UNITED NATIONS >> The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution today blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.
There was loud applause in the assembly chamber as the result of the vote was announced: 140-5 with only Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea joining Russia in opposing the measure. There were 38 abstentions, including Russian ally China, India, South Africa, Iran and Cuba.
The resolution, introduced by Ukraine, deplores the “dire humanitarian consequences” of Russia’s aggression which it says is “on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades.” It deplores Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, including the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
The vote was almost exactly the same as for the March 2 resolution the assembly adopted demanding an immediate Russian cease-fire, withdrawal of all its forces and protection for all civilians and infrastructure indispensable to their survival. That vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called today’s vote “an astounding success” and said “once again the world stood united” in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”
“Together, a strong majority of U.N. member states made clear that Russia — Russia — bears sole responsibility for the grave humanitarian crisis and violence in Ukraine,” she said. “Together, we called for the protection of all civilians fleeing the conflict and for steps to mitigate the increase in food insecurity caused by this senseless war.”
“Absolutely, it will have an impact on the ground because it’s going to give encouragement to the Ukrainian people,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere, speaking on behalf of the 27-member European Union, said its adoption by an overwhelming majority “is a very strong signal that this General Assembly sends the peoples of the world and the people of Ukraine that need it.”
The General Assembly’s action followed the Security Council’s overwhelming defeat on Wednesday of a Russian resolution that would have acknowledged Ukraine’s growing humanitarian needs — but without mentioning Russia’s invasion that has left millions of Ukrainians in desperate need of food, water and shelter.
To be adopted, Russia needed a minimum of nine “yes” votes in the 15-member Security Council and no veto by one of the four other permanent members — the U.S., Britain, France and China. But Russia got support only from China, with the 13 other council members abstaining.
The votes in the General Assembly and Security Council reflect Moscow’s failure to get widespread backing for its military offensive in Ukraine, which marked its one-month anniversary today.
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward told reporters Wednesday that “Russia has consistently misplayed its hand here, and seriously underestimated the consequences of what it’s done and the international perception of what it’s done.”
Russia introduced its resolution on March 15. A day earlier, France and Mexico decided to move their proposed humanitarian resolution blaming the Russian invasion for the humanitarian crisis out of the Security Council, where it faced a Russian veto, to the 193-member General Assembly where there are no vetoes.
The final draft of the France-Mexico resolution was negotiated by about two dozen countries from all regions of the world, including Ukraine which strongly backed it, and had 90 co-sponsors.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion.
The General Assembly also had before it a rival South African resolution which didn’t mention Russia. It was to be considered after the adoption of the Ukrainian-backed resolution, and South Africa sought a vote.
But Ukraine’s Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya objected, calling the resolution “a twin brother” of the defeated Russian resolution in the Security Council He called for a procedural vote, which resulted in the assembly deciding against proceeding to a vote on the South African draft.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia blamed Western pressure for the failure to hold a vote on the South African resolution and strongly criticized what he called the “pseudo-humanitarian resolution presented by the Western allies in Ukraine because it was put forward exclusively to once again condemn Russia.” He also criticized the West’s failure to support “Russia’s truly humanitarian draft resolution” in the Security Council.
Russian authorities maintain they did not start the war and have repeatedly and falsely decried reports of Russian military setbacks or civilian deaths in Ukraine as fake news. State media outlets and government officials insist Russian troops target only military facilities.
The General Assembly began hearing from ambassadors and diplomats on their nations’ views of the resolution on Wednesday, and those speeches spilled into this morning and numbered more than 70.
According to the U.N., about 10 million Ukrainians — a quarter of its population — have fled their homes and are now displaced in the country or among the 3.6 million refugees. The U.S. said 12 million need aid and 5.6 million children are unable to go to school.
Canada’s U.N. Ambassador Robert Rae asked those in the crowded assembly chamber on Thursday to think about the 10 million people displaced in four weeks.
“That is more people forcibly displaced by Russia’s military in Ukraine that the entire population of more than 100 states that are represented in the assembly,” he said.
China abstained on the Ukraine-backed resolution today, as it did on the March 2 resolution, but it was the only Security Council member to vote with Russia on its humanitarian resolution in the Security Council on Wednesday.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, one of the final speakers before Thursday’s vote, told the assembly, “it is heart-wrenching to see the continued deterioration of humanitarian situation in Ukraine as well as the civilian casualties and massive displacement of people caused by the conflict.”
He reiterated China’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, for the U.N. Charter which says all U.N. member nations should settle disputes by peaceful means, and for “the legitimate security concerns” of all countries to be taken seriously.
Zhang said provisions in the Ukraine-backed resolution “go beyond the humanitarian context” and some issues can only be solved through political negotiations between the parties. Therefore, he said, China had decided to co-sponsor the South Africa resolution.
“The top priority now is for the parties concerned to maintain maximum restraints, avoid more civilian casualties, and reach a negotiated cease-fire as soon as possible, especially to prevent a larger-scale humanitarian crisis,” Zhang said.
Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador, asked what’s next, had a similar response: “Ending the war.”