The UN chief told the Security Council on Friday that “we need peace” in Ukraine, calling for urgent action on multiple fronts.
“Life is a living hell for the people of Ukraine,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Council, which has held more than 40 debates on the conflict since Russia’s full-scale invasion one year ago.
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On the occasion, the 15-member organ held a ministerial-level meeting on the heels of the UN General Assembly’s new demand that Russia immediately leave Ukraine, adopted at the world body’s resumed eleventh emergency special session on Thursday.
“The guns are talking now, but in the end we all know that the path of diplomacy and accountability is the road to a just and sustainable peace, in line with the UN Charter and international law,” the Secretary-General said.
The conflict has erased 30 per cent of pre-war jobs, millions are displaced, and nearly 40 per cent of the population of Ukraine require aid and protection. Almost 10 million people, including 7.8 million children, are at risk of acute post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, adding that Russia is also suffering the deadly consequences.
“We must prevent further escalation, encourage every meaningful effort to end the bloodshed and, at long last, give peace a chance,” he said.
Ukraine: ‘Justice must be served’
Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba pointed to clear violations of Charter provisions related to acts of aggression, saying “Russia is the problem of the world.”
“Justice must be served,” he said. In this vein, he called for creating a special tribunal with jurisdiction over the crime of aggression against Ukraine and the ability to deal with the personal immunities of principal perpetrators.
“Peace means justice, and all the peace-loving nations will win peace on the battlefield and at the diplomatic table,” he said, requesting a minute of silence in memory of victims of aggression.
Russia: ‘Goal is not to destroy Ukraine’
Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the “goal of our military operation is not to destroy Ukraine”. But, there had been a missed opportunity to forge peace.
Recalling that the conflict had started with a coup in 2014, he said Ukraine is “not a victim” and is “up to its elbows in blood and Nazi tattoos”. If Kyiv did not wage war on the people of Donetsk and Luhansk, there would have been no need for Russia’s special military operation, he added.
“If Russia stops hostilities, Ukraine will continue discriminating against Russian-speaking people and glorifying Nazism,” he warned. “If Ukraine stops hostilities, it will save many lives. Russia stands ready to negotiate for peace.”
Echoing calls for peace
Echoing calls for peace, many Council members pointed to such reflections of strong international support as the 141 countries who voted for the General Assembly’s new resolution.
“If we abandon Ukraine, we abandon the UN Charter itself and invite a world where might makes right and the strong dominate the weak,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has failed to break the spirit” of Ukrainians.
Emphasizing that Council members must now push for a just peace and ensure accountability, he said “we can never let the crimes Russia committed become ‘normal’. Behind every atrocity in this wretched war and in conflicts around the world is a human being. One man started this war – Vladimir Putin; one man can end it.”
The war has caused a grave global crisis, including among developing countries, cancelling out gains made in the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, said Domingos Estêvão Fernandes of Mozambique, which had cast an abstention on the new General Assembly resolution.
From an African perspective, he said, wars only result in people’s suffering. In fulfilling its duty, the international community must now uphold the UN Charter’s provisions on collective security, he added.
Ambassador Michel Xavier Biang of Gabon, which had also abstained on the new resolution, said the UN Charter forms the foundation for all nations’ existence. Recalling divergent views shared in the Council over the past year, he called for unity “to silence the guns in Ukraine”.
“It is time to stem the blood flow,” he said, highlighting the war’s wide-reaching devastating impact. “As Council members, we owe a response to all those killed and injured and to those asking when they can return home.”
‘War of choice’
Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said this is a “war of choice”, by President Putin.
“This war matters both for the principles at stake and for the shockwaves it is creating; it needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” he said, pointing to Ukrainian and Chinese proposals on that goal. “Looking to the future, we need to build onthis [new General Assembly] resolution and make it happen.”
UN chief calls for urgent action
At the outset of the meeting, the UN Secretary-General outlined a range of urgent actions. Efforts must prioritize civilian protection, including ending targeted attacks against them and the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.
Some achievements demonstrate that international cooperation is possible, even in the midst of conflict, he said, underscoring the importance of continued engagement in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, by which more than 700 ships have carried more than 20 million metric tonnes of foodstuffs to global supply chains. As the agreement expires in March, he called for its extension.
At the same time, the Secretary-General called for unimpeded humanitarian access for life-saving assistance, and support for reconstruction and recovery efforts. In addition, he urged all parties to swiftly agree and implement a nuclear safety and security protection zone at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“Veiled threats to use nuclear weapons in the context of the conflict have spiked nuclear risks to levels not seen since the darkest days of the cold war,” he said. “These threats are unacceptable.”