The UN Security Council on Wednesday overwhelmingly defeated a Russian resolution that acknowledged Ukraine's growing humanitarian needs -- but didn't mention the Russian invasion that caused the escalating crisis which 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 its ally China, with the 13 other council members abstaining, reflecting Moscow's failure to get widespread backing for its war in Ukraine, which marks its one-month anniversary Thursday.
The Russian defeat came on the same day the General Assembly started considering a resolution drafted by Ukraine and two dozen other countries and co-sponsored by nearly 100 nations which clearly states that Russia's aggression is responsible for the growing humanitarian emergency. The assembly was also to consider a rival South African resolution that doesn't mention Russia and is similar to Moscow's defeated council resolution. Action on those resolutions was delayed until Thursday because of the huge number of speakers.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told the council before the vote that its resolution “is not politicized,” just like other Security Council humanitarian resolutions, and he categorically rejected a U.S. claim that his country had no right to submit such a resolution.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield countered that Russia was “attempting to use this council to provide cover for its brutal actions.”
“It really is unconscionable that Russia would have the audacity to put forward a resolution asking the international community to solve a humanitarian crisis that Russia alone created,” she said. “Russia does not care about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions. ... If they cared, they would stop fighting. Russia is the aggressor, the attacker, the invader, the sole party in Ukraine engaged in a campaign of brutality against the people of Ukraine, and they want us to pass a resolution that does not acknowledge their culpability.”
Nebenzia took the floor again after the vote saying it exposed all countries “for whom politicisation of the humanitarian dossier” is more important than helping to get aid to Ukrainians. If diplomats go on to lament the lack of a ceasefire and provisions for evacuations, “we will remind you that they were before you, but you refused to vote in favor of them for political reasons,” he said.
Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun, explaining his country's vote in favor of the Russian resolution, said council members should focus on humanitarian issues, “transcend the political differences'' and try to reach consensus and “respond to the humanitarian crisis in a positive, pragmatic and constructive manner.”
But France's ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, called the resolution “a maneuver from Moscow to justify its aggression against Ukraine.” Albanian envoy Ferit Hoxha called it “a mountain of hypocrisy,” and Mexican Ambassador Juan Ramon De La Fuente said the Russian draft didn't respond “to the reality on the ground” or to “the pressing needs of the civilian population.”
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. The are no vetoes in the 193-member General Assembly.
Earlier Wednesday, Russia's Nebenzia, told the assembly that by considering the Ukraine-backed French-Mexican resolution, it was engaging in “another political anti-Russian show, set this time in an allegedly humanitarian context.”
Thomas-Greenfield sharply criticized Russia, saying, “In one month, Russia caused the fastest-growing humanitarian catastrophes in the world.”
According to the U.N., about 10 million Ukrainians -- a quarter of its population -- have been forced to flee their homes and are now displaced in the country or among the 3.6 million refugees, she said, and 12 million need aid and 5.6 million children are unable to go to school.
Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsy urged all nations that stand against Russia's war on his country to vote for the U.N. resolution on the humanitarian consequences of its aggression, saying this would send a powerful message aimed at helping people caught in the conflict and ending Moscow's military action.
Nebenzia countered that the emergency special session of the General Assembly is just “another political anti-Russian show, set this time in an allegedly humanitarian context.” He urged assembly members to vote against the Ukrainian-backed measure and support the South African draft that focuses solely on humanitarian issues with no “political assessment.”
The Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors were among the first of more than 70 national representatives scheduled to speak before the assembly votes on the rival resolutions on the humanitarian impact of the war. Over 60 got to deliver remarks before the meeting was adjourned until Thursday morning.
Kyslytsya said the Ukraine-backed assembly resolution focuses on the need to alleviate suffering and for “immediate cessation of hostilities by the Russian Federation.”
“The intention of the initiators and co-sponsors of the draft resolution is to ensure the words are translated into prompt actions on the ground,” he said. “It will be critical to prevent the spillover effect for the entire world,” which is why the text mentions the conflict's impact on food and energy security, especially for least-developed countries.
Nebenzia warned that adoption of that draft “will make a resolution to the situation in Ukraine more difficult.” That's because it will likely embolden Ukrainian negotiators and “nudge them to maintaining the current unrealistic position, which is not related to the situation on the ground, nor to the need to tackle the root causes” of Russia's military action, he said.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion.
The Ukraine-backed draft reiterates the demand of a March 2 resolution adopted by the assembly that Russia immediately stop its military offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all its troops, and it demands protection for all civilians and infrastructure indispensable to their survival.
The draft deplores the “dire humanitarian consequences” of Russia's aggression against Ukraine which it says “are on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades.” And it deplores Russia's shelling, airstrikes and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, particularly the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
The South African draft calls for “an immediate cessation of hostilities” as a first step in ameliorating the deteriorating humanitarian situation and encourages “political dialogue, negotiations, mediation and other peaceful means aimed at achieving lasting peace.” It makes no mention of Russia's aggression.
Russia's defeated resolution called for protection for civilians “in vulnerable situations” in Ukraine and safe passage for humanitarian aid and people seeking to leave the country, but it never mentioned the war.
It endorsed the U.N. chief's call for dialogue and negotiations and urged a negotiated cease-fire to rapidly evacuate “all civilians.” It also stressed “the need for the parties concerned to agree on humanitarian pauses to this end,” while never identifying “the parties concerned.”
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.