Perhaps most prominent of the changes, US President Joe Biden will speak on Wednesday morning instead of taking the US’s traditional second speaking slot after Brazil on Tuesday. Biden has also made time for talks with the nation’s leaders in London, which may limit some of the discussions in Manhattan.
The invasion of Ukraine, a UN member state, by Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, could cast a shadow over the entire General Assembly:
“The General Assembly is meeting at a time of great crisis,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference last week. “Geo-strategic divides are at their widest since at least the Cold War. They are crippling the global response to the dramatic challenges we face.”
US Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Michelle Sisson said on Friday that this year’s General Assembly should not be expected to be “business as usual”. “Russia’s unprovoked, ongoing attack on Ukraine raises serious questions about its commitment to diplomacy, the United Nations Charter and the territorial integrity of nations.”
Several UN diplomats say Russia has put the UN’s credibility and image at stake by invading another UN country this year, with the UN unable to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop.
Most of the UN membership strongly opposes Russia’s war in Ukraine. Expect Western countries to use their official speeches to bash Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will speak on Saturday, but no Western country has said whether they have bilateral plans with the Russian visitor.
Others fear that Russia’s war has displaced other issues of global importance, such as the climate crisis. “It must have been a climate UNGA but Russia has taken care of it with the invasion of Ukraine,” a diplomat told CNN.
“It takes up too much space,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said during a press briefing on Monday. “Because we know the war in Ukraine is having a global impact, on food, on grain, on the energy crisis. It is having a knock-on effect on the fight against climate change, where – because of the energy crisis – we see that Member States are reverting to polluting sources of energy.”
“However, this is not stopping the Secretary General from taking up all these other issues,” he added.
But US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Friday that “Next week Ukraine will not dominate, but we will not ignore Ukraine. We know it’s terrible. War has broken out all over Ukraine, We can’t ignore the rest of the world.”
,[There are] many leaders who feel [Russia’s war in Ukraine] Richard Govan, the UN director of the International Crisis Group, also said it “is a distraction from the problems in our region.”
On Thursday morning, there will be a session of the Ministerial Security Council on Ukraine, attended by Lavrov, the highest-ranking member of the Russian government.
Still, few might wish for fewer verbal attacks on Moscow, seven months into the conflict. A diplomat told CNN that poorer countries on the edge think a calmer tone could help end the conflict – and are in need of Russian oil or food supplies.
Food security is another key topic for the global forum, with the world economy badly hit by pandemics, inflation and struggling supply chains. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to chair a meeting on food during the high-level week.
“What we are hoping to do is really bring the world together to solve all the issues related to food insecurity. So it will take countries from the South – developing countries and donor countries – to solve these issues.” Bringing us together,” said US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Yet, this is another year where citizens of the world may wonder what the UN actually does, given the nightmare in Ukraine and the low level of donations from member states to other crises.
Another UN diplomat said, “The United Nations as an organization is no longer in a position to do anything because everything is upside down.”
But at least it could make a big showing again, with many world leaders making their first appearances in as many years. There will be hundreds of speeches, handshakes, parties and panels. An estimated 140 heads of state and government will participate. And following him will be hundreds of media members from around the world.
As another diplomat put it, everyone is a “moving target” at the UNGA.