Oct. 12 (UPI) — The United Nations General Assembly overwhelming voted Wednesday to reject Russia’s attempted illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, in a largely symbolic yet resounding rebuke of not only the Kremlin’s land grab but of its invasion that started the seven-month war.
The 193-member states voted 143 in favor of the resolution to five against. Along with Russia, Belarus, the Kremlin’s accomplice in the war, voted against the measure as did North Korea, Nicaragua and Syria.
Thirty-five nations abstained from the vote, including China, India, Pakistan, Bolivia, Cuba, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Armenia and several African countries.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States’ permanent representative to the United Nations, told reporters during a stakeout following the vote that Wednesday was “a monumental day.”
“We just saw 143 countries affirm the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter. You saw these countries stand up for territorial integrity, they stood up for sovereignty and you saw these countries stand up for this institution,” she said, adding that the vote “means that in the eyes of the world and the United Nations, Ukraine’s borders remain the same.”
The vote followed two days of speeches at the U.N. headquarters in New York after Ukraine and Albania called on the General Assembly earlier this month to reconvene the emergency special session over Russia’s attempt to annex Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson from Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin formally signed federal laws Oct. 5 to approve the annexation of the four regions, which followed the referendum the Kremlin pointed to as proof their citizenry want to leave Ukraine. Democratic nations called them a sham conducted to give the illegal land grab a veneer of legitimacy.
The resolution agreed to Wednesday condemns the referendums and the “attempted illegal annexation” of Ukrainian territory while calling on all states, international organizations and U.N. agencies to not recognize any alternation by Russia to claim status of those four regions.
It also demands that Putin “immediately and unconditionally” reverse its decision on Feb. 24 to invade Ukraine as a so-called special military operation to de-Nazify and demilitarize its neighbor.
“I think we just witnessed a very important — perhaps I even say historic moment in the General Assembly in the 21st century. One-hundred-and-forty-three votes. It’s amazing,” said Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s permanent representative of the United Nations, who has told United Nations that Russia’s war represents an existential threat to the intergovernmental organization and its charter.
The vote was also held after a similar, legally binding resolution was struck down at the U.N. Security Council by Russia and its veto.
From the floor prior to the Wednesday’ vote, Thomas-Greenfield also framed the decision on whether to approve the resolution as member states being called to defend the idea enshrined in the charter that no country should ever be allowed to take another by force.
She said the facts were clear that a U.N. member state with veto power was attempting to do just that and in the process “has not only put its neighbor in its crosshairs, but also put a bullseye on this institution’s core principle.”
“Today, it is Russia invading Ukraine. Tomorrow it could be another nation whose territory is violate. It could be you,” she said. “You could be next. What would you expect from this chamber?”
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, rejected the resolution as “politicized and clearly provocative” while highlighting the results of the Kremlin-held referendum as proof.
He accused Western nations of pursuing “their own geopolitical tasks” and of having launched “an unprecedented large-scale blackmailing and arms-twisting campaign with regard to developing states in order to make them support the anti-Russian draft resolution.”
During debate, Bob Rea, Canada’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told member states that the resolution before them was in condemnation of Russia’s attempt to “annex more” of Ukraine, referring to the Kremlin’s capture of Crimea in 2014.
He called on the nations to approve the motion and reaffirm the principles that “might does not make right.”
“This is not a special military operation. It is a war to punish and, ultimately, destroy Ukraine,” he said.