Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters is not backing down on his controversial stand that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “provoked”: He repeated that charge Wednesday to no less a body than the United Nations Security Council itself, giving a 16-minute speech at Russia’s behest.
Waters’ address, delivered to the diplomats via live video, was far less incendiary than some of his recent interviews have been, spending less time condemning Ukraine — as has been the rocker’s recent wont — and more delivering general anti-war sentiments and demanding an immediate cease-fire. But even toned down by Waters’ standards, the speech did not receive much in the way of effusive praise from the diplomats who responded to it in the assembly session… with the exception of Russia’s representative, who gave his address high marks.
Said the deputy U.N. ambassador for the U.S., Richard Mills, “Well, I certainly acknowledge he has impressive credentials as a recording artist. His qualifications to speak to us as an expert briefer on arms control or European security issues seem less evident to me. I’ll also leave to my Ukrainian colleague to address the credibility of Mr. Waters speaking on behalf of his so-called brothers and sisters in that country.”
Ukraine’s ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said, “How sad for his former fans to see him accepting the role of just a brick in the wall — the wall of Russian disinformation and propaganda.”
The U.N. representative for Albania got in what may have been the most subtle dig at Waters following his appearance — praising the work of Waters’ seeming archenemy, David Gilmour, in recently reviving the Pink Floyd banner to collaborate with a Ukrainian poet on a new single vowing that country would successfully fight back against its Russian attackers.
“Russia is responsible for its consequences,” said the Albanian diplomat. “As a famous rock band, Pink Floyd, said in their uplifting, iconic song ‘Hey Hey Rise Up’: ‘Our beautiful Ukraine is in sorrow, and we will raise it up and we shall cheer for our glorious Ukraine.’”
As if they didn’t already disagree on enough, Waters and Gilmour have been at odds in recent days over Ukraine — and over Waters’ years-long campaign against Israel. In an interview published last week, Waters said of the pro-Ukrainian Pink Floyd song co-penned by Gilmour, “I find it really, really sad. … It encourages the continuation of the war. Pink Floyd is a name I used to be associated with. … To associate that name now with something like this proxy war makes me sad,” he added, reiterating his belief that Ukraine is a shadow front for NATO imperialism.
In response to this and many other Waters statements in recent years, Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, tweeted this week that Waters is “a Putin apologist” as well as “antisemitic to your rotten core” and “a lying, thieving, hypocritical, tax-avoiding, lip-synching, misogynistic, sick-with-envy megalomaniac.” Gilmour cosigned on his wife’s statement, adding: “Every word demonstrably true.”
Waters did not refer to the Floyd kerfuffle in his live speech to the UN. Nor did he get too specific about why he has mostly taken Russia’s side in the war. He did add a new wrinkle to his take on the war, saying that it was wrong for Russia to invaded, even though he believes the nation had justification for its aggression.
“The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Waters said in his speech. “Also, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was not unprovoked, so I also condemn the provocateur in the strongest possible terms. There, that’s got that out of the way.”
While not addressing Gilmour or Samson, Waters did respond to a quote he had seen published iin advance of his UN address. “I read in the paper this morning some anonymous diplomat quoted as saying, ‘Roger Waters to address this council — who’s next, Mr. Bean?’ Ha haha. Anyway, sorry for those of you who don’t know, Mr. Bean is an ineffectual character in an English comedy show on television, so it’s a penny to a pound the anonymous diplomat is an Englishman.”
At one point, Waters claimed to be speaking on behalf of 4 billion people, while at other times putting the figure in hundreds of millions he said he was representing. “Today our brief is the possibility of peace in the Ukraine with special reference to the arming of the key regime by third parties. … So what do the voices of millions have to say? They say, thank you for hearing us today. We are many who do not share in the profits of the war industry. We do not willingly raise our sons and daughters to provide fodder for your cannon. In our opinion, the only sensible cause of action today is to call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine. No ifs, no buts, no ands, not one more Ukrainian or Russian life is to be spent, not one. They are all precious in our eyes.”
Speaking of his homeland, Waters said, “My mother country England is, thank God, an empire no more. But in that country now there is a new catchphrase: Eat or heat. You can’t do both. It’s a cry echoing around the whole of Europe. Apparently the only thing the powersthink we can all (do) is perpetual war. How crazy is that? So from the 4 billion or so brothers and sisters in this voiceless majority, who together with the millions in the international anti-war movement represent a huge constituency, enough is enough. We demand change. President Biden, President Putin, President Zelensky, USA, NATO, Russia, the EU, all of you please change course now and agree to a ceasefire in Ukraine today. That of course, will only be the starting point, but everything extrapolates from that starting point.”
After Waters wrapped up, he was praised by Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, who said, “We just heard a very precise analysis of events from Roger Waters, one of the most prominent activists of the contemporary anti-war movement. Mr. Waters has consistently opposed wars and violence for several decades, and that theme has permeated his world, famous songs, and the fact that he wanted to address us demonstrates the great deal of concern among the international creative intelligence here and among everyone about where our world is headed.” The diplomat went on to reiterate that it is really the West waging war against his country.
A diplomat for Albania took issue with Waters’ statements. “He is lucky to be in New York, in a free country, speak his mind, say whatever he likes, including about the Russian aggression and how wrong that is. If he had been in Russia, with what he said, he might have been in custody by now,” said Albania’s ambassador, Ferit Hoxha.
In his interview with a German newspaper last week, Waters went further with his defense of Russia than he did with the U.N., calling its war against Ukraine “probably the most provoked invasion ever.” Waters also further took up his controversial opinions that China has full rights to assert authority over Taiwan, that Israel is a genocidal state, and that all recent U.S. presidents have been imperialists and war criminals. In trying to find a consistency between Waters’ positions, advocating for antiwar causes but also for the world’s most authoritarian states, the common thread may come down to the old maxim: The enemy of his enemy — in this case, the West — is his friend.