UN votes to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine, but China again stays silent
- The General Assembly’s vote to denounce the attacks ordered by Vladimir Putin was 141 in favour, 5 opposed and 35 abstentions, including Beijing
- The US ambassador urged Russian soldiers to stop fighting: ‘Your leaders are lying to you. Do everything you can to put down your weapons and leave Ukraine’
“We are facing a tragedy for Ukraine, but also a major regional crisis with potentially disastrous implications for us all,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said on Monday, the first of three days of debate.
The special emergency session was just the 11th in the UN’s history – a rare procedural move that lets the body take up a resolution on matters of war and peace when the UN Security Council is unable to come to a unanimous consensus on its own.
The finally tally on the resolution was 141 in favour, five opposed and 35 abstentions.
The vote came as international outrage continues to grow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea, which has already killed thousands of civilians, including children, and sent more than 600,000 refugees fleeing the country.
Russia, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has the right to veto any resolution taken up by the panel, and it did just that last Friday, when the Security Council tried unsuccessfully to condemn the war in Ukraine but was blocked by the Russian delegate.
The country has faced growing diplomatic isolation throughout the week. On Tuesday, diplomats from 40 countries walked out of the UN Human Rights Council during a speech by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
China abstained from Friday’s vote condemning the war, and again abstained from the Security Council’s vote on Sunday on whether to open the special emergency session of the General Assembly the next day.
Ukraine’s representative to the UN warned the General Assembly on Monday that Putin’s decision to invade a neighbouring country unprovoked had clear parallels to the beginnings of World War II more than 80 years ago.
“Everyone in this hall and everyone in the world knows that Russia and Russia alone started this invasion, now facilitated by Belarus,” said Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian envoy.
“If he wants to kill himself, he doesn’t need to use a nuclear arsenal. He has to do what the guy in Berlin did in a bunker in May 1945,” Kyslytsya said, referring to Adolf Hitler’s death by suicide near the end of the second world war.
“This war was not provoked,” Kyslytsya said. “It was chosen by someone who is right now sitting in the bunker. We know what happened to the person who sat in the bunker in Berlin in May 1945.”
Countries from as far afield as Ghana, Panama and Singapore joined Ukraine in speaking out against Moscow for starting a destabilising and potentially catastrophic war in Europe.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, urged Russian soldiers in Ukraine to stop fighting and get out of the country.
“I say: Your leaders are lying to you,” she said on Wednesday. “Do not commit war crimes. Do everything you can to put down your weapons and leave Ukraine.”
China was one of the few outliers in the room after three days of speeches, again refusing to condemn Russia’s violation of Ukrainian territory despite years of rhetoric from Beijing about the inviolability and sanctity of each country’s sovereignty.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry confirmed the country’s first casualty in the war – a Chinese citizen shot while trying to flee the country. Ukraine’s UN ambassador made explicit reference to the wounded Chinese national in a second speech on Wednesday.
Zhang Jun, China’s representative to the UN, channelled Russian arguments in his speech by denouncing a “Cold War mentality based on bloc confrontation” – a reference to Nato – and calling for “properly addressing the legitimate security concerns of all parties, including Russia”.
“Ukraine should serve as a bridge of communication between East and West, rather than a front line of a major power rivalry,” he said on Monday.
Russia spoke immediately after Ukraine in the opening hours of the debate, and said its invasion was the fault of Ukraine and its backers in the US and Europe.
“I wish to state that the Russian Federation did not begin these hostilities,” said Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador to the UN. “The hostilities were unleashed by Ukraine against its own residents … and Russia is seeking to end this war.”
Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Kyslytsya, tried to turn that argument around, asking his fellow delegates if any of them had ever actually voted to allow the current government of the Russian Federation into the UN after the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago.
“Putin has done everything to delegitimise the Russian presence in the United Nations,” he said. “But I wonder if the Russian presence in the United Nations has ever been legitimate.
“I’ll leave you with that, and think about it when you listen to the Russian delegate.”