UNITED NATIONS -- Ukraine's president accused Russia of waging "a criminal and unprovoked aggression" that undermines all norms of war and the U.N. charter Wednesday at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council that started with a clash over his speech.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the council that his proposal to end the 19-month war starts with adherence to the charter that ensures the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all 193 U.N. member nations. He stressed that restoration of all Ukrainian territory is the key to peace.
Before the meeting started, there was intense speculation about whether Zelenskyy and Russia's top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, would clash, speak or totally avoid each other. But no confrontation happened because Zelenskyy left the council soon after his address.
The verbal fireworks began at the start of the meeting, before Lavrov arrived, when Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia protested the council president's decision to allow Zelenskyy to speak ahead of the 15 council members.
He said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, this month's council president, was trying to turn the meeting into "a one-man stand-up show," adding that it would be "nothing more than a spectacle" -- a dig at Zelenskyy's past as a comedian.
Rama cited the council rule allowing a nonmember to speak first. He added that "this is not a special operation by the Albanian presidency," eliciting laughter with a dig at Russia's insistence on referring to its offensive against Ukraine as a "special military operation."
After another heated exchange over whether Nebenzia had referred to Rama as Albania's prime minister and a NATO member instead of as the council president, Rama declared: "I take note, and we'll continue with our session."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then briefed the council, reiterating that Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was "in clear violation of the United Nations charter and international law."
The war "is aggravating geopolitical tensions and divisions, threatening regional stability, increasing the nuclear threat and creating deep fissures in our increasingly multipolar world," the U.N. chief warned.
Zelenskyy was the next speaker, sitting behind the Ukraine plaque at the Security Council's horseshoe-shaped table in his traditional fatigues.
He called the invasion "a criminal and unprovoked aggression by Russia" that was "aimed at Ukraine's territory and resources."
"But it's not just that," he said. "The terrorist state is willing, through its aggression, to undermine all the grounds of international norms meant to protect the world from the wars."
Ukraine has long accused Russia of being an illegal successor to the former Soviet Union, which collapsed in the early 1990s, and Zelenskyy went after Russia again for claiming the Soviet Union's Security Council seat "through backstage manipulations."
The Ukrainian leader accused Russia of "mass atrocities" of human rights and said action should be taken to prevent Moscow from using its veto at the Security Council. The U.N.'s most powerful body is charged with ensuring international peace and security, but it has been blocked from taking any action on Ukraine because of Russia's virtually certain veto.
ZELENSKYY AND U.S. CONGRESS
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, facing a right-wing rebellion in his ranks and mounting GOP resistance to aiding Ukraine, has declined to convene a forum for Zelenskyy to address members of the House on Thursday during a visit to Capitol Hill.
While McCarthy is expected to meet with Zelenskyy privately, his decision not to host a meeting where the Ukrainian president could make a direct appeal to rank-and-file lawmakers underscores the deep Republican divisions over continued U.S. assistance for Ukraine's fight against the Russian invasion.
It also reflects McCarthy's own precarious position as he draws ire from the right wing over federal spending and stepped-up threats to oust him if he does not embrace its members' priorities, which include cutting off money for Ukraine.
The situation stands in contrast to the reception Zelenskyy is receiving in the Senate, where Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, has organized a closed-door session in the Capitol for all 100 senators. House lawmakers who are interested in hearing directly from Zelenskyy will instead have to leave Capitol Hill; members of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and others are expected to meet with him at the National Archives today.
Information for this article was contributed by Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz of The Associated Press and by Karoun Demirjian of The New York Times.