On 28th of September when the general debate for the 70th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which commenced on 15 September, takes place it promises to be a memorable affair for many reasons but one in particular sticks out –Russian President, Vladimir Putin is attending. The United Nations since its foundation has been tasked with the preparations of global agendas and the UNGA is one of its six principal organs, the only one in which all members has equal representation. For example, it was at the 55th UNGA that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was formulated and one of the top agenda for the 70th assembly is to review, outline and upgrade the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs even though it’s not legally binding, like its predecessors, is set up to guide global policymaking for the next decade and a half. Climate Change is at the core of the UN’s vision 2030 agenda and a summary of what the SDGs hopes to achieve is a world with jobs and forests, with electricity and wild life, with moderate sea levels and airports, without poverty and peaceful societies. Some have called the seventeen point SDGs over ambitious and an effort too late to save a planet already past redemption. But beyond this fundamental agenda and beneath the formal structure of the UNGA, warring world leaders, especially those from the G8 countries, pursue a sublime agenda of grandiose rhetoric’s and diplomatic sparring between political archrivals. President Putin’s attendance this year marks the first time he and President Obama would meet face-to-face on the floor of the U.N’s General Assembly. This article is a guide into the differences at the heart and the thoughts that would be going through the minds of these political opponents when they mount the rostrum to address the world at the UN’s headquarters in New York.
Three issues topped the agenda of the 69th assembly. The first was the Ebola outbreak in Africa –the deadly disease broke out from Liberia, overwhelmed public health systems across the West African region and threatened to become a global epidemic. The second was the massive advances the terrorist group, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was achieving in the Middle East; its attendant threat to the peace and stability of the world and the troubling acceptance it was getting from thousands of youths in Europe, some of whom made the trip to join ISIS’s hate campaign. Third but far from the least, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, when, in a show of might and against calls from the G8 comity of nations of which Russia has since been indefinitely suspended from, went ahead to annex Crimea and moved Russian troops across border to that part of Ukraine. A move President Obama described in his speech while defending sanctions imposed on Russia at the 69th assembly as “the pursuit of territorial ambition.” Obama landed a direct punch on President Putin when he further said that “the US does not believe might make right but that right make might.” Though represented, President Putin himself was absent from the 69th assembly.
The Russian president last appeared at the UNGA 10 years ago. So when Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that Putin would not only be present but will also address the UNGA for the first time since 2005, the anticipation of viewers, observers and speechmakers alike moved up several notches and the U.N Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, has said the Russian president would receive a very warm welcome when he arrives New York, USA, for the first time since 2008. US-Russia relationships after a few years of relative improvement have tumbled and become strained due to a number of issues that have unfolded over the past year. These issues will top the debates of the 70th assembly. Oh yes, President Putin, true to his tougher than James Bond personality, probably relishes the prospect of matching Obama’s rhetoric’s word-for-word and unlike last year, the Russian president has decided to show up for the duel himself. To provide a background of how tense the relationship has become at this time, the International Business Times and Foreign Policy magazine on Sept. 18 reported that “the US is updating contingency plans in the event of a war with Russia, the First time the U.S. Department of Defense has had to review its wartime policy against Moscow since the end of the Cold War in 1991.”
The reported revelation from Pentagon also comes as Russian and U.S. officials agreed to discuss each other’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. The U.S. and its western allies are strongly against the brutality of President Assad’s led government in Syria on his own people and have been arming rebels like the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting Assad’s military forces and seeking a new political and democratic process in what has since degenerated into a full blown civil war. The Vacuum created by the war which began in 2011 has given power, in no small measure, to the rise of violent extremism by the self declared Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) terrorist group. Russia however believes the only way to defeat ISIS is by collaborating with the Assad led government because Syria’s military has the discipline to prosecute an effective war on ISIS compared to arming untrained rebels made up of mostly dentists and traders, whom the West coalition led by the U.S. is currently supporting and aiding through a series of airstrike bombings against ISIS since last year. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, recently said that in view of their position they had begun exporting military equipments by air and sea for use by Syrian forces over the past two weeks. A few days ago President Obama, speaking through his secretary of state, John Kerry, on Russia’s strategy in Syria said “a military-to-military conversation has become an important next step” for the two countries, New York Times reported.
Though the official agenda for this year’s UNGA revolves around expanding upon the member states agreed set of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, which includes “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions”, as in the past, the official agenda is likely to be overshadowed by global crises. This year, the General debate and small meetings on the sideline of the debate are likely to address issues like the Global migration crisis which is a direct offshoot of, the Civil war in Syria and political/socio-economic instability in some parts of Africa, the advancements made by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the conflict in Ukraine and the Iranian nuclear deal. Of these five issues, the U.S. and Russia are on opposing sides on all but one: the Iranian nuclear deal –a deal which 59% of Americans disapprove of according to a CNN poll. When the Debates begins in New York and world leaders take the rostrum one after the other, among many speeches, we can expect rhetoric’s from China’s president Xi Jin Ping -who is attending the General Assembly for the first time, Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani’s assurances on the recently signed nuclear deal, Germany’s Chancellor and the World’s most powerful woman, Angela Merkel, on her open door policy for migrants, Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameroon, on his hesitation to accept migrants, Nigeria’s President Buhari’s take on Global security and terrorism in West Africa as embodied by Boko Haram. But when Obama and Putin take the rostrum respectively, breaths would be held in the UN’s hall and across homes of viewers around the world as the chances are rooftop high that both leaders would go at each other in a scintillating no love lost-no love found styled speech. I guess at this point it is not out of place to say “may the best man win.” Let the debates begin!