The war in Ukraine has so fundamentally redirected the course of world affairs that UN Secretary-General António Guterres says little else can be resolved globally before the fighting stops.
That doesn’t stop self-described “eternal optimist” Justin Vaisse from giving it his best shot. The historian took on a mandate from French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017 to organize the Paris Peace Forum, a venue to mend the strained and broken aspects of the multilateral system.
GZERO’s Tony Maciulis caught up with him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, where they discussed his plans for the upcoming forum in November, plus his views on Ukraine and bridging ties with the Global South.
Watch more interviews from the UN General Assembly from Global Stage.
After a marathon few days in New York where he attended the UN General Assembly, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Washington on Thursday where he attempted to convince US lawmakers that continuing to fund Ukraine’s war effort is an investment worth making. On Friday, Zelensky traveled to Canada for the first time since the war began.
In Washington, Zelensky met with President Joe Biden at the White House, after which a Biden aide said that the administration would continue to provide Kyiv with military aid, emphasizing new air defenses.
But the White House stopped short of committing to provide Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS – ballistic missiles with a range of up to 190 miles that could fit in Ukraine’s existing rocket launchers – that Zelensky has been requesting since last year.
“US reluctance has been driven primarily by concerns that providing ATACMS to the Ukrainians could lead to a jump in US-Russia tensions,” says Eurasia Group’s Russia expert Alex Brideau, noting that this is “either because of the transfer itself, or if Ukraine were to use the missiles on targets on Russian territory.”
The Ukrainian president had his work cut out for him on Capitol Hill, where he was trying to convince lawmakers to green-light $24 billion in military aid requested by the White House. During the visit, Biden confirmed an extra $325 million in military aid would be doled out, but it is a far cry from the total awaiting approval from Congress.
Dealing with growing opposition to additional funds for Ukraine within his caucus, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy refused to let Zelensky address a joint session of Congress, saying he was able to do so last December. While other lawmakers – particular Senate leadership – were much more deferential to Zelensky, one key question kept coming up on the Hill: What is the plan for victory?
It was a quieter day at UN headquarters on Thursday. With US President Biden back at the White House – accompanied by Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky – the crowds had thinned somewhat and fewer delegates could be found attending the debate in the UN General Assembly hall.
Much of the focus was on the crisis in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where this week Azerbaijan launched a fresh assault on ethnic-Armenian separatists there, who then reportedly agreed to surrender and disarm as part of a ceasefire. Azerbaijan now looks set to take control of the enclave that's seen decades of conflict.
(For more on the recent flare up and its historical context, see our write up here.)
This was the focus of an urgent UN Security Council meeting called by the Armenian and French delegation on Thursday afternoon. Though they aren’t currently Council members, both Armenia and Azerbaijan attended the session to voice their grievances.
The focus of the Armenian representative reflected a sentiment that has been heard many times throughout the week, namely, that the UN Security Council is broken.
Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ararat Mirzoyan said that the chamber had failed to respond to previous warnings from Yerevan that the Azeris had been upping their attacks on the enclave. Indeed, this came a day after President Zelensky took aim at the Security Council for falling short of its stated mission by letting Russia torpedo efforts to stop the war. (See GZERO's explainer on Instagram on this ensuing debate.)
Despite Karabakh’s acceptance of a ceasefire, shelling continues, Mirzoyan said. The US, for its part, backed this claim, with UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield telling the Council that the “situation on the ground remains dire.”
What’s on deck tomorrow?
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu will address the Assembly, along with Dutch PM Mark Rutte, Bangladesh’s PM Sheikh Hasina, and Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
Maybe you saw the shock headline – “Poland no longer supplying weapons to Ukraine amid grain row” – and wondered how such close allies had experienced such a significant wartime falling-out.
Early Wednesday, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the country had stopped weapons shipments to Ukraine, presumably in response to criticism from Ukraine’s President Zelensky over Poland’s refusal to buy Ukrainian grain diverted by war. But the shocked international response to Morawiecki’s message forced Poland’s government to quickly backtrack/clarify its position.
