Future of Rules-Based World Order at Risk, Several Delegates Warn;
Speakers for Kyiv, Moscow Both Say They Are Exercising Right to Self-Defence
The United Nations stands with the people of Ukraine, including more than 500,000 who crossed the country’s borders fleeing relentless attacks by Russian forces, Secretary-General António Guterres told an emergency special session of the General Assembly today, warning of potentially dire consequences for the world at large.
Dozens of delegates from among the Assembly’s 193 Member States took part in the historic session, which is just the eleventh such meeting in the United Nations 77-year history. Many speakers warned that, amid the first full-scale international aggression in Europe since the end of the Second World War, the very future of the rules-based world order now hangs in the balance.
[Today’s special session was mandated by a 27 February vote in the Security Council, following its failure to adopt a resolution condemning the Russian Federation’s recent actions in Ukraine. See Press Releases SC/14808 and SC/14809 for details.]
“Enough is enough,” said Mr. Guterres, adding: “The fighting in Ukraine must stop now.” Noting that bombardments by the Russian Federation have been pounding the country day and night, he said the capital, Kyiv, now finds itself surrounded. Ukrainians have been forced to shelter in subway stations and more than half a million have fled across the country’s borders. Citing credible accounts of serious damage sustained by residential buildings and other non-military infrastructure, he described the attacks as unacceptable and stressed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.
Warning of potentially dire repercussions for the region and the entire world, he went on to note that the United Nations has assured Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that it will not abandon his country during its time of need. The Organization is already providing humanitarian assistance to some 3 million people on both sides of the contact line. “We are fully committed to staying and delivering,” he said, calling on all sides to uphold their obligations to allow safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian aid and on the world’s nations to mobilize support. “Humanity cannot afford to be locked in a mindset that dredges up the worst of the last century,” he stressed.
Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, echoed those sentiments, calling on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and return to diplomacy and dialogue. Noting that a rare window of opportunity for dialogue has opened — with representatives of Moscow and Kyiv meeting today for the first time since fighting erupted — he urged the sides to seize that chance and rapidly de-escalate the situation. For its part, the General Assembly and its members continue to represent the collective conscience of humanity, and its strength is rooted in its moral authority. “Let’s demonstrate that moral courage and use today’s debate not to whip up war rhetoric, but to give peace a chance,” he stressed.
Throughout the debate, many delegates voiced their views on a draft resolution to be taken up by the Assembly later this week, which is similar to the text which was vetoed by the Russian Federation in the Security Council. Should the resolution pass by a majority vote, it is widely expected to condemn the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.
Ukraine’s representative, taking the floor first, thanked the Secretary-General for his strong stance in support of peace and the United Nations Charter. He noted that, just this morning, the Russian army launched a major attack on the residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Many residential buildings have been destroyed and kindergartens and medical facilities have been struck. While Ukraine has activated its right to self-defence in line with the Charter, he urged the Assembly to demand an end to all acts of aggression against a sovereign and independent State. Indeed, should the United Nations fail to respond to the crisis, it will face much more than criticism — it will face oblivion. “If Ukraine does not survive, international peace will not survive,” he stressed.
The representative of the Russian Federation, rebuking those comments, said the root of the current crisis lies instead with Ukraine itself. Kyiv flouted the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, failed to engage in dialogue with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and turned a blind eye to the people of Donbas. Against that backdrop, President Vladimir Putin decided to react. “There is a need to de-Nazify Ukraine,” he stressed, adding that his country is exercising its right to self-defence from Ukraine, which strives to obtain nuclear weapons, seeks North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership and is making false territorial claims against the Russian Federation.
The representative of France declared that abstaining in the Assembly’s upcoming vote is “not an option”. In taking up that text, the Assembly has a historic responsibility to call for an end to war and for the Russian Federation to remove its troops from Ukraine, he said, calling on all Member States to vote in favour of the proposed draft. Emphasizing that no country can or should avert their gaze from the armed aggression and those who are seeking refuge, he went on to note that the Assembly’s special session does not imply that the Security Council has renounced its responsibilities. In fact, the 15-member Council will meet this afternoon to take up a draft resolution on the humanitarian impacts of the crisis.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, condemned in the strongest possible terms the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces. Also condemning the involvement of Belarus in that aggression, he declared: “Russia bears full responsibility for this aggression and the resulting destruction and loss of life.” Moscow must immediately cease its military operations and unconditionally withdraw all forces and military equipment from Ukraine, while engaging in earnest in dialogue with a view to a diplomatic solution. “The use of force and coercion to change borders has no place in the twenty-first century,” he added.
Poland’s delegate, expressing his support for the resolution to be tabled in the Assembly, said the global community is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in Europe since the Second World War. Noting that Poland’s borders are open to those fleeing Moscow’s aggression in neighbouring Ukraine, he said it has already welcomed people from 125 nationalities. Noting the outpouring of spontaneous readiness to help by individuals in Poland, he said a dedicated website was set up for volunteers to register. “Poland may not be a geopolitical super-Power, but we want to be a solidarity super-Power,” he said, also paying tribute to the Ukrainians defending their motherland and standing for their country’s freedom.
The representative of Brazil declared: “This is a defining moment for our Organization and for the world.” Noting that his country voted in favour of the resolution before the Security Council and regretting that it was not adopted, he noted that, in recent years, the world has seen a deterioration of security and the balance of power in Eeastern Europe, which paved the way for the current crisis. However, that in no way justifies the use of force against a sovereign Member State. Urging an end to belligerent acts before it is too late, he also called upon all actors to reassess their decisions concerning the supply of weapons and the application of sanctions, particularly those which could affect the global economy in such critical areas as food security.
In similarly nuanced remarks, the representative of China said the situation in Ukraine is rapidly evolving to a point which his country “does not wish to see and which is not in the interest of any party”. Calling on all sides to exercise restraint and step up diplomatic efforts, he rejected any approach that might exacerbate tensions. “The cold war has long ended, and […] nothing can be gained from stirring up a new cold war,” he said, warning that one country’s security must not come at the expense of another’s and cautioning against the expansion of any military blocs.
Bolivia’s representative, striking a similar tone, said responsibility for the current crisis rests not only on the shoulders of the Russian Federation but also on those of Western Powers who jeopardized peace and security through the expansion of NATO. Rejecting all wars of aggression, he spotlighted invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Palestine and, today, Ukraine. Recalling the bombing of Yugoslavia which occurred without the authorization of the Council, he condemned the moral double standards shown by certain Powers which are fanning the flames of confrontation, rather than seeking peace.
Singapore’s representative emphasized that it is particularly crucial for small countries, such as his, to “send a clear signal that we are united to uphold international law”. Indeed, the Russian Federation’s unprovoked invasion violates the United Nations Charter and presents an existential issue for a tiny nation like Singapore, he said, adding that a world in which “might makes right” would jeopardize the sovereignty of small nations. Member States must act swiftly and with great purpose, he said, recalling that “the world is watching” the Assembly’s historic special session.
At the meeting’s outset, the Assembly adopted, without a vote, the provisional agenda of its eleventh emergency special session (document A/ES-11/2). It decided that the Credentials Committee of its eleventh emergency special session would have the same membership as that of the Assembly’s seventy-sixth regular session, namely the Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, China, Namibia, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Sweden and the United States. In light of the urgency of the session, it further decided to accept the credentials approved for the seventy-sixth regular session for the purposes of the eleventh emergency special session.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Denmark (on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries), United Kingdom, Georgia, Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, New Zealand, Panama (on behalf of the Alliance for Development in Democracy), Bulgaria, Italy, Canada, Uruguay, Slovakia, Belgium, Netherlands, Fiji (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Croatia, Turkey, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Kenya, Barbados, Maldives, Costa Rica, Greece, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Albania, Syria, India and Chile.
The General Assembly will reconvene Tuesday, 1 March, at 10 a.m. to continue its emergency special session.