Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for Russia to face “just punishment” over its invasion of Ukraine and for the international community to adopt a five-point formula to achieve peace and security.
In an address to the UN General Assembly in New York, he said: “A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment. The crime was committed against the lives of our people. The crime was committed against the dignity of our women and men.”
His five-point formula entailed punishment for crimes of aggression, protection of life, restoration of security and territorial integrity, security guarantees and determination of Ukraine to continue defending itself.
In a recorded video to the assembly on Wednesday, Mr Zelenskiy suggested Russia’s decision to mobilise some reservists showed Moscow is not serious about negotiating an end to the war.
Speaking hours after Russian president Vladimir Putin’s announced the military mobilisation, Mr Zelenskiy insisted his country would prevail in repelling Russia’s attack and forcing its troops out. “We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms,” the president said. “But we need time.”
Mr Putin’s decree on Wednesday about the partial mobilisation was sparse on details. Officials said as many as 300,000 reservists could be called up. It was apparently an effort to seize momentum after a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month retook swathes of territory that Russians had held.
But the first such call-up in Russia since the second World War also brings the fighting home in a new way for Russians and risks fanning domestic anxiety and antipathy toward the war.
Shortly after Mr Putin’s announcement, flights out of the country rapidly filled up, and hundreds of people were arrested at anti-war demonstrations across the country.
According to OVD-Info, more than 1,178 people have been detained in 38 cities across Russia, with the majority of the detainees being in Moscow and St Petersburg.
A day earlier, Russian-controlled parts of eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans for referendums on becoming parts of Russia. Ukrainian leaders and their western allies consider the votes illegitimate.
The proxy Russian authorities in four occupied areas of Ukraine — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — announced on Tuesday their intentions to hold referendums between September 23rd and 27th on joining the Russian Federation, a move that could sharply escalate the war.
Mr Zelenskiy did not discuss the developments in detail. But he suggested any Russian talk of negotiations is only a delaying tactic, and that Moscow’s actions speak louder than its words.
“They talk about the talks but announce military mobilisation. They talk about the talks but announce pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” he said.
Mr Zelenskiy appeared as he has in many previous video appearances — in an olive green T-shirt. He sat at a table with a Ukrainian flag behind his right shoulder and large image of the UN flag and Ukraine’s behind his left shoulder.
He said Moscow wants to spend the winter preparing its forces in Ukraine for a new offensive, or at least preparing fortifications while mobilising more troops.
“Russia wants war. It’s true. But Russia will not be able to stop the course of history,” he said, declaring that “mankind and the international law are stronger” than what he called a “terrorist state.”
Mr Zelenskiy also named and shamed the seven countries that voted against allowing him to deliver his UN address by video: Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea, North Korea, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria.
Elsewhere, Russia has released 215 prisoners to Ukraine in exchange for 55 of its own prisoners including close Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk. It is the largest prisoner exchange since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Some of the Ukrainian fighters were captured after a protracted battle for the port city of Mariupol earlier this year, public broadcaster Suspline said on Wednesday.
Suspline, citing the Azov battalion unit that did much of the fighting, said an exchange had happened near the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. It gave no details.
Mr Medvedchuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker and ally of Mr Putin accused of high treason. He was arrested in April, after escaping house arrest on treason charges days after the Russian invasion. At the time, Mr Zelenskiy suggested exchanging him for Ukrainian prisoners of war held by Russia but the Kremlin rejected the offer.
The Telegram account of Andriy Biletsky, founder of the Azov battalion, showed him giving a victory sign with the caption “In service” as he held one of the captives. Reuters was not immediately able to verify when the photo had been taken.
After fighting for weeks from the bunkers and tunnels below Mariupol’s giant the steel works, hundreds of Azov fighters surrendered in May to Russian-backed forces.
Earlier on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia said Russia had released 10 foreign prisoners of war captured in Ukraine following mediation by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
North Korea has denied US State Department claims that the country was preparing to sell weapons to Russia.
“We have never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before and we will not plan to export them, the state’s official Korean Central News Agency cited a government official as saying.
“We condemn the US for thoughtlessly circulating the rumour against the DPRK to pursue its base political and military aim, and we warn the US to stop making reckless remarks pulling up the DPRK and to keep its mouth shut, the official said, referring to the country’s formal name — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
This month, US officials said Russia wants to buy millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea to use in its war against Ukraine, in the latest sign that international sanctions are forcing Moscow to seek help from the nation’s smaller, impoverished neighbour. — Guardian, additional reporting: Agencies