Russia insists it had 'no choice' but to start military action in Ukraine

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov addresses a press conference at the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addresses a press conference at the UN General Assembly on Saturday. Credit: AP

Russia has insisted it had “no choice” but to take military action in Ukraine, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

The power defended its actions in Ukraine, following days of denunciation at the high profile diplomatic gathering.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sought to shift focus away from Moscow's actions.

In a speech claiming that the US and its allies— not Russia, as the West maintains— are aggressively undermining the international system that the UN represents.

Invoking history ranging from the US war in Iraq in the early 2000s to the 20th-century Cold War, Lavrov portrayed the US as a bully.

He told delegates the US tries to afford itself “the sacred right to act with impunity wherever and wherever they want” and can't accept a world where others also advance their national interests.

“The United States and allies want to stop the march of history,” he maintained.

The US and Ukraine did not retort at the assembly on Saturday but can still offer formal responses later in the meeting.

Both countries' presidents have already given their own speeches describing Russia as a dangerous aggressor that must be stopped.

Lavrov, for his part, accused the West of aiming to “destroy and fracture Russia" in order to “remove from the global map a geopolitical entity that has become all too independent.”

The Ukraine war has largely dominated the discussion at the assembly's big annual meeting, and many countries have laid into Russia for its invasion.

Emergency workers carry bodies to a refrigerator truck after their exhumation in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine, on Monday. Credit: AP

Officials have denounced Moscow's nuclear threats, alleging it has committed atrocities and war crimes, and lambasted its decision to mobilise some of its reserves in a mass call-up even as the assembly met.

As ITV News has reported, scores of men have been trying to flee the country to avoid the draft.

Flights out of Russia began selling selling out shortly after Putin announced the "partial mobilisation" of the military.

And protests have erupted as Putin struggles to whip up wide support for his mobilisation measures.

Protests in Russiam reveal 'an eruption of anger towards President Vladimir Putin's military mobilisation order, reports ITV News correspondent Sejal Karia

Russia does have some friends at the UNGA, and one — Belarus — offered a defence of its big neighbour on Saturday.

Echoing Russia's talking points, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said “it was precisely the West that made this conflict inevitable” in Ukraine.

The speeches came amid voting in Russian-occupied parts of eastern and southern Ukraine on whether to join Russia.

Moscow characteries the referendums as self-determination, but Kyiv and its Western allies view them as Kremlin-orchestrated shams with a foregone conclusion.

Some observers think the expected outcome could serve as a pretext for Russian President Vladimir Putin eventually to escalate the war further.

Russian police moved quickly to disperse peaceful protests held across the country. Credit: AP

“We can expect President Putin will claim any Ukrainian effort to liberate this land as an attack on so-called ‘Russian territory'," Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the UN Security Council on Thursday.

Russia has offered a number of explanations for what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Lavrov recapped a couple: risks to Russia from what it considers a hostile government in Kyiv and a NATO alliance that has expanded eastward over the years and relieving Russians living in Ukraine — especially its eastern region of the Donbas — of what Moscow views as the Ukrainian government’s oppression.

The government is continuing to impose sanctions on the allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin Credit: Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP

“The incapacity of Western countries to negotiate and the continued war by the Kyiv regime against their own people left us with no choice” but to recognize the two regions that make up the Donbas as independent and then to send troops in, Lavrov said.

The aim was “to remove the threats against our security, which NATO has been consistently creating in Ukraine,” he explained.

While Ukraine has recently driven Russian troops from some areas in the northeast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this week warned the assembly that he believes Moscow wants to spend the winter getting ready for a new offensive, or at least preparing fortifications while mobilizing more troops.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy watches the flag being raised. Credit: PA

Regardless, he declared that his forces will ultimately oust Russian troops from all of Ukraine.

“We can do it with the force of arms. But we need time,” said Zelenskyy, the only leader who was allowed to address the assembly by video this year.

At the Security Council on Thursday, Ukraine and Russia faced off, in a rare moment when Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, were in the same room — though they kept their distance.

The General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in March to deplore Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, call for immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces, and urge protection for millions of civilians.

The next month, members agreed by a smaller margin to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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