With UN General Assembly set to get underway next week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges the glut of troubles facing the world at the moment. He described the state of the world as “A time of great peril.” Fair description considering the wars, economic crisis, poverty, climate chaos and other issues in play across the planet right now. The question is: What is the United Nations prepared to do about it?
Guterres is calling for cooperation from UN member-states, while acknowledging the global response to these crises has been weakened by a number of mitigating factors. In an interview with NPR, the secretary-general admitted that the supranational body’s ability to contend with matters such as the Ukraine-Russia War and the energy crisis now brewing in Europe is limited. More to the point, Guterres doesn’t expect UN efforts to result in progress to be made on many fronts.
This will be the first in-person General Assembly since 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath many leaders attended remotely. 140 world leaders are expected to attend, a marked increase from 2021’s 80. There will be one exception granted though. Today, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy was granted permission by the UN General Assembly to address the body via video link.
Russian cruise missiles struck the southern Ukrainian port of Nikolayev (Mykolaiv) on Sunday, marking the second missile attack against the city in two days. Ukrainian military officials reported the attack damaged industrial infrastructure in more than one part of the city and caused damage and fires to civilian neighborhoods. There was no official word on casualties. Nikolayev is a coveted objective for Russian forces in southern Ukraine. The city has endured several air and missile attacks in recent weeks as part of a Russian effort to soften the city’s defenses. Last month, Nikolaev’s mayor urged the remaining populace to leave the city if possible, citing a depletion of resources.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sacked two of his government’s most senior ranking officials. The prosecutor general and head of the domestic intelligence agency were unceremoniously fired on Sunday. Zelenskiy claims the move was made as a result of the large number of treason investigations started on employees of law enforcement agencies, including the prosecutor general’s office and the domestic security agency. 651 cases of high treason had been opened against law enforcement personnel and at least 60 employees of the prosecutor’s office and the Security Service of Ukraine have remained in occupied territory and are working against the Ukrainian government.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to address the legislatures and parliaments of Western nations. Today it was Israel’s turn. Zelenskiy called Russia’s attack on his country an ‘all out war’ aimed at destroying the Ukrainian people. He then explained this is why the current war resembles what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust. I think Zelenskiy skirted the edge with this comparison. In his drive to keep international support strong, Ukraine’s leader has made a few borderline outrageous statements. Luckily, Western governments and media have wisely covered up his occasional verbal faux pas.
The White House has confirmed President Biden will not visit Ukraine during his upcoming trip to Europe this week. When former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko commented yesterday that Biden should visit as a ‘symbol of our solidarity,’ it touched off a firestorm of speculation. Realistically though, the prospect of a US president visiting a nation while engaged in an active conflict was never even a possibility.
Ukraine’s military claims it has intelligence pointing to Belarussian forces joining the war in the coming week. This comes on the heels of another claim centered around a scheme being planned by Russian elites to remove Vladimir Putin from power, end the war and restore economic ties with the West. Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of FSB security agency, is allegedly being considered as Putin’s successor. Claims like these by Ukraine are not uncommon. Most of them have turned out to be little more than wishful thinking or fairy tales. If there is a coup being planned against Putin right now though, I’m sure the coup planners are not very thrilled with seeing their plans prematurely announced to the world.
From the Strait of Hormuz to the Black Sea, Tanker Seizure appears to be the latest rage. At the current pace I’m expecting to see it become an Olympic sport in time for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. This time it was Ukraine seizing a Russian oil tanker in the port of Izmail in the Odessa region of Ukraine. Ukrainian security services seized the Nemya, a Russian-flagged tanker that it suspects was one of the ships that took part in the blocking of the Kerch Strait in November, 2018. That incident led to Russia seizing three Ukrainian ships and nearly spilled over into a much larger conflict.
The Russian government was fast to respond, calling the seizure illegal and warning of consequences should the Russian crew be taken hostage. Ukrainian security services allowed the crew members to depart the ship and leave the country, stating that the sailors had no part in the November incident.
This action comes at a time when the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been working to arrange a prisoner exchange with Russia to get back the Ukrainian sailors apprehended by Russia back in November. It is too early to suggest just how severely today’s seizure will impact the effort, though it is fair to assume there will be a visible effect.
The detention of the Nemya marks the first major incident between Russia and Ukraine since Zelenskiy’s election in April. Despite the fact that the summer months have regularly been a time when fighting escalates in Eastern Ukraine, this summer has been relatively quiet so far. Zelenskiy’s geopolitical skills will be put to the test in the coming days and weeks as the drama involving the Nemya, and the Ukrainian sailors still in Russian custody plays out.
The 2019 Ukrainian presidential election has concluded and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be Ukraine’s next president, having soundly defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Zelenskiy has been carried to power by a tidal wave of electorate disillusionment and frustration. Five years after Euromaidan and the majority of Ukrainians find themselves no better off. Citizens are worn down by economic hardships, continued rampant corruption at every level of government, and the seemingly endless war in the east. The voters chose Zelenskiy not because they believed him to be the best candidate. He presented no positions on policies, and ran an orthodox campaign which kept him out of the public eye for the most part. Little is known about who Zelenskiy really is or what he believes. He was elected mainly because he is a political outsider who’s best known for playing the Ukrainian president in a satirical television show. Fiction has become reality for Zelenskiy, and the nation he’s been elected to serve.
The new president is assuming control a geopolitical hotspot at a critical time. He is facing significant challenges and will be under the microscope from the second he takes power. Zelenskiy has stated his first priority is to secure the safe return of 24 Ukrainian sailors who have been held by Russia since November, 2018 following the capture and detention of 3 Ukrainian ships and their crews by Russian naval officers in the Black Sea. How Zelenskiy handles Russia is of major concern to the international community. US and European diplomats are hoping Zelenskiy does not open direct talks with the Russian-backed separatists in the east. Doing so will give credence to the Russian position that the war in eastern Ukraine is an internal matter. Moscow’s reaction to Zelenskiy has been muted so far, though it is safe to assume Russia will make an attempt to feel out the new Ukrainian president and his positions in the near future.
It is imperative for both the Kremlin and the West to gain a solid feel for the path Zelenskiy’s policies will take in the coming months.