US President Joe Biden says Russia “shamelessly violated the core tenets” of the UN charter as world leaders gathered for a second day at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Wednesday.
At the annual meeting, dominated by the war in Ukraine, climate change and nuclear disarmament, Biden said Moscow had launched a “brutal, needless war in Ukraine” and warned it was organising a “sham referendum” to annex parts of its occupied territories.
“The world should see these outrageous acts for what they are. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened, but no one threatened Russia and no one other than Russia sought conflict,” he said.
He also sounded the alarm about Russia’s threats to use “all available means to protect Russia”, which alluded to the possibility of using nuclear weapons.
William Courtney, former ambassador to Georgia, told Al Jazeera that Russia appeared to be willing to “escalate the stakes”. However, “if Russia were to use a nuclear weapon, how would it take military advantage from that?” he asked.
Ongoing arms race
Alongside Russia, China was also engaged in an unprecedented arms race, the US president said, but added Washington was “not seeking conflict” or a new “Cold War”.
Earlier in his address, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Tehran would not seek nuclear weapons and was serious about reviving a 2015 nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“Our wish is only one thing: observance of commitments,” Raisi said. He demanded guarantees that the US would not again abandon the nuclear deal as it did in 2018 under the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Human rights abuses
Raisi criticised what he described as the West’s double standards with regard to human rights, just as popular unrest continued in Tehran over the death of a woman in police custody.
“Raisi is under a lot of pressure,” Al Jazeera’s corresponded James Bays, reporting from the United Nation’s headquarters in New York, said. Protesters gathered in front of the UN building as demonstrations in Tehran demanded accountability for the death of Mahsa Amini, 22.
Amini died on September 16, several days after suffering a stroke and cardiac arrest, according to Iranian authorities. Iranian police denied allegations that the woman was beaten to death after being arrested for wearing the hijab improperly.
The US president said Americans “stood with the brave women of Iran … who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights”.
He also explicitly called out human rights abuses by China, Myanmar and the Taliban. “The United States will always promote human rights and the values enshrined in the UN Charter in our own country and around the world,” Biden added.
While giving no indication of any new peace initiative, the US president said his country remained committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Washington also openly stated its support for the expansion of the UN Security Council to better represent areas including Africa and Latin America.
The UN body has fifteen permanent and non-permanent members, but veto powers are granted only to its five permanent members, including Russia.
Highlighting the effects of the climate crisis, Biden said his country was ready to join forces to address the issue.
“We all know we are already living in a climate crisis. No one seems to doubt it after this past year. Much of Pakistan is under water [and] needs help,” he said referring to the devastating flooding in Pakistan that has been blamed on climate change.
Halting climate change
Biden’s warning on the effects of climate change was echoed by Kenya’s President William Ruto, who delivered his first address at the UN General Assembly after winning elections last month.
“Human wellbeing is under great threat,” Ruto said. “The health of the planet requires urgent attention.”
The Horn of Africa is enduring its worst drought since 1981 due to three consecutive poor rainy seasons. More than 3.1 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in Kenya.
Ruto condemned the “exclusionist nationalism” made evident by the COVID-19 pandemic, which “undermines prospects of collective action” and “impairs the resolve of the international community to guarantee fundamental rights and the safety of the world’s vulnerable majority”.
He called for “building back better” from the bottom up by including poorer nations in global governance.