Gutterres’ visit to Ukraine: Another blow to the UN

Left: The Ukrainian President Zelensky, © Keystone Press Agency. Right: Antonio Gutterres, © Marcel Crozet/Flickr

Guterres visit to Kiev made it once again clear: the UN is not led by principles, but by States that regularly flout the most basic standards of decency.

On 28 April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited Kiev directly after an official visit to Moscow. His tour included sites of suspected war crimes in Ukraine, namely the suburbs of Borodianka, Bucha and Irpin. Guterres did not hide his horror and indignation, nor did he mince his words:

“When we see this horrendous site, it makes me feel how important it is [to have] a thorough investigation and accountability... I appeal to the Russian Federation to accept to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.”  

Initially, Guterres had been criticised for visiting Moscow before Kyiv, but in retrospect it became clear that his frank assessment would have been harder to voice if it were to be followed by a meeting with Putin. Of course, this did not stop Putin from blasting the Secretary-General anyway: not figuratively, but literally by bombing Kyiv during the high-profile visit. The message was loud and clear and President Zelensky summed it up nicely:

“This says a lot about Russia’s true attitude to global institutions, about the efforts of the Russian leadership to humiliate the UN and everything that the organisation represents.”

In January, a few weeks before the invasion, Guterres was sceptical about the likelihood of an invasion, despite the warning signs and the unequivocal assessment of the situation confirming an imminent attack by Russia made by the US. Answering a question by Al Jazeera journalist, James Bays, about the possibility of an imminent invasion, Guterres said:

“I am convinced it will not happen, and I strongly hope to be right.” 

Well, he could not have been more wrong, but there is little he can do about it now, or could have done then, for that matter. The UN is not led by principles, but by States that regularly flout the most basic standards of decency. Guterres is not directly to blame; the institution is, and anyone who has the power to change it, but chooses to sit idly by as atrocities are committed. This includes Guterres, of course, and all Heads of State, from the Pope to the President of the United States. 

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