Readers might remember that back in March we reported on the vote in the United Nations general assembly, which, in an emergency special session, voted by 141 to five to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to demand that it “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
But the war continues, and Russia upped the ante last month with a set of bogus referenda in its partially-occupied Ukrainian provinces that purported to support incorporation into Russia. This is a violation of the most fundamental principle of the UN, that territory cannot be seized by force.
So the emergency session reconvened this week, and passed a new resolution declaring the annexations void and calling on all members [link added] to refuse recognition to them. It repeats the words “immediately, completely and unconditionally,” and (unlike the petitioners we discussed yesterday) situates its call for peace within that framework:
… to support the de-escalation of the current situation and a peaceful resolution of the conflict through political dialogue, negotiation, mediation and other peaceful means, with respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders and in accordance with the principles of the [UN] Charter.
The vote this time was 143 to five, with 45 countries abstaining or not voting. Four of the dissenters were the same as before (Russia, Belarus, North Korea and Syria); they were joined this time by Nicaragua, while Eritrea switched to abstaining. Five countries that had supported the March resolution abstained or failed to vote, while another seven shifted the other way.
That’s a bit more significant than it sounds, because Thailand, which abstained, was the only substantial power among the five previous supporters, whereas most of the new votes in favor were from moderately important countries: the seven were Angola, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Madagascar, Morocco and Senegal.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that not much has changed since March. It remains true that global opinion is overwhelmingly against the invasion, but it’s also true that a number of major powers – including China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Pakistan and South Africa – are unwilling to go on the record condemning Russia. Vladimir Putin has very little active support, but his passive support is far from insignificant.
That passive support probably dooms any attempt to circumvent Russia’s veto on the security council, either by suspending its permanent membership or by a direct authorisation from the general assembly for the use of force (which on one view is what the emergency session procedure was supposed to allow).
Of course, countries do not need UN authorisation to assist Ukraine in defending itself, any more than Ukraine itself needs anyone’s permission to fight in self-defence. But it means that on the biggest geopolitical issue of the day, and one which could fairly be described as exactly the sort of thing the UN was formed to counter, the organisation has instead returned to the impotence in which it spent most of the Cold War.