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Ukraine: UN members endorse resolution to end war

February 23, 2023

On the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, roughly three-quarters of UN member states endorsed a resolution calling for "just and lasting" peace. China and India were among the major abstentions.

Wide shot of the UN General Assembly from a distance, showing the whole chamber and the podium. Speaking, though not very discernible in the image, is French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.
Image: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

UN General Assembly members on Thursday voted in favor of a motion put forward by Germany calling for peace in Ukraine as soon as possible.

How did the vote break down?

In all, 141 countries voiced support for the resolution. Seven opposed it — Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, Mali, Eritrea, and Nicaragua.

Another 32 countries abstained during the vote. China, India, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and much of Africa and Central Asia were among them.

The level of support was similar to comparable previous General Assembly votes relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mali and Eritrea moved from abstaining to voting against the resolution; western hopes of potentially swaying India's vote at the last were dashed. 

South Sudan, however, moved from past abstentions on the conflict to voting in favor of the motion, with its delegate saying this was partly because of the country's own recent legacy of civil war and the UN's role in helping to defuse it. 

General Assembly resolutions are not binding and carry mainly symbolic weight at the United Nations. However, unlike at the Security Council, Russia cannot unilaterally veto them.

What's in the draft resolution? 

As well as calling on parties to the conflict and the international community to seek to broker peace, the resolution also calls for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine's territory

The document "reaffirms its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters."

The measure also "reiterates its demand that the Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, and calls for a cessation of hostilities." 

The resolution does not go into any details on how peace or peace negotiations might be achieved, short of saying through member states and international organizations "redoubling" their efforts.

It also calls for war crimes perpetrators to face international prosecution. 

Germany's Baerbock: We have a peace plan, the UN Charter 

German Foreign Minster Annalena Baerbock was the last speaker in Thursday morning's debate session. 

"Russia's war of aggression has not only brought terrible suffering to the people of Ukraine, this war has opened gaping wounds across the world. Families on all continents who cannot make ends meet because of rising food and energy prices," Baerbock said. 

She said "all of them and most of us here agree on one simple thing," that the suffering should stop and that we want peace. 

"And the good thing is, we do have a peace plan right here in front of us. It's called the Charter of the United Nations. Its principles, which apply to every state, are very simple: sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and the non-use of force," Baerbock said. "That’s why the road to peace is also very clear. Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Russia must stop the bombing. Russia must return to the UN Charter."

"Today, each and every one of us here has to choose: to stand isolated with the oppressor, or to unite for peace. To stay silent, or to protect our UN Charter, so that the charter can protect us," the German foreign minister concluded. 

Denmark's Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen spoke on behalf of all five Nordic countries, appealing for an immediate cessation of hostilities. 

Ukraine: War without end, war without a winner?

"This war must end. The violence must end. We must restore respect for the UN Charter. And we must make sure that similar horrors do not happen again," Rasmussen said. 

France's Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna praised Ukraine's "admirable" resistance over the past year, and said France had "absolute determination to support Ukraine, so that it can not only resist, exercise its right to self-defense ... but also so that it can enforce its sovereignty and territorial integrity." 

China, Hungary question enthusiasm for peace talks

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, meanwhile, appeared to appeal to western countries to put more of their efforts into securing peace negotiations rather than either arming Ukraine or sanctioning Russia. He noted Hungary's efforts welcoming refugees fleeing the war. 

"Based on our experience, it became already pretty obvious that neither delivery of weapons, nor sanctions, those measures do not save lives. To the contrary, they contribute to the prolongation and the risk of escalation of this war, and they bring more suffering," Szijjarto said. 

Hungary is a NATO and EU member that nevertheless maintains cordial ties with Russia. Szijjarto said the international community should "concentrate" on "finally launching peace talks as soon as possible." 

Ukraine soldier reflects on year of war

China's deputy ambassador to the UN, Dai Bing, said that peace talks should be the international community's priority. Echoing comments from China at the Munich Security Conference, Dai said that China regretted that initial negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow had stalled. 

"Dialogue and negotiation is the only viable way to resolve the Ukraine crisis," Dai said. "At the beginning of the crisis, Russia and Ukraine held several rounds of talks and made important progress. Regrettably, peace talks have since stalled. The reasons behind this warrant deep reflection."

In Munich, China's top diplomat Wang Yi appeared to imply, albeit without naming names, that the US or its allies did not want those talks to continue. 

South Africa, another contentious abstainer in past votes, asked whether the past UN resolutions had sought to halt the fighting or rather to condemn Russia. 

"As we have asked this Assembly before, are our ways and actions focused on the maintenance of peace, or creating further divisions that make the attainment of immediate peace less likely?" South Africa's UN Ambassador Mathu Joyini asked.

She said the resolution "brings us brings us no closer to laying the foundations for a durable peace and bringing an end to the devastation and destruction," arguing that "what we need is a firm, unequivocal commitment to peace from all parties."

The 141 countries supporting Thursday's motion equaled the tally voting in support of the first major General Assembly resolution condemning Russia's invasion last March.

At another vote, in October, 143 countries had supported a motion condemning Russia's unilateral declaration of having annexed Ukrainian regions after holding unrecognized referendums on joining Russia.

Anniversary prompts diplomatic flurry

The special session kicked off on Wednesday. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya were among the most notable speakers. 

Russia's UN ambassador Nebenzya called on members to oppose the motion, arguing it was one-sided. He also accused Ukraine's NATO allies of exacerbating the conflict, claiming there were parallels to World War II. 

The vote coincides with a flurry of diplomacy on all sides around the one-year anniversary of the war breaking out. 

US President Joe Biden was returning from Poland after also making an unannounced trip to Kyiv this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a major speech on Tuesday. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Thursday. 

msh/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)