It takes a Queen to start this year’s high-profile week at the United Nations General Assembly – an annual whirlwind event known as UNGA will begin on Tuesday.
The United Nations gang is finally back together in person, after three years of leaders speaking via video due to the global pandemic. But many leaders from 193 UN member states were in the UK to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday, forcing their missions at the UN to scramble to reschedule speeches and rendezvous points.
Perhaps the most striking of the changes, US President Joe Biden will speak on Wednesday morning instead of taking the traditional American second-speaker spot after Brazil on Tuesday. Biden has also made time for conversations with national leaders in London, which may limit some discussions in Manhattan.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be the only world leader to speak via video, as occupied as he is now. war in his country. On Friday, Congress rejected Russia’s objection to allowing Zelensky to talk virtual.
The invasion of United Nations member Ukraine by Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, could cast a shadow over the entire General Assembly:
“The General Assembly is meeting at a very dangerous time,” United Nations Secretary Antonio Guterres said at a press conference last week. “Geostrategic divisions are the widest they have been since the Cold War. They are paralyzing the global response to the stark challenges we face.”
Don’t expect this year’s General Assembly to be “business as usual,” Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs Michele Sison said Friday. “Russia’s continued, unprovoked attack on Ukraine raises serious questions about the country’s commitment to diplomacy, the UN Charter and the territorial integrity of nations.”
Many UN diplomats say Russia has put the credibility and image of the UN at risk this year by invading another UN country, and that the UN has been unable to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop.
The overwhelming majority of UN members strongly oppose Russia’s war in Ukraine. Expect Western countries to use their official speeches to lash out at Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will speak on Saturday, but no Western country has said whether they have bilateral plans with the Russian guest.
Others fear Russia’s war has altered other issues of global importance, such as the climate crisis. One diplomat told CNN: “This could be a UNGA on climate but Russia took care of that with its invasion of Ukraine.
“It takes up a lot of space,” said Stefan Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General. “Because we know that the war in Ukraine is having a global impact, on the food, on the grain, on the energy crisis. It has a dramatic impact on the fight against climate change, where – because of the energy crisis – we see member states turning back to polluting energy sources. ”
“However, it is not possible to prevent the Secretary-General from raising all the other issues,” he added.
But the US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stressed the need for a broad view, telling reporters on Friday that “next week won’t be dominated by Ukraine, but we won’t be. ignore Ukraine. We know that as this terrible war rages across Ukraine, we cannot ignore the rest of the world,” she added.
“A lot of leaders feel [Russia’s war in Ukraine] The United Nations Director of the International Crisis Group Richard Gowan also said.
On Thursday morning, there will be a meeting of the Security Council at the ministerial level on Thursday morning on Ukraine, attended by Lavrov, the highest-ranking member of the Russian government.
However, some may wish there were fewer verbal attacks on Moscow, after the seven-month conflict. One diplomat told CNN that poorer countries on the margins feel a calmer tone could aid in finding an end to the conflict – and need Russian supplies of oil or food.
Food security is another major topic of the global forum, with the world economy hit hard by the pandemic, inflation and struggling supply chains. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is expected to chair a meeting on food during the summit week.
“What we hope to do is really bring the world together to solve all the problems related to food insecurity. So it brings both the south as well as the countries – developing countries and donor countries together in the room to tackle these issues,” said US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield.
Yet it is yet another year in which citizens of the world may wonder what the UN is really up to, given the nightmare in Ukraine and the low levels of contributions from member states to other crises.
“The UN as an organization is no longer able to deal with it because everything is turned upside down,” another UN diplomat said.
But it could at least replay a major show, with many world leaders making their first appearance in a few years. There will be hundreds of speeches, handshakes, parties and panels. An estimated 140 heads of state and government will attend. And pursuing them will be hundreds of media members from around the world.
As another diplomat put it, everyone is a “moving target” at UNGA.