Here’s the critical context:
· Poland will continue to supply Ukraine with weapons it has already promised to deliver.
· Poland’s stock of excess weapons is currently close to depletion, leaving its government with little more to offer, at least for the moment.
· Poland is, and will remain, the path through which arms shipments from other countries reach Ukraine.
One more point to remember: Poland will hold parliamentary elections on October 15. Prime Minister Morawiecki is well aware the far-right Confederation party can pull votes from his center-right party by criticizing the cost of continuing support for Ukraine. By appearing to punish Poland’s eastern neighbor, Morawiecki can try to protect his vote share.Bottom-line: Don’t be fooled. Poland remains Ukraine’s staunch ally against Russia.
It was another big day at the UN General Assembly. Again, much of the attention centered around Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky who attended a prickly meeting at the UN Security Council.
Ukraine, for its part, is not currently a member of the UNSC, but was invited to attend the session where, sitting across from the Russian Ambassador, Zelensky called Russia a “terrorist state.” Zelensky left the chamber before Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sat down, avoiding a potential confrontation.
Still, much of the Ukrainian president’s speech was directed not at the Russian delegation but at the Security Council itself. He joined the chorus of others calling for urgent reform of the powerful body, arguing that Russia's veto power is undermining the Council's mission. “Ukrainian soldiers are doing with their blood what the UN the Security Council should do by its voting,” he said.
While President Joe Biden said this week in his address before the General Assembly that the US supports such reform efforts, it’s hard to imagine that any of the permanent members of the Council that have the veto power– the US, UK, China, Russia, and France – would be willing to dilute their own clout.
Crucially, Zelensky proposed a change to rules that would allow the UN General Assembly – composed of 193 states – to override UNSC resolutions with a two-thirds majority. But as things are currently structured, that vote itself would be subject to … a UN Security Council veto.
Continuing his shuttle-diplomacy efforts, Zelensky met with Chile’s President Gabriel Boric, where he said the two discussed the prospect of coordinating a Ukraine-Latin America summit. Boric’s embrace of Zelensky has been notably different from other Latin American states, including Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, that have in fact abstained from at least one UN resolution condemning Russian aggression.
Finally, Zelensky also met with his German counterpart Chancellor Olaf Scholz in what was broadly seen as an attempt to get Berlin to earmark more military aid for Kyiv.
Another interesting side meeting took place between Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. It was hardly the White House meeting Bibi had been hoping for – particularly after the Biden side released a cool statement saying the two had a “candid and constructive” conversation on issues including “upholding our democratic values.” This was likely a nod to the White House’s disapproval of the Israeli government’s current attempt to gut the power of the independent judiciary that’s led to some of the biggest protests in Israel on record.
Still, in the broader realm of geopolitics it was a pretty good day for Bibi: On Wednesday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave a rare interview to FOX News where he said that Israel and Saudi were inching close to a normalization deal, a huge foreign policy priority for the Netanyahu government.
Just one day after launching a fresh assault on the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan halted its offensive under a ceasefire in which ethnic-Armenian separatists there reportedly agreed to surrender and disarm.
This effectively marks the end of Karabakh’s decades-long de facto independence from Azerbaijan. As a reminder, Karabakh is officially part of Azerbaijan, but historically had an ethnic-Armenian majority and has been run by Armenian separatists since a war of independence in the early 1990s.
In a 2020 flare up of the conflict, Azerbaijan — with ample help from Turkey — reconquered parts of Karabakh and surrounded it.
The capitulation of the Karabakh authorities means that the enclave is now effectively under Azeri control. For Azerbaijan, retaking Karabakh has been a nationalist dream for decades. President Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday promised to turn Karabakh into “a paradise.”
But the fate of ethnic Armenians there is now in the balance. Both sides have carried out ethnic cleansing of each other’s populations over the past 30 years. Thousands of ethnic Armenians have reportedly rushed the airport already at Stepanakert, the Karabakh capital, looking to flee ahead of any Azeri reprisals.
Russia, whose peacekeepers have spottily overseen a ceasefire in the region since 2020, said that it would host talks on the future political and ethnic composition of Karabakh beginning on Thursday.