UNITED NATIONS – During an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly, member states overwhelmingly condemned Russia for invading Ukraine and demanded that Moscow immediately withdraw military forces from the territory of Ukraine as defined by Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.
The March 2 vote on the resolution received the support of 141 of the General Assembly’s 193 members, 35 abstentions, which included China, and five no votes, led by Russia. The vote met the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
The instant the final tally appeared on the large overhead screens at the front of the assembly’s meeting hall, an enthusiastic 25-second standing ovation began, led by Ukraine’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya.
The emergency special session was only the 11th in UN history. The session was held at the direction of the UN Security Council, which held its own special session on the war in Ukraine a few days earlier. The last time the Security Council convened an emergency session of the General Assembly was forty years ago, in 1982.
The adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution must be understood within the specific dynamics of the UN and should be viewed as a singular diplomatic success for Ukraine.
The UN, an international body that strives for consensus and equalization between large and small countries in terms of rights within the body, has developed a set of procedures to ensure fairness.
As a result, the strategy to hold not one, but two special sessions within days, when none have been had for years, and against stiff opposition from Russia in the Security Council and in the General Assembly, required nimble diplomacy.
Mr. Kyslytsya was deeply involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to call for these special sessions, and both Mr. Kyslytsya and Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba made detailed and impassioned presentations before the Security Council on February 23, on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
By March 1, 96 member states co-sponsored the resolution that condemned Russia’s “aggression against Ukraine,” an action undertaken primarily to isolate Russia diplomatically within the world body.
While General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they carry political weight and have symbolic significance within a body tasked to adhere to a rules-based international order and established to avoid the possibility of another world war.
The March 2 vote represents a strong diplomatic victory for Ukraine, and increases Moscow’s international isolation.
Unless halted, “the evil will never stop, … [it will]require more and more space” and it will expand further beyond Ukraine, Mr. Kyslytsya said.
The resolution, he added, “is one of the building blocks in the wall” that must be built to stop current, and future, Russian offensives.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, urged member states to “vote yes if you believe U.N. member states – including your own – have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity. … [and]if you believe Russia should be held to account for its actions.”
In turn, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, denied Moscow was targeting civilians in Ukraine, and he blamed the government of Ukraine for provoking the present situation. He accused Western governments of pressuring assembly members to pass the resolution, and ominously threatened that adoption of the resolution “could fuel further violence.”
Shortly after the vote, UN Secretary General António Guterres issued a statement.
“The General Assembly has spoken,” Mr. Guterres said. “As secretary general, it is my duty to stand by this resolution and be guided by its call. The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear: end hostilities in Ukraine, now; silence the guns, now; open the door to dialogue and diplomacy, now.”
“The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine must be respected in line with the United Nations Charter,” Mr. Guterres’s statement read. “We do not have a moment to lose. The brutal effects of the conflict are plain to see. … As bad as the situation is for the people in Ukraine right now, it threatens to get much, much worse. … Today’s resolution reflects a central truth. The world wants an end to the tremendous human suffering in Ukraine.”
He praised the rapid mobilization of funds for UN humanitarian operations in Ukraine and neighboring countries currently accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
“People in Ukraine desperately need peace,” the statement read. “People around the world demand it.”
The World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations, which has had since 1991 associate status with the UN as a non-governmental organization. It has closely followed the recent debates in the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, as well as at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and is deeply grateful for the steadfast support shown Ukraine from representatives of the international community as Ukraine defends itself against Russia’s unprovoked and premeditated war.
Irene Jarosewich is the main representative of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations to the United Nations’ Department of Global Communications.