Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky presented a five-point “formula for peace” between him and invading Russia during the United Nations General Assembly debate on Wednesday, identifying the first step as “punishment.”
Zelensky addressed the forum from Kyiv, a move that the Assembly voted to allow by 101 members to seven. Zelensky named and shamed the seven — the communist nations of Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, plus Russia and Russian proxy Bashar al-Assad’s Syria — accusing them of fearing his words.
Ukraine is currently embroiled in a nearly nine-year-old war with Russia that began with the invasion and colonization of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the beginning of the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists have declared the establishment of two “sovereign” states. In February, Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced that he was recognizing the Donbas’s Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” as countries and that he would send Russian armed forces into Ukraine at their request to “de-Nazify” Zelensky’s government. Zelensky, elected as the “pro-Russian” candidate in a free and fair election in 2019, has expressed offense at being branded a Nazi, noting his Jewish heritage.
Putin’s efforts in Ukraine have stalled since the bombing of the greater Kyiv area in the first half of the year. Ukrainian forces have recently claimed to have recaptured several southern municipalities. Putin announced a partial military mobilization, including conscription, on Wednesday intended to reverse what outside observers believe to be a significant decline in Russian field success in the war.
Zelensky discussed the war before the General Assembly through the lens of a five-point plan that he argued could be applied universally to any conflict to achieve peace. Prior to revealing the plan, he insisted to those urging Ukraine and Russia to attempt talks that the time for diplomacy had ended and that talks had indeed been attempted, but failed.
“We held 88 rounds of talks in various formats to prevent this war, just from the beginning of my presidency until February 24 this year,” he recalled.
Zelensky claimed his peace plan would necessarily require significant reform of the United Nations, later questioning the logic of permanent seats on the Security Council for rogue states like Russia, and the toothlessness of U.N. agencies.
“I will present a formula that can work not only for us, but for anyone who may find themselves in similar circumstances as we did,” he said. “It is a formula that punishes crime, protects life, restores security and territorial integrity, guarantees security, and provides determination. There are five preconditions for peace.”
Punishment, as he noted, was the first step in his plan to end wars.
Zelensky called for universal sanctions on Russia, from banning Russian tourists from entering free states to barring Russia from participating in international fora like the Security Council, also including commercial sanctions to impoverish the Russian economy.
“Blocking the trade and relations with the aggressor is a part of the peace formula. All this is a punishment. So long as the aggressor is a party to decision-making in the international organizations, he must be isolated from them – at least until aggression lasts,” Zelensky argued. “Reject the right to vote. Deprive delegation rights. Remove the right of veto – if it is a Member of the UN Security Council.”
“Citizens of the aggressor state should not be allowed to enjoy tourism or shopping in the territory of those who value peace, but should be encouraged through visa restrictions to fight against the aggression of their own state,” he continued. “Punish for abetting the evil. A Special Tribunal should be created to punish Russia for the crime of aggression against our state. This will become a signal to all ‘would-be’ aggressors, that they must value peace or be brought to responsibility by the world.”
Zelensky’s other four elements of peace — the protection of life, “restoring security and territorial integrity,” “security guarantees,” and “determination” — offered less specific courses of action for other nations. Zelensky did encourage other states to list Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism for its war and to seek military treaties with Ukraine that would deter further action by Russia — though he did not name NATO membership as a specific aspiration.
Zelensky concluded by condemning not just Russia’s allies, but countries that have chosen not to support either side.
“Those who speak of neutrality, when human values and peace are under attack, mean something else. They talk about indifference – everyone for themselves,” the Ukrainian president said. “Here’s what they say. They pretend to be interested in each other’s problems. They take care of each other formally. They sympathize only for protocol. And that is why they pretend to protect someone, but in reality, they protect only their vested interests.”
“This is what creates the conditions for war. This is what needs to be corrected in order to create conditions for peace,” he concluded.