Updated Feb 26 with news from the G20 Finance Ministers meeting that closed yesterday in India. In the media, there were expectations that a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote held on February 23, just the day before the one-year “anniversary” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine would have garnered “a massive majority” while Global South countries including China, South Africa and India were expected to abstain.
The results confirmed expectations: Out of the total 193 member states, fully 141 voted for the resolution, that’s more than the two-thirds majority needed to pass. Remarkably only 32 abstained and the seven naysayers were the usual ones: Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Syria and of course, Russia.
In favour: 141
Abstentions: 32 pic.twitter.com/WnEoRp94kx
— UN News (@UN_News_Centre) February 23, 2023
Compare this result with the UNGA vote last year: On March 2, 2022, there was a similar UNGA resolution calling for Russia to withdraw its military forces from Ukraine: The number of countries that voted in favor of the resolution was the same, 141, while 35 abstained and 5 countries voted against it. The naysayers were Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Syria and as always, Russia.
Before reading too much in the UNGA numbers, it is worth recalling that the vote at the UN General Assembly is not binding and does not have the force of law. However, it is still an important indicator of where the international community stands on the conflict.
Moreover, it is worth noting the changed status of the G20 as a similar indicator that up to the war in Ukraine had been viewed as more telling. In the last decade, the G20 had increasingly become a major political tool in the international community, even displacing the importance of the UN, as it was thought by many observers as a better way to take the pulse of the global political situation since the G20 includes all the world’s political heavyweights.
But the G20 is now seeing its usefulness voided by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it is increasingly threatened by paralysis. This is confirmed by the latest G20 meeting of Finance Ministers that concluded yesterday in Bengaluru, India, with no final consensus statement to condemn the war in Ukraine as Russia and China refused to sign onto such a statement. As Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki told reporters, “It’s becoming difficult for the G20 to engage in constructive discussion because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is an act that shakes the foundations of the global order”.
This leaves the UN standing as still the best indicator of where world politics is going.
Considering the two UNGA resolutions and how they were voted on, it is clear that the positions in the international community on how to address the ongoing conflict in Ukraine have remained largely the same, with only some minor changes among countries in the Global South. Let’s see what happened.
A slight shift at UNGA but overall, no real change in favor of Russia
Comparing the two UNGA Resolution votes, it is clear that the majority of UN member states supporting Russian withdrawal from Ukraine remains largely unchanged since the start of the war. That doesn’t mean the exact same countries voted: While the West voted massively in favor as before, there have been some (minor) changes in the Global South, for example, Iraq moved from abstention a year ago to voting in support of the resolution.
Moreover, it is a notable fact that Latin America generally supported the resolution, including those Latin American countries that have notoriously tried to remain neutral with respect to Russia, repeatedly avoiding outright condemnation – like Mexico or Brazil (when Bolsonaro was in charge). As is well known, no Latin American country, except for Costa Rica, joined the sanctions regime against Russia. Calls for weapons donations to Ukraine were rejected by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia. So a vote for the UNGA resolution coming from this region does amount to a slap for Russia.
Likewise, there has been a slight change in the number of countries that abstained from the vote, which dropped from 35 to 32 while naysayers grew with 2 additional countries: Mali and Nicaragua: This could be construed as a win for Russia, except that those are two countries deep in political chaos, as explained below.
If anyone is surprised to see African countries – and one Latin American country, Nicaragua – in the UN naysayer list, they shouldn’t be. As far as Africa goes, with France withdrawing last year as President Macron decided to bring home French troops that had been deployed against Jihadists and other terrorists, Russia moved in with its notorious Wagner Group, notably in Mali. Earlier this month, Malian authorities welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a visit aimed at strengthening security and economic cooperation.
But the Wagner Group is present in other French-speaking African countries as well, such as Central African Republic, Chad, D.R. Congo and Burkina Faso, thriving on the local political chaos.
As to Nicaragua, it has been experiencing for years an unprecedented human rights crisis caused by the erosion of democracy and the rule of law as President Ortega maintains absolute control over the country’s institutions, including the judiciary and legislative branch, and is systematically silencing dissenting voices. And Russia in fact has never wavered in its support of Nicaragua since the Cold War.
