Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday stressed the heavy toll of warfare upon nations around the world, including his own nation’s conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
He notably avoided mentioning the telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump that has become the center of the Democrat Party’s long-delayed push for impeachment, or the dealings his predecessors had with the family of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Given the overall theme of his address – a plea for world attention on Ukraine’s plight, a reminder that devastating large conflicts tend to begin after smaller problems are unwisely ignored for too long – Zelensky would doubtless be crestfallen to learn U.S. media completely lost interest in his U.N. appearance once it became clear he would not mention Trump.
Zelensky asserted the crisis in Ukraine’s Donbas region is precisely the sort of conflict the United Nations was created to avoid. He warned other nations that they ignore or indulge Russia’s actions in Donbas at their peril.
“Nobody will feel safe while Russia is waging war against Ukraine in the center of Europe. The thought this has nothing to do with you or will never touch your interests will be fatal,” he warned the General Assembly.
“Ending the war, recovering all occupied Ukrainian territories, and restoring peace are my primary objectives, but not at the cost of the lives of our citizens, freedom, or the right of Ukraine to make its own choice,” Zelensky said. “That is why we need wide international support.”
“I do realize every country present here has its own challenges to tackle, and the problems of others should not worry you more than your own,” he added. “But I understand that in the modern world where we live, there is no longer any such thing as ‘somebody else’s war … We cannot think globally while turning a blind eye to small things.”
“Ukraine has always demonstrated to the world its readiness to ensure peace in a civilized manner,” he argued. “We made particular steps towards international security – for example, when we abandoned our nuclear arsenal, which at that time exceeded the nuclear capacities of the United Kingdom, France, and China combined.”
“We believe in a collective drive to build a new world – a world where your thoughts are heard, and reckoned with, regardless of whether you possess nuclear weapons or not, a world where you are respected for your deeds and not for having nuclear warheads,” he said.
“At the end of the day, in this new world, my country has lost a part of its territory, and keeps losing its citizens almost every single day,” he noted ruefully.
Having thus shamed the U.N. for not doing enough to make up for the protection Ukraine sacrificed when it gave up its nuclear weapons, Zelensky hastened to assure the General Assembly that his country still has great faith in international institutions, “but we have to recognize that the existing system is not perfect.”
“Let’s be candid: Are the nations indeed united nowadays, and if they are, what makes them united?” he asked, suggesting the time has come for the U.N. to step up and put real effort into fulfilling the lofty promises routinely made from behind its podiums.
Zelensky said the bloody conflicts currently raging around the world, from Ukraine to hotspots like Yemen and Syria, offer depressing evidence that humans “still prefer to solve conflicts by murdering their own kind.”
A major goal of Zelensky’s speech was puncturing the notion that technological advances and global interconnectedness have made warfare obsolete. His address was peppered with grisly anecdotes that challenged the efficacy of the U.N. approach to conflict resolution.
To paraphrase part of Zelensky’s speech, the planet may have gotten smaller, but the wars really haven’t, and too many aggressive leaders have learned how to use the United Nations as a “political theater” where they “declare good intentions that will later be crossed out by the darkest acts.”
“In my opinion, we all need to understand that a strong leader is not one who, without the blink of an eye, sends thousands of troops to a sure death. A strong leader is the one who cares about the life of every person,” he said.
Zelensky said the U.N. should make every effort to keep aggressors from believing they can achieve their goals through violence, quoting Ernest Hemingway’s observation that “no one ever stopped when they were winning.”