UN General Assembly to allow Ukraine's Zelensky to speak by video

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks from Kyiv during a two-day conference on the reconstruction of Ukraine in Switzerland in July 2022. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States - UN member states voted on Friday to make an exception to allow Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky to address next week's General Assembly by video, despite Russian opposition.

Of the 193 member states, 101 voted in favour of allowing Zelensky to "present a pre-recorded statement" instead of in-person as usually required.

Seven members voted against the proposal, including Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February. Nineteen states abstained.

From Tuesday, some 150 heads of state and government are due to take to the podium to address the General Assembly in New York.

World leaders were allowed to speak by video in 2020 and in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but this year the event has gone back to in-person and only those present can speak.

More than 50 states, including the United States, France, South Korea and Turkey, submitted a proposal to make an exception for Zelensky.

The text highlighted situations in which leaders "cannot participate in person in the meetings of the General Assembly for reasons beyond their control owing to ongoing foreign invasion, aggression, military hostilities."

Those in favour decided that Ukraine can "submit a pre-recorded statement of its head of state" that will be played during the general debate.

The decision noted, however, that the exception was not setting a precedent for future debates.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a UN Security Council meeting on peace in Ukraine in August 2022. PHOTO: AFP

"We deeply regret that Russia's war does not allow our president to participate in person," said Ukraine's ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, told members, insisting "very special circumstances" were at play.

Russia rejected the argument, with deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy denouncing the "politicisation of a procedural decision."

"If the General Assembly is ready to consider the possibility of pre-recorded statements during the general debate, this right must be granted to all those who need it," he said.

Russia-ally Belarus had proposed an amendment that would have allowed all leaders prevented from travelling to New York to send a pre-recorded message, but it was rejected by 67 votes against, with 23 for and 27 abstentions.

Ukraine's address is slated for the afternoon of Sept 21, but changes are likely due to many leaders heading to London for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday. AFP

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