The Ukraine Crisis Comes to the UN

Not long ago, any ordinary crisis worked its way through the United Nations with some predictability: A meeting of the Security Council was announced. Official briefings took place and predictable speeches were made. A resolution may or may not have been passed, or a presidential statement issued. Not a lot of global media reported on these events.

Then, Ukraine was invaded by a revanchist neighbor, Russia, with its military might and power. The geopolitical fallout was quick and clear. Within four days of the launch on February 24 of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation,” the Security Council, stymied by Russian opposition, moved the case to the General Assembly, only the 11th time this has been done since the founding of the UN, according to the organization’s records. it was an extraordinary move.

The General Assembly has no vetoes or enforcement power, but resolutions that followed there in February and March gave small countries a chance to demonstrate in their votes how vulnerable they apparently perceived themselves to be to interference by larger neighbors. In the 193-member Assembly, 141 of the governments backed a strongly worded condemnation of what became known as “Putin’s war.” Was this a vote against Russia or against great-power hegemony? A parsing of the votes cast in the General Assembly provides evidence.

Russia could find only four supporters to vote against the condemnation in addition to its own “No” vote: Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria. Not backing Russia, China chose to abstain, while India broke with dozens of democracies and also refused to condemn the Russian invasion. Noteworthy was that the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to bring along its smaller South Asian regional neighbors, familiar with New Delhi’s bullying.

Bhutan, Nepal, and the Maldives voted to condemn Russia. The current president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, is a former Maldivian foreign minister. Similarly, in Southeast Asia, where India was trying to build influence, a majority of governments also voted “Yes” on condemnation. In the Caribbean and Pacific regions, a majority of small states also backed the condemnation of Russia.

Putin continues to hold high ratings among Russians, with tight media control. But it was soon apparent that he had lost the international media war, hands down. Unfettered reporters, foreign and Ukrainian, swarm Ukraine with high-tech equipment, assisted by Ukrainians savvy about drones, mobile phones, and interactive Internet connections. Countless in local towns and cities and among refugees crossing borders with Ukrainian nations dramatic accounts of their own experiences as well as what they have heard from others.

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