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Ukraine war takes centre stage at UN as west and Russia vie for support


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set to dominate the first in-person meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in three years.

World leaders are converging on New York for the summit, which comes in the shadow of Europe’s first major war of the 21st century.

The conflict has unleashed a global food crisis and opened fissures among major powers in a way not seen since the Cold War.

Nearly 150 heads of state and government are on the latest speakers’ list. That is a sign that despite the fragmented state of the planet, the UN remains the key gathering place for presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers to not only deliver their views but to meet privately to discuss the challenges on the global agenda —- and hopefully make some progress.

At the top of that agenda for many: Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which not only threatens the sovereignty of its western neighbor but has raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in the country’s now Moscow-occupied southeast.

While leaders in many countries are trying to prevent a wider war and restore peace in Europe, diplomats, though, are not expecting any breakthroughs this week.

The loss of important grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia has triggered a food crisis, especially in developing countries, and inflation and a rising cost of living in many others. Those issues are high on the agenda.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world is “literally on fire,” and we are facing an “immense” task of saving the planet

His comments come ahead of his “state of the world” speech on Tuesday. Guterres said world leaders must tackle conflicts and climate catastrophes, increasing poverty and inequality.

He said they should also find a way to deal with the persistent COVID-19 pandemic — and address divisions among major powers that have gotten worse since Russia invaded Ukraine.

He also pointed to “a lack of access to finance for developing countries to recover — a crisis not seen in a generation” that has seen ground lost for education, health and women’s rights.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres’ “state of the world” speech would be “a sober, substantive and solutions-focused report card” for a world “where geopolitical divides are putting all of us at risk”.

“There will be no sugar-coating in his remarks, but he will outline reasons for hope,” Dujarric told reporters on Monday.

The global gathering, known as the General Debate, was entirely virtual in 2020 because of the pandemic and hybrid in 2021.

This year, the 193-member General Assembly returns to only in-person speeches, with a single exception — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Over objections from Russia and a few allies, the assembly voted last Friday to allow the Ukrainian leader to prerecord his speech because of reasons beyond his control — the “ongoing foreign invasion” and military hostilities that require him to carry out his “national defense and security duties”.

By tradition, Brazil has spoken first for over seven decades because, at the early General Assembly sessions, it volunteered to start when no other country did.

The US president, representing the host country for the United Nations, is traditionally the second speaker.

But Joe Biden is attending the Queen’s funeral, and his speech has been pushed to Wednesday morning. Senegalese President Macky Sall is expected to take Biden’s slot. 

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