As the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is fast approaching, a draft resolution is circulating among the United Nations’ 193 countries emphasizing the need for a “just and lasting peace” for Ukraine, while Western diplomats are shooting for as many positive votes as possible in the General Assembly next week, when it votes on the resolution and marks Russia’s yearlong destruction against its neighbor.
The vote is tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Feb. 23, during an emergency special session on the war in Ukraine, but that could change. The draft, seen by PassBlue, is meant to bring renewed vigorous attention to the endless violations of the sovereignty of Ukraine and send a message of unity to the world — especially to Russia and its most prominent allies Belarus, Iran and Syria — that the assault violates the very foundation of the UN Charter.
The resolution also reaffirms that “no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal” and once again calls on Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally” withdraw its forces from Ukraine “within its internationally recognized borders,” although no demand for a cease-fire is made.
The emergency session kicks off on Feb. 22 at 3 P.M., followed on Feb. 23, with dozens of speeches lined up. The session was requested by Albania, Australia, Britain, Canada, Guatemala, Japan, Moldova, South Korea, Türkiye, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union delegation, representing 27 countries.
A human-rights focused event will be held at the UN on victims of the war on Feb. 22 as well, followed by a Security Council meeting on Feb. 24. At least a dozen high-level national officials from Europe and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken are expected to participate in the UN meetings. It is unclear if President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend or speak by videoconference and whether his foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, will be there in person. (President Joe Biden is planning to visit Poland from Feb. 20-22, and he could ostensibly meet with Zelensky.)
It is also unclear, as numerous diplomats have conceded, how Russia will deal with the UN lineup next week, given that the country will be on the defensive and a new Russian military offensive is reportedly underway. One diplomat said that Russia’s close knowledge of arcane UN procedural rules could trip up the Assembly vote on the draft resolution, so the voting could be moved to the beginning of the session, on Feb. 22, to outmaneuver Russia. The country is widely accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine for attacking civilians, civilian infrastructure, committing sexual violence and violating the Geneva Convention rules of war. [Update, Feb. 15: The Russian mission to the UN announced it has requested a Security Council meeting on Feb. 22 regarding the “sabotage” on the “North Stream” pipeline last September.)
Covering ground in earlier General Assembly resolutions since the war started on Feb. 24, the new resolution reiterates that “one year since the start of the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” the achievement of a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace would constitute a significant contribution to strengthening international peace and security.” Yet no serious peace talks have been held since March, and nothing lies on the horizon, which the resolution doesn’t mention.
The other main goal, numerous diplomats say, is for the resolution to win as many yes votes as possible, so that could mean a baseline of 143 in favor, although one diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations said 130 would be optimal. The highest tally so far in the Assembly on the war has been 143, when UN members voted in October on a Western-led resolution condemning Putin’s illegal attempt to annex four territories of Ukraine: Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia; and demanding that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw” from Ukraine. Five countries voted no — Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Belarus — 35 abstained and 5 countries didn’t vote. (The Kherson region was retaken by Ukraine at about the same time as the vote, and the battle for Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively the Donbas region, is being fought over inch by inch.)
The October vote topped an earlier record on an Assembly resolution, in March, condemning Russia after the initial February assault, with 141 yes votes. The resolution got five no votes as well — Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, Russia and Syria — and 35 abstentions. Those in the latter camp included India, South Africa and China.
The arena for condemning President Vladimir Putin’s invasion through the UN has been relegated to the General Assembly since the Security Council, the UN body with the most valid legal means to end the conflict, is handicapped as Russia, a veto holder, can slap down attempts to act positively. Russia vetoed a draft resolution in the Council one day after the invasion, demanding that Moscow immediately stop the assault and withdraw all troops. Russia also vetoed a Council resolution on Sept. 30 condemning its attempted annexation of the four regions of Ukraine and calling on the decision to be unconditionally reversed.
In November, the Assembly approved its last resolution in 2022 on Ukraine, agreeing to an international path for war reparations. Ninety-four countries voted yes, 14 voted against and 73 abstained. The resolutions of the General Assembly are not binding. After the vote, the US reportedly advised Ukraine during Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s visit to Kyiv that action in the Assembly on the war should pause, given the underwhelming response to the focus on reparations.
