UN Assembly votes to order Russia to stop the war in Ukraine

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After a strong showing of support from the 193 members against the invasion, the U.N. General Assembly decided Wednesday that Moscow should immediately halt its attack on Ukraine.

With 35 abstentions, the vote on “Aggression against Ukrainian” was 141-5. It was just as Russia attacked Ukraine’s second largest city, besieged two ports and placed a large convoy of Russian military vehicles outside of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Russia opposed the measure only Belarus, Syria and North Korea joined Russia, which is a strong indication of the international isolation Russian President Vladimir Putin faces after invading the country of his smaller neighbor. This was also what the resolution’s backers sought to highlight.

As expected, China and India abstained, with some surprise contributions from Cuba and Nicaragua, which are usually Russian allies. The United Arab Emirates abstained from Friday’s Security Council resolution. They voted “yes.”

On Tuesday, Cuba spoke in Russia’s defense. Ambassador Pedro Luis Cuesta blamed the crisis on the U.S. determination not to expand NATO towards Russia’s borders, and to deliver modern weapons to Ukraine. This was ignoring Russia’s security concerns. The resolution doesn’t address both the concerns of the parties or the responsibility of those who took the aggressive steps that precipitated this conflict, he said to the assembly.

General Assembly resolutions, unlike Security Council resolutions that are legally binding, have the power to reflect international opinion. A resolution must be approved by two-thirds vote of the countries involved. Abstentions are not counted under special emergency session rules.

The special session was called historic by President Joe Biden from Washington and an expression of unprecedented global unity.

Biden stated in a statement that “an overwhelming majority of the world realizes that if it doesn’t stand up to Putin’s Russia, then it will only inflict more chaos and aggression upon the world.”

Ukraine and its supporters received approval from the assembly for an emergency special session to address opposition to Russia’s invasion. This was after Russia vetoed Friday’s Security Council resolution.

The measure condemns Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine in the strongest terms and demands an immediate halt of Moscow’s use force and the unconditional, immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces.

According to the resolution, Russia’s military operations against Ukraine are “on a scale that Europe has not seen in decades” and “an urgent need for peaceful resolution.” The resolution also reaffirms its commitment to “the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.”

This measure also condemns the Russian Federation’s decision “to increase the readiness of their nuclear forces,” a concern raised by many U.N. member countries.

Sergiy Kyslytsya (Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador) told the assembly that the “they have come to Ukraine soil, not just to kill some of our people… they have come deprive Ukraine the very right of existence.”

Vasily Nebenzia, the Russian Ambassador, urged U.N. members not to vote for the resolution. He claimed that the West exerted “unprecedented” pressure with “open threats and cynical threats” in order to gain support for the measure.

“This document won’t allow us to stop military activities. Nebenzia stated that it could encourage Kyiv nationalists and radicals to continue determining the country’s policy at any cost.

He said, “Your refusal today to support the draft resolution is a vote against a peaceful Ukraine” which would not be “managed from the outside.” “This was the purpose of our special military operation. The sponsors of this resolution attempted to portray it as aggression.”

It also urges Russia to reverse its decision to recognize two separate parts of eastern Ukraine independent. Further, the resolution deplores “the participation of Belarus in this unlawful force against Ukraine,” which was a description that Valentin Rybakov, the Belarussian Ambassador, flatly rejected in his speech before the vote.

He stated that Belarus was only involved in the conflict by organizing talks between Russia and Ukraine, which will continue on Thursday. Rybakov said that Belarus took Russia’s side and that the resolution was a reflection of “double standards” towards Russia and the West.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General, stated to reporters right after the vote that the message of the General Assembly was loud and clear: Stop hostilities in Ukraine — Now. Stop using the guns — immediately. Now is the time to open the doors for dialogue and diplomacy.

He said, “We don’t have a minute to lose.” “The conflict’s brutal effects are clear to see… It is likely to get even worse.”

U.S. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield encouraged all countries to keep the momentum going, do everything they can to help the Ukrainian people and hold Russia responsible. She also urged them to “match our strong statements with strong actions.”

Ambassador Zhang Jun explained China’s decision to abstain. He used emotional language that was not used at previous U.N. meetings. He cited “dramatic changes in the situation in Ukraine” as well as “heart wrenching” events.

Zhang stated that the top priority is to improve the situation on the ground and prevent it from getting worse.

There were more than 120 speeches during the two-day period of meetings that preceded the vote.

From Palau, a tiny Pacific island nation to Europe’s economic powerhouse Germany and Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, country after country criticized Russia’s actions and demanded support for the U.N. resolution.

Only a few countries supported Russia, while others took no position such as South Africa. South Africa refused to accept compromise and diplomacy in order to reach a lasting solution to the crisis.

Afghanistan, where Taliban overthrew the elected government in August last year, and Myanmar where the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on February 1, 2021 were co-sponsors of the resolution. Representatives of their former governments supported the support for Myanmar’s military government and Taliban, but they have not been recognized by U.N.

During the meeting, some supporters of the resolution had signs under the nameplates of their countries in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors reading: “#TodayWeAreAllUkraine.”

Barbara Woodward, British Ambassador to the UK, stated that the vote sent a clear signal that the assembly condemned Putin and supported Ukraine.

She stated that she had stood up to those who sought to redraw world’s borders using force or threat. “If President Putin’s aggression towards Ukraine continues unchecked then which country could be the next?”