United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on Monday told an emergency session of the 193-member General Assembly on Ukraine that the idea of a nuclear conflict was “simply inconceivable.”
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday, a development Guterres described as a “chilling development.”
Addressing the Assembly, Guterres said the fighting in Ukraine must stop, noting the bombardment of cities such as the capital, Kyiv, had forced people to seek shelter, including in subway stations.
Roughly half a million Ukrainians have also crossed the country’s borders.
Guterres said although Russian strikes were reportedly largely targeting Ukrainian military facilities, “we have credible accounts of residential buildings, critical civilian infrastructure and other non-military targets sustaining heavy damage.
“Enough is enough. Soldiers need to move back to their barracks. Leaders need to move to peace. Civilians must be protected. International humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld.
“The world is facing what is a tragedy for Ukraine, but also a major regional crisis with potentially disastrous implications for all.
“Yesterday, Russian nuclear forces were put on high alert. This is a chilling development. The mere idea of a nuclear conflict is simply inconceivable. Nothing can justify the use of nuclear weapons,” Guterres said.
Earlier on Sunday, the Security Council voted to call for a rare emergency special session of the 193-member UN General Assembly on Russia’s military operation in Ukraine for Monday.
The measure convening the General Assembly session was adopted by a vote of 11 in favour with Russia voting against, and China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.
Today’s request by the Assembly comes after Russia vetoed on Friday a U.S.-led draft Security Council resolution that would have ‘deplored in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.’
Since the text was procedural, none of the five permanent Council members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – could use their vetoes. The measure needed only nine votes in favour to pass.
Only 10 such emergency special sessions of the General Assembly have been convened since 1950, following the adoption of resolution 377A(V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace.’
That text gives the Assembly the power to take up matters of international peace and security when the Security Council is unable to act because of lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members.
Following statements by countries in the emergency special session, the General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution similar to the one taken up Friday by the Security Council.
While Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they are considered to carry political weight as they express the will of the wider UN membership.
The Security Council’s latest steps to end the Ukraine crisis cap a week of activities at the United Nations seeking a diplomatic offramp to Russian military action in the country, including near daily press stakeouts, four emergency Council sessions, and one earlier meeting of General Assembly.
On Saturday, amid reports of casualties and people fleeing their homes to seek safety as Russian military operations in the country intensified, the Secretary-General announced that the UN would launch an appeal to fund its humanitarian operations in Ukraine.
Speaking after the vote, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, of the United States, one of the countries that had requested the meeting, said the Security Council had today taken an important step towards holding Russia accountable for its aggression against Ukraine.
“By calling for an emergency special session of the General Assembly… [we] have recognised that this is no ordinary moment and that we need to take extraordinary steps to confront this threat to our international system,” she said.
She stressed that such a meeting of the wider UN membership was important to make their voices heard on “Russia’s war of choice.”
While noting that all UN Member States would have the ability to participate in the special emergency session, Thomas-Greenfield said she understood that this would take courage for some.
But for inspiration and strength, they could look no further than the Ukrainian people, “who are standing bravely…to defend democracy, while continuing to express willingness to participate in negotiations. So let us do everything we can to help the people of Ukraine as they stand up for themselves, their sovereign country and their children.”
French Ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière, said Russia had ‘stood alone’ Friday in blocking a resolution that would have called for an end to its aggression.
“This [Assembly] special session is a necessary new step intended to defend the UN Charter and international law and put an end to the aggression against Ukraine,” he said.
Vasily Nebenzya, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, said he had voted against the resolution because its authors would note that the Security Council had been unable to carry out its primary duty to maintain international peace and security.
“Yet, at the same time, we did not see even a hint of an attempt to find a constructive solution in the Council. After all, two days ago we blocked one text for the very reason that it was one-sided and unbalanced. We have not seen any new initiatives,” he stressed.
He also denounced attempts by the draft’s sponsors to use their position on the Security Council to push through decisions against other members.
“That is why the Council provides for the right to block decisions for permanent members. This is not a privilege, but a tool to ensure the balance of interests so necessary for the whole world, and through it, global stability.
“Now there is a need to focus on resolving the roots of the crisis with which we are grappling,” he continued, stressing that it was not the launch of the ‘special military operation,’ but the fact that the Council had for eight years turned a blind eye to the actions of Ukrainian nationalists in the Donbas.
He said an “information war” was now being unleashed against Russia and that social networks were rife with lies about what was happening in Ukraine.
“I urge our colleagues not to contribute to the spread of such misinformation, although I am afraid these calls will not be heard again,” he said.
Ukraine’s Ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, expressed gratitude to those that had supported the request for an emergency special session of the Assembly.
“For those who had not supported the request, including Russia, he said they should know that the most frequently heard warning in Ukraine today was ‘Attention. Air raids. Please proceed to shelters.’
He also asked those that had not supported the text to please look at videos and pictures of the damage circulating in the media. The truth of what was happening on the ground due to Russia’s aggression could be found there. (NAN)