Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on every member of the United Nations General Assembly to “send a clear message” to Russia that it must stop its nuclear threats of war in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this week that his nuclear-armed country would “certainly use all means available to us” if its territory was threatened and defend the country and its people.
Blinken used Thursday’s council session to criticize the Russian invasion and pressure other countries to join Washington’s strong condemnations of the conflict. He mentioned the atrocities he said Russia had committed – and suggested that more could happen.
“Every member of the Council must send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately,” he said.
The Security Council has held dozens of controversial meetings on Ukraine since the war began in February, but Thursday’s meeting held a special place: It took place during the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly of world leaders and brought several foreign ministers to the negotiating table.
At the invitation of France, the council’s current president, the meeting focused on addressing accountability for alleged violations and atrocities, which the United States and other Western members have repeatedly accused Russia of.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated his country’s repeated allegations that Kyiv had long persecuted Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine – one of the various explanations Moscow offered for the invasion.
He said Ukraine’s western allies were “covering up the crimes of the Kyiv regime”.
Lavrov was not in the room when Blinken and some other US allies spoke, and he only appeared just before his speech.
Despite Blinkin’s strong words, no one expects the council to take action against Russia because Moscow has a veto as a permanent member.
Instead, a US official said Blinken’s goal was to persuade other members to convince Moscow of the global damage the war was causing and to demand an end to it. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to review Blinken’s speech before speaking.
The meeting came a day after President Joe Biden attacked Putin for what he described as flagrant violations of the United Nations Charter and international law. At the Security Council, Blinken made it clear that Russia should face more blame and isolation for its invasion.
In listing several allegations of war crimes and other atrocities, he called nations that did not speak out strongly against them as an affront to the international system.
He noted that the war had not only caused massive destruction to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, but had also distracted the Council from other global crises, including potential famine, climate change and widespread poverty.
As the meeting began, there were already signs of a fraught atmosphere around the famous horseshoe-shaped council table.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sarcastically told reporters earlier that he intends to maintain a “safe social distance” from Lavrov.
As council employees were preparing to put up a sign indicating the seat of Ukraine next to Russia, Kuleba apparently raised objections – the sign was moved to another location. Lavrov was not in the room at that point.
The International Criminal Court opened an investigation in March into possible crimes amid the war and sent teams to collect evidence. Prosecutor General Karim Khan told the board on Thursday that he would send more staff next week to look into the allegations arising from eastern Ukraine.
Khan has yet to announce any charges related to the dispute, but has reiterated to the Council that he believes there are reasonable grounds to believe that the crimes were committed.
“The picture you’ve seen so far is really disturbing,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine lobbied for the creation of a special court to try alleged war crimes.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s president put forward a detailed case against Russia’s invasion at the United Nations and demanded punishment of world leaders in a speech hours after Moscow’s extraordinary announcement that it would mobilize some reservists to participate in the war effort.
Volodymyr Zelensky pledged in a video address to world leaders that his forces would not stop until they regained all of Ukraine.
“We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it by force of arms. “But we need time.”