The 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opened on September 5, 2023, and the “High-Level Week” took place on September 18-22. Some important leaders, including those of China, Russia, France, and the UK, the four permanent members of the UN Security Council, did not travel to New York. Not surprising given the UN’s inability to effectively deal with global challenges.
Western, particularly the US media focused on President Zelensky’s visit to the US. In the background were Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia defying the EU by continuing to bar Ukrainian grain imports. In his address to the UN General Assembly President Zelensky stated that despite Russia’s undermining the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Ukraine is working to ensure food stability. Then, without calling names he said “… some of our friends in Europe, play out solidarity in a political theater – making a thriller from the grain. They may seem to play their own role but in fact they are helping set the stage to a Moscow actor.”
The next day, Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki, in an interview with a TV channel, said that his country is no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine but arming itself with more modern weapons. Poland is among Ukraine’s top supporters and Mr. Morawiecki was no doubt upset with Mr. Zelensky’s remarks at the UNGA.
Ukraine is a country at war with a major power. Its war effort depends on external support. President Zelensky is a leader under incredible pressure. Nonetheless, his accusing of countries most supportive of Ukraine with “political theater” and his sometimes patronizing language serve neither Kyiv’s nor his interests.
In his address before the UN Security Council President Zelensky said that the veto power in the hands of the aggressor is what has pushed the UN into a deadlock. He suggested changing UN rules to allow the General Assembly to override a Security Council veto by a two-thirds vote. Many countries are unhappy with the present Security Council membership, but empowering the General Assembly with such authority is a very long shot.
President Zelensky met with President Biden and Congressional leaders to ensure Washington’s continued military and economic support. The New York Times reported that polls have shown a growing weariness over the war among the American public, and dozens of Republicans say they are opposed to Biden’s latest request to Congress for $24 billion more for Ukraine. Congress has already approved $113 billion in aid for Ukraine, including around $70 billion for security, intelligence, and other war-fighting costs.
Last week, the BBC, reporting the figures published by the Kiel Institute for the Global Economy, said that the EU is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Next comes the US followed by Germany, the UK, Norway, Japan, Canada, Poland, Netherlands, and Denmark.[i] [ii]
As for military aid, the US is the top donor with 46.6 billion dollars. Next comes Germany with 18.9 billion dollars followed by the UK, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, and Finland.
Thus, it must not have surprised anyone that Chancellor Olaf Scholz was scathing in his criticism of Russia during the United Nations Security Council debate on Ukraine on September 20, 2023.[iii]
France is not among the largest donors of humanitarian or military aid to Ukraine, perhaps a reflection of its traditionally more independent foreign policy. And this is what French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna said in her speech before the UNGA:
“What are our principles?
“They are those that have been reaffirmed with landslide majorities by this Assembly in its condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, three times already. Nothing, morally or legally, will ever justify invading one’s neighbor, seeking annexations through disgraceful maneuvers and martyrizing populations.
“France defends the simple principles of equality among States and respect for their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Those principles are sacrosanct.
“France also defends the principle of food security. Who could believe, despite the confusion and the propaganda that certain parties are wantonly spreading, that he who destroys grain and silos has the slightest care for global food security when he is its enemy? What we are seeing is the expression of pure brutality, capable of using all weapons, even hunger, in an attempt to revive an imperialist dream.”
In Washington, President Zelensky visited Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and finally met with President Biden.
Mr. Zelensky paid his first visit to Washington on December 22, 2022, three hundred days after the Russian invasion. During his address to the joint session of the Congress, he received 18 standing ovations. Nonetheless, CNN had reported the following at the time:
“In Washington, Republicans poised to take control of Congress have made clear they won’t rubber-stamp each of Biden’s requests for Ukraine assistance – though fears funding will dry up completely appear unfounded. Congress is on the verge of approving almost $50 billion in additional security and economic assistance.
“Speaking to lawmakers, Zelensky repeatedly referred to members of “both parties,” seeking to frame his cause as a bipartisan one.”
On the one hand, the Republicans are now in control of Congress and the US presidential elections are only a year away. War fatigue appears to be setting in on both sides of the Atlantic. This is why President Zelensky appealed again to both parties for continued US support and leadership during his talks at the Capitol last week. But the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch appears to worry him and many Americans as well.
On the other hand, the first group of Abrams tanks will reach Ukraine this week. Moreover, according to unnamed US officials, “a small number” of ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missiles with a range of 300 kilometers would be delivered soon enabling Ukraine to hit targets deeper in Russia.
Despite the foregoing delivery of arms and promises to support Ukraine over the long haul, these are increasingly tough times for Kyiv and President Zelensky. This could be why he chose to stress Ukraine’s Peace Formula in his address before the UNGA audience. This is a list of principles and Foreign Minister Lavrov lost no time to reject it.
Regardless of how and when the war in Ukraine may end, whether it could have been avoided remains a question.