Antony J. Blinken

Address to the United Nations Security Council on One Year Anniversary of Russian Invasion of Ukraine

delivered 24 February 2023, UN Headquarters, New York, NY

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Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, fellow council members:

One year and one week ago -- on February 17th, 2022 -- I warned this council that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine.

I said that Russia would manufacture a pretext, and then use missiles, tanks, soldiers, cyber attacks to strike pre-identified targets, including Kyiv, with the aim of toppling Ukraine’s democratically elected government.

Russia’s representative -- the same representative who will speak today -- called these, and I quote, “groundless accusations.”

Seven days later, on February 24th, 2022, Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

Due to fierce resistance by Ukraine’s defenders, President Putin failed in his primary objective to conquer Ukraine, end its existence as an independent country, and absorb it into Russia.

Then, he dusted off his Crimea playbook from 2014: He called snap referenda in four occupied parts of Ukraine, deported Ukrainians, bussed in Russians, held sham votes at gunpoint, and then manipulated the results to claim near unanimous support for joining the Russian Federation.

When President Putin couldn’t break the Ukrainian military, he intensified efforts to break Ukrainians’ spirit. Over the last year, Russia has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and children; uprooted more than 13 million people from their homes; destroyed more than half of the country’s energy grid; bombed more than 700 hospitals, 2,600 schools; and abducted at least 6,000 Ukrainian children -- some as young as four months old -- and relocated them to Russia.

And yet, the spirit of the Ukrainians remains unbroken; if anything, it’s stronger than ever.

When Ukraine launched a counteroffensive that retook large swaths of its territory, President Putin conscripted an additional 300,000 men -- throwing more and more of Russia’s young people into a meat grinder of his own making. And he unleashed the Wagner Group -- mercenaries who have committed atrocities from Africa to the Middle East, and now, in Ukraine.

Of course, that’s not the whole story of the last year.

There is also the story of Ukraine’s people. Vastly outnumbered, they have fought bravely to defend their nation, their freedom, the right to determine their own future. And they’ve demonstrated inspiring unity in helping one another endure Moscow’s relentless assault.

Teachers and community members give classes in bunkers to children. City workers improvise patches to restore heat and power and water to residents. Neighbors set up soup kitchens to feed the hungry.

There’s also the story of how the international community has come together.

The vast majority of member-states have voted multiple times to condemn Russia’s violations of the UN Charter and reject its illegal attempt to seize Ukrainian territory. Yesterday, 141 countries voted in the General Assembly for a resolution that reaffirms the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, denounces Russia’s atrocities, expresses support for a just and comprehensive peace, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

When President Putin tried to weaponize hunger -- exploiting the worst global food crisis since the creation of the UN -- the international community responded swiftly.

Since the United States chaired a Food Security meeting last May, more than 100 countries have signed onto a set of concrete commitments to alleviate hunger. Thanks in large part to the Secretary-General Guterres and Türkiye, the Black Sea Grain Initiative loosened Russia’s stranglehold on Ukraine’s ports and brought down the cost of grain for the world. Now, as Moscow again tries to throttle its output, we have to ensure that that initiative is extended and expanded.

When President Putin tried to weaponize energy, we redirected natural gas supplies from across the world, so that countries Russia targeted could keep their people warm in the winter. And Europe took extraordinary steps to end its dependence on Russian energy.

No country has endured greater hardship from Russia’s war than Ukraine, but almost every country has felt the pain. And yet, nations around the world continue to stand with Ukraine. Because we all recognize that if we abandon Ukraine, we abandon the UN Charter itself, and the principles and rules that make all countries safer and more secure.

No seizing land by force.

No erasing another country’s borders.

No targeting civilians in war.

No wars of aggression.

If we do not defend these basic principles, we invite a world in which might makes right, the strong dominate the weak. That’s the world this body was created to end. And members of this council have a unique responsibility to make sure that we do not return to it. We can do that in three ways.

First, we must push for a just and durable peace.

Now I expect that many countries will call for peace today.

No one wants peace more than the Ukrainian people. And the United States has long made clear -- even before this war -- that we’re prepared to engage in any meaningful diplomatic effort to stop Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

But history teaches us that it’s the nature of peace that matters.