It remains to be seen whether any of the 35 abstentions that marked the two major Assembly resolutions will swing toward Ukraine in the draft resolution on the war’s one-year toll. Several diplomats told PassBlue that it was written to appeal to countries that are constantly invoking the urgency for peace talks, both in the Security Council and outside it, and to countries that don’t want to alienate Russia for various reasons, including jeopardizing trade deals, forgoing ideological alliances and the war grabbing the global spotlight as vulnerable countries suffer from the economic fallout.
Yet the resolution, which one diplomat said was more “balanced” than the original presented by Ukraine, repeatedly addresses the damaging effects of the war on food security and energy worldwide. Prices for such basic goods like bread have risen sky-high in developing countries like Nigeria, though the war is only one reason for such burdens.
Zelensky apparently has approved the latest draft resolution, despite that it omits a direct reference to his 10-point peace formula that he outlined in September. One paragraph in the draft echoes the peace proposal partly, urging all countries to “cooperate in the spirit of solidarity to address the global impact of the war on food security, energy, finance, the environment, and nuclear security and safety. . . . ” It calls on member states to “support the Secretary-General in his efforts to address these impacts.”
The proposed resolution is being circulated as Western and allied powers are redoubling their goals to back Ukraine and inflict damage on Russia in the battlefield. The US announced in January that it would be sending 31 of its globally sought-after battle tanks, M1 Abrams, to Ukraine. Germany also agreed to transfer 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks to Ukraine in what analysts said was a watershed moment in the deepening of global alliances against Russia.
Zelensky paid a historic 10-hour visit to the US on Dec.21, 2022, when he met Biden, held a press conference and addressed a joint session of the Congress. In his speech, he presented a Ukrainian flag from the battle of Bakhmut, which endures to this day, to the outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and received a US flag from Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.
In the run-up to Zelensky’s visit, the State Department announced an additional $1.85 billion in aid to Ukraine, bringing the total US military assistance to the country to a thumping $21.9 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration’s support of the war. In Europe, Jens Stoltenberg, the head of Nato, said recently that Putin’s launching new offenses in Ukraine means that the priority of the alliance is to send fighter jets quickly.
In addition to considering the Ukrainian territories acquired by the threat or use of force as illegal, the resolution includes provisions on how prisoners of war, detainees and internees should be treated, specifically in line with the Geneva Conventions. These comprise four treaties, and with three additional protocols negotiated in the aftermath of World War II, they set legal standards for humanitarian treatment during periods of armed conflict. Swaps of prisoners of war have been occurring between Russia and Ukraine, reflecting how both sides can agree on one fruitful step.
Although Russia hardly seems ready to withdraw from Ukraine, an act that could prelude peace talks, it has suffered a hefty toll, with some 200,000 of its troops believed to have either been wounded or killed so far. Putin hasn’t clinched any major battlefield victory as the critical fight for the Donbas marches on, despite Ukrainians being outnumbered enormously in troop numbers alone.
Casualties on the Ukrainian side have been staggering, too, even though it (and Russia) is unwilling to disclose precise figures on its losses. According to the UN, the war risks putting 90 percent of Ukraine “freefall into poverty.” Nearly 50 percent of its energy facilities have been knocked off, and damage to the country’s vital infrastructure has risen to upward of $138 billion.
Yet the Russian delegation at the UN and Putin’s inner circle still insist on publicly calling the war a “special military operation.”
This article was updated to reflect new information that the Assembly vote could occur on Feb. 22.
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Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist and an Asia Times correspondent. A recipient of the Chevening Scholarship from Britain’s Foreign Office, he is a 2022 World Press Institute fellow with the University of St. Thomas and a Dag Hammarskjold Fund for Journalists fellow with the United Nations. He was recently selected as the silver winner of the Prince Albert II of Monaco and UN Correspondents Association Global Prize for Coverage of Climate Change. He contributes to Foreign Policy, openDemocracy, Middle East Eye, Responsible Statecraft, The New Arab and Al-Monitor. His Twitter account: https://twitter.com/KZiabari