The UN General Assembly on Wednesday passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority asking Russia to “immediately” withdraw from Ukraine, in a strong rebuke of the invasion of Moscow by a vast majority of the world’s nations.
After more than two days of extraordinary debate in which the Ukrainian ambassador accused Russia of genocide, 141 of the 193 member states voted in favor of the non-binding resolution.
China was among the 35 abstaining countries, while only five — Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Belarus and, of course, Russia — voted against.
The resolution “deplores” the invasion of Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and condemns President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put its nuclear forces on readiness.
The vote was touted by diplomats as a model of democracy in a world where autocracy is on the rise in countries from Myanmar to Venezuela, and came as Putin’s forces attacked Kiev as terrified Ukrainians flee.
“They have come to deprive Ukraine of its right to exist,” Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the Assembly ahead of the vote.
“It is already clear that Russia’s goal is not just occupation. It is genocide.”
Putin launched the large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Moscow has argued for “self-defense” under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
But that has been roundly rejected by Western countries accusing Moscow of violating Article 2 of the Charter, which requires UN members to refrain from threatening or using force to resolve a crisis.
The text of the resolution – led by European countries in coordination with Ukraine – has undergone numerous changes in recent days.
It no longer condemns the invasion as initially expected, but instead deplores in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.
– ‘Who’s next?’ †
It also makes clear that the United Nations “condemns” Putin’s decision to put his nuclear forces on readiness, a move that immediately sparked outrage from the West.
Nearly every speaker of the General Assembly unreservedly condemned the war and the risks of military escalation.
“If the United Nations has any purpose, it is to prevent war,” US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during her address on Wednesday.
She accused Russia of “preparing to increase the brutality of its campaign”.
“We have seen videos of Russian troops moving exceptionally deadly weapons into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield with cluster munitions and vacuum bombs, which are banned under the Geneva Convention,” said Thomas-Greenfield.
Russia’s ally Belarus, however, offered a staunch defense of the invasion.
Ambassador Valentin Rybakov called the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West “the worst example of economic and financial terrorism.”
And he followed other Russian allies like Syria in condemning the “double standard” of Western countries that have invaded countries like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent decades.
Other speakers mentioned fears of a domino effect if Ukraine were to fall into the hands of Russia. Colombia protested any return to the ’empire’, while Albania wondered, ‘Who will be next?’
Out of the Arab world, it was Kuwait, itself the victim of an invasion by Iraq in 1990, whose condemnation of Moscow was most outspoken, with the rest of the Middle East in the background.
– China, India abstain –
Japan and New Zealand led the condemnation from Asia, but the continent’s giants – China, India and Pakistan – all abstained. During the debate, Beijing had emphasized that the world had “nothing to gain” from a new Cold War.
On the sidelines of the meeting, Washington has targeted Russians who work at the United Nations, making charges of espionage and demanding evictions.
US President Joe Biden claimed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that Putin had underestimated the response to the invasion.
“He rejected attempts at diplomacy… And he thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden said.
“Putin was wrong. We were ready.”