UNITED NATIONS (AP) — All eyes will be on Ukraine’s president and Russia’s top diplomat at a U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday: Will they clash? Will they speak? Will they avoid each other entirely?
The meeting’s topic is deeply relevant to those questions: It’s about upholding the U.N. Charter in Ukraine. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres minced no words this week in reiterating that Russia’s February 2022 invasion of its smaller neighbor violated the charter’s underpinning — that the 193 U.N. member nations respect each others’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The U.N. chief will brief the 15-member council and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, making his first in-person appearance before the U.N.’s most powerful body, is on tap to follow him. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is No. 11 on the list, and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to follow him.
The meeting on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly is taking place during a Ukrainian counteroffensive, which has been slower than Kyiv hoped, with no end to the war in sight. Zelenskyy is seeking additional Western military hardware and is heading to Washington for meetings with U.S. President Joe Biden and members of Congress. Russia is reportedly digging in for a long war.
The Security Council, charged with ensuring international peace and security, has held more than 50 meetings on Ukraine, and they are almost always contentious — with lots of angry exchanges but no action. That’s because of Russia’s certain veto of any council resolution critical of what it calls its “special military operation.”
Since the war began, Zelenskyy — a former actor — has become a global figure, crisscrossing the planet both physically and virtually since the Russian invasion to plead his nation’s case as a wartime president often clad in military-style garb. Lavrov, a former longtime Russian ambassador to the United Nations, is a vigorous defender of his nation’s policies and an imposing man known for not suffering fools.
There’s no guarantee that Lavrov and Zelenskyy will physically cross paths on Wednesday. They could choose to come into the room at different times. Still, the very possibility marks a newly fraught moment for a council that has fractiously discussed the war in Ukraine many, many times.
Wednesday’s session also offers Russia a chance to respond within the United Nations to Zelenskyy’s high-profile speech Tuesday next door at the General Assembly, which is holding its annual meeting of world leaders. The Ukrainian president accused Russia of using food, energy and even children as weapons in the war — and he warned other leaders that “when hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there.”
In the chair’s seat: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, whose country currently holds the council’s rotating presidency and who chose the meeting topic.
Under council rules, the 15 council members speak – the five permanent veto-wielding countries, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France and 10 elected members who serve two-year terms. Dozens of others also have signed up to speak Wednesday. Each member’s seat must be occupied, but any accredited diplomat or official can fill it. They often swap out several times during a meeting.
Ukraine has come under pressure from some council members, including China, to engage in talks to end the war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides.
Zelenskyy is expected to discuss his 10-point peace plan, which would establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. It would also create a European-Atlantic security architecture with guarantees for Ukraine’s independence.
The atmosphere was charged last year when Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba were both at a council meeting during the 2022 General Assembly gathering.
The two foreign ministers didn’t exchange any words. Lavrov arrived only minutes before his turn to speak and left immediately after. But beforehand, there was tension over the seating arrangement — a placard marking Ukraine’s seat was moved after Kuleba apparently objected to its placement next to Russia’s spot.
He later rapped the Russian diplomat for using a vulgarity in characterizing how Moscow believes the West feels toward Ukraine’s president Zelenskyy.