The international community sent a clear message to Moscow on Wednesday, declaring the country’s so-called referendums and attempted annexation of parts of Ukraine illegal and invalid under international law.
In its strongest show of support for Ukraine since Moscow’s February 24 invasion, the U.N. General Assembly voted 143-5, adopting a resolution condemning and rejecting Russia's move to annex Ukrainian territory. Thirty-five countries abstained, but those votes do not count toward the two-thirds majority needed for adoption.
Voting with Russia were Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Nicaragua.
In a tweet, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the states for their support in what he called a “historic UNGA resolution.”
Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told reporters that the outcome of the vote “was amazing.”
“I think that the countries made the right choice — to defend the principles of the U.N. Charter and to follow the Charter,” he said.
President Joe Biden hailed the vote, saying, “The overwhelming majority of the world … voted to defend the United Nations Charter and condemn Russia's illegal attempt to annex Ukrainian territory by force. … The world has just demonstrated that it is more united, and more determined than ever to hold Russia accountable for its violations.”
Despite concerns that international support for Ukraine might be waning after nearly eight months of war that have exacerbated global food, energy and inflation crises, the General Assembly’s vote demonstrated that the international community is still largely united in its stance against Russia’s war.
Wednesday’s vote surpassed the support for a March 2 assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion and calling for it to end. That resolution drew the support of 141 members. Only five voted against, including Russia and its allies Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea.
By comparison, a similar resolution in 2014 that condemned and rejected Russia’s attempted annexation of the autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine received 100 votes supporting the resolution, 11 against and 58 abstentions.
Wednesday’s daylong meeting was the continuation of a special emergency session opened on Monday to discuss Russia's so-called referendums and attempted annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine's east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the country's south.
While the General Assembly’s vote is not legally binding, it carries the moral weight of the international community.
"And today’s vote has a practical effect. It means that in the eyes of the world and the United Nations, Ukraine’s borders remain the same,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters after the vote. “Kherson is Ukraine. Zaporizhzhia is Ukraine. Donetsk is Ukraine. Luhansk is Ukraine. And Ukraine remains Ukraine.”
Take a stance
During the debate, Russia’s ambassador painted the vote as politicized and provocative and warned it could hurt efforts at peace.
“By introducing this draft, Western states are pursuing their own geopolitical goals and are once again trying to use the members of the General Assembly as bit players,” Vassily Nebenzia said.
France’s envoy, Nicolas de Riviere, said the question the General Assembly was considering was one that concerned everyone: “Do we want to defend the principles of the United Nations Charter?”
The United States urged members to send Moscow a clear message.
“The only way to bring peace is to stop this aggression. To demand accountability. To stand together with conviction. To show what we will not tolerate,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Most nations reiterated their support for the U.N. Charter, Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.
“Some of the most passionate and important statements today were made by small countries far away from Ukraine expressing the concerns of every continent and every country in this General Assembly Hall about the fears of what Russia is doing,” EU Ambassador Olof Skoog said after the debate.
Support for Russia
The debate began on Monday, and it wasn’t until the 34th speaker took the floor on Wednesday that Moscow found a friendly voice in the assembly.
“We recognize that the referenda were conducted in accordance with the U.N. Charter and international law, which stipulate the principles of the equal rights and self-determination of people,” North Korean Ambassador Kim Song said.
Syria’s envoy also defended Russia, a close ally of President Bashar al-Assad.
Ambassador Bassam al-Sabbagh said the West was taking a “hostile, provocative approach” to Russia with its vote in the assembly. He painted Moscow as the victim of fake news when all it is trying to do is protect “their own people” in parts of Ukraine.
But Canada’s envoy dismissed such claims.
“As Russia makes claims of Russophobia — sort of like the kid who kills his parents and then goes to the court and says, ‘Help me out, I’m an orphan,’ there is no Russophobia,” Ambassador Bob Rae said. “Its own soldiers, its own artillery, its own tanks, its own warplanes, its own missiles are flattening Russian-speaking cities and towns and abusing Russian-speaking populations in eastern Ukraine.”
Russia is part of the BRICS bloc, which includes Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
Brazil voted for the resolution, while China, India and South Africa abstained.
“We have always believed that any action taken by the General Assembly should be conducive to the de-escalation of the situation, should be conducive to the early resumption of dialogue and should be conducive to the promotion of a political solution to this crisis,” China’s Deputy Ambassador Geng Shuang said.
South African envoy Mathu Joyini said the resolution should have focused on “concrete proposals to end the war.”
Notably absent from the debate was Iran, which has sold Moscow drones for its war effort. It did not cast a vote on the resolution.
Saudi Arabia, along with Russia last week, led oil-producing bloc OPEC+ to decide to cut oil production targets by 2 million barrels a day starting in November. The move will go into effect as winter temperatures set in across the Northern Hemisphere and will help drive up energy prices, helping to fund President Vladimir Putin’s war machine.
But Saudi Arabia voted for the resolution, condemning Moscow, as did fellow OPEC member the United Arab Emirates, whose president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was in Moscow on Tuesday and met with Putin.