The president’s speech to the UN General Assembly came against the backdrop of a rare national address by Putin, which authorized the mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists for the war effort while resurfacing his threat to use nuclear weapons if Russia is threatened. Putin also gave his blessing to US officials declaring a sham referendum for Ukrainian territories seized by Moscow to vote to become part of Russia.
“The world should see these outrageous acts for what they are,” Biden said. “Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened. But no one threatened Russia.
From the start, Biden planned to use his speech to denounce Putin and urge the West to stick together in its continued support for Kyiv. But Putin’s incendiary rhetoric has heightened the urgency of his call, as fears grow that the Russian president is using some sort of tactical nuclear device on the battlefield.
White House aides made changes to the draft speech Wednesday morning before Biden left his downtown Manhattan hotel for the short drive to the United Nations compound overlooking the East River. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reviewed the speech with Biden in the morning, adjusting and emphasizing some lines, aides said.
The president didn’t mince words when discussing Russia’s alleged war crimes – another mass grave was discovered in recent days, with some of the corpses showing signs of torture – as he said Putin had become an outcast global.
“A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded their neighbor, tried to wipe a sovereign state off the map,” Biden said. “Russia has shamelessly violated the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter.”
Putin’s bellicose statements set off alarms in world capitals, but US officials were quick to signal that they believed Moscow’s shift in strategy came from a position of weakness.
Putin has long resisted any form of military mobilization, fearing that a widespread effort to recruit more fighters could lead to protests and other domestic unrest. But the astonishing strength of Ukraine’s recent counter-offensive forced its hand, revealing that the Russian military was still suffering from manpower and morale problems and was in danger of further losing the territory it had. seized since the invasion in late February.
Although the war has gone badly for Putin, US officials believe the conflict’s most perilous moment looms on the horizon. The Western alliance’s resolve will be tested by what promises to be a cold and dark winter for Europe – with the continent cut off from Russia’s energy supplies, its resolve tested by the rising prices and falling temperatures.
Biden aides believe Ukraine’s recent victories prove Europe is worth sticking with Kyiv. The president hammered home that point from the Turtle Bay rostrum, calling on the continent to strengthen its resolve as the United States continues to funnel billions of dollars in weapons and supplies to the Ukrainian resistance. Once again, he framed the coming century as a rivalry between democracies and autocracies, but also urged non-democracies to stand with the West against Moscow.
But key members of that audience weren’t in the room.
Although the United Nations held its full General Assembly for the first time since before the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing together more than a hundred leaders and bottling traffic through Manhattan, some of the most powerful heads of state in the world skipped the rally.
Beyond Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi didn’t make the trip to New York, depriving Biden of an ability to chastise the two powers head-to-head for Russia’s soft backing. Although U.S. officials don’t believe either violated sanctions by sending military aid to Russia, they continued to buy its energy, providing a fiscal lifeline to Moscow and helping in part to fund Putin’s war machine. Another key player in the global energy market, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also skipped the General Assembly.
But despite Xi’s absences, China remained the focus. Biden chastised some of his economic practices and sharply criticized Beijing for a nuclear buildup without transparency.
“We are not looking for conflict. We are not looking for a Cold War,” Biden said. “But the United States will not hesitate to promote our vision of a free, open, secure and prosperous world.”
The absence of the heavyweights from New York too, White House aides acknowledged, has reinforced the impression that the United Nations, while still a glitzy gathering of global diplomacy, has been relegated this year as some kind of opening act of the G-20 summit.
The summit, to be held in November in Indonesia, is expected to attract all of these major players, setting up Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Xi since taking office and potentially giving the West a chance to take on Putin. Muted conversations across New York this week have also carried the rumor that Volodymyr Zelenskyy may also appear in Bali, in what would be the first time he has left his war-torn country since the invasion of Russia.
Prior to Putin’s escalation, the White House also appeared to play down the rally at Turtle Bay.
The president’s visit was cut short by more than a day by Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, which he attended on Monday. But rather than fly directly from London to New York, he returned to the White House for nearly 24 hours – and gave a slightly off-topic speech about black money in politics – before heading to Manhattan on Tuesday evening.
He headed straight for a Democratic Party fundraiser — one of at least two on his New York itinerary. He skipped a rally on climate change, as well as a big meeting on food security, but Biden stressed the dangers of global warming during his speech and announced the United States’ commitment to fighting climate change. global food insecurity. Biden also urged the United Nations to reform, saying the Security Council should be expanded with new permanent and rotating seats to give Latin America and Africa a voice.
Kelly Hooper contributed to this report.