Even holding a minute of silence for victims of the conflict in Ukraine proved too hard for the United Nations Security Council, where a meeting meant to push for peace a year after Russia invaded descended into objections about the order of speakers.
“You are turning the council into your own instrument,” Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said of the U.S. and its allies moments into the meeting Friday. Nebenzya objected to a decision to let Ukraine’s foreign minister deliver a speech before the 15 members of the Security Council did so.
It was an inauspicious start to a meeting that was intended to take stock one year after President Vladimir Putin sent his forces over the border, and to press for new avenues toward peace. Instead, the squabbling underscored how the world’s most powerful diplomatic body has been unable to fulfill its mandate of maintaining global peace and security as Russia, one of its five veto-wielding permanent members, wages war on its neighbor.
The spats and slights didn’t stop there: Nebenzya scrolled through his mobile phone during a speech by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Then he objected when Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked everyone in the Security Council chamber to observe a minute of silence in recognition of the Ukrainian victims of Russia’s aggression.
Nebenzya, wagging a pencil to get the attention of the ambassador of Malta, who was running the meeting, said he would rise to recognize all those killed on both sides since 2014, not just the current conflict. After pausing awkwardly as if to let Nebenzya’s proposal lapse, the other ambassadors rose to their feet.
Once the meeting got underway, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned nations against accepting what he called false calls for a cease-fire or a peace plan — such as one offered by China.
“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,” Blinken said. A peace that legitimizes Russia’s seizure of land will “send a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they can invade countries and get away with it.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly condemned Putin for pursuing a goal of “imperial expansion” at the cost of casualties for both Ukraine and Russia. “They are paying for his ego with their lives,” he said.
Nebenzya renewed Moscow’s initial claims justifying its invasion, alleging repression of Russian-speaking people by the Ukrainian government and accusing Kyiv of fomenting Nazi ideology. While western countries have emphasized their strengthened alliances, Nebenzya accused U.S. allies of “displaying heretofore unseen servility and impotence.”
The meeting also underscored how different nations hew to their own interpretations of the conflict. Ambassador Dai Bing of China touted his country’s new peace proposal, a document that other governments have dismissed as toothless or favorable to Russia.
Nebenzya accused Ukraine’s western backers of hypocrisy in their calls for a just peace. “What is meant is the capitulation of Russia and inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia, ideally followed by the disintegration of the country and redrawing the territories,” he said.
The representative of Gabon, which abstained from Thursday’s U.N. General Assembly vote calling for Russia to leave Ukraine, condemned the “exchange of insults and antagonistic rhetoric” at the world body over the last year.
“It is time to stem the blood flow and the rivers of human suffering, which call us to action and pique our conscience,” Michel Xavier Biang said.
As with Security Council meetings in the past, there was no sign that Friday’s session swayed anyone from either side of the debate to change their stance.
“We will not convince the Russian representative today,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the council. “He’s not even listening.”