September 20, 2023

Biden urges world leaders at UN to stand up to Russia

By Farrah Tomazin
Updated September 20, 2023 — 4.31amfirst published at 1.56am
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New York: US President Joe Biden has urged world leaders to continue backing Ukraine against Russia’s aggression, warning that allowing the sovereign nation to be “carved up” by Moscow would place the independence of other countries at risk.

In a marquee speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Biden also branded climate change as an existential threat to humanity, urged advanced nations to do more for developing countries and warned it would take a global effort to tackle the opportunities and dangers of artificial intelligence.

US President Joe Biden addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly.Credit: AP

He also told leaders that while the US would push back on China’s aggression, it did not seek to “contain” Beijing.

“When it comes to China, I want to be clear and consistent: we seek to responsibly manage the competition between our countries so it does not tip into conflict,” Biden said.

“We also stand ready to work with China on issues where progress hinges on our common efforts. Nowhere is more critical than [tackling] the climate crisis.

“Record-breaking heatwaves in the United States and China. Wildfires ravaging North America and Southern Europe. A fifth year of drought in the Horn of Africa. Tragic flooding in Libya that has killed thousands of people. Taken together, these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof our world.”

Members of the Ukrainian delegation, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, applaud as United States President Joe Biden speaks during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters.Credit: AP

Biden’s speech was the centrepiece of the UN high-level week: a spirited talkfest where presidents and prime ministers, community leaders and captains of industry gather along New York’s East River to solve the problems of the world.

But Biden was the only leader of five veto-wielding, permanent members of the UN Security Council who attended the event, prompting renewed questions about the body’s overall influence.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has a warrant out for his arrest by the International Criminal Court, and Chinese President Xi Jinping declined to attend the event for the second year in a row.

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French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whose country is engulfed in a scandal over the alleged murder of a Sikh separatist leader – were also notably absent.

In the audience, however, was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who later addressed the meeting in person for the first time since Russia invaded his country.

In his speech, Zelensky accused Russia of committing “genocide” by abducting Ukrainian children and teaching them to hate their country. He also said Russia was trying to manipulate global food shortages to win international recognition of land it grabbed from Kyiv.

“The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order,” he said.

“This is clearly a genocide. When hatred is weaponised against one nation, it never stops there.”

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline in the Donetsk region of Ukraine as part of a slow-going counter-offensive.Credit: AP

Amid growing signs that support for Kyiv may be waning as the brutal war enters its 20th month, Biden vowed to continue standing with Ukraine as it defended its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalise Ukraine without consequence. But I ask you this: if we abandon the core principles of the UN Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state feel confident that they are protected?,” Biden said.

“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? The answer is no. We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.”

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Biden’s comments were designed to present him as a global leader whose work on the international stage stands in contrast to former US president Donald Trump, the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination to run for the White House next year.

But it also comes as Biden faces challenges at home, from record low approval ratings, an impeachment inquiry into his family business dealings, and ongoing concerns about his age and ability to do his job.

The president will meet with Zelensky at the White House on Thursday as both leaders urge Congress to approve $US24 billion ($37 billion) more in funding, despite the objections of some House Republicans.

Trump has also weighed into the debate, claiming that, if elected, he would end the war in a day – a plan that critics fear could result in the US ceding Ukrainian land to Russia.

Biden will also have bilateral meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Brazilian President Luiz In?cio Lula da Silva.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong is also in New York this week, where she will deliver Australia’s statement to the general assembly on Friday night. In it, she is expected to emphasise the government’s commitment to climate change policies and to preventing conflict in the Pacific.

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Farrah Tomazin is the North America correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.Connect via Twitter or email.
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