“We must confront these threats together. There is no room for neutrality,” he added, referring to the many countries in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere that have tried to avoid taking sides while calling for an end to the war.
The rally simultaneously showed both the importance and the impotence of the most important organ of the UN. On the one hand, the Security Council provides a highly visible forum for diplomatic exchanges. On the other hand, with countries like Russia as permanent members of the council with veto power, the ability of the council to initiate action is very limited.
Sometimes the words of the various foreign ministers seemed to have been generated from an application. Words like “diplomacy”, “humanity” and “international law” were tossed around like slow-motion badminton birds. It was as if the diplomats were skimming through the motions, knowing that nothing significant would come out of the session.
“All countries’ reasonable security concerns should be taken seriously,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at one point.
Still, it was a rare in-person gathering for the US secretary of state and his Russian counterpart, let alone Ukraine’s top diplomat. It forced Russia to say something – even if that something was highly suspicious – to defend its full-scale war against its neighbor. And it gave countries affected by war-induced food and fuel crises a chance to vent their frustrations.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a measured but firm tone, criticized autocratic Russian President Vladimir Putin, who announced this week his intention to escalate the war by mobilizing hundreds of thousands of new troops. He also issued a veiled threat of nuclear war.
Such a move “shows his total disregard for the UN charter, for the General Assembly and for this council,” Blinken said of Putin. “The international order that we have gathered here to defend is being shredded before our eyes.”
“A man chose this war. One man can end it,” Blinken added. “Because if Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine stops.
Lavrov, a veteran and often grumpy Russian diplomat, arrived long after Blinken had spoken and left quickly after making his own remarks. He used his time to accuse the Ukrainian government of being “Nazi” and of carrying out aggressive actions against Russia for many years. Russia was only defending itself and the civilians threatened by the government in Kyiv, Lavrov claimed.
“The Kyiv regime owes its impunity to its Western sponsors, first Germany and France, but also the United States,” Lavrov said, accusing Kyiv of discriminating against Russian speakers, among other elements of “Russophobia”. Russia’s foreign minister said the Kremlin had “no doubt that Ukraine has become a completely Nazi-like totalitarian state”, a patently misrepresentation of the Western-style democracy developing in Kyiv.
US officials took note of Lavrov’s reluctance to hear from his fellow foreign ministers.
“Lavrov apparently couldn’t bear to hear the repeated clear messages of condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine,” a US official told POLITICO. “This is another sign of weakness and a testament to the fact that Russians recognize that they are increasingly isolated on the world stage.”
Lavrov acted similarly in July at a meeting of the group of G-20 foreign ministers, although several Western officials were also careful to avoid him. There has been very little high-level diplomatic contact between Washington and Moscow since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion in February. The Russians have been fighting Ukraine in parts of Ukraine since 2014.
Lavrov did not stay in person to listen to Kuleba, whose remarks were among the most eloquent on Thursday. The Ukrainian spoke following several major Ukrainian battlefield victories against Russia, whose troops were forced to withdraw from large areas.
“Today, every Ukrainian is a weapon ready to defend Ukraine and the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Russia will fail,” Kuleba said, castigating the “lies” of his Russian counterpart. “We never wanted this war and never chose it.”
In response to Lavrov’s departure from the meeting, Kuleba said, “Russian diplomats are fleeing almost as fast as Russian soldiers.”