Fri. Dec 8th, 2023
Secretary Antony J. Blinken At United Nations Security Council Ministerial Meeting on Ukraine

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for focusing the Security Council on this critically important issue.  And Mr. Secretary-General, thank you for the moral clarity that you’ve shown in dealing with Russia’s war against Ukraine.

We’re grateful to have been able to welcome President Zelenskyy to this council table, and we thank him.  We thank him for reminding us yesterday, today, and every day what’s at stake in this conflict, not just for Ukraine, not just for Ukrainians, but for all of us.

Fellow council members, two weeks ago I was in Yahidne, a small Ukrainian town about two hours north of Kyiv.  Russian forces seized the village in the first days of the invasion.  They went door to door, rounding up residents at gunpoint, marching them to the local elementary school, where Russian soldiers had set up a command post.  Then, soldiers forced more than 300 civilians – mostly women, children, and elderly people – into a basement not fit for human habitation, just a few small rooms, no windows, no circulation, no running water.  The soldiers held residents there for 28 straight days, using them as human shields, before fleeing when Ukrainian defenders arrived to liberate the town.

In Yahidne, two residents took me into the basement where they and others had been imprisoned.  My guide said that they were packed together so tightly that they could barely breathe.  There was no room to sit, let alone lie down.  When they cried out to their captors that people were sick and needed medical care, a Russian soldier yelled back, “Let them die.”

My guide pointed to two handwritten lists of names on the basement wall.  One was for the villagers that Russian forces had executed, the other for the people who died in the basement.  The oldest victim was 93 years old; the youngest 6 weeks old.  The Russians only allowed the removal of bodies once a day, so children, parents, husbands, and wives were forced to spend hours next to the corpses of their loved ones.

I begin here because from the comfortable distance of this chamber, it’s really easy to lose sight of what it’s like for Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression.  This is what happened in just one building, in one community in Ukraine.  There are so many others like it.  In the last week alone, Russia has bombed apartment buildings in Kryvyi Rih; it’s burned down humanitarian aid depots in Lviv.  It’s demolished grain silos in Odesa.  It shelled eight communities in Sumy in a single day.

This is what Ukrainian families are living through every day.  It’s what they’ve experienced for 574 days of this full-scale invasion.  It’s what they’ll endure tomorrow, and the day after that, for as long as Russia wages its vicious war, a war that President Putin openly declared from the outset is aimed at erasing Ukraine from the map as a sovereign country and restoring Russia’s lost empire.

In this war, there is an aggressor and there is a victim.  One side is attacking the core principles of the UN Charter; the other fights to defend them.  For over a year and half, Russia has shredded the major tenets of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international humanitarian law, and flouted one Security Council resolution after another.

Let’s review.  First, Russia’s invasion itself violates the central pillar of the UN Charter – respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.  Second, Russia’s committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine on an almost daily basis.  Third, Russia continues to engage in reckless nuclear saber-rattling, announcing that it’s stationing nuclear weapons in Belarus and continuing to use Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant and its employees as a shield for its aggression, risking catastrophic consequences.

Fourth, Russia is weaponizing hunger.  Thanks to the Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the secretary-general and Türkiye, approximately 33 million metric tons of grain reached global markets, driving down food prices around the world.  Nearly two-thirds of the wheat exported though that deal went to developing countries.  Not only did Putin pull out of the deal, but Russia is now mining Ukraine’s fields, bombing its ports and rails, burning its silos.  As a result, Ukraine’s wheat exports will likely fall by 2.8 million metric tons this year.  That is the equivalent of 5.5 billion – 5.5 billion – loaves of bread trapped in the world’s breadbasket. Russia, meanwhile, on track for a record year of grain exports.  The hungrier the world is, the more Moscow profits.

Fifth, Russia is using Iranian drones to attack Ukrainian civilians, drones that Russia procured from Iran in violation of Security Council Resolution 2231.

Finally, just last week, Russia hosted North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.  Putin said that they discussed ways to cooperate militarily.  While Kim pledged the DPRK’s – and I quote – “full and unconditional support,” end quote, for Russia’s war of aggression.  Of course, the transfer of arms between Moscow and Pyongyang would violate multiple resolutions of this council.  It’s hard to imagine a country demonstrating more contempt for the United Nations and all that it stands for – this from a country with a permanent seat on this council.

President Putin is betting that if he keeps doubling down on the violence, that if he’s willing to inflict enough suffering on enough people, the world will cave on its principles and Ukraine will stop defending itself.  But Ukrainians are not giving up, for they’ve seen what life would look like if they submit to Russian control.  It’s that basement in Yahidne.  It’s families having their children torn away from them and deported to Russia, children taken away from their parents and deported far away.  It’s the rubble of Mariupol.  It’s the mass graves of Bucha.

We are not giving up, either.  Indeed, since we were last here, a growing number of countries have come together to try to forge a different way forward.  In June, over a dozen countries met with Ukraine in Copenhagen to discuss the path toward a just and lasting peace, one that upholds the United Nations Charter and its core principles.  Two months later, more than 40 countries, including many members of this council, carried forward that discussion with Ukraine in Jeddah.  President Zelenskyy has put forward a 10-point plan for such a peace.  President Putin has put forward nothing.

Now, some argue that continuing to stand with Ukraine and holding Russia accountable distracts us from addressing other priorities, like confronting the climate crisis, expanding economic opportunity, strengthening health systems.  That is a false choice.  We can and we must do both; we are doing both.  We must work together to tackle the global challenges that are affecting our people, meet the Sustainable Development Goals, invest in a world where all people have an opportunity to reach their full potential.

The United States is the world’s leading contributor to these efforts.  And as President Biden told the General Assembly yesterday, we will continue to do more than our share to answer the imperatives of our time.  At the same time, as President Biden has made clear, we must continue to shore up the pillars of peaceful relations among nations, without which we will be unable to achieve any of our goals.  That’s why we must send a clear message, not only to Russia but to all would-be aggressors, that we will stand up – not stand by – when the rules that we all agreed to are being challenged – not only to prevent conflict, instability, and suffering, but to lay the foundation for all that we can do to improve people’s lives in times of peace.

I opened by sharing the horrors that I saw in Yahidne.  Let me close by telling you what else I saw that day in Ukraine.  I saw volunteers rebuilding homes that had been razed by Russian bombs, farmers harvesting fields, people reopening businesses, citizens clearing mines and unexploded ordnance, children returning to schools.  In short, I saw a nation rebuilding and reclaiming its future.  That is the right of all members of our United Nations.  That’s what we defend when we stand up for the international order: the right of people not only to survive, but to thrive, to write their own future.  Our people, Ukraine’s people, the people of all nations get to write their own future.  We cannot, we will not let one man write that future for us.  Thank you.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS