UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stressed the need to “keep alive the values of multilateralism” amid the war in Ukraine and its fallouts across the globe.

Speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, he outlined proposals that would establish conditions to allow for safe evacuations of civilians and delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid, in both the Donbas and Mariupol.

The UN chief was in the Russian capital for talks with the country’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.  He will also be received by President Vladimir Putin.

‘Frank discussion’

Mr. Guterres told reporters that he had held “a very frank discussion” with Mr. Lavrov “and it is clear that there are two different positions on what is happening in Ukraine.”

Russia has said it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine, while for the UN, the 24 February invasion is a violation of the country’s territorial integrity and goes against the UN Charter.

“But it is my deep conviction that the sooner we end this war, the better – for the people of Ukraine, for the people of the Russian Federation, and those far beyond,” he said.

Underlining his role as a “messenger of peace”, the Secretary-General recalled that the UN has repeatedly appealed for ceasefires to protect civilians, as well as political dialogue towards a solution, which so far has not happened.

Referring to the “violent battle” underway across the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, he noted that many civilians are being killed, and hundreds of thousands are trapped by the conflict, adding that repeated reports of violations, as well as possible war crimes, will require independent investigation for effective accountability.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov  in the Russian capital, Moscow.

UN Russia/Yuri Kochin

UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian capital, Moscow.

Humanitarian corridors

“We urgently need humanitarian corridors that are truly safe and effective and that are respected by all to evacuate civilians and deliver much-needed assistance.”

The Secretary-General has proposed establishment of a Humanitarian Contact Group – comprising Russia, Ukraine and the UN – “to look for opportunities for the opening of safe corridors, with local cessations of hostilities, and to guarantee that they are actually effective. “ 

Addressing the “crisis within a crisis” in Mariupol, where thousands are in dire need of life-saving assistance, and for many, evacuation, he underlined the UN’s readiness to fully mobilize its human and logistical resources to help save lives.

Mr. Guterres has proposed that the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Ukrainian and Russian forces, coordinate work to both enable the safe evacuation of civilians who want to leave Mariupol – both inside the last redoubt of the Azovstal steel plant, and in the city itself, and in any direction they choose – and to deliver humanitarian aid.

Global shock waves

Turning to the wider impacts of the war, the Secretary-General spoke of some of the “shock waves” being felt across the globe, such as the “dramatic acceleration” in food and energy costs, which particularly are affecting millions of the world’s most vulnerable people.

“This comes on top of the shock of the continued COVID-19 pandemic and uneven access to resources for recovery, that particularly penalize developing countries around the world.  So, the sooner peace is established, the better – for the sake of Ukraine, Russia, and for the world,” he said.  

“And it’s very important, even in this moment of difficulty, to keep alive the values of multilateralism,” he added.

The Secretary-General underlined the need for a world that is “multipolar”, that abides by the UN Charter and international law, and which recognizes full equality among States, in hopes that humanity will again unite to address common challenges such as climate change “and in which the only war we should have would be a war of those that put the planet at risk. 

The Secretary-General will be in Ukraine on Thursday where he will have a working meeting with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and he will be received by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.