Isolating Moscow: U.N. Demands Russia Reverse ‘Illegal’ Ukraine Annexations

The United Nations General Assembly recently voted overwhelmingly to condemn Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four regions in Ukraine and demanded its immediate reversal. The move showed the solid global opposition to Russia’s attempt to grab its neighboring territory during its unprovoked seven-month war.

The vote of the 193-member body was 143-5, with 25 countries abstaining from voting. The move was the most substantial support for Ukraine and against Russia in the General Assembly since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., Sergiy Kyslytsya, said the vote was “a historic moment” and was “amazing.” The United States ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called it a “monumental day” and said supporters were “holding our breaths.” Olof Skoog, European Union Ambassador, called the vote “a great success” that sends “a resounding message to Russia that they are and remain isolated.”

The resolution was in response to Russia’s announcement in September of Ukraine’s Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions. The information followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” that the West and Ukrainian government had called sham votes conducted on occupied land amid displacement and warfare.

Speaker after speaker accused Russia of violating critical principles in the U.N. Charter — respect for all member nations’ territorial integrity and sovereignty. The speeches came during two days of speeches at an emergency special session on Ukraine.

Intense lobbying preceded the vote as supporters of the EU-facilitated resolution intensely lobbied for support. Before the vote, Thomas-Greenfield told the assembly that when the U.N. was established, built on the ashes of World War II, it was founded on the idea that “never again would one country be allowed to take another’s territory by force.”

After the vote, Thomas-Greenfield told reporters the vote was significant and meant “that in the eyes of the world and the United Nations, Ukraine’s borders remain the same.”

“The resolution also sends an enormously important signal to Moscow and to everyone: It does not matter if you as a nation are big or small, rich or poor, old or new. If you are a U.N. member state, your borders are your own and are protected by international law. They cannot be redrawn by anyone else by force.”

Russia denounces U.N. vote

Before the vote, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Vassily Nebenzia, urged countries to vote against the resolution calling it “a politicized and openly provocative document” and denounced those sponsoring the resolution as “unscrupulous Western blackmailers.”

Nebenzia reiterated Russia’s claims of the validity of the referendums, saying, “the populations in these regions do not want to return to Ukraine.” Four countries joined Russia in voting against the resolution, Belarus, Nicaragua, Syria, and North Korea.

Amongst the 35 countries that abstained, 19 were from Africa, including South Africa. The world’s two most populous countries, India and China, abstained, along with Cuba and Pakistan.

The General Assembly has now approved four resolutions criticizing Russia. Its votes are not legally binding but reflect overall world opinion. The more powerful Security Council, where resolutions are lawfully binding, has been indecisive on taking action on Ukraine because of Russia’s veto power. Russia used that veto to block condemnation of its attempts to annex territory in Ukraine on September 29.

The new resolution declares Moscow’s actions violate territorial integrity and Ukraine’s sovereignty, and “inconsistent” with the U.N. Charter principles, and “have no validity under international law and do not form the basis for any alternation of the status of these regions of Ukraine.” The resolution demands that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”