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Countries Resoundingly Demand Russia’s Withdrawal From Ukraine in the War’s 1-Year Mark


During a two-day special session of the UN General Assembly to debate a draft resolution marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the country’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, above, warned diplomats not to hide behind “neutrality” in their votes on the document. It won vast approval, with 141 yes votes. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

On the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale brutal war in Ukraine, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution demanding that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally” withdraw its military forces from Ukraine; called for a “cessation in hostilities” and stressed the urgent need to reach a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace” that adheres to the principles enshrined in the UN Charter.

Of the 193 members of the Assembly, 141 voted in favor of the resolution, 7 voted against and 32 abstained. Thirteen countries did not cast a vote; one reason may be that some are overdue in paying their annual UN obligations.

During the three days of events to mark the yearlong invasion by Russia on its neighbor, the UN member states and Secretary-General António Guterres continue to grapple with the meaning of the war and how to end it. The vote on Feb. 23 will be followed by a ministerial meeting in the Security Council on Feb. 24. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to participate.

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“We are satisfied with the outcome, and the message is clear,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, told a throng of reporters and diplomats after the Feb. 23 vote. “It doesn’t matter what Russia tries and how it attempts to undermine international order and the coalition supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity, it fails one time after another. The coalition is there, and it will be there as long as it is needed for Ukraine to prevail.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy, spoke to reporters after Kuleba, saying: “Today’s vote was really historic. You saw one year after Russia’s illegal, unprovoked, full-scale invasion into Ukraine where the countries of the world stand . . . we stand together. We stand with Ukraine as long as it takes.”

On Twitter, more member states chimed in. Britain wrote: “#BREAKING Today @UN 141 countries stood with #Ukraine and voted to defend the UN Charter. Only 6 voted with Russia. The world remains behind Ukraine. Russia must stop its aggression and end this war.” Estonia’s mission to the UN tweeted: “The world has spoken: neocolonial imperialistic Russia should stop its aggression & get out of sovereign Ukraine immediately. This is the only real path towards a just & lasting #PeaceInUkraine.”

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Germany joined in: “Again, a overwhelming majority of States in the General Assembly rallies behind #Resolution calling for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, protecting #Ukraine’s sovereignty & integrity.”

Although the yes votes predominated among Europe, a range of global South countries voted affirmatively, although in Africa, which has been difficult for Ukraine and its allies to corral for relevant Assembly resolutions, Morocco, Lesotho and South Sudan joined in. Still, many African nations abstained, such as South Africa, Gabon and Mozambique. China, India and Iran abstained as did most Central Asian countries.

The seven member states who voted against the resolution grew by one since the General Assembly widely approved a resolution in October, condemning Russia’s illegal attempt to annex four Ukrainian territories. (It won 143 votes.) Belarus, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria voted no with Russia. Mali switched from its consistent abstentions to no on Feb. 23, now that it is depending more on Russia to fight terrorism at home.

When asked by a reporter whether he thought support from non-Western countries was waning, Kuleba said the 141 yes votes cast on Thursday, held after nearly two days of speeches, confirmed that there was broader support for Ukraine beyond the borders of the collective West.

“This vote defies the argument that the global South does not stand on Ukraine’s side because many countries representing Latin America, Africa and Asia voted in favor today,” Kuleba said, who arrived in New York City this week from Kyiv to take part in the Assembly debate on the draft resolution as well as the Security Council meeting on Feb. 24. “Some didn’t, but there are very few of them. And this number [of no votes] is incomparable to the number of votes cast in favor of the resolution.”

The Assembly session began at 3 P.M. on Feb. 22, continued late into the evening, and resumed at 10 A.M. the next day, followed by the vote on the Ukraine-led draft resolution, which had 75 co-sponsors. To succeed, the draft required a two-thirds majority of yes votes by those present and voting. It’s the sixth resolution to be voted on in the Assembly on Ukraine since the start of Russia’s war on Feb. 24, 2022.

In addition to a “just and lasting peace” in Ukraine, the resolution also calls for the “proper and lawful treatment of all prisoners of war, the release of all unlawfully detained persons, the return of civilians forcibly transferred and deported, including children,” and “immediate cessation” of attacks on critical civilian infrastructure.

Nodding to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “10-point peace formula,” the resolution urges all member states to “cooperate” in “the spirit of solidarity” to address the “global impacts of war,” including food security, energy, finance, the environment and nuclear security and safety.

In her remarks at the Assembly debate, Thomas-Greenfield described the vote as one that will reveal “where the nations of the world stand on the matter of peace in Ukraine.”

Resolutions passed by the Assembly are not binding but often reflect broader political alliances and gauge where countries fall on a spectrum between war and peace.

