UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly voted at an emergency special session Wednesday to demand an immediate halt to Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine and withdrawal of all Russian troops, with very strong support from the world organization’s 193 member nations that sparked sustained applause.
The vote on the resolution, entitled “Aggression against Ukraine,” was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.
Russia got support for its appeal to vote against the resolution only from Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea, a powerful indication of the international isolation that Russian President Vladimir Putin faces for invading his country's smaller neighbor. Emphasizing that isolation was a major goal of the resolution’s supporters.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion. Under special emergency session rules, a resolution needs approval of two-thirds of those countries voting, and abstentions don’t count.
After Russia vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council on Feb. 25, Ukraine and its supporters won approval for an emergency special session -- the first since 1997 -- to try to spotlight opposition to Russia’s invasion.
The resolution states that Russia’s military operations in Ukraine “are on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades and that urgent action is needed to save this generation from the scourge of war.” It “urges the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict” and reaffirms the assembly’s commitment “to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
Before the vote, Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said of Russian forces: “They have come to the Ukrainian soil, not only to kill some of us ... they have come to deprive Ukraine of the very right to exist,” adding that “the crimes are so barbaric that it is difficult to comprehend.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia then urged U.N. members to vote against the resolution, alleging that Western nations exerted “unprecedented pressure” with “open and cynical threats” to get support for the measure.
“This document will not allow us to end military activities. On the contrary, it could embolden Kyiv radicals and nationalists to continue to determine the policy of their country at any price,” Nebenzia warned.
“Your refusal to support today’s draft resolution is a vote for a peaceful Ukraine” that would not “be managed from the outside,” he said. “This was the aim of our special military operation, which the sponsors of this resolution tried to present as aggression.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters immediately after the vote: “The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear: End hostilities in Ukraine — now. Silence the guns — now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy — now.”
“We don’t have a moment to lose,” he said. “The brutal effects of the conflict are plain to see … It threatens to get much, much worse.”
The assembly resolution, co-sponsored by 96 countries, deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s use of force and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.
The measure also called on Russia to reverse a decision to recognize two separatist parts of eastern Ukraine as independent.
During more than two days of meetings preceding the vote, there were speeches from about 120 countries.
From a tiny Pacific island nation to Europe’s economic powerhouse, country after country lashed out at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and urged support for the U.N. resolution..
Russian President Vladimir Putin did have a few supporters, including North Korea. And there were countries that took no position on the draft resolution, such as Suriname and South Africa, which urged compromise and diplomacy to find a lasting resolution to the crisis.
The resolution's co-sponsors included Afghanistan, where the Taliban ousted the elected government last August, and Myanmar, where the military overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021. But neither the Taliban nor Myanmar's military government have gained U.N. recognition so that support came from representatives of their previous governments.
In speaking in favor of the resolution Tuesday, Palau’s U.N. ambassador, Ilana Seid, told the assembly that Ukraine and Palau have little in common: “One is a large post-Soviet state in eastern Europe and the other is a small, blue ocean state.”
Yet, she said, Palau feels some connection because both became independent in the early 1990s. “And so, it hasn’t escaped us, that if the turns of fate had one of our former colonizers act with the aggression of Russia towards us, citing the justification of historical unity, it would have been our people who would be suffering the atrocities of war we are seeing in Ukraine today.”
Seid said the claim of "historical unity” was the justification Hitler made in absorbing Czechoslovakia, setting events in motion that brought on World War II. “Thus, history has shown us that we simply cannot make concessions to an aggressive power in order to avoid conflict,” she said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, whose country is Europe's largest economic power, said what is at stake in Russia’s war in Ukraine is “the life or death of the Ukrainian people,” European security, and the Charter of the United Nations which calls for peaceful settlement of conflicts and maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all U.N. member nations.
Baerbock, who flew to New York to address the assembly’s first emergency special session in decades, lashed out at Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, saying he was guilty of telling “blatant lies” to the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier Tuesday by arguing that Russia is acting in self-defense to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine and has sent its troops as “peacekeepers.”
In fact, she said, the world watched Russia build up troops over months to prepare for its attack and is watching as its forces “are bombing the homes of Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Kharkiv,” the country’s second-largest city.
“Mr. Lavrov, you can deceive yourself, but you won’t deceive your own people,” Baerbock said.