General Assembly begins with American hope for unity on Ukraine

World leaders converged on the United Nations on Tuesday for the opening sessions of the body’s Annual General Assembly, held in person for the first time in three years but with twin crises of war in Ukraine and famine in Africa weighing heavily on the gathering.

President Biden, who addresses the assembly on Wednesday, and his diplomatic team are working to build unity among allies to continue to arm and support Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. With the onset of winter and soaring fuel prices, US officials fear that some European countries may be tempted to reduce support.

The war has hurt gas supplies but has further hurt the export of millions of tons of grain, fertilizer and cooking oil, exacerbating famine and food shortages in many parts of the world, but particularly in Africa. As a result, some African governments have refused to join Western efforts to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Biden administration hopes to offer them reassurances.

But those options are elusive. US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield insisted the sessions, which take place over two weeks, will not be dominated by Ukraine, but also acknowledged that the war had sparked a ” crisis of confidence” for the UN.

“Certainly other countries have expressed a concern that we don’t have – while we are focusing on Ukraine, we are not paying attention to what is happening in other crises around the world,” he said. she declared. “We know that as this horrible war rages across Ukraine, we cannot ignore the rest of the world.”

The goal of shifting the focus beyond Ukraine, however, was made even more difficult on Tuesday when Russian-backed separatists announced plans to hold referendums in areas of Ukraine they occupy. Western officials called the vote a sham that would be used by separatists to falsely claim that the regions – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – should be part of Russia and that locals support the idea.

Biden should roundly criticize this and other aspects of what the administration calls Putin’s escalation. There are fears that Putin could launch a large-scale mobilization of Russian troops that would dramatically escalate the fighting, just as Ukrainian forces have made significant gains in retaking some of their territory.

“The United States will never acknowledge Russia’s claims to allegedly annex parts of Ukraine,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser. “And we will never recognize this territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. We unequivocally reject Russia’s actions.

Other world leaders present at the General Assembly, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, joined in the condemnation. Putin is not present and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is the only official who will be allowed to address the assembly remotely via video. The last two General Assemblies were virtual or partially virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic and climate change were already depleting agricultural production and food supplies in many parts of the world. Then Russia in February. The February 24 invasion disrupted shipping from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, plunging more regions into severe food insecurity. The World Food Program estimates that at least 160 million people are at risk of starvation, mainly in the countries of the South.

The UN brokered a deal with Russia that released some grain shipments, but the success was uneven.

Meanwhile, US efforts to bolster support for Ukraine have received good news from Britain. Prime Minister Liz Truss said her government will match or exceed the record amount of military aid it has pledged to provide Ukraine this year, about $2.6 billion.

But the general mood at this year’s General Assembly was grim.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres summed it up by citing a myriad of conflicts beyond Ukraine alone – the financial crisis and poverty in much of the world and the lack of education for children. , as well as climate and health emergencies and the prospect of famine. Behind all of this is the inability of world leaders, including the UN, to solve the problems.

“The divergence between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the less, is becoming more dangerous day by day,” said António Guterres. “He is at the root of the geopolitical tensions and lack of trust that plague all areas of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.”

Nations are “stuck in colossal global dysfunction”, he added. “Our world is in peril – and paralyzed.”