Israel joins UN resolution calling for Russia to leave Ukraine

Non-binding General Assembly resolution passes 141-7, with 32 abstentions; Erdan: Israel stands ‘alongside people of Ukraine in solidarity both on the ground and here in UN’

Germany's foreign minister Annalena Baerbock addresses the UN General Assembly before a vote for a UN resolution upholding Ukraine's territorial integrity and calling for a cessation of hostilities, Thursday Feb. 23, 2023 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Germany's foreign minister Annalena Baerbock addresses the UN General Assembly before a vote for a UN resolution upholding Ukraine's territorial integrity and calling for a cessation of hostilities, Thursday Feb. 23, 2023 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The UN General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution Thursday that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces, sending a strong message on the eve of the first anniversary of the invasion that Moscow’s aggression must stop.

The resolution, drafted by Ukraine in consultation with its allies, passed 141-7, with 32 abstentions. Israel was among its backers.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the vote was more evidence that not only the West backs his country.

“This vote defies the argument that the global south does not stand on Ukraine’s side,” Kuleba said. “Many countries representing Latin America, Africa, and Asia voted in favor.”

Israel, which has over the last year sought to walk a fine line between supporting Ukraine and not antagonizing Moscow, which maintains a large military presence in Syria on Israel’s northern border, voted in favor.

“For the past year Israel has stood alongside the people of Ukraine in solidarity both on the ground and here in the UN,” said Ambassador Gilad Erdan.

Erdan said Israel would expand its support for Ukraine by advancing “projects in health care and civilian infrastructure across Ukraine.” He also reiterated Israel’s offer to develop an early warning system for incoming rockets and missiles.

Israel, however, continues to resist Ukrainian calls to supply it with weapons, especially missile defense systems.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan called the vote “an overwhelming demonstration of support for Ukraine — and a clear defense of freedom for people everywhere.”

The General Assembly has become the most important UN body dealing with Ukraine because the Security Council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security, is paralyzed by Russia’s veto power. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, unlike Security Council resolutions, but serve as a barometer of world opinion.

The seven countries voting against Thursday’s resolution were Belarus, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria, North Korea, Eritrea and