Josep Borrell, center, and EU ministers at the UN after the vote on the Ukraine Resolution on February 23, 2023.
After the vote, Europeans addressed reporters, led by Josep Borrell, center, the European Union foreign affairs minister, with the bloc’s foreign ministers who took part in the General Assembly session on Ukraine, Feb. 23, 2023. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Guterres said in his remarks on Feb. 22 that “the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stands as a grim milestone” and violates the UN Charter and international law.

“The UN Charter is unambiguous,” he added, before citing the document’s text: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

As he has maintained from the start of Russia’s invasion almost a year ago: “War is not the solution. War is the problem.” (On the night of Feb. 23, 2022, after Russian troops advanced on Ukraine, Guterres said in a plea, below, “In the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia.”)

Brazil, which as an elected member of the Security Council repeatedly emphasizes the need for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, said that it backed the Assembly resolution because of its emphasis on such efforts.

Kuleba opened the debate by defending his country’s “legitimate” right to “self-defense” against Russia, “who wants to destroy” Ukraine’s sovereignty. He also warned member states not to hide behind “neutrality.”

“I know that some still think and sometimes say we want to be friends with both Ukraine and Russia. . . . I can understand that, [however] the problem is that in this war, there are no two equal sides,” he said. “There is an aggressor and the victim. I understand that there are still some countries that do not want to take Ukraine’s side for various reasons. But it’s not about that. It’s about taking the side of the United Nations Charter. . . . “

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began roughly around 9:50 P.M. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, when, during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council — called to tamp down escalating tensions — reports of explosions in Kyiv and Kharkiv, an industrial city 26 miles from the Russian border, were first reported by media outlets on Twitter.

However, in Ukraine, the invasion began during the early morning hours of Feb. 24, 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of “a special military operation” meant to de-Nazify and demilitarize Ukraine.

One year later of persistent attacks by Russia on Ukrainian territory, the latest totals from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have recorded more than 20,000 civilian casualties in the country. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that Russia’s war has sent eight million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries across Europe and internally displaced six million people. The Refugee Agency also estimates that 17.6 million people in Ukraine will need humanitarian assistance in 2023. Before the war, Ukraine’s total population hovered around 41 million.

In a tweet on Feb. 22, Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said that since the start of Putin’s war, his office has documented “over 68,000 [alleged]  #RussianWarCrimes.”

Additionally, as previously reported by PassBlue, Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s envoy to the UN, has been leading an effort to create a UN-backed international tribunal to prosecute Russia’s senior-most government and military officials for the crime of aggression. Considered the “mother of all crimes,” the crime of aggression is recognized as the one that makes all other atrocity crimes — including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — possible.

In his remarks from the rostrum in the Assembly on Feb. 22, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia remained unrepentant. He referred to the draft resolution as “emptied out” and “anti-Russian,” saying Moscow had to carry out its “special military operation” to protect the pro-Russian people of the Donbas, the hotly contested region in eastern Ukraine, from the Kyiv regime. The war could have been avoided, Nebenzia added, if the “collective West” — referring to the US and its Nato and European allies — hadn’t “brazenly ignored” Russia’s national security concerns.

Vasily Nebenzya, Russian Ambassador to the UN and his deputy Dmitry Polyanskiy at the UN on February 23, 2023
Russia’s envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, right, and his top deputy, Dmitry Polyanskiy, attending the General Assembly session, Feb. 23, 2023. The countries that voted with Russia against the resolution were Belarus, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a research group in Germany that tracks aid to Ukraine, the US, between Jan. 24, 2022, and Jan. 15, 2023, has pledged over $40 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, followed by Britain with $5 billion and Europe with $3 billion. In total, the US has committed roughly $80 billion of military, humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine.

In a surprising visit to Kyiv, on Monday, Feb.20, President Joe Biden, in a press briefing with Zelensky, declared another $500 million in military aid to help the Ukrainian people.

Biden then traveled to Warsaw to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Feb. 21 to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion. In a fiery speech outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Biden double-downed on the West’s support for Ukraine.

“One year into this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition,” he said. “But he still doubts our conviction. He doubts our staying power. He doubts our continued support for Ukraine. He doubts whether NATO can remain unified. But there should be no doubt: Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.”

Not to be outshined, on Feb. 21, in a speech Putin delivered to members of Russia’s Federation Assembly, he blamed the West for starting “this war, while we used force and are using it to stop the war.”

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the 1-year anniversary?

Dawn Clancy is a New York City based reporter who focuses on women’s issues, international conflict and diplomacy. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Previously, she has written for The Washington Post and HuffPost.

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Countries Resoundingly Demand Russia’s Withdrawal From Ukraine in the War’s 1-Year Mark
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