The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine Wednesday and called for its troops to immediately and completely withdraw, as Moscow's military bore down on several Ukrainian cities with airstrikes and troops.
Of the 193 member states, 181 participated in the vote. Of those, 141 countries supported the resolution condemning Moscow and five were against it – including Russia and a tiny group of its allies — Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea. Thirty-five countries abstained, but their numbers do not affect the two-thirds majority needed for adoption.
"The vote is a powerful message to the Russian Federation," Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told reporters.
Nearly 100 countries co-sponsored the measure, which mimics in tone the one that Russia vetoed in the Security Council last Friday, prompting the move to the General Assembly.
"The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters. "End hostilities in Ukraine — now. Silence the guns — now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy — now."
The European Union has worked hard to unify its 27 members and the rest of the international community against Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression.
"The Russian government stands increasingly alone. The world has stated that it must immediately stop the aggression, withdraw its troops, and abide by the rules of the U.N. Charter," European Union Ambassador Olaf Skoog said after the vote. "Russia has chosen aggression. The world has chosen peace."
From Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy welcomed the vote on Twitter, thanking those who voted in support of Ukraine and saying that they chose "the right side of history."
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield appealed to nations ahead of the vote.
"Now, at more than any other point in recent history, the United Nations is being challenged," Thomas-Greenfield said. "If the United Nations has any purpose, it is to prevent war, it is to condemn war, to stop war. That is our job here today. It is the job you were sent here to do — not just by your capitals, but by all of humanity."
The resolution "condemns" the February 24 declaration by Russia of a "special military operation" in Ukraine, and "deplores in the strongest terms" Moscow's violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter which says members shall refrain from "the threat or use of force against territorial integrity or political independence of any state."
Kyslytsya told the international community that his country is fighting for its life against Russia's military machine.
"They have come to the Ukrainian soil not only to kill some of us, not only to shift our cause and priorities, they have come to deprive Ukraine of the very right to exist," he told the assembly.
Russia intensifies offensive
It appeared unlikely the international condemnation would do much to change Moscow's calculus, as its offensive intensified Wednesday and civilians continued to flee to the borders seeking safety. The U.N. refugee agency estimates more than 874,000 people have fled Ukraine this week and says it is contingency planning for up to 4 million refugees.
"The aim of our special operation is announced on the basis of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, and will be achieved," Russia's envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, said ahead of the vote. "However, we are not carrying out strikes on civilian facilities and civilians. Don't believe fakes spread around the internet on this."
Nations take a stance
The overwhelming majority of nations that took to the podium in the general assembly this week expressed support for Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Many called for the reversal of Putin's decision to recognize two pro-Russian breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent states, as well as outrage that he has placed Russia's nuclear forces on alert.
"Russia's war marks the dawn of a new era. It's a watershed moment," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the meeting on Tuesday. "Yesterday's certainties are gone. Today, we face a new reality that none of us chose. It is a reality that President Putin has forced upon us."
A series of smaller countries from all parts of the world offered a chorus of support for the resolution and the Ukrainian people.
"Antigua and Barbuda fully support the resolution that is before the house and we call on all members, especially small island states, to recognize that this is protecting the principles of the [U.N.] Charter'" Ambassador Walton Webson said during Tuesday's debate. "Might is not right."
"This is not a peacekeeping mission, but a war of aggression," Micronesia's ambassador emphasized, referring to a claim by Russian officials. "It is clear beyond any doubt who is the aggressor and who is the victim."
Ambassador Jane Chigiyal added that Micronesia has severed its diplomatic relations with Moscow.
"In the eternal and inspiring worlds of Bob Marley: Let us get up, stand up, stand up for the rights of all the people of Ukraine because today we are all Ukraine," Jamaica's envoy said.
Myanmar, which is still represented at the United Nations by the ambassador of the pre-military coup junta, expressed solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Russian arms sent to the Myanmar military are fueling that country's instability and conflict.
"The people of Myanmar are facing similar suffering resulted from the inhumane acts, atrocities, crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar military," Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun said Wednesday.
Russian supporters scarce
Moscow could not even muster support from some of its closest allies like Serbia, which voted to condemn the military offensive.
Other countries that traditionally align with Moscow, including China, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba and Pakistan, chose to abstain in the vote. But Russia did have a handful of supporters.
Belarus has aided Russia's invasion, allowing it to amass troops in its territory and to launch missiles and forces from its territory into northern Ukraine.
"We categorically reject accusations against Belarus that we are involved in unlawful use of force against Ukraine," Ambassador Valentyn Rybakov said.
He said his president, Alexander Lukashenko, is "sparing no efforts" to get the two sides to talk. Reports say a second round of talks is expected to take place Thursday in a Belarussian border town between Russian and Ukrainian delegations.
Moscow has given military support to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime and civil war since 2015. At the general assembly, the Syrian envoy said the draft resolution is a "flagrant political hypocrisy."
Russia has also tried to get international sanctions on North Korea for its illicit nuclear program eased and lifted. Pyongyang reciprocated at the general assembly by blaming the Ukraine situation on the United States.
Uniting for peace resolution
The General Assembly met this week under what is known as the Uniting for Peace resolution. It allows special meetings of the entire membership to be called when the U.N. Security Council is deadlocked on an issue and cannot exercise its mandate to maintain or restore international peace and security — in this case, because of Russia's veto last Friday of a similar resolution.
Although the council has historically been divided on many issues, Uniting for Peace has been invoked fewer than a dozen times since it was adopted in 1950, according to the Security Council Report, which tracks U.N. meetings. The last time was 40 years ago, in 1982, concerning Israel.
Source: Voice of America