Russian nuclear forces being put on high alert is a “chilling development” and the mere idea of a nuclear conflict is simply inconceivable, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday, voicing hope that direct talks between Ukraine and Russia would produce an immediate halt to the fighting.
“The fighting in Ukraine must stop. It is raging across the country, from air, land and sea. It must stop now,” Mr. Guterres told a rare emergency special session of the UN General Assembly on Ukraine.
A day after the 15-nation UN Security Council voted to refer the Russia-Ukraine crisis to an emergency session of the General Assembly, the most representative body of the United Nations convened the rare emergency session on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
President of the 76th session of the General Assembly Abdulla Shahid presided over the unprecedented session, only the 11th such emergency session of the General Assembly since 1950. With the adoption of the UNSC resolution on Sunday, it was for the first time in 40 years that the Council decided to call for an emergency special session in the General Assembly.
Escalating tensions, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his nuclear forces be put on high alert, a development that drastically raised fears and concerns the crisis could lead to a nuclear war.
As Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko hosted the first face-to-face talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegation since Russia’s special military operation in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Guterres hoped that the direct talks between the two sides “will produce not only an immediate halt to the fighting, but also a path towards a diplomatic solution.” "The guns are talking now, but the path of dialogue must always remain open. It is never too late to engage in good-faith negotiations and to address all issues peacefully,” he said.
Mr. Guterres said the escalating violence, resulting in civilian deaths, including children, was totally unacceptable.
"Enough is enough. Soldiers need to move back to their barracks. Leaders need to move to peace. Civilians must be protected,” he said.
He asserted that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognised borders, must be respected.
Mr. Guterres also appointed Amin Awad as the UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, who liaise with the government and all relevant actors on the ground — supported by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UN Country Team.
‘Violation of sovereignty’
Mr. Shahid said Russia's military offensive was a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and called for an immediate ceasefire and full return to diplomacy and dialogue. He voiced grave concern about the fast-deteriorating situation and ongoing military action in Ukraine.
On the talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegation, Mr. Shahid said this “rare window of opportunity” had opened up for dialogue. “Let’s use this opportunity to meaningfully and rapidly de-escalate the situation.”
Underlining that there were “no winners in war”, but countless lives are torn apart, Mr. Shahid stressed that security and access for humanitarian efforts must be guaranteed.
The Security Council on Friday failed to adopt a resolution that would have deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine after Moscow used its veto. India, China and the UAE abstained, Russia used its veto and 11 Council members voted in favour.
India abstained again, along with China and the UAE, when the Council voted on Sunday on the procedural resolution to refer the Ukraine crisis to an emergency session of the General Assembly. Russia voted against and 11 Council members in favour.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield had said on Friday after the failed UNSC vote that "we will be taking this matter to the General Assembly, where the Russian veto does not apply and the nations of the world will continue to hold Russia accountable.” While a UNSC resolution would have been legally binding and the UN General Assembly resolutions are not, a vote in the 193-member UN body is symbolic of world opinion on the crisis.
Mr. Shahid said the General Assembly with its 193 Member States represents the collective conscience of humanity.
“The strength of this Assembly is rooted in its moral authority. Let’s demonstrate that moral courage and use today’s debate not to whip up war rhetoric, but to give peace a chance,” he added.
“Guns are better off when knotted. Let peace prevail,” he said.