentum.”
“While Russia is pushing the world to the final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after Russian aggression, no one will dare to attack any nation,” Zelenskyy said.
“We must be united to make it, and we will do it,” he added.
Zelenskyy accused the Kremlin of menacing and endangering the sovereignty of many of its neighbors and other countries beyond Ukraine. He raised Russia’s occupation of Georgian and Moldovan territory, its costly military efforts in Syria, and the ways it has controlled Belarus.
Moscow also used threats against the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and drove up energy and food insecurity by bombing Ukrainian ports to sow discord locally and internationally, Zelenskyy argued.
“The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order,” he said.
The address is a shift from the recorded speech he gave to the U.N. last year, when he remained in Kyiv to underscore Ukrainian resistance. It appeared Ukraine hoped to perhaps cash in on Zelenskyy’s growing global celebrity to further international dialogue with those countries present, and it worked as many diplomats and leaders took photos of the young Ukrainian president, a former television comedian, as he spoke.
Zelenskyy’s physical presence at the U.N. on Tuesday demonstrated a more direct diplomatic approach with allies, partners and other major world governments, such as India and Brazil, that have largely remained on the sidelines in the conflict.
Prioritized by the U.N. membership, Zelenskyy was the twelfth world leader to speak on Tuesday. He finally took the stage after more than five hours of speeches delivered by nine presidents, the king of Jordan and the emir of Qatar.
Zelenskyy sat on the aisle at the right side of the hall with his colleagues through other leaders’ speeches. Andriy Yermak, a key part of Ukraine’s diplomatic and public messaging effort who leads Zelenskyy’s office, sat alongside him with Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba seated nearby. Before speeches got underway at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, numerous officials and leaders came to speak to the Ukrainian president and shake his hand.
The U.S. delegation — which included Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry — were seated at the adjacent desk.
Zelenskyy appeared stern as President Joe Biden spoke earlier at the U.N. on Tuesday. The American president’s speech spent noticeably little time focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the challenges the eastern European country faces — a departure from last year’s address — though Biden clearly laid the blame for the war at the Kremlin’s feet.
“Russia alone has the power to end this war immediately, and it’s Russia alone that stands in the way of peace,” he said.
“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the security of any nation secure?” Biden added, earning his first round of applause from the assembly.
Most leaders who took the dais at the U.N. headquarters in Midtown Manhattan ahead of the Ukrainian president acknowledged that the world faces the highest number of violent conflicts since World War II — though only some directly addressed Russia’s war in Ukraine. Most speeches drew greater focus to the challenges of climate change, growing income inequality and poverty, developing refugee crises and the need for greater international dialogue to promote peace.
While Zelenskyy underlined the need for peace, he warned that world leaders should not believe in Russian leadership. He also noted that he was aware of some countries attempting to create backroom deals with the pariah state.
“Evil cannot be trusted. Ask Prigozhin if one bets on Putin’s promises,” he said, referring to Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash after launching a rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Zelenskyy is expected to address the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. The Ukrainian leader said during his speech Tuesday that he intended to bring his country’s peace plan, which has been endorsed by most countries at the U.N., to Wednesday’s meeting. It will most likely be one of the first times that Ukrainian and Russian diplomats will be seated at the same table since negotiations broke down at the start of the war more than 18 months ago.
Zelenskyy will also meet with Biden at the White House, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon and members of the Senate in the Capitol on Thursday.
There remains a large amount of disagreement on Capitol Hill over the White House’s request for additional aid to Ukraine. Republican leadership in the House is attempting to avoid a government shutdown while extending American military support to Kyiv, as they also try to placate hard-liners within the conference who are opposed to helping Ukraine and want to slash government spending.
Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington is likely intended to counter those conservative voices and ensure that Ukraine’s largest benefactor continues to provide military and humanitarian support.
The Ukrainian president began his visit to the U.S. on Monday. He met wounded Ukrainian troops at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, where 18 servicemen who have lost limbs during the war have been treated since March. Zelenskyy thanked the injured and their doctors, and told the soldiers to “stay strong.”
“We all will be waiting for you back home,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “We absolutely need every one of you.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
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