Volodymyr Zelensky has called for Russia’s leaders to be “brought to justice” for committing “the most terrible war crimes” since the second world war, as he blasted the UN for failing to prevent the conflict in Ukraine.
Speaking by videoconference at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Ukraine’s president called for “complete truth and accountability” for the attacks on civilians committed by Russian forces in Ukrainian towns they have occupied in recent weeks.
“The Russian military and those who gave the criminals orders must be brought to justice,” Zelensky said, demanding proceedings akin to the Nuremberg trials faced by Nazi war criminals.
Zelensky spoke after visiting the town of Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv, following reports of a civilian massacre that emerged after the Russian withdrawal from the Ukrainian capital and the region surrounding it.
He said Bucha was “only one of many examples of what the occupiers have done on our land”, adding that “the world has yet to learn the full truth” about Russia’s actions in other towns they have attacked since the invasion began.
Zelensky used his intervention at the Security Council to blast the body’s ineffectiveness in stopping Russia’s attack — pointing to Moscow’s status as a permanent member with a veto power over any decisions.
He said the body either needed to “remove Russia as an aggressor and a source of war”, “dissolve yourself altogether”, or reform itself.
He added that if Russia’s invasion were allowed to go unpunished, other countries might reasonably assume they could rely only “on the power of their own arms to ensure their security, not international law”.
“Are you ready to close the UN?” Zelensky asked, adding that if the answer was no, the body should “act immediately” with regard to Russia’s actions. He also argued that if violations of international law had been acted upon in Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere in recent years, Russia might not have dared to attack Ukraine in the first place.
“If tyranny had received a response, it would have ceased to exist,” Zelensky said.
He appealed for a reform of the world’s “security system” to ensure that similar aggressions did not occur in the future. However, repeated attempts to overhaul the Security Council in recent decades have fallen flat.
“The UN system must be reformed immediately . . . There can be no more exceptions or privileges,” he said.
After his remarks, Zelensky showed the Security Council a short video featuring gruesome images of mass graves and civilian casualties in towns including Bucha and Irpin, near Kyiv, but also the besieged coastal city of Mariupol. Zelensky had warned that Russia was trying to cover up its crimes to “conceal their guilt”.
“They will do dozens of [staged] interviews, re-edited recordings and will kill people specifically to make it look like they were killed by someone else,” Zelensky said.
Just before Zelensky spoke, UN secretary-general António Guterres lamented the “senseless loss of life, massive devastation in urban centres and the destruction of civilian infrastructure” brought by war in Ukraine, while calling for an “independent investigation to guarantee effective accountability” for the atrocities in Bucha.
“The war in Ukraine must stop now. We need serious negotiations for peace, based on the principles of the United Nations Charter,” Guterres said.
“This council is charged with maintaining peace — and doing so in solidarity. I deeply regret the divisions that have prevented the Security Council from acting not only on Ukraine but on other threats to peace and security around the world,” he added.