WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “blatant violation” of United Nations principles during a speech to the body on Wednesday, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to threaten to use nuclear weapons against Kiev .
“Russia has blatantly violated the founding principles of the UN Charter – no more important than the clear prohibition against countries from taking their neighbors’ territory by force,” Biden told the United Nations General Assembly. “If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequence, we are risking everything this institution stands for.”
In a speech lasting about 30 minutes, Biden said the war in Ukraine was about “extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state…
“A nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought,” Biden said in his speech.
Biden’s comments to nearly 200 world leaders gathered for the UN’s first personal General Assembly since the pandemic came just hours after Putin delivered a speech announcing the partial mobilization of military reservists, significantly escalating his war in Ukraine. . In the same speech, Putin appeared to threaten nuclear retaliation if Kiev continues its efforts to reclaim occupied territory.
The meeting comes at a dangerous time on a number of fronts. Russia’s war in Ukraine has turned the global food supply on its head and threatens to plunge Europe into recession this winter as the continent braces for a rise in energy costs. The US is also facing heightened tensions with China, which is showing signs of increasing aggression towards Taiwan. And climate change remains one of the biggest international challenges.
In his speech, Biden announced $2.9 billion in new US government aid to combat “acute food insecurity” he says was caused by the war and Ukraine and climate change.
Biden again warned of a global “contest between democracy and autocracy” — a major theme of his presidency that he has sought to defend on the global stage, even as he has raised the alarm about internal threats to America’s own democratic values.
Biden, who has repeatedly accused former President Donald Trump and his supporters of promoting an extreme ideology that threatens democracy, said on Wednesday that the US was “determined to defend and strengthen democracy at home and around the world.”
“I believe that democracy remains humanity’s greatest tool for tackling the challenges of our time,” he said.
At a fundraising drive in New York Tuesday night, Biden warned donors about the “MAGA crowd” and said the US was at “a turning point”. “You can’t claim to be a Democrat with a small d if you use violence against the government,” Biden told the crowd.
Biden is coming on firmer ground in the meeting than last year, when his speech came just weeks after the deadly and chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left world leaders questioning America’s leading role in the world.
Now, US efforts to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia have shown significant signs of progress in recent days after Ukraine reclaimed territory in northeastern Kharkov province, in what many observers believe could be a decisive shift as the war enters its seventh month is approaching.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the group almost later on Wednesday. Putin said last month that he would not attend the meeting.
As for China, Biden faces a delicate balancing act as tensions have escalated in recent months. During an interview on UKTN’s “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday, he said US troops would defend Taiwan if China invaded, a position criticized by Beijing.
In any case, it is the fourth time since last year that Biden has made comments that appear to alter long-standing US policy on Taiwan, although White House officials have said there has been no policy change.
“We strive to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and remain committed to our One China Policy, which has helped prevent conflict for four decades,” Biden said on Wednesday.
The US is legally obligated to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, but it has a policy of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to exactly how it would respond to Chinese aggression against the island.
Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend the UN meeting.
Biden arrived in New York on Tuesday, a day after returning from London to Washington, DC, where he attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral along with other world leaders.
While in New York, he will meet on Wednesday with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and new British Prime Minister Liz Truss. He will also speak at the Global Fund conference on the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and host a reception with other world leaders at the American Museum of Natural History.
Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner and Carol E. Lee contributed.