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Russian foreign minister lambastes the West but barely mentions Ukraine in UN speech

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, bottom, greets General Assembly President Dennis Francis, top left, as he arrives at the podium to address the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia's top diplomat denounced the United States and the West on Saturday as self-interested defenders of a fading international order, but he didn't discuss his country's war in Ukraine in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

“The U.S. and its subordinate Western collective are continuing to fuel conflicts which artificially divide humanity into hostile blocks and hamper the achievement of overall aims. They’re doing everything they can to prevent the formation of a genuine multipolar world order,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

“They are trying to force the world to play according to their own self-centered rules,” he said.

As for the 19-month war in Ukraine, he recapped some historical complaints going back to the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, and alluded to the billions of dollars that the U.S and Western allies have spent in supporting Ukraine. But he didn't delve into the current fighting.

For a second year in a row, the General Assembly is taking place with no end to the war in sight. A three-month-long Ukrainian counteroffensive has gone slower than Kyiv hoped, making modest advances but no major breakthroughs.

Ukraine's seats in the assembly hall were empty for at least part of Lavrov's speech. An American diplomat wrote on a notepad in her country's section of the audience.

Since invading in February 2022, Russia has offered a number of explanations for what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Among them: claims that Kyiv was oppressing Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east and so Moscow had to help them, that Ukraine’s growing ties with the West in recent years pose a risk to Russia, and that it’s also threatened by NATO’s eastward expansion over the decades.

Lavrov hammered on those themes in his General Assembly speech last year, and he alluded again Saturday to what Russia perceives as NATO’s improper encroachment.

But his address looked at it through a wide-angle lens, surveying a landscape, as Russia sees it, of Western countries’ efforts to cling to outsized influence in global affairs. He portrayed the effort as doomed.

The rest of the planet is sick of it, Lavrov argued: “They don’t want to live under anybody’s yoke anymore.” That shows, he said, in the growth of such groups as BRICS — the developing-economies coalition that currently includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and recently invited Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join next year.

“Our future is being shaped by a struggle, a struggle between the global majority in favor of a fairer distribution of global benefits and civilized diversity and between the few who wield neocolonial methods of subjugation in order to maintain their domination which is slipping through their hands,” he said.

Under assembly procedures that give the microphone to presidents ahead of cabinet-level officials, Lavrov spoke four days after Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden.

Zelenskyy accused Russia of “weaponizing” food, energy and even children against Ukraine and “the international rules-based order” at large. Biden sounded a similar note in pressing world leaders to keep up support for Ukraine: “If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?”

Both Lavrov and Zelenskyy also addressed the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday but didn't actually face off. Zelenskyy left the room before Lavrov came in.


Associated Press journalists Mary Altaffer at the United Nations and Joanna Kozlowska in London contributed.

Edith M. Lederer And Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press

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