Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the United Nations Security Council Ministerial Meeting on Ukrainian Sovereignty and Russian Responsibility

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, Madam President, for bringing this council together at this very serious moment in the crisis of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

(In English) Mr. Secretary-General, thank you for your determination and the moral clarity you have shown in ending this brutal war and upholding the fundamental principles of the United Nations, as well as for your personal commitment to securing the Vital Black Sea grain route flowing again from Ukraine.

Mr. Khan, we are grateful for the efforts of the Office of the Prosecutor to objectively and professionally investigate the atrocities committed in Ukraine by Russian forces, and for its support and coordination with Ukrainian investigators and prosecutors.

We hear a lot about divisions between countries at the United Nations. But recently, what is striking is the remarkable unity between the Member States regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine. Leaders of developing and developed countries, large and small, North and South spoke to the General Assembly about the consequences of this war and the need to end it. And they have all asked us to reaffirm our commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and to its fundamental principles, in particular sovereignty, territorial integrity and human rights.

Even a number of nations with close ties to Moscow have publicly stated that they have serious questions and concerns about President Putin’s ongoing invasion.

Rather than change course, however, President Putin went into overdrive – choosing not to end the war but to expand it; not withdrawing troops but calling in 300,000 additional men; not to ease tensions but to aggravate them through the threat of nuclear weapons; not to work for a diplomatic solution, but to make such a solution impossible by seeking to annex more Ukrainian territory through sham referendums.

That President Putin has chosen this week, when most of the world gathers at the United Nations, to add fuel to the fire he has lit shows his complete disregard for the Charter of the United Nations, for the General Assembly and for this Council.

The international order that we have gathered here to defend is being torn apart before our eyes. We can’t – we don’t want to – allow President Putin to get away with this.

Defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is much more than defending a nation’s right to choose its own path, however fundamental that right may be. It is also about protecting an international order where no nation can redraw the borders of another by force.

If we fail to uphold this principle when the Kremlin violates it so blatantly, we send the message to aggressors everywhere that they can ignore it too. We are putting every country at risk. We are opening the door to a less secure, less peaceful world.

We see what this world looks like in the parts of Ukraine controlled by Russian forces. Wherever the Russian tide recedes, we discover the horror that remains in its wake.

I myself had a window into this horror when I traveled to Irpin just a few weeks ago to meet Ukrainian investigators compiling evidence of war crimes committed there. I have seen up close the gaping holes left in residential buildings by Russian bombing – indiscriminate at best, intentional at worst.

As we gather here, Ukrainian and international investigators continue to exhume bodies outside Izyum, a town held by Russian forces for six months before being driven out by a Ukrainian counteroffensive. One site contains some 440 unmarked graves. A number of bodies discovered there so far are said to show signs of torture, including one victim with a broken arm and a rope around his neck.

Accounts of survivors are also emerging, including a man who described being tortured by Russian forces for a dozen days, during which time his interrogators shocked him repeatedly and, in his words, and I quote, “m ‘beat to the point that I didn’t feel anything’, end of quote.

These are not the acts of rogue units. They correspond to a clear pattern throughout the territory controlled by Russian forces.

This is one of the many reasons why we support a series of national and international efforts to collect and examine the growing evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. We must hold the perpetrators accountable for these crimes.

It is also one of the reasons why more than 40 nations have come together to help the Ukrainian people defend themselves, a right enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

The more setbacks Russian forces suffer on the battlefield, the greater the pain they inflict on Ukrainian civilians. Russian attacks on dams, bridges, power stations, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure are increasing, constituting a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

This week, President Putin said that Russia would not hesitate to use, and I quote, “all available weapon systems”, end of quote, in response to a threat to its territorial integrity, threat more threatening that Russia intends to annex large swathes of Ukraine in the coming days. When this is over, we can expect President Putin to claim any Ukrainian effort to liberate this land as an attack on so-called “Russian territory”.

It comes from a country which, in January of this year, in this chamber, joined other permanent members of the Security Council in signing a declaration affirming that, and I quote, “nuclear war can never be won and must never be waged”. Yet another example of how Russia is violating its commitments to this body, and yet another reason why no one should take Russia at its word today.

Every member of the board must send a clear message that these irresponsible nuclear threats must stop immediately.

Russia’s push to annex more Ukrainian territory is another dangerous escalation, as well as a rejection of diplomacy.

This is even more alarming when combined with the screening operation that Russian forces have carried out in the parts of Ukraine that they control. Now it’s a diabolical strategy, violently uprooting thousands of Ukrainians, bringing in Russians to replace them, calling a vote, manipulating the results to show near-unanimous support for joining the Russian Federation. It’s straight out of the Crimea playbook.

As with Crimea, it is imperative that every member of this council, and indeed every member of the United Nations, reject sham referendums and state unequivocally that all Ukrainian territory is and will remain part of Ukraine, and that any Russian request to annex territory can deprive Ukraine of the right to defend its own territory.

Putin’s invasion also distracts this council – indeed, the entire UN system – from working on the serious issues we all want to focus on. Like preventing climate catastrophe, helping tens of millions of people on the brink of starvation, fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, strengthening our interconnected health security – all issues that make a tangible difference in the lives of the citizens we are here to represent, and they look to us – look to us to deliver.

The overwhelming majority of UN Member States are committed to working together on these issues, and our actions show it.

Yet as more than a hundred countries have signed a roadmap to deliver food aid to those in need, and partners across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe are working together to increase the resilience of global food systems, Russia for months blocked the export of Ukrainian grain to the world, until the United Nations and Turkey reached an agreement to let the grain go. And Russia continues to bomb and seize Ukrainian farms and silos, to carpet its wheat fields with landmines, increasing the cost of food for people around the world.

And while governments around the world are teaming up with international organizations, with the private sector, with philanthropic organizations to end this pandemic and make sure we’re better prepared for the next one, Russia is spreading misinformation and misinformation about WHO-approved vaccines – fueling vaccine hesitancy that puts people in all of our countries at increased risk.

Here is the reality: none of us chose this war. Not the Ukrainians, who knew the crushing toll it would bring. Not the United States, which warned it was coming and worked to prevent it. Not the vast majority of countries in the United Nations.

And neither do our people, or the people of virtually all UN member states, who are feeling the consequences of war in greater food insecurity and higher energy prices.

Neither the Russian mothers and fathers whose children are sent to fight and die in this war, nor the Russian citizens who continue to risk their freedom to protest against it, including those who took to the streets of Moscow after President Putin announced its mobilization to chant “Let our children live!”

Indeed, one must ask: how has this aggression against Ukraine by President Putin improved the life or prospects of a single Russian citizen?

A man chose this war. A man can end it.

Because if Russia stops fighting, the war is over. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.

That is why we will continue to support Ukraine in its defense and strengthen its hand to reach a diplomatic solution under fair conditions at a negotiating table. As President Zelenskyy has repeatedly said, diplomacy is the only way to end this war. But diplomacy cannot and should not be used as a cudgel to impose a settlement on Ukraine that violates the UN Charter or rewards Russia for its violation.

President Putin makes his choice. Now it is up to all our countries to make ours.

Tell President Putin to stop the horror he started. Tell him to stop putting his interests above the interests of the rest of the world, including his own. Tell him to stop bashing this advice and everything it stands for.

“We the people[s] of the United Nations has determined…” This is how the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations begins. Let us not forget that “we the peoples” still have the right to choose the fate of this institution and of our world. The issues are clear. The choice is ours. Let’s make the right choice for the world we want and our people so desperately deserve. Thanks.

Comments are closed.