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UN vote on condemning Russia offers unexpected volte-face

The Thursday vote, during which the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four regions in Ukraine, offered a surprising volte-face on the part of countries which boycotted or abstained from previous ballots aimed to express outrage at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Thursday vote, during which the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four regions in Ukraine, offered a surprising volte-face on the part of countries which boycotted or abstained from previous ballots aimed to express outrage at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As many as 143 countries voted in favour of a resolution that also reaffirmed the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

BREAKING

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that condemns #Russia's "illegal so-called referendums" in regions within #Ukraine's internationally-recognized borders, and demands it reverses its annexation declaration.

In favour: 143

Against: 5

Abstentions: 35 pic.twitter.com/MDDIapqTGv

— UN News (@UN_News_Centre) October 12, 2022

The number of countries which backed the resolution drew out an “it’s amazing” comment from Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya. While expressing his enthusiasm at the result, he stood side by side with US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who, in turn, said the result showed Russia could not intimidate the world.

Russia garnered a small number of votes against the resolution consisting of a total of four countries all of which are verging on or are all-out dictatorships with significantly marred international reputations. The wheels of Russia’s wagon are Syria, Nicaragua, North Korea and Belarus.

Among those who abstained, numbering 35, was Russia’s strategic partner China, its top African client Algeria, as well as “neutrality-mindful” India.

The rest did not vote.

Opinion: Morocco throws Western Saharan sand in Russia’s eyes

The vote was a significant declaration of discontent with Russia’s rapacious policy. It brought out an about-face among some countries, which, in the previous votes condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or on the suspension of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, abstained, were absent or against it. These include Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei and Darussalam, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Egypt, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint-Kitts Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Suriname, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Yemen and Zambia.

The group includes some significant international actors whose swing is quite significant. The general message is that the vast majority of states, which have sympathised with Russia, are not eager to legitimise acts aimed at violating the antebellum territorial status. This, especially in the case of Morocco, is rooted in its own national territorial issues.

Rabat’s U-turn was triggered by Russia’s overconfidence that it can bully the North African monarchy and nation into sacrificing its commerce-backed neutrality for supporting the Kremlin’s expansionary ambitions in Ukraine. Why did Rabat change its mind?

The answer to the question is territorial integrity. Morocco’s top international policy is to ensure that Western Sahara remains Moroccan territory, be it in the form of an Iraqi Kurdistan-like autonomy or in any other form. In October 2021, Russia welcomed Brahim Ghali, the head of Polisario Front, an armed Algerian-backed guerilla fighting for the independence of Western Sahara. This was remembered by Morocco and after initially keeping its distance from the conflict in Ukraine, it seems the kingdom has become more and more disillusioned about remaining neutral towards Russia, which questions the very international laws according to which Rabat seeks to ensure that its own territory remains intact.

Given Morocco’s growing prestige in Africa, voting against Russia could embolden other African countries to be less Moscow-enthusiastic in the future.

Any good from condemnations and such?

The moves at the United Nations mirror what happened in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea. The General Assembly then adopted a resolution declaring the referendum invalid with 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 formal abstentions.

But whether this brings any tangible change by, for instance, encouraging Russia to back out and meet at a negotiation table where a return to the pre-war state of affairs can be worked out remains doubtful.


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