Ukraine, Russia and the tense U.N. encounter that almost happened — but didn't

In the end, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avoided staring each other down Wednesday across the U.N. Security Council's famous horseshoe-shaped table. Zelenskyy left before Lavrov arrived.

Associated Press

Sep 20, 2023, 6:53 PM

Updated 307 days ago

Share:

It was a moment the diplomatic world was watching for — but didn't get.
In the end, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avoided staring each other down Wednesday across the U.N. Security Council's famous horseshoe-shaped table. Zelenskyy left before Lavrov arrived.
The near-miss was somewhat to be expected. Yet the moment still spoke to the U.N.'s role as a venue where warring nations can unleash their ire through words instead of weapons. Yet the choreography also underscored the world body's reputation as a place where adversaries sometimes literally talk past each other.
Zelenskyy denounced Russia as “a terrorist state” while Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia sat facing him near the other end of the table's arc. As Zelenskyy launched into his remarks, the Russian briefly looked at his phone, then tucked the device away.
Zelenskyy left before Lavrov's arrival, which came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was accusing Russia of having “shredded” key provisions of the U.N. Charter.
Lavrov, in turn, reiterated his country's claims that Kyiv has oppressed Russian speakers in eastern areas, violating the U.N. charter and getting a pass on it from the U.S. and other western countries. Across the table was Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, his eyes on his phone during at least parts of Lavrov's remarks. (Blinken, for his part, took handwritten notes.)
If there was no finger-pointing face-off, the atmosphere was decidedly prickly.
Before Zelenskyy's arrival, Nebenzia objected to a speaking order that put the Ukrainian president before the council's members, including Russia. (Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, the meeting chair, retorted: “You stop the war, and President Zelenskyy will not take the floor.”)
Zelenskyy had been in the same room, but hardly eye to eye, with a Russian diplomat during the Ukrainian leader's speech Tuesday in the vast hall of the U.N. General Assembly, which this week is holding its annual meeting of top-level leaders. (Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky later said, wryly, that he'd been focusing on his phone and “didn't notice” Zelenskyy's address.) Before that, Zelenskyy last encountered a Russian official at a 2019 meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
There’s a long history of delegates walking out on rival nations' speeches in the council and other U.N. bodies, and it's not unusual for speakers to duck in and out of Security Council meetings for reasons as simple as scheduling. The group's member countries must have a presence during meetings but can fill their seats with any accredited diplomat.
Ukraine isn't a member but was invited to speak. Ahead of the meeting, Zelenskyy suggested that U.N. members needed to ask themselves why Russia still has a place on a council intended to maintain international peace and security.
There have been verbal fireworks — by diplomatic standards, at least — during the council's scores of meetings on the war. And even the seating chart was a sticking point last year when Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba both attended a council meeting that, like Wednesday's, happened alongside the General Assembly’s big annual gathering.
The two foreign ministers had no personal interaction at that 2022 session, which Lavrov attended only briefly, to give his speech. But beforehand, a placard marking Ukraine’s seat was moved after Kuleba apparently objected to its placement next to Russia’s spot.
This time, the two countries' seats were separated from the start.


More from News 12
2:05
 Overdose deaths in Connecticut spark effort to prevent addicts from relapsing, potentially dying

Overdose deaths in Connecticut spark effort to prevent addicts from relapsing, potentially dying

2:17
Mostly cloudy and humid in Connecticut, scattered showers on Wednesday

Mostly cloudy and humid in Connecticut, scattered showers on Wednesday

1:48
'This day is really special.' JFS Greenwich holds back-to-school event for refugee youth

'This day is really special.' JFS Greenwich holds back-to-school event for refugee youth

0:33
Newtown Action Alliance, other gun safety groups endorse Kamala Harris for president

Newtown Action Alliance, other gun safety groups endorse Kamala Harris for president

0:49
Kids Online Safety Act, led by Sen. Blumenthal and other national leaders, moves forward to Congress

Kids Online Safety Act, led by Sen. Blumenthal and other national leaders, moves forward to Congress

1:29
Nonprofit awarded $2M state grant to address menstrual equity

Nonprofit awarded $2M state grant to address menstrual equity

2:00
‘People don’t know Connecticut.’ Lamont hopes trade mission to Germany attracts new jobs

‘People don’t know Connecticut.’ Lamont hopes trade mission to Germany attracts new jobs

1:44
Fairfield University professor calls presidential race too close to call with Harris in the mix

Fairfield University professor calls presidential race too close to call with Harris in the mix

2:19
Westport police warn people to lock their cars, homes after 3 suspects tried to break into several cars

Westport police warn people to lock their cars, homes after 3 suspects tried to break into several cars

0:13
Bridgeport to offer free vaccines to children

Bridgeport to offer free vaccines to children

0:27
Local athletes set to shine at the 2024 Paris Olympics

Local athletes set to shine at the 2024 Paris Olympics

0:42
News 12’s Frank Recchia receives MLK Award for Excellence in Community Service

News 12’s Frank Recchia receives MLK Award for Excellence in Community Service

0:42
Teen Talk Summit brings mental health experts to Darien

Teen Talk Summit brings mental health experts to Darien

0:39
Connecticut schools rank second best in nation, according to WalletHub

Connecticut schools rank second best in nation, according to WalletHub

2:39
Made in Connecticut: Sheffield Island Lighthouse stands as a beacon of Connecticut history

Made in Connecticut: Sheffield Island Lighthouse stands as a beacon of Connecticut history

1:57
Community reacts to VP Harris getting Biden's endorsement for president

Community reacts to VP Harris getting Biden's endorsement for president

AP survey: Harris has enough delegate support to become the Democratic Party nominee

AP survey: Harris has enough delegate support to become the Democratic Party nominee

1:37
Family says 21-year-old Shelton man clings to life following motorcycle crash

Family says 21-year-old Shelton man clings to life following motorcycle crash

2:07
CT Democratic delegates back Harris

CT Democratic delegates back Harris

1:41
Fairfield Warde HS student creates roadside food pantry

Fairfield Warde HS student creates roadside food pantry