Biden Seeks to Rally Leaders Against Russia; Putin Touts ‘Radical Transformation’ of Global System

By Patrick Goodenough | September 21, 2022 | 4:22am EDT
Marine One carries President Joe Biden to New York where he'll speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2022.  (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Marine One carries President Joe Biden to New York where he'll speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2022. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

( – As President Biden prepares to rally world leaders against Russia in an address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin – who will not be in New York this year – told foreign diplomats in Moscow that time was running short for “those who are trying to preserve their dominant role in international affairs.”

The competing narratives are expected to play out at the U.N. this week, with either side accusing the other of violating international norms.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Kyiv’s counter-offensive successes will “feature prominently” in Biden’s speech, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said at the White House on Tuesday.

“The main thrust of his presentation when it comes to Ukraine will really be about the United Nations Charter, about the foundational principle at the heart of that charter – that countries cannot conquer their neighbors by force, cannot cease and acquire territory by force,” Sullivan said.

Biden’s address coincides with significant developments in the war, with Russian proxies in four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine – already fully or partially under Russian control – announcing plans to hold referendums over the coming weekend on joining the Russian Federation.

The move, which the U.S. government has been warning about for several months, could provide the Kremlin with a pretext to widen its offensive, on the grounds purported “Russian territory” is now under attack by Ukrainian forces.

Sullivan said the plan, which he characterized as “throwing together sham referendums on three days’ notice,” was a sign of Russian weakness, in the face of recent Ukrainian advances on the battlefield.

He also stressed that the U.S. will “never” recognize the regions concerned – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia – as anything other than sovereign Ukrainian territory.

(Most of the international community did not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which followed a referendum. A U.N. resolution calling the annexation illegal was opposed by only Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. The peninsula remains in Russian hands.)

In parallel with the referendum plan, Putin in a speech on Wednesday morning announced that he was launching partial military mobilization, saying the defense ministry had recommended bringing military reservists into active service.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan last week. (Photo by Sergei Bobylyov / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan last week. (Photo by Sergei Bobylyov / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images)

Commenting Tuesday on both the referendum and the possibility that mobilization plans could be unveiled, Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed Putin’s actions.

“That both of these things are happening this week, as we’re at the United Nations, shows his utter contempt and disdain for the United Nations, for the General Assembly, for the United Nations Charter,” he said in New York, alongside his British counterpart.

“The very principles that we’re here to uphold this week in the charter – sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity – are what are being violently aggressed by Russia, including through the attempts to proceed with these referenda and putting even more forces into the effort to seize Ukrainian sovereign territory.”

Blinken suggested that the moves were linked not only to Russia’s military setbacks but also to the fact that “some of its closest partners are clearly raising their deep concerns about what Russia is doing and the consequences this is having for countries around the world.”

He did not elaborate, but in separate meetings on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan last week, Putin acknowledged that both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi  had raised “concerns” about the conflict in Ukraine.

‘Trying to preserve their dominant role in international affairs’

In his remarks to two dozen newly-accredited foreign ambassadors in Moscow on Tuesday, Putin gave no indication that he was feeling isolated. On the contrary, he touted countries’ growing interest in joining the SCO, a 20-year-old Eurasian bloc long dominated by Russia and China.

Iran has just joined, Belarus is on track to do so, and eight other countries (Bahrain, Burma, Egypt, Kuwait, Maldives, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) have become dialogue partners.

Putin described SCO member-states as countries that “firmly believe that the modern world must be polycentric and based on the generally recognized norms of international law and the principles of equal and indivisible security, with the central coordinating role of the U.N.”

At a time when the “radical transformation of the entire architecture of international relations has accelerated,” he said, that change was being resisted by “those who are trying to preserve their dominant role in international affairs and to control everything – Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.”

“I must say that the global leader managed quite well for a long time, but this cannot continue forever,” he said, in apparent reference to the United States.  “It is impossible.”

Although Putin is staying away from this year’s high-level General Assembly session, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to deliver a speech later in the week.

China’s Xi will not be attending the event, either.

(Neither Putin nor Xi has addressed the annual gathering in person since 2015. Both did so by video in the pandemic-affected all-virtual meeting in 2020, and Xi also delivered a speech by video last September.)

Moscow and Beijing both claim allegiance to the U.N. Charter, and accuse the U.S. and its allies of touting the “rules-based international order” even as they contravene the rules by imposing unilateral sanctions and interfering in others’ “internal affairs.”

In their “no limits” friendship declaration released at a meeting in Beijing last February, Putin and Xi said they opposed “attempts to substitute universally recognized formats and mechanisms that are consistent with international law for rules elaborated in private by certain nations or blocs of nations.”

Last fall, Russia and China spearheaded an initiative at the U.N. entitled the “Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations,” largely comprising autocratic regimes targeted by U.S. sanctions.

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