Russian President Vladimir Putin made the case for an international coalition against terrorism in a speech Monday to the United Nations General Assembly. His remarks and his presence in New York came at a moment of high tensions with the West amid Russia’s military role in both Ukraine and Syria.
As expected, Putin focused on the terrorist group the Islamic State. He called it a major mistake not to support Syrian President Bashar Assad in his fight against terrorism and urged Middle Eastern states to take an active role in fighting terrorism. "We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad is truly fighting the Islamic State," Putin said.
He also blamed NATO's recent expansion for conflict in Eastern Europe, but barely addressed the ongoing war in Ukraine. Russia has denied any direct military involvement in Ukraine, where nearly 8,000 people have died and 1.4 million have been displaced by war in the Donbass region. Russia was thrown out of the G-8, a group of the world’s industrialized nations that meets annually, after its annexation of Crimea last year. Both the European Union and the United States have enforced sanctions against Russia for Moscow's role in Ukraine.
Putin, who spoke for 23 minutes, also defended the veto right exercised by permanent members of the Security Council. “The veto right has always been exercised,” he said. Russia has been criticized for using its veto to block a tribunal to investigate the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last year. The plane was carrying 298 passengers and crew when it went down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. Ukraine has claimed the plane was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from separatist territory in the Donbass region.
— RT (@RT_com) September 28, 2015
Before Putin's speech, U.S. President Barack Obama described Russia as "resurgent" and called out Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March 2014 and subsequent aggression in eastern Ukraine during his own address to the General Assembly.
"America has few economic interests in Ukraine," Obama said, but noted violating international norms would not be tolerated. "We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated."
Putin was scheduled to meet with Obama on the sidelines of the General Assembly Monday, their first official meeting in approximately a year amid growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.