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US president Joe Biden called on world leaders to oppose early peace talks that would lead to the break-up of Ukraine, arguing that standing firm against Russia’s goal of winning a big chunk of land would deter future invasions of independent nations.
Biden made the appeal in his annual speech to the UN’s General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the audience.
Biden warned that Russia was betting the world was growing “weary” of the conflict and would let Moscow “brutalise Ukraine without consequence”.
While the US supported a diplomatic resolution to the war, Russia’s “price for peace” was “Ukraine’s capitulation, Ukraine’s territory and Ukraine’s children”, Biden said.
“I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the UN Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” Biden asked. “The answer is no. We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.”
The US president’s comments come as he prepares to host Zelenskyy in Washington for talks on the war later this week, with Ukraine’s counteroffensive to win back land from occupying Russian forces proceeding more slowly than expected in recent months. The Biden administration is pressing Congress to approve new aid for Kyiv in increasingly tense budget negotiations on Capitol Hill.
Zelenskyy delivered his own appeal to the UN General Assembly audience later on Tuesday. “We must act united — to defeat the aggressor and focus all our capabilities and energy on addressing these challenges,” the Ukrainian president said.
“While Russia is pushing the world to the final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after Russian aggression no one in the world will dare to attack any nation,” he said. “Weaponisation must be restrained. War crimes must be punished. Deported people must come back home. And the occupier must return to their own land. We must be united to make it.”
This month, the US backed a G20 declaration at the New Delhi leaders’ summit that watered down some of its most aggressive condemnations of Russia’s war in Ukraine, though it stressed the importance of upholding territorial integrity.
During his UN speech, Biden said Washington was aiming to “responsibly manage” its competition with China so it does not “tip into conflict”, and reiterated the US administration’s support for “de-risking” rather than “decoupling” from China.
“We will push back on aggression and intimidation, to defend the rules of the road, from freedom of navigation to overflight to a level economic playing field that has helped safeguard security and prosperity for decades,” Biden said. “But we also stand ready to work together with China on issues where progress hinges on our common efforts.”
Biden used the speech to try to rally more support for US efforts launched at the G20 summit to bolster the coffers of the World Bank and the IMF in order to boost financing for developing countries. He also said the heatwaves, wildfires, droughts and flooding that had ravaged countries around the world in recent weeks told an “urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”.
The US president’s speech comes at an inflection point in American diplomacy, as it tries to build alliances and partnerships, including in the developing world, to offer more palatable economic and strategic alternatives to China’s growing influence in many countries.
This year, Biden has ramped up US relations with India, mended ties with Saudi Arabia and struck a new partnership with Vietnam, among other initiatives. On the economic and scientific front, the US this week launched an Atlantic co-operation initiative including traditional allies from the north Atlantic area such as the UK, Portugal and Canada, along with African and Latin American nations including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Brazil and Argentina.
In his speech, Biden also said the US wanted to “strengthen” rules surrounding the use of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.
“We need to be sure they are used as tools of opportunity, not as weapons of oppression.”