For peace to be just, it must uphold the principles at the heart of the UN Charter: sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence.

For peace to be durable, it must ensure that Russia can’t simply rest, rearm, and relaunch the war in a few months or a few years.

Any peace that legitimizes Russia’s seizure of land by force will weaken the charter and send a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they can invade countries and get away with it.

President Zelenskyy has put forward a ten-point plan for a just and durable peace. President Putin, by contrast, has made clear that there is nothing to talk about until Ukraine accepts, and I quote, “the new territorial realities,” while doubling down on his brutal tactics.

Members of this council have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that any peace is just and durable.

Council members should not be fooled by calls for a temporary or unconditional ceasefire. Russia will use any pause in fighting to consolidate control over the territory it’s illegally seized and replenish its forces for further attacks. That’s what happened when Russia’s first assault on Ukraine froze in 2015. Look at what followed.

And members of this council should not fall into the false equivalency of calling on both sides to stop fighting, or calling on other nations to stop supporting Ukraine in the name of peace.

No member of this council should call for peace while supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine and on the UN Charter.

In this war, there is an aggressor and there is a victim.

Russia fights for conquest. Ukraine fights for its freedom.

If Russia stops fighting and leaves Ukraine, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.

The fact remains: One man -- Vladimir Putin -- started this war; one man can end it.

Second, even as we work to end Russia’s war against Ukraine, members of this council must continue to address other challenges to international peace and security.

We hear the concerns of countries who worry that standing with Ukraine and holding Russia accountable is diverting focus and resources from others in need.

To those countries, I would say, simply, look at our actions.

And when you hear Russia and its defenders accuse the countries who support Ukraine of ignoring the rest of the world -- I say look at Moscow’s actions.

Compare the numbers. In addition to the $13.5 billion in food aid that the United States contributed to fight hunger over the last year, we also fund more than 40 percent of the World Food Program’s budget. Russia contributes less than 1 percent of that budget.

That’s not an outlier. Based on the latest UN figures, the United States donates over nine times as much as Russia to UN peacekeeping. We donate 390 times as much as Russia to UNICEF. We give nearly a thousand times as much as Russia to the UN Refugee Agency.

Third, we must reaffirm our commitment to upholding what the UN Charter calls, and I quote, “the dignity and worth of the human person.”

We must continue to compile evidence of Russia’s ongoing and widespread atrocities, including executions; torture; rape and sexual violence; the deportation of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia.

We must continue to document Russia’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, and share this evidence with investigators and prosecutors, so that one day, the perpetrators can be held accountable.

Day after day of Russia’s atrocities, it’s easy to become numb to the horror, to lose our ability to feel shock and outrage. But we can never let the crimes Russia is committing become our new normal.

Bucha is not normal. Mariupol is not normal. Irpin is not normal. Bombing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings to rubble is not normal. Stealing Ukrainian children from their families and giving them to people in Russia is not normal.1

We must not let President Putin’s callous indifference to human life become our own.

We must force ourselves to remember that behind every atrocity in this wretched war, in conflicts around the world, is a human being.

I recently visited an exhibit of artwork made by Ukrainian children affected by the war.

One painting I saw was made by a ten-year-old girl named Veronika. Last April, Russian forces shelled her home in Vuhledar, killing her whole family. When first responders dug her from the rubble, a piece of shrapnel was lodged in her skull. Her left thumb had been ripped off. Doctors saved her life, but the attack left her right hand mostly paralyzed, and she can’t see out of her left eye.

In her painting, Veronika drew herself in a bright pink and orange dress, holding a bouquet of flowers. A building stands next to her. When asked who lived there, she said it was a place where all the people she knew who had been killed in the war could be safe.

“We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war....” That’s how the UN Charter begins.

Fellow members of this council: Now is the time to meet that promise. There are so many people in Ukraine who want the same thing as that little girl, Veronika: a world where they can live in peace, in their own country, and keep the people they love safe.

We have the power, we have the responsibility to create that world, today and for generations to come. We cannot -- we will not -- let one country destroy it.

Thank you.

1 Notable epistrophe

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