Of the countries which abstained only two matter: China and India
The list of countries that abstained in this year’s UNGA vote are:
Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, China, Congo, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Togo, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.
In 2022, the abstention list was somewhat different (the difference is due to absence) and included Iraq, Madagascar, Senegal, South Sudan and Tanzania, as well as the two countries (the aforementioned Mali and Nicaragua) that joined Russia in the 2023 nay list.
Of these, the only ones that truly matter on the international chessboard are China and India, and secondarily South Africa. As described in a recent Impakter article, China is notoriously involved in a complex balancing act, trying to support Russia without incurring Washington’s wrath, while India, sticking to its neutral ground, is engaged in purchasing oil from Russia on the cheap (and reselling to Europe and elsewhere for a better price).
Recently, an argument has been made that BRICS is “aiding and abetting Russia’s war in Ukraine“. But with Brazil voting in favor of the UNGA Resolution on both occasions, the argument appears somewhat unconvincing. And Argentina also said to be poised to join an expanded BRICS with support from Russia, has consistently voted like Brazil, in favor of the resolution. As to the other supposed BRICS candidates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, they have also consistently voted in support of the resolution.
And when it comes to Iran which is said to eventually join BRICS, well, the matter is closed, there is no change here: Iran has always abstained. And it has shown its unfailing and continuing support of Russia with its deadly drones wreaking death and havoc in Ukraine.
In short, the resolve to sustain Ukraine remains unchanged, and whatever small political shift can be noted at the UN is only the work of political lightweights – in the sense, that these are countries that cannot change the course of the war.
The other main event at the UN on February 24: A heated debate at the UN Security Council (UNSC) that could open doors
A heated debate in the UNSC on the anniversary of the war in Ukraine turned into yet another classic UNSC debate where everyone is at loggerheads, with Russia’s veto threat looming in the background. Unsurprisingly it led to no resolution of any kind, merely giving voice to both indignation (at the war) and dissent (from Russia).
Still, there is no question that most speakers condemned crimes committed by Russian troops in the past year, with many spotlighting the forced deportation of tens of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russian families. And most also called attention to the UNGA resolution adopted the day before and support Ukraine President Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan to restore respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We should never lose sight of the human drama,” said Brazil’s representative, urging the international community to put aside illusions about a military solution. He voiced concern about the armed stalemate on the ground, triumphalist rhetoric on both sides and prospects of new military offensives, noting that time has come to also give voice to those who want to speak in ways to build peace. International humanitarian law and its principles are not optional, he emphasized, adding that countries such as his — which are not directly involved in the conflict — have a constructive role to play in fostering dialogue.
China’s delegate, stressing that the international community must think about how to stop the fighting as soon as possible, pointed to the peace plan just issued by China calling for a comprehensive ceasefire – a proposal that has won support from Ukraine that sees “some merit” in it. The strengthening of military blocs will not bring about peace, he observed, calling on the international community to create platforms for negotiations — the only way to resolve the conflict.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded the Security Council: “The guns are talking now, but in the end we all know that the path of diplomacy and accountability is the road to a just and sustainable peace,” he said, painting a bleak portrait of the situation in Ukraine, where 17.6 million people — 40 percent of the population — require humanitarian assistance.
Life is a living hell for the people of that country, he said, with 30 percent of pre-war jobs erased and nearly 40 percent of Ukrainians unable to afford or access enough food. The war has caused a displacement crisis not seen in Europe in decades, with 8 million Ukrainian refugees and 5.4 million people internally displaced.
However, progress has been made under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, he noted, reporting that 20 million metric tons of foodstuffs have now been safely reconnected to global supply chains on more than 700 ships, helping to bring down prices around the world. He also urged all parties to implement a nuclear safety protection zone at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station to avoid a serious accident with potentially disastrous consequences.
Wise words we should all listen to, and more than that, act upon.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Peace in Ukraine flag Source: Wikimedia cc