Zelensky challenges UN to revoke Russia's "stolen privilege" in tense confrontation
New York, New York - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday confronted Russia directly at the UN Security Council, denouncing the invasion of his country as "criminal" and urging the UN to strip Moscow of its veto power.
Dressed in his trademark military fatigues, Zelensky for the first time since the February 2022 invasion sat in the same room as a Russian official, who responded by scrolling through his smartphone disinterestedly.
"Most of the world recognizes the truth about this war," Zelensky said. "It is a criminal and unprovoked aggression by Russia against our nation aimed at seizing Ukraine's territory and resources."
Zelensky called on the UN to vote to end Russia's veto power on the Security Council, where Moscow joins only the US, Britain, China, and France in being able to block any resolution.
The Ukrainian leader said this move could be among wide-ranging reforms at the Security Council that would include giving permanent representation to nations in the developing world, where support for Ukraine's cause has been lukewarm.
"Veto power in the hands of the aggressor is what has pushed the UN into a deadlock," Zelensky said.
"It is impossible to stop the war because all efforts are vetoed by the aggressor or those who condone the aggressor," he said.
Zelensky, who will be in Washington DC on Thursday, repeated the Ukrainian stance that Moscow's veto power belonged to the former Soviet Union – one of the victors of World War II after which the UN was created – and not to President Vladimir Putin's Russia.
"Unfortunately, this seat on the Security Council, which Russia occupies illegally through backstage manipulations following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been taken by liars whose job it is to whitewash the aggression and the genocide," Zelensky said.
Russia scoffs at Ukrainian demands
Taking away Russia's veto power would be exceedingly difficult, with Zelensky acknowledging that Moscow will not "give up this stolen privilege voluntarily."
There is, however, precedent: the General Assembly in 1971 transferred China's veto-wielding seat from Taiwan, then considered the country's representative, to the communist government on the mainland.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, showing up at the Security Council after Zelensky left, scoffed at the idea of ending Russia's veto and described it as a way to check Western power.
"The use of the veto is an absolutely legitimate tool laid out in the (UN) Charter," Lavrov said.
He denounced Zelensky, who is seeking to win back all territory occupied by Russia, for not negotiating.
Russia's top diplomat then turned to the onlooking US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and suggested the US could "give a command for Zelensky to lift the decree" against negotiations.
Blinken, who had met Lavrov before the war to warn against an invasion, has largely avoided him since the war and no talks were planned in New York.
In his own remarks as Lavrov entered the room, Blinken recalled a recent visit to Ukraine where he visited a town where bodies of Ukrainian civilians were stacked among the living in a school basement.
"Russia is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine on an almost daily basis," Blinken said.
Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS