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Zelenskyy asks world leaders to severely punish Russia

At a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy outlined a “peace formula” that asks world leaders to declare Russia a terrorist state that must be punished with sanctions and war crimes trials.

(CN) — With Russia mobilizing hundreds of thousands of reservists and doggedly escalating the war with its neighbor, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is urging world leaders to severely punish Russia economically, put its leaders on trial for war crimes and strip it of its veto power at the United Nations Security Council.

But Zelenkskyy's appeal on Wednesday to the U.N.'s 77th General Assembly also exposed how divided the world has become. While many of the chamber's delegates stood up to applaud at the end of his speech, many other delegates, mostly from the developing world, remained seated.

It is also highly unlikely his demands will be carried out by the U.N. Security Council because Russia and China, a growing ally of the Kremlin, are permanent members. The two superpowers are drawing closer together as the United States and its allies openly declare Beijing and Moscow enemies. Many scholars believe the world has entered a new Cold War.

It was the first face-to-face meeting of the General Assembly in three years due to the coronavirus pandemic and it highlighted the precarious state of the world, which is racked by the war in Ukraine, climate change, superpower conflict, ideological divides, famine, soaring prices and various regional conflicts. Amid so much turmoil, the U.N. itself is coming under fire as an institution due to its inability to solve global problems.

Ghana's president, Nana Akufo-Addo, summed up the gloomy mood with a speech in which he said it was doubtful any generation had ever witnessed “such a perfect storm of global economic chaos, a war with global consequences, and an unwillingness or inability to find a consensus to deal with the catastrophe.”

He said the war in Ukraine was causing widespread economic problems and soaring inflation in Africa. “Every bullet, every bomb, every shell that hits a target in Ukraine, hits our pockets and our economies in Africa,” he said.

The war in Ukraine, now raging for 211 days, is threatening to take on global dimensions after Russian President Vladimir Putin mobilized 300,000 reservists on Wednesday to fight in Ukraine and prepared to officially annex large swaths of Ukrainian territory now occupied by Russian troops.

While in the West the war in Ukraine has come to be seen as the most urgent problem facing the planet, many developing countries view the war differently and have refused to go along with Western sanctions on Russia.

In many parts of the world, Western arguments about Russia's violations of international law ring hollow in the wake of U.S., NATO and European military interventions in countries like Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.

Western leaders, though, urged all nations to show more solidarity with Ukraine and condemn Russia.

In his speech, French President Emmanuel Macron said countries cannot remain neutral over Russia's aggression, which he characterized as a new form of “imperialism.”

“They are wrong; they are making a historic error,” Macron said about neutral countries. “Those who are keeping silent today are, in a way, complicit with the cause of a new imperialism.”

He said the world was at risk of splitting over the war and that unless Russia was stopped other “wars of annexation” may occur.

“On the 24th of February this year, Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, through an act of aggression and invasion and annexation, broke our collective security,” Macron said. “It deliberately violated the U.N. Charter and the principle of sovereign equality of states.”

Yet with Russia and Ukraine showing no willingness to stop fighting and negotiate, it appears the war will only intensify with the approach of winter as both sides try to claim victory on the battlefield before Ukraine's snows and cold set in.

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A Ukrainian national guard serviceman closes the bag containing the body of a Ukrainian soldier who was removed from an armored vehicle in an area near the border with Russia, in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Thursday saw more reports of bombings, civilian deaths caused by both sides, enemy attacks being repelled, villages and towns coming under fire and troops making slow, bloody advances and retreats.

Kyiv's advances have slowed since its troops retook the Kharkiv region in a massive humiliation for the Kremlin. Faced with the possibility of defeat, Putin is seeking to beef up his overextended troops in Ukraine and hold onto the territory his army has seized.

Following Putin's televised speech about mobilization, anti-war protests broke out in several Russian cities and more than 1,300 people were arrested. Still, the vast majority of Russians support Putin and view the West as the aggressor.

Though Russia has clearly violated international law and sparked a horrendous war with its invasion, the West too bears a lot of responsibility for laying conditions for war to break out, according to many experts. In particular, Russia's long-held concerns over NATO's expansion into Ukraine and Georgia were dangerously ignored, according to many experts.

For many Russians and certainly those in the Kremlin, the conflict in Ukraine is seen as an existential fight over the future of the sprawling Russian state, the world's largest nation. They fear that Ukraine is being splintered off from Russia through the intervention of the United States and the European Union.

They also argue that Russia has a duty to protect ethnic Russian populations in Ukraine that have allegedly been oppressed by pro-Western Ukrainian nationalists who came to power in 2014 following a U.S.-backed insurrection, the so-called Maidan revolution.

Following the ouster of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, the Ukrainian government passed a number of anti-Russian laws, including a ban on the use of the Russian language for official business. Kyiv also banned Russian news outlets and political parties operating inside Ukraine. Ukraine's anti-Russian measures have only accelerated since Putin's invasion.

At the conflict's heart is also an armed pro-Russian separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, stoked in large part by the Kremlin and Russian nationalists, that broke out following the Maidan revolution.

Eight years of fighting took place prior to Russia's invasion in February. About 14,000 people were killed during that phase of the war and about 2 million people were forced out of their homes. Russia accuses Ukraine's government of constantly bombing and shelling eastern Ukraine during those eight years while Western media and officialdom ignored the situation.

In 2014 and 2015, Ukraine signed peace deals that foresaw giving autonomy to the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, but Kyiv failed to take the steps to make this happen and instead built up its armed forces in preparation for a military win against the separatists. Russia, too, violated terms of the peace deals.

In his speech to the U.N., Zelenskyy issued a list of demands that would severely punish Russia if enacted.

“A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment,” Zelenskyy said in his video address to the General Assembly.

Outlining what he called Ukraine's “peace formula,” Zelenskyy called on the world to designate Russia a “terrorist state” that must be punished through global sanctions, including a cap on the price on Russian crude oil and a ban on Russian tourists.

He also called for Russia's leaders to be put on trial for war crimes and said Moscow should be forced to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory and lose its veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

“Ukraine wants peace. Europe wants peace. The world wants peace. And we have seen who is the only one who wants war,” Zelenskyy said.

But Zelenskyy's arguments about Ukraine – and by extension, the West – pursuing peace have been undermined in recent weeks as revelations have emerged that Kyiv and Moscow were on the verge of signing some kind of peace agreement at the end of March and early April but that former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other Western leaders may have persuaded the Ukrainian president to continue fighting.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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