The UNGA held an Emergency Special Session to discuss Russia’s recent attempt to annex four regions of Ukraine. Photo: AFP
As I see it
by Bhavan Jaipragas
As I see it
by Bhavan Jaipragas

Why anger over Asian abstentions in UN vote over Russia’s Ukraine annexation may be misdirected

  • China, India and Thailand were among 35 nations that declined to vote at the UN on Russia’s ‘attempted illegal annexations’ of four Ukrainian regions
  • Some observers believe there must be some sort of reprisal, possibly by the US and its allies holding back weapon sales to these countries
How dare they? That was the underlying message from some Western observers as they reacted to abstentions by some Asian nations in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote on Russia’s “ attempted illegal annexations” of four Ukrainian regions.
China, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Vietnam and Laos were among the 35 nations that declined to vote.
The resolution was backed by 143 countries – three quarters of the 193-member general assembly – with five countries including Russia voting against it.
The vote has no legal effect, but does send Russia a strong signal that a majority of the international community does not accept its latest expropriation of land, or its continued aggression in Ukraine.


Russia illegally annexes 4 regions of Ukraine

Russia illegally annexes 4 regions of Ukraine
It’s noteworthy that Wednesday’s resolution obtained the most support of the four motions put forth before the UNGA regarding Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour.

The 143 votes is also much higher than the 100 garnered by a 2014 resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

But what about the abstentions? Should Western nations, which – led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – had lobbied hard in favour of Wednesday’s vote, feel slighted that the likes of Thailand chose to stay on the sidelines?
Some observers believe there must be some sort of reprisal, possibly by the US and its allies holding back weapon sales to these countries. Thailand, in particular, is in their cross hairs as it is among Washington’s major non- Nato allies in Asia.

In the initial vote held weeks after Russia’s February 24 invasion, Bangkok voted to censure Moscow.

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At the time, a prominent Thai diplomacy analyst told me that Thailand’s vote was a “victory for the professional diplomats” in the kingdom as the ruling elite were as “pro-Putin” as they were “anti-democracy”.

This time round, other factors may be in play. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is eager for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ( Apec) summit he is hosting in November to be a success.
For that to happen, attendance by the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin is important. Hosting the event would not be as prestigious if the world’s most powerful leaders are not present.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to attend, according to Thai officials, but US President Joe Biden is likely to skip the meeting to attend his granddaughter’s wedding.

Apart from wanting to ensure Putin does not rescind his “RSVP”, Thailand’s leaders may have also calculated that their one-time censure of Russia in the March 2 vote is adequate to signal to Moscow the country’s views on the Ukraine invasion.

Hopefully Western leaders, unlike those behind hot takes on Twitter, understand that countries, especially less mighty ones in Asia and the rest of the global south, will continue to exercise choices on Russia based on their respective national interests.