Sep 20, 2022 - World

Ukraine dominates UN General Assembly

Illustration of country name placards at the UN with microphones, with Ukraine's microphone bigger than all others.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NEW YORK — The war in Ukraine is set to dominate this week's UN General Assembly meeting, overshadowing other global dilemmas like food security, climate change and other political and humanitarian crises around the world.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is intent on keeping up the pressure on Moscow, but some developing countries and aid groups have expressed concern that diplomatic skirmishes over the war will undermine a key opportunity to address other crises that deserve attention.

What they're saying: Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres, said the war "does take up a lot of the space" and can make it harder to build momentum and consensus on other issues.

  • Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso told Axios in an interview that the focus on Ukraine is understandable — as long as the big powers recognize that the knock-on effects of soaring food and fuel prices are hitting smaller, poorer countries hardest.
  • However, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the UN, argued ahead of the summit that those concerns were misplaced, as the war "will not be the only thing that we're dealing with." The U.S. and African and European Unions will co-host a summit on food security, for example.

Driving the news: Kicking off the six-day procession of speeches just now, Guterres called attention to the array of crises unfolding "far from the spotlight" — from Ethiopia, to Haiti, to Myanmar and beyond.

  • He also acknowledged that rather than taking collective action, the international community — and the UN itself — had been "paralyzed" by "geopolitical divides."
  • That paralysis will be on display Thursday, when Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their counterparts are expected to discuss Ukraine at the UN Security Council. Russia is outnumbered on the council, but wields a veto.

The big picture: The UN General Assembly is back at full force for the first time in three years.

  • The past two annual gatherings were derailed by COVID-19, but the pandemic has slipped down the agenda and most delegates are wandering UN HQ maskless.

What to watch: President Biden forfeited the prime U.S. speaking slot this morning (always second after Brazil) to travel back from Queen Elizabeth II's funeral, and will instead speak on Wednesday.

  • China and Russia won't address the forum until Saturday, because both Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are staying home, and ministerial-level officials get the later speaking slots.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, is slated to address the forum remotely on Wednesday.
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