Moment that Putin thundered to war, drowning out last entreaties for peace

It will go down as one of the most surreal sessions the United Nations chamber has ever witnessed, as the very war it was supposed to prevent broke out while it was sitting.

Vladimir Putin, with brutal timing, delivered a speech announcing that Russia would start a “special military operation” in Ukraine – while an emergency session of the UN security council was under way.

The secretary general, Antonio Guterres, was the first to speak, and at that time Putin’s intentions were not entirely clear. But Guterres pointed to the reports of troops moving into position, and did something notable and rare for a UN secretary general: he publicly called out the head of a security council permanent member.

“If indeed an operation is being prepared, I have only one thing to say, from the bottom of my heart,” Guterres said. “President Putin: stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”

By the time it was the turn of the Russian representative, Vasily Nebenzya, to speak, Putin had given his address, and there was no more mystery. Peace was not to be given a chance after all. Nebenzya, who had spent weeks deriding western states for their “hysterical” warnings of impending invasion, pivoted to argue it was not actually a war that was getting under way, but a “special military operation” to protect the people of the Donbass.

The Ukrainian ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, had been waiting for his turn to speak while receiving constant updates from Kyiv. When his time came, he had to dispense with his prepared speech because, he said, “most of it is already useless”. Instead he held up a copy of the UN charter and read the clause that said UN membership was open to all peace-loving states that accepted the obligations contained in the small sky-blue booklet.

Tense exchanges between Ukraine and Russia at UN security council – video
Tense exchanges between Ukraine and Russia at UN security council – video

“Russia is not able to carry out any of those obligations,” Kyslytsya…

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