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Isolated Russia faces rare UN emergency session on its invasion of Ukraine

Meeting, which opens with moment of silence, seen as a barometer of democracy in a world where autocratic sentiment is rising; ‘Enough is enough,’ says UN secretary-general

In this image taken from UNTV video, United Nation Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine to deplore Russia's actions toward the country and plead for diplomacy, at UN headquarters, on February 23, 2022. (UNTV via AP)
In this image taken from UNTV video, United Nation Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine to deplore Russia's actions toward the country and plead for diplomacy, at UN headquarters, on February 23, 2022. (UNTV via AP)

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Facing deepening isolation on the world stage, Russia faced a crucial test of support on Monday as the 193 members of the UN General Assembly held an extraordinary debate on a resolution condemning Moscow’s “unprovoked armed aggression” in Ukraine.

During the rare emergency special session — just the 11th the Assembly has held in the United Nations’ 77-year history — Russia defended its decision to invade its neighbor as member state after member state made a plea for peace.

“The fighting in Ukraine must stop,” warned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, after the session began with a minute of silence for the victims of the conflict. “Enough is enough. Soldiers need to move back to their barracks. Leaders need to move to peace. Civilians must be protected,” he pleaded.

More than 100 countries were expected to speak as the global body decides if it will support the resolution that demands Russia immediately withdraws its troops from Ukraine. The resolution is non-binding, but will serve as a marker of how isolated Russia is.

A vote may not come until Tuesday. Its authors hope they may exceed 100 votes in favor, including Israel — though countries including Syria, China, Cuba and India are expected to either support Russia or abstain.

It will be seen as a barometer of democracy in a world where autocratic sentiment has been on the rise, diplomats said, pointing to such regimes in Myanmar, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, Venezuela, Nicaragua — and, of course, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 28, 2015. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

“If Ukraine does not survive, the United Nations will not survive. Have no illusions,” said Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, imploring countries to support the resolution. “We can save Ukraine, save the United Nations, save democracy and defend the values we believe in.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia reiterated Moscow’s stance — flatly rejected by Kyiv and its Western allies — that its military operation was launched to protect residents of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

“The hostilities were unleashed by Ukraine against its own residents,” he said from the podium. “Russia is seeking to end this war,” he added.

Assembly president Abdulla Shahid led all of the UN’s 193 members in the moment of meditation before calling for “an immediate ceasefire.”

“Nothing can justify the use of nuclear weapons. The guns are talking now, but the path of dialogue must always remain open,” he pleaded.

If Moscow wins in Ukraine, the international order could be “changed forever,” one senior diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, underscoring the gravity of the moment at the body charged with global peace and security.

This photograph shows a view of a school in Kharkiv, Ukraine, that was destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces, on February 28, 2022. (Sergey Bobok/AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Since then Russia has become an international pariah as its forces do battle on the streets of Ukraine’s cities, facing a barrage of sanctions including a ban from Western airspace and key financial networks.

On Sunday, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear “deterrence forces” onto high alert, prompting an international outcry, with the United States calling the order “totally unacceptable.”

Russia has pleaded “self-defense” under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

But that has been roundly rejected by Western countries and the UN, which accuse Moscow of violating Article 2 of the Charter, requiring its members to refrain from the threat or use of force to resolve a crisis.

‘No ordinary moment’

The move to hold the emergency session was sparked by Russia on Friday using its veto to block a Security Council resolution that condemned Moscow’s invasion and called for the immediate withdrawal of its troops.

The United Nations Security Council meets at the UN Headquarters in New York City, on February 27, 2022. (Andrea Renault/AFP)

Russia voted against the resolution, but it did not have veto power to derail the referral of the war to the General Assembly, allowed under a 1950 resolution called “Uniting for Peace.”

It allows for members of the Security Council to seize the General Assembly for a special session if the five permanent members — Russia, the US, Britain, France and China — fail to agree to act together to maintain peace.

Only the support of nine of the council’s 15 members is required to call an emergency special session of the General Assembly.

Eleven countries voted in favor. Russia opposed, while the United Arab Emirates, China and India abstained.

“The council members who supported this resolution recognize that this is no ordinary moment,” said US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Separately Monday, the Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, where up to seven million people are expected to flee the fighting.

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