Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Respect for sovereignty lies at the heart of the international system: Foreign Secretary at the UN Security Council [February 2024]

The press release issued by the Foreign Office on 23 February 2024.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron spoke at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine, marking 2 years since Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Thank you, Madam President, and Mr Secretary General.

We meet 2 years since Vladimir Putin ordered a wholly unprovoked invasion of a sovereign member of the United Nations. Airstrikes at dawn. Tanks rolling across the border. Preposterous claims this was not a declaration of war.

In many ways, the most remarkable thing was the total lack of any justification whatsoever of any threat from Ukraine. The abject disregard for the laws that bind nations, and for the principles of this United Nations. The brazenness with which Putin still claimed this was somehow legitimate.

Days after February the 24th, the United Nations General Assembly declared that the invasion was wrong and that Russia must withdraw immediately. Two years on, this has not changed. And so today, I want to pose 2 questions.

My first, to the Kremlin.

My first visit as Foreign Secretary was to Ukraine.  I stood in the wreckage of Odesa’s bombed-out cathedral. I saw brave Ukrainians kissing loved ones goodbye as they left to defend their homeland.

And I know that such scenes are not limited to Ukraine. Russian mothers too have had to bid farewell to Russian sons, Russian cities too now bear the scars of war.

So my question to Putin is simple. Why? His government claims this to be a battle between brothers. What twisted form of brotherhood is this, for which so many lives must be ruined?

How is Russia living up to its responsibilities as a permanent member of this Council to uphold international peace and security? And how many ridiculous explanations have we now had for the invasion? Are they criminals, or fellow Russians?

One minute Ukraine is an existential threat. The next we’re told it doesn’t exist. Are you fighting stooges of NATO, or Nazis?

The only people behaving like Nazis are the Putin regime: invading another country and hoping the world will be weak and let you get away with it. That is the simple truth: Putin believes he can take territories, re-draw borders, exercise force to build his empire. And we must not let this stand.

We know Ukraine’s answer. We saw the courage of President Zelenskyy 2 years ago.

And I say to the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, he is quite capable, and the Ukrainian people are quite capable, of making up their own mind about whether they should surrender part of their country to your illegal invasion.

And today, we admire the perseverance of the Ukrainian people, day in, day out. They won’t falter.  Indeed, they are continuing to push Russia back, liberating half the land Putin has seized and driving the Russian navy out of its base in Sevastapol.

The course of the war may ebb and flow. But the seizure of a small town does not change the reality of Russia’s situation. The Russian military is being drained of its modern equipment. You’re having to rely on poor quality shells from Pyongyang.  And you’ve sent a generation of Russian boys into the meat grinder. What do you tell their mothers they died for? Or don’t you even bother?

The Kremlin expected Ukraine to fold. But they are standing firm for their freedom. And you should all know Britain’s answer as well.

Last month, the Prime Minister was the first foreign leader to address the Rada. We are the first country to have signed a security pact with Ukraine.

And yesterday we imposed further sanctions, clamping down on Russia’s military-industrial complex and those enablers seeking to keep it running. These sanctions are a reminder. We won’t falter. We will stand firm for Ukraine’s freedom.

And the world has also seen Alexei Navalny’s answer. He showed incredible courage in returning to Russia. He didn’t falter. And he has now suffered terrible consequences for standing firm for Russian democracy.

And today is an opportunity, Secretary General,  to give the world’s answer.

All of us abhor needless suffering. None of us have escaped the economic consequences of the war. And yet, we all know what is at stake here.

In acting so brazenly, Putin is not only trying to seize a chunk of his neighbour’s territory. He is not only trying to extinguish the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination. He is openly trying to upset the international order, replacing it not with some progressive vision of equality of nations but with a return to a 19th century ideology where might – particularly his might – is right.

This is why we all must stand up to Putin. Not just out of sympathy for Ukraine. But because his actions in Ukraine are so dangerous for everyone else.

If we give into the idea that one country can invade another with impunity, then we will be left in a dreadful situation where any country could face a similar fate. Respect for sovereignty lies at the heart of the international system. At the heart of the United Nations.  Nothing matters more to its members than having our borders treated as inviolable.

And that’s why nothing should matter more to us than seeing Putin fail. We must not falter. We must stand firm.

Thank you.