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At UN, world leaders talk Russia's war against Ukraine, coups and climate change

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Russia's war against Ukraine, coups, climate change - those are just some of the bleak themes that world leaders are debating at the United Nations. This year, Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is attending, and he's warning that Russia must be held to account for using food and energy as weapons of war.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: And the goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into a weapon against you - against the international rules-based order.

KELLY: For more on Zelenskyy's speech and others, here's NPR's Michele Kelemen, reporting from the United Nations.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the world is unhinged. There has been, in his words, a surge of conflicts, coups and chaos. Guterres wants countries to come together and compromise to reform the U.N., but some are not even abiding by their basic obligations under the U.N. Charter.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: Exhibit A - Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The war, in violation of the United Nations Charter and international law, has unleashed the nexus of order.

KELEMEN: While many countries are worried that the war in Ukraine is taking attention away from other problems, Guterres says the conflict has serious implications for the rest of the world. President Biden, in his speech, echoed that.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Like every nation in the world, the United States wants this war to end. No nation wants this war to end more than Ukraine.

KELEMEN: But Biden says Russia cannot be allowed to, in his words, brutalize Ukraine without paying a price, and the world can't just abandon its principles of sovereignty and independence.

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BIDEN: If you allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? I'd respectfully suggest the answer is no. We have to stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.

KELEMEN: Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is not attending the U.N. high-level week, so only Russia's ambassador was listening to Biden in the chambers, looking distracted on his phone when Biden spoke about Ukraine. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was there, wearing his trademark military-style green shirt. And when he took the podium, Zelenskyy blasted Russia for weaponizing food, energy, nuclear power plants and even children who have been abducted by Russia.

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ZELENSKYY: Those children in Russia are taught to hate Ukraine, and all ties with their families are broken. And this is clearly a genocide. When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there.

KELEMEN: Brazil's president lamented that there's too much talk about military aid to Ukraine and not enough about diplomacy. South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, says he met with Zelenskyy, who told him that Ukraine and Russia have made some progress in prisoner exchanges.

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PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: As the international community, we must do everything within our means to enable meaningful dialogue, just as we should refrain from any actions that fuel conflict.

KELEMEN: But Zelenskyy wants more from leaders like that, and he wants them to back his ideas for how the war should end - with Ukraine's territorial integrity intact.

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ZELENSKYY: Look. For the first time in modern history, we have a real chance to end the aggression on the terms of the nation which was attacked.

KELEMEN: And the Ukrainian president says countries around the world should have an interest in that, if only to uphold international norms. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.