US President Joe Biden on Wednesday accused Russia of “shamelessly” violating the international order by invading Ukraine, as he pledged billions in food aid and backed an expansion of UN Security Council seats for the developing world.
Biden sought to woo the world in an address to the United Nations hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin called up reservists to fight in Ukraine, a step Western powers portrayed as desperation.
“Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations Charter,” Biden told the General Assembly.
“Let us speak plainly. A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor — attempted to erase the sovereign state from the map.”
After a frontal denunciation of Russia, Biden focused much of his address on the interests of the developing world, where resentment has built in some quarters over the West’s massive spending on weapons for Ukraine.
Biden announced another $2.9 billion for a fund aimed at addressing global food insecurity, which has worsened markedly since the invasion of Ukraine, a major grain exporter.
He also threw his support behind an expansion of the Security Council, an idea mulled for decades but which has previously seen low US enthusiasm.
Biden said the United States would back permanent seats for Africa and Latin America in addition to its previous support to include Japan and India.
He also promised the United States would “refrain from the use of the veto, except in rare, extraordinary situations, to ensure the council remains credible and effective.”
Russia in recent years has been the most frequent user of its veto power. The United States, China, France and Britain also enjoy vetoes, a legacy of the power dynamics at the end of World War II.
Russia has previously scoffed at US high-mindedness on the Security Council, pointing to how former president George W. Bush circumvented it to invade Iraq.
Kenyan President William Ruto, addressing the General Assembly, welcomed Biden’s remarks on reform as a “significant step in the right direction.”
– Calls to pressure Russia –
The General Assembly is meeting in person after two years of disruptions due to the pandemic. Only one leader was granted an exception to speak via video — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addresses the world body later Wednesday.
Just as world leaders were meeting, Russian allies announced they would hold referendums in occupied territory on annexation and Putin announced the mobilization of reservists, showing he is in no hurry to end the war.
French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking on the sidelines of the General Assembly, said that the world must put “maximum pressure” on Putin whose decisions “will serve to isolate Russia further.”
The European Union said its foreign ministers would hold an emergency meeting late Wednesday in New York to address Putin’s speech.
New sanctions “for sure will be on the table,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters.
Standing at the UN rostrum late Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Putin will “only give up his war and his imperialist ambitions if he realizes he cannot win.”
“We stand firmly at the side of those under attack — for the protection of the lives and the freedom of the Ukrainians, and for the protection of our international order,” he said.
– No ‘Cold War’ with China –
Amid warnings of rising global division, Biden also sought to calm tensions with China, days after he again promised US support to Taiwan if Beijing invades the self-governing island.
“Let me be direct about the competition between the United States and China,” Biden said. “As we manage shifting geopolitical trends, the United States will conduct itself as a reasonable leader. We do not seek conflict, we do not seek a Cold War.”
The Biden administration has been encouraged by Putin’s acknowledgement of Chinese concerns when he met President Xi Jinping last week.
On Wednesday, China called for a “ceasefire through dialogue” in Ukraine. It has previously offered moral support to Russia but US officials say Beijing has not accepted requests for material help.
Among other leaders addressing the United Nations was Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who traveled to New York just as protests spread in his country over the death of a woman arrested by morality police.
Biden said that Americans “stand with the brave women of Iran” after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who allegedly was beaten to death after not wearing her headscarf in compliance with the clerical state’s guidelines.