Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will take center-stage Tuesday as world leaders gather for the UN General Assembly, throwing a spotlight on the war that has divided the global body.
Speaking at the annual gathering on the same day as President Joe Biden, Zelensky is expected to use his speech at the famous rostrum to seek condemnation of Russia for its ongoing invasion, which began in February 2022.
But he is also set to meet leaders with differing views including Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has previously said that Ukraine shared blame for the war and faulted the billions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv.
Zelensky, who until recently would travel in utmost secrecy, will on Wednesday also take part in a special session on Ukraine at the Security Council, where Russia is a permanent member wielding a veto over any binding actions.
Asked about the meeting during a visit to a hospital in New York that has treated Ukrainian soldiers, Zelensky said that the United Nations still provides “a place for Russian terrorists.”
He earlier told CBS News in an interview that Russian President Vladimir Putin — who is not attending the UN summit — was a “second Hitler.”
The world must “decide whether we want to stop Putin, or whether we want to start the beginning of a world war,” Zelensky said.
Russia has met overwhelming criticism at the General Assembly over its invasion, but the focus on the war has also drawn criticism from developing countries who believe it has distracted from other urgent priorities.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made a point of devoting the start of the week to development, with nations on Monday pledging to keep trying to meet elusive UN-backed goals of eradicating poverty by 2030.
Zelensky is also set to meet at the United Nations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who have both maintained relations with Russia — as well as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Addressing a reception to mark Germany’s 50 years in the United Nations, Scholz voiced alarm about the “new rifts opening up in the world.”
“Imperialism is once again showing its ugly face,” he said.
Erdogan, who will also address the General Assembly on Tuesday, has been seeking to restore a UN-backed arrangement terminated by Russia to let Ukraine, a major breadbasket for the developing world, ship grain through the Black Sea.
Zelensky will later travel to Washington for a White House visit with Biden.
Gathering of adversaries
A meeting that is definitely not expected at the United Nations is one between Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
The hardline Iranian leader headed to the United Nations just as Iran and the United States completed a swap of five prisoners each, after Biden worked to unblock $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that had been frozen in South Korea.
The Biden administration, facing domestic criticism for the deal with the arch-enemy, has made clear it does not see the swap as an opening.
The General Assembly, however, served as the latest forum for diplomacy on what many consider the most pivotal relationship in the world — between the United States and China.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, the second round of high-level talks between the world’s two largest economies in recent days.
Blinken said he supported “open communications” on disagreements with China, while Han said that the world needs “healthy and stable US-China relations.”