UN General Assembly: Biden condemns Putin's 'overt nuclear threats against Europe'

United States President Joe Biden addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Wednesday 21 September 2022. (Keystone/AP/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden has condemned Russia for making “overt nuclear threats against Europe” in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

The United States president said Russia was carrying out a “brutal, needless war” against Ukraine and had “shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations charter”. 

“A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded his neighbour, attempted to erase a sovereign state from the map,” said President Biden. 

“This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people. Wherever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe…That should make your blood run cold.”

“If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this very institution stands for, everything,” he said, adding that a country “cannot seize a nation’s territory by force”.

Addressing member states in New York, President Biden said Putin “has made overt nuclear threats against Europe, and a reckless disregard for the responsibilities of a non-proliferation regime”. 

His speech came shortly after Putin announced a “partial mobilisation” of Russians to fight in Ukraine on Wednesday and made a thinly veiled threat to use nuclear weapons. 

In a televised address, Putin claimed that officials in NATO states had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Russia but that Russia “also has various means of destruction”.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It's not a bluff,” he said.

Speaking hours after Putin’s address, President Biden accused Russia of “making irresponsible nuclear threats”.

“A nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought,” he said, adding that Moscow was also ignoring the UN non-proliferation agreement. 

In his address on Wednesday, Putin also said Moscow would facilitate referendums in Ukraine's Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions on joining Russia, effectively announcing plans to annex the regions.

Russian-backed officials in the four regions announced plans on Tuesday to hold the votes for five days beginning on Friday. 

The US was joined by other Western nations including Switzerland, Germany and France in condemning the plans, saying they would never recognise the results of such “sham ballots”. 

Addressing the General Assembly, President Biden also rejected Moscow’s claims that western sanctions against Russia in response to the war in Ukraine were to blame for the spiralling food crisis in parts of the world that has been exacerbated by the conflict. 

“Russia … is pumping out lies, trying to pin the blame for the crisis — the food crisis — on the sanctions imposed by many in the world for the aggression against Ukraine,” President Biden said. “So let me be perfectly clear about something: Our sanctions explicitly allow, explicitly allow, Russia the ability to export food and fertiliser. No limitation.” 

The president announced a new package of $2.9 billion in US support for humanitarian and food assistance in response to food shortages, noting that around 193 million people around the world are now experiencing acute food insecurity. 

Addressing world leaders on the second day of the UN General Assembly, President Biden noted that it was time for the global body to change how it operated, including expanding the Security Council beyond its five permanent members, of which Russia is one. 

“I also believe the time has come for this institution to become more inclusive, so they can better respond to the needs of today’s world,” he said. “Members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, should consistently uphold and defend the UN charter and refrain from the use of the veto, except in rare, extraordinary situations.

“That is also why the United States supports increasing the number of both permanent and non permanent representatives of the Council. This includes permanent seats for those nations. We have long supported permanent seats for countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.”