Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told world leaders on Tuesday that Russia is “weaponising” everything from food and energy to abducted children in its war against Ukraine.
While the world has various agreements that restrict arms themselves, “there are no real restrictions on weaponisation”, he said at the UN General Assembly’s annual top-level meeting.
“When hatred is weaponised against one nation, it never stops there,” he said. “The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into weapons against you — against the international rules-based order.”
Mr Zelensky pointed to the food and fuel crunches, and he highlighted what Ukraine says were kidnappings of at least tens of thousands of children taken from Ukraine after Moscow’s invasion: “What will happen to them?” he asked.
“Those children in Russia are taught to hate Ukraine, and all ties with their families are broken. And this is clearly a genocide,” Mr Zelenskyy said.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant in March for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another official, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine. Russian officials have denied any forced transfers of children, saying some Ukrainian youngsters are in foster care.
Russia gets its chance to address the General Assembly on Saturday. Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky sat in Russia’s seat during Mr Zelensky’s address.
“Did he speak?” Mr Polyansky said when an Associated Press reporter asked about his reaction to the address. “I didn’t notice he was speaking. I was on my phone.”
Mr Zelensky took to the world stage at a sensitive point in his country’s campaign to maintain international support for its fight. Nearly 19 months after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion, Ukrainian forces are three months into a counteroffensive that has not gone as fast or as well as initially hoped.
Ukraine and its allies cast the country’s cause as a battle for the rule of international law, for the sovereignty of every country with a powerful and potentially expansionist neighbour, and for the stability of global food, fuel and other supplies that have been rocked by the war.
The commodity upheaval has triggered inflation and caused serious hardships for poor countries.
“We must stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow,” US President Joe Biden told the assembly earlier on Tuesday in his own speech.
As he pledged support to Ukraine, there was a round of applause, and the UN cameras showed Mr Zelensky, sitting in Ukraine’s seat in the General Assembly, clapping his hands.
Russia insists its war is justified, claiming that it is defending Russian speakers in Ukraine from a hostile government and Russian interests against Nato encroachment, and more.
The war has raged longer and losses have been greater than Russia hoped, and the fighting has spurred widespread international condemnation and sanctions against Moscow.
But the Kremlin also has influential friends that have not joined the chorus of censure: China and India have staked out neutral positions, as have many Middle Eastern and African nations. Many Latin American and Caribbean countries prefer to focus world attention on other global issues, including climate change and conflict in Africa.
Moscow is keen to display its global influence and its relationship with China and insists that it cannot be internationally isolated by the U.S. and its European allies.
Russia gets its chance to address the General Assembly on Saturday, when Foreign Minister Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected on the rostrum.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is concerned that backing from its allies may be ebbing. They have supplied billions of dollars’ worth of arms but fear that their stockpiles are shrinking and that defense contractors are struggling to boost production lines.
After landing in New York on Monday, Mr Zelensky suggested that the UN needs to answer for allowing his country’s invader a seat at the tables of power.
“For us, it’s very important that all our words, all our messages, will be heard by our partners. And if in the United Nations still — it’s a pity, but still — there is a place for Russian terrorists, the question is not to me. I think it’s a question to all the members of the United Nations,” Mr Zelensky said after visiting wounded Ukrainian service members at Staten Island University Hospital.
Mr Zelensky is also due to speak on Wednesday at a UN Security Council meeting about Ukraine. Russia is a permanent, veto-wielding member of the council, and Mr Lavrov is expected to make remarks.
Asked whether he would stay in the room to listen, Mr Zelensky said, “I don’t know how it will be, really.”
During his time at the Staten Island hospital, Mr Zelensky awarded medals to military members who had lost limbs. With help from a New Jersey-based charity called Kind Deeds, 18 troops have been fitted for prostheses and are undergoing outpatient physical therapy at the hospital, according to its leaders.
“We all will be waiting for you back home,” Mr Zelensky told those he met. “We absolutely need every one of you.”