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In UN speech, Biden calls for collective action on Ukraine and other major crises

President Biden arrives to deliver remarks during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the UN headquarters in Manhattan on Sept. 19.DAVE SANDERS/NYT

UNITED NATIONS — President Biden sought to rally the world on Tuesday to stick with Ukraine and warned against appeasing Moscow in a way that would reward its aggression and encourage the further use of force to redraw the global map.

Biden used his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly to try to counter war fatigue at home and abroad even as House Republicans in Washington hold up further military aid to Ukraine and nations around the globe remain on the sidelines or even facilitate the Kremlin’s war.

“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence,” Biden said as President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine watched from the audience. “But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles” of the UN Charter “to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? I respectfully suggest the answer is no.”

“We have to stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow,” Biden continued. “That’s why the United States, together with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity — and their freedom.”


Zelensky offered his own stirring speech not long afterward, arguing to the assembled leaders and diplomats that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine was a war against all of their nations as well. He accused Moscow of weaponizing food, energy, and even children with dire effects not just in his country but in far-flung corners of the world.

“The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order,” said Zelensky, speaking in English and wearing one of his trademark olive green military-style shirts. “We have to stop it,” he added. “We must act united to defeat the aggressor.”


He dismissed efforts to broker a peace deal without Ukraine’s involvement, what he called “shady dealings behind the scenes.” Characterizing Russia as an unreliable partner, he cited the recent death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary leader who had defied Putin. “Evil cannot be trusted,” Zelensky said. “Ask Prigozhin if one bets on Putin’s promises.”

Both Biden and Zelensky received strong applause from some of the delegations in the hall, but many others sat on their hands. Putin, the target of an arrest warrant for war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court, did not come to New York for the annual opening session, but his envoy sat in Russia’s seat during Zelensky’s speech taking notes or looking down at his phone.

Zelensky was to address the UN Security Council on Wednesday with a plan to discourage war even after the fighting in his country eventually ends and then will head to Washington, where on Thursday he will meet with Biden at the White House, stop by the Pentagon, and visit Capitol Hill to plead for continuing assistance.

Unlike his first wartime trip to Washington last winter, he will not address a joint meeting of Congress and will find more resistance among some far-right Republicans in the House who are trying to block Biden’s request for $24 billion more aid. Critics of further aid maintain that the war is not central to America’s national interest and the money would be better spent at home on border security or other priorities.


Biden has continued to provide aid using previously approved funds, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Tuesday that American M1 Abrams tanks would be arriving in Ukraine soon. “That will add another formidable armor capability to join the weapons that are already on the battlefield,” he said in Germany after a meeting of about 50 countries supporting Ukraine. He added: “I salute Ukraine’s brave forces, and we’ve got their backs. Ukraine’s fight is one of the one of the great causes of our time.”

Biden’s speech came as other major leaders skipped the annual opening session of the General Assembly, including Putin and President Xi Jinping of China, effectively leaving the stage to the American president. He used the opportunity to reach out to the so-called global south — the traditionally unaligned developing nations that his advisers call the “swing states” of the foreign policy world — to enlist them to the American view of the threats that Russia and China pose to the international system.

Although he took an unrelenting stance against Russia’s brutal war and warned against appeasing Moscow, he drew a more measured line on China, repeating his commitment to “push back on aggression and intimidation” by Beijing while seeking ways to work together and denying that he was trying to contain the Asian giant. “We seek to responsibly manage the competition between our countries so it does not tip into conflict,” he said.


Biden mentioned a litany of other major issues confronting the world today, like fentanyl abuse, artificial intelligence, terrorism, human rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and arms control, without breaking much new ground on any of them. He stressed the dangers of climate change as he urged more action to combat it, citing heat waves, wildfires, drought, and the flooding in Libya.

“Together, these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof the world,” he said. Under his administration, he said, “the United States has treated this crisis as the existential threat from the moment we took office, not only for us, but for all of humanity.”