Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took and left the stage at the U.N. General Assembly in New York to thunderous applause Tuesday.
His impassioned and frequently emotional speech was broadcast by U.N. technicians with close-ups and alternate angles given to no other speaker so far.
Zelensky used the speech to warn that Russia could start a world war by continuing its brutal invasion of Ukraine, and such a conflict would be no less fearsome if nuclear weapons were not deployed.
“Non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament should not be the only strategy to prevent the world from the final war,” Zelensky said. “Ukraine gave up its third largest nuclear arsenal. The world then decided Russia should become a keeper of such power. And yet history shows it was Russia who deserved nuclear disarmament the most, back in the 1990s – and Russia deserves it now.”
“Terrorists have no right to hold nuclear weapons. No right,” he said.
Zelensky argued that Russia has weaponized food, energy, and even children into instruments of mass destruction – and those tactics could be used against every nation in the General Assembly because there are no restrictions on weaponization comparable to nuclear non-proliferation agreements.
“Since the start of the war, the Ukrainian ports in the Black and Azov seas have been blocked by Russia. Until now, our ports on the Danube river remain the targets for missiles and drones. It is clear Russia’s attempt to weaponize the food shortage on the global market, in exchange for recognition for some, if not all, of their captured territories,” he said.
“Russia is launching food prices as weapons. The impact spans from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Southeast Asia,” he warned.
Zelensky took a moment to thank nations involved in the “Grain from Ukraine” initiative to ship agricultural products from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, but he also castigated European countries that have chosen to ban Ukrainian imports because the flood of cheap products is driving down prices for local farmers.
“It is alarming to see how some in Europe, some of our friends in Europe, play out solidarity and political theater, making filler from the grain. They may seem to play their own role, but in fact they are helping set the stage to a Moscow actor,” he complained, without explaining who or what he was talking about.
Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania are among the countries that have chosen to impose restrictions even after the European Union decided not to renew a ban on Ukrainian food.
Zelensky went on to explain how the Kremlin has “weaponized oil and gas to weaken the leaders of other countries.”
“Now the threat is even greater. Russia is weaponizing nuclear energy. Not only is it spreading its unreliable nuclear power plant construction, technologies, but it is also turning other countries’ power plants into real dirty bombs,” the Ukrainian president said.
“Look, please, at what Russia did to our Zaporizhia power plant: shelled it, occupied it, and now blackmails others with radiation leaks,” he advised.
“Is there any sense to reduce nuclear weapons when Russia is weaponizing nuclear power plants? That is a scary question,” he mused.
Zelensky became most emotional when condemning Russia for weaponizing children, contending that mass kidnapping has never before been the official policy of a major world power.
“We know the names of tens of thousands of children, and have evidence on hundreds of thousands of others, kidnapped by Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine and later deported,” he said.
“The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for this crime. We are trying to get the children back home, but time, time goes by. What will happen to them? Those children in Russia are taught to hate Ukraine. All ties with their families are broken. This is clearly a genocide,” he accused.
“Each decade, Russia starts a new war,” he said. “Parts of Moldova and Georgia remain occupied. Russia turned Syria into ruins. If not for Russia, chemical weapons never would have been used there in Syria. Russia has almost swallowed Belarus. It is obviously threatening Kazakhstan and other Baltic states.”
“The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our lands, our people, our lives, our resources into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order. Many seats in the General Assembly hall may become empty if Russia succeeds with its treachery and aggression,” he warned.
Zelensky reflected on how the fierce war raging in his country could escalate, as increasingly dangerous autonomous weapons are deployed.
“Artificial intelligence could be trained to do combat well before it learned humanity,” he cautioned.
Skillfully playing to his audience, the former Ukrainian TV star added a climate change angle to the Russian invasion. “Thank God, people have not learned to use climate as a weapon,” he said.
“When people in the streets of New York and other cities of the world went out on climate protest, we have all seen them, and when people in Morocco and Libya and other countries die as a result of natural disasters, and when islands and countries disappear under water, and when tornadoes and deserts are spreading into new territories – and when all of this is happening, one unnatural disaster in Moscow decided to launch a big war and kill tens of thousands of people,” he said.
Zelensky promoted Ukraine’s “peace formula” to end the war and restore “the full power of the rules-based world order,” highlighting the large number of governments and international organizations that support Kyiv’s proposal.
“Look, for the first time in modern history, we have a real chance to end aggression on the terms of the nation which was attacked,” he said.
“I am aware of some attempts to make shady dealings behind the scenes. Evil cannot be trusted. Ask Prigozhin if one bets on Putin’s promises,” he added.
Zelensky was referring to the suspicious death of Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in an August plane crash. Many observers suspect Prigozhin was killed – along with Wagner’s top leadership and a civilian flight crew – on orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin because Prigozhin led his mercenary soldiers in a mutiny against the Russian military command.
“While Russia is pushing the world to the final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after Russian aggression, no one in the world will dare to attack any nation. Weaponization must be restrained. War crimes must be punished. Deported people must come back home. And the occupier must return to their own land,” Zelensky concluded.