Intense lobbying ahead of UN vote on Russian annexations

Oct 12, 2022, 12:32 PM | Updated: 12:43 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Western nations engaged in intense behind-the-scenes lobbying for a U.N. resolution that would condemn Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four Ukrainian regions and demand that Moscow immediately reverse its actions, while Syria warned against isolating its ally Russia.

A vote on the resolution is expected later Wednesday in the 193-member General Assembly after diplomats finish outlining their country’s positions. Assembly members began debating it on Monday at the resumption of an emergency special session on Ukraine.

The resolution being put to a vote is the fourth on Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its smaller neighbor, and a key issue for its Western backers is how many countries will support it.

The more powerful U.N. Security Council, whose resolutions are legally binding, has been stymied on taking action on Ukraine because of Russia’s veto power which it used on Sept. 29 to block condemnation of Russia’s illegal attempts to annex Ukrainian territory. By contrast, the General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, has approved three resolutions which reflect world opinion but are not legally binding.

The assembly voted 141-5 with 35 abstentions on March 2 to demand an immediate Russian cease-fire, withdrawal of all its forces and protection for all civilians. On March 24, it voted 140-5 with 38 abstentions on a resolution blaming Russia for Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.

But the assembly voted by a far smaller margin on April 7 to suspend Russia from the world organization’s leading human rights body, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine engaged in rights violations that the United States and Ukraine have called war crimes. The vote was 93-24 with 58 abstentions.

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the vote, are predicting at least 110 “yes” votes for the resolution. Some noted that a 2014 resolution affirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity and declaring the referendum that led to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula illegal was adopted by a vote of 100-11 with 58 abstentions.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Tuesday convened a virtual meeting with more than 160 U.S.-based foreign diplomats representing more than 100 countries to make the case for voting in favor of the resolution, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

“There is no such thing as neutrality,” Price said, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions “completely unacceptable.”

The was no immediate indication of how participants responded, and Western diplomats said contacts were continuing Wednesday.

The resolution is a response to Russia’s announced annexation last month of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions following Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” that the Ukrainian government and the West have dismissed as sham votes conducted on occupied land amid warfare and displacement.

The draft resolution would declare that Moscow’s actions violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, are “inconsistent” with the principles of the U.N. Charter, and “have no validity under international law and do not form the basis for any alternation of the status of these regions of Ukraine.”

It would also demand that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

And it would support “the de-escalation of the current situation and a peaceful resolution of the conflict through political dialogue, negotiation, mediation and other peaceful means” that respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and internationally recognized borders.

During Wednesday’s debate there was strong support for the resolution.

Australia’s U.N. Ambassador Mitch Fifield called Russia’s attempted annexation “illegal and a dangerous escalation” and urged all countries to support the resolution to oppose acts of aggression. Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Fergal Mythen said voters in the “sham” referendums in the four regions “faced intimidation by the Russian military and Russia’s illegitimately appointed authorities.”

Cambodia’s U.N. Ambassador Sovann Ke didn’t indicate how he would vote but said “the forcible annexation of regions from a sovereign country is a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter and international laws, which is not acceptable” and urged that internationally respected borders “be fully respected.”

South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Hwang Joonkook gave its unequivocal support “to the sovereignty, political independence and the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” stressing that “its own painful experiences” after the 1950-53 Korean War “can testify that any attempt to divide a nation in any form or method is merely the beginning of lasting very serious troubles, rather than a solution.”

On the other side of that divide, North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Kim Song supported the “self-determination” of the people in the four regions annexed by Russia as a right protected in the U.N. Charter and said the results must be respected.

He accused the United States and Western countries of “brutally” violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya under “the pretext” of promoting international peace and security without ever having its actions called into question by the Security Council. And he claimed U.S. interference in the internal affairs of countries is continuing in the 21st century.

Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Monday decried the debate as a one-sided exercise in pushing an anti-Russian narrative. He reiterated Russia’s claims that the referendums were valid and that Moscow is endeavoring to “protect” people in the regions against what the Kremlin views as a hostile Ukrainian government.

Addressing the deep division among U.N. member nations, Nebenzia said, “Such cynicism, confrontation and dangerous polarization as today we have never seen in the history of the U.N.”

Syrian Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh echoed that view Wednesday, accusing the General Assembly of “being manipulated flagrantly by some Western countries for their own geopolitical interests.”

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Intense lobbying ahead of UN vote on Russian annexations