Growing World Impatience with Ukraine Expected to Dominate U.N. General Assembly

KYIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 8, 2023 - President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy partakes in a joint press conference with Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres at Mariinskyi Palace following their negotiations, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. (Photo credit should read Volodymyr Tarasov / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Tarasov / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty

The United Nations General Assembly’s general debate begins on Tuesday, expected to bring over 140 leaders to New York to discuss this year’s theme of “restoring trust” – and resist Western pressure for the Ukraine war to dominate the conversation.

The General Assembly typically offers presidents and other world leaders a vague theme as a discussion prompt – this year, “Rebuilding Trust and Reigniting Solidarity” – but otherwise lets them decide what global problems to emphasize. This year, observers predict many speakers, particularly those whose countries are allied or friendly with Russia, will choose to use their platforms to divert the conversation away from Ukraine and towards the radical leftist issues the U.N. leadership typically prefers to focus on, such as climate change, “sustainable development goals,” and universal health care.

“Amid the widening gap between rich and poor countries, diplomats representing Latin America, Africa and Asia have been increasingly vocal about their frustration regarding the amount of attention given to Ukraine when compared to other global crises,” the Emirati newspaper the National observed on Sunday, citing experts who described the “prevailing sentiment” at the United Nations as centering on finding an end to the conflict “sooner rather than later.”

U.N. representatives and advocates outside the institution, the National continued, expressed concern that most world leaders were “indifferent” to U.N. priorities such as the “Sustainable Development Goals,” a series of 17 vague commitments the U.N. made in 2015 to allegedly improve life around the world – among them “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” and reduced inequalities.”

While its genocidal dictator, Xi Jinping, is not expected to attend the General Assembly, China weighed in on this tension through its state media outlets. The propaganda newspaper Global Times claimed in an article on Sunday that “Global South” countries – a term typically used to mean the nations of South Asia, Latin America, and Africa – are “most worried” that “the Ukraine crisis will once again become the dominant topic in the UNGA and shift people’s attention from development issues.” China is one of Russia’s closest allies on the international stage, though it also maintains friendly ties to Ukraine and has expressed interest in investing in rebuilding the country post-war.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres are pictured during a meeting with the press at Mariinskyi Palace following their negotiations, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. (Volodymyr Tarasov / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is traveling to the United States to address the elite platform and is expected to speak on Tuesday, his first time since Russia announced a “special operation” to oust him in February 2022 to address the forum directly. Also speaking on Tuesday, as per tradition, is President Joe Biden, who used his address last year to urge world powers to prioritize containing Russia’s military belligerence against Eastern Europe over other geopolitical issues.

Biden will be missing key allies on the world stage at this year’s General Assembly, however, as French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have both confirmed their absence. Macron and Sunak join dictators Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China in failing to attend the event, meaning only one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, America, will have its leader speak to the General Assembly this year.

Also scheduled to skip the summit are radical leftist Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who also skipped the event last year, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the White House in June. Both of their governments have vocally criticized the singular focus in the West on the Ukraine conflict in the past year.

In an indication of how limited this year’s guest list is, among Biden’s top diplomatic engagements are expected to be meetings with the leaders of the five Central Asian “stan” countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan, all post-Soviet states.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres dismissed the poor attendance by Western countries in remarks on Saturday, insisting he was “not so worried about who’s coming.”

“What I’m worried [about] is making sure the countries that are here … are ready to assume the commitments necessary to make the Sustainable Development Goals that unfortunately are not moving in the right direction a reality,” Guterres emphasized.

While promising that he would “never, never stop our efforts to make sure that peace comes to Ukraine,” Guterres used his remarks mostly to demand the world’s wealthiest countries redistribute that wealth in the name of the “Sustainable Development Goals,” highlighting the tension between demands from Western countries to address Ukraine and those elsewhere to address poverty, alleged climate change, and other issues.

Guterres spent part of his weekend in Cuba, attending a summit led by one of the world’s worst human rights abusing regimes, demanding rich countries invest $100 billion in “climate justice.”

Guterres will be the first speaker on Tuesday, but the honor of being the first head of state to address the General Assembly’s annual debate always goes, per tradition, to Brazil. Socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a convicted felon whose election last year prompted nationwide protests, has long maintained friendly relations with Putin and attempted to insert himself into the ongoing Ukraine conflict, but failed as Zelensky has repeatedly rejected his overtures. Lula and Zelensky appear to have a personally fraught relationship that deteriorated when Lula, as a presidential candidate, insulted Zelensky as a “nice comedian” – referring to his career prior to becoming president – in an interview. At the G7 Summit in May, Lula claimed that he had scheduled an in-person meeting with the Ukrainian president, and the latter simply never showed up.

Preliminary schedules for Tuesday’s speakers show a packed line-up. In addition to Biden, Zelensky, and Lula, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iranian executioner President Ebrahim Raisi are expected to speak. Erdogan arrived in New York on Saturday and spent part of the weekend with internet personality Elon Musk, reportedly seeking investment from Musk’s safety-challenged electric vehicle company Tesla in Turkey. Cuban figurehead “president” Miguel Díaz-Canel also personally made the journey to New York, representing 92-year-old tyrant Raúl Castro, and appears on schedule to speak on Tuesday.

On the topic of Ukraine, Biden will have at least two vocal allies, radical leftist Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, but neither appears scheduled to speak on Tuesday. Given the absence of their leaders, France and the United Kingdom have also apparently been given later speaking slots this week.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.



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