FPI / February 27, 2023
By John J. Metzler
Now a year after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the UN General Assembly firmly and sternly rebuked Russia’s brutal war against a sovereign country. With a thumping majority of 141 in favor, only 7 against and 32 abstentions, the Assembly again issued a non-binding resolution demanding Russia’s military withdrawal from Ukraine and calling for a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”
Thus, to the unrelenting backdrop of thudding artillery and lethal cruise missile attacks, Ukraine still stands tall but battered a year into what the Russian leader Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation,” which has hardly brought glory to his own once vaunted military. Ukraine’s war has become a grinding stalemate.
But on the diplomatic front in New York, while lacking the danger, drama and debilitating cold of this ongoing war in Europe, there’s a clear consensus to censure and sanction Russia’s actions which violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The hallowed principles of “a rules based international order” are regularly recited by most diplomats almost in rote and offer the relentless chorus to what remains a long path to any negotiated peace.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated at the onset of the Emergency Special Session on Ukraine; “The one-year mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stands as a grim milestone, for the people of Ukraine and for the international community.” He added that 40 percent of Ukrainians are in need of humanitarian assistance with 8 million refugees “creating the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.”
Yet diplomatic denunciations of Russia aside, here’s how the UN Assembly vote tallied. Yes, 141 with the United States, Canada, all of Europe and most of Latin America supported the resolution. So did Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore. Among African states, key countries such as Nigeria and Kenya backed the plan along with Egypt and Morocco.
Only six countries backed Russia; Belarus, Eritrea, Mali, North Korea, Nicaragua and Syria.
Among 32 abstentions there’s nuance and “non-alignment;” India, Iran, Pakistan, and South Africa. But China, Cuba, Vietnam and Zimbabwe abstained to the chagrin of Moscow.
“We are satisfied with the outcome and the message is clear,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the media after the vote.
U.S. UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield commented, 141 countries demanded Russia “withdraw immediately, completely and unconditionally from Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory, send your troops home, end this war.”
Interestingly, China “abstained” sensing it could politically “afford to do it,” in what is a non-binding resolution. Now China has unveiled its “12 point Peace Plan for Ukraine”; Is this to offer Russia a respite or try to impose a Beijing-brokered Peace for a key region in Central Europe?
The role of China is increasingly mercurial. While Beijing backs Moscow as a military foil to disrupt Europe and the West in general, China secretly wishes to see a weakened Russian state become more dependent on the People’s Republic. Indeed China may send military ordinance to Russia to replenish its dwindling supplies. But in the longer-term China can assess the situation, gauge military tactics and weapons systems, and sharpen its own sword for what is likely an inevitable military showdown with democratic Taiwan in a few years.
The Assembly vote comes in parallel to massive U.S. and NATO military aid to the beleaguered Ukrainians. Washington has provided over $100 billion in lethal aid and that’s probably a low number. Britain, France and Germany are rushing more supplies to Ukraine too including long-awaited battle tanks, such as the British Challenger and German Leopard II.
Ukraine’s military crisis is deepening. Regardless of its motivations, U.S. actions to engage in this proxy war with Russia, has ensured a closer and strategically disastrous geopolitical solidarity between Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, offered a different perspective, calling on the international community to focus on establishing an immediate ceasefire and help launch peace talks as soon. He admonished, “in Central Europe, the lesson of history is clear. Whenever there is a conflict between East and West, we in central Europe have always lost.” As Ukraine’s neighbor, Hungary lives with the tragic consequences of this brutal war. “Hungary is carrying out the largest humanitarian operation ever in its history, having received more than a million refugees,” Minister Szijjarto told the Assembly.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, made a stirring address just before the Assembly voted: “We did not choose this war,” she affirmed, “But the truth is if the Russian Federation stops fighting, this war ends, while if Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.”
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).
Free Press International
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