UN assembly votes to call on Russia to end war in Ukraine
The vote on the resolution “Aggression against Ukraine” was 141 votes to 5, with 35 abstentions. It came as Russia bombarded Ukraine’s second-largest city and launched its assault on two major ports, and a huge convoy of Russian military vehicles stood ready outside the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Only Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea joined Russia in opposing the measure, a powerful indication of the international isolation Russian President Vladimir Putin faces for invading the small neighbor of his country – and which the supporters of the resolution sought to highlight.
Abstentions included China and India, as expected, but also some surprises from the usual Russian allies Cuba and Nicaragua. And the United Arab Emirates, which abstained on Friday’s similar Security Council resolution, voted “yes”.
Cuba had come to Russia’s defense on Tuesday, with Ambassador Pedro Luis Cuesta attributing the crisis to what he said was a determination by the United States to continue to expand NATO toward Russia’s borders and to deliver of modern weapons to Ukraine, ignoring Russia’s concerns for its own security. He told the assembly that the resolution “suffers from a lack of balance” and does not begin to address the concerns of both parties, or “the responsibility of those who took aggressive measures that precipitated the escalation of this conflict”.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they influence international opinion. Under the rules of special emergency sessions, a resolution must be approved by two-thirds of the voting countries, and abstentions do not count.
After Russia vetoed a similar Security Council resolution on Friday, Ukraine and its supporters won Assembly approval to hold an emergency special session – the first since 1997 – to try to highlight opposition to the Russian invasion.
Deploring Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms”, the measure demands an immediate halt to Moscow’s use of force and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all forces Russians.
The resolution says Russia’s military operations in Ukraine “are on a scale the international community has not seen in Europe for decades and that urgent action is needed to save this generation from the scourge of war.” . It “urges the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict” and reaffirms the assembly’s commitment “to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within of its internationally recognized borders”.
The measure also condemns “the Russian Federation’s decision to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces” – an issue raised by many UN members concerned about the prospect.
Ahead of the vote, Ukraine’s UN ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the assembly: “They came to Ukrainian soil, not just to kill some of us…they came to deprive the Ukraine the very right to exist. He said “the crimes are so barbaric that it is difficult to understand them”.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia urged UN members to vote against the resolution, saying Western nations were exerting “unprecedented pressure” with “open and cynical threats” to gain support for the measure.
“This document will not allow us to put an end to military activities. On the contrary, it could embolden the radicals and nationalists in Kyiv to continue to determine the policy of their country at all costs,” Nebenzia warned.
“Your refusal to support today’s draft resolution is a vote for a peaceful Ukraine” that would not be “managed from outside,” he said. “That was the purpose of our special military operation, which the authors of this resolution tried to portray as aggression.
The resolution also calls on Russia to reverse its decision to recognize the independence of two breakaway parts of eastern Ukraine. The measure also deplores “the involvement of Belarus in this illegal use of force against Ukraine”. a characterization that Belarusian Ambassador Valentin Rybakov flatly rejected in his speech to the assembly shortly before the vote.
He said Belarus’ only involvement in the conflict was in organizing talks, which were due to continue on Thursday, between Russia and Ukraine. Belarus sided with Russia, with Rybakov saying the resolution reflected a “double standard” towards Russia and the West.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters immediately after the vote: “The message from the General Assembly is loud and clear: End hostilities in Ukraine — now. Silence the guns – now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy – now.
“We don’t have a moment to lose,” he said. “The brutal effects of the conflict are evident… It threatens to get much, much worse.”
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield followed, saying “the world spoke with a clear and united voice” and that the vote “demonstrated that Russia is isolated and alone, and the costs will continue to mount until ‘until Russia gives in’.
She urged all countries to “maintain the momentum”, do all they can to help the people of Ukraine, hold Russia accountable and “match our strong words with strong actions”.
Explaining China’s abstention, Ambassador Zhang Jun used more emotive language than in previous UN meetings, citing the “dramatic changes in the situation in Ukraine” and calling what is unfolding “heartbreaking”. . He reiterated Beijing’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and the peaceful settlement of all disputes in accordance with the UN Charter.
“The top priority right now is to alleviate the situation on the ground as much as possible and prevent the situation from escalating or even spiraling out of control,” Zhang said.
During more than two days of meetings preceding the vote, there were speeches from about 120 countries.
From the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau to Europe’s economic powerhouse Germany, country after country has blasted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and called for support for the UN resolution .
Only a few supported Russia and some took no position, such as Suriname and South Africa. The latter called for compromise and diplomacy to find a lasting solution to the crisis. In Wednesday’s vote, Suriname voted “yes” and South Africa abstained.
Co-sponsors of the resolution included Afghanistan, where the Taliban overthrew the elected government last August, and Myanmar, where the military overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021. But neither neither the Taliban nor Myanmar’s military government have won UN recognition, so support has come from representatives of their previous governments.
During the meeting, some supporters of the resolution had signs under their countries’ nameplates in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine reading: “#TodayWeAreAllUkraine.”
British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said the vote sends a clear message that the assembly condemns Putin and supports Ukraine.
“We opposed those who seek to redraw the borders of the world through the threat or use of force,” she said. “Because if President Putin’s aggression against Ukraine goes unchecked, which country could be next?”