Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said he spoke on behalf of a nation “suffering brutal violations” of the United Nation’s Charter by U.N. Security Council member Russia when he addressed the General Assembly Tuesday. Poroshenko used his speech to aggressively shift attention back to the conflict in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin focused his remarks Monday on Syria.
“My country is the subject of external aggression,” he said, naming Russia and calling for support from the entire international community. “Russia refused to admit its direct military invasion. Today there is no doubt this is an aggressive war against my country.”
He said Russia was trying to return to “imperial times” with over 20 months of aggression against Ukraine. Poroshenko described how Russian soldiers without insignia were fighting in Ukraine. Representatives from Russia were not present in the General Assembly Hall when Poroshenko spoke.
— UN Tribune (@untribune) September 29, 2015
Poroshenko said Russia had used its veto right as a permanent member twice over the situation in Ukraine, first over the annexation of Crimea and the second time over the establishment of a tribunal for investigating who brought down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The downing of MH17 killed 298 people when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. Poroshenko welcomed U.N. reform proposals to block veto powers when mass atrocities are involved.
Poroshenko said Ukraine was willing to follow the Minsk II peace agreement signed in February to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but insisted that the act should not be used as blackmail by Russia. The Russian government has denied playing an active role in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine despite convoys from Russia regularly crossing into Ukraine and the Ukrainian government capturing Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. The war has left approximately 8,000 dead and displaced over 1.4 million in a country of 45 million, according to figures from the U.N.
Poroshenko devoted several minutes of his speech to the human rights situation in Crimea, the peninsula region annexed by Russia in March 2014. He also named Ukrainian prisoners being held in Russia, including pilot Nadiya Savcehnko and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov -- who was sentenced to 20 years in prison -- calling for their release.
Describing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for an international coalition to fight terrorism in Syria and against the Islamic State group, Poroshenko said “cool story, but hard to believe” that Moscow could broker global peace given Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
The situation in Ukraine received short comments in the remarks of several world leaders Monday at the U.N. Putin briefly touched on the war in Ukraine but made no mention of Russian involvement. He described the conflict in Ukraine as “civil war” that was triggered due to a “military coup … orchestrated from outside.” Putin said the Minsk peace agreement was the way to end the conflict.
Presidents of Ukraine and the US has met in New York. "The serious talk took place" - UA Ambassador to UN says pic.twitter.com/L46G2ksefc
— Yarema Dukh (@yarko) September 29, 2015
Domestically, Poroshenko has faced declining approval ratings with a survey earlier in September by Kiev’s International Institute of Sociology showing that only 27 percent of people would vote for him versus 35 percent in March. Local elections were scheduled to take place Oct. 25.
Rumors have also swirled about animosity between Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, with a petition on the presidential website calling for former Georgian president and current governor of the Ukrainian region of Odessa, Mikheil Saakashvili, to become the country’s prime minister gathering thousand of signatures.
Ukraine’s economy has been badly battered since the start of the country’s revolution and ensuing war in 2014. Ukraine reached a deal with debt holders in August for a 20 percent write down on $18 billion. Russia holds $3 billion in Ukrainian debt due in December and has said it would not accept a write-down.
International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde praised Ukraine’s economic overhaul earlier this month. “To achieve what you have achieved in such a short period of time is just nothing but astonishing,” she said. In the same breathe, Lagarde stressed it was critical for Ukraine to “restore confidence” and follow through on promises made to financial institutions.
With complex reforms taking place in Ukraine, Poroshenko has focused his visit to the U.S. on the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Speaking to the Ukrainian-American community over the weekend at the Ukrainian Institute in New York, Poroshenko said the outmatched Ukrainian armed forces had still managed to dig in against Russia. American troops have provided training to Ukrainian forces in the western part of the country since last spring.
“It’s not just interesting for Ukrainians to learn from our American partners how to fight, it’s interesting for Americans to learn how to fight Russia,” he said. “We are the only country in Europe that is not afraid of Russia.”