US attempts to win over UN members who are neutral on war in Ukraine

The US has launched a fresh bid to win over abstaining and neutral states by urging them not to be fooled by Russian calls for a temporary or unconditional ceasefire in Ukraine, warning that a peace plan proposed by China drew “false equivalence” by calling on both sides to stop fighting.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken was speaking at a highly charged meeting of the UN security council where he reminded his fellow diplomats that the Russian envoy only a year ago had dismissed his warnings that Moscow was about to launch an invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken was speaking the day after more than 40 countries at the General Assembly refused to join 141 other nations in backing a motion calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine unconditionally. A fierce diplomatic battle is under way to persuade many of these neutral states that abstaining or calling for peace at any price amounts to an endorsement of Russia’s invasion.

Faced by the new Chinese call for a ceasefire, Blinken warned that Russia will use any pause in fighting to consolidate control of territory and replenish its forces.

He urged: “Don’t fall for the false equivalency of calling both sides to stop fighting. No member of this council should call for peace while supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine and on the UN Charter. In this war there is an aggressor and there is a victim”. Blinken added: “This war is one for conquest. The fact remains one man started this war, Vladimir Putin, and one man can end it.”

The secretary of state said he heard “the concerns of countries that worry that standing with Ukraine diverts focus and resources for those in need in other countries”. But he said “look at our actions” pointing out “in addition to the $13.5bn in food aid the US had provided to fight food hunger, we also fund 40% of the UN world food programme budget, Russia contributes less than 1 % of that budget. That is not an outlier. The US donates nine times as much as Russia to UN peacekeeping, 390 times as much to Unicef and 1,000 times as much to the UN refugee agency.”

The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, given permission to speak early in the debate despite the objections of Russia, accused Putin of using Russia’s permanent seat on the security council as “a throne of impunity”.

He attacked China’s claim that the west was throwing fuel on the fire by giving arms to Ukraine. He said: “Ukraine needs weapons, just as a firefighter needs water to extinguish a fire that is destroying your home, killing innocent people. The sooner and the more we get, the sooner the fire will be extinguished. Arming a country that defends itself from aggression is absolutely legitimate and is an act of defending the UN Charter”.

Kuleba also portrayed Russia as a disruptive force not just in Europe but globally. “The geography of Russian crimes against international peace and security goes far beyond the borders of Ukraine and reaches Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Russia not only incites conflicts, but also systematically obstructs UN security council decisions needed to resolve them.”

He argued: “Yesterday Russia argued that this council is overly focused on Ukraine and ignores problems of the rest of the world. Let us all remember the truth. Russia is the problem of the world.”

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Such is the tension between Russia and Ukraine that when Kuleba called for a minute’s silence to remember the victims of aggression, Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian envoy, refused saying instead he would stand for all those killed since the conflict started in 2014.

António Guterres, the UN secretary general, also urged doubters to accept that the war was about universal principles. He said: “The purposes and principles embedded in the United Nations Charter are not a matter of convenience. There are many words on paper, they are at the core of who we are. And they reflect the driving mission of our United Nations. And they exist precisely to address any grievance, whatever it may be.”

Nebenzya denied any goal to destroy Ukraine, saying: “Russia just wants to restore a friendly neighbour that does not want to resurrect nazism or behave like a Russophobic wasp’s nest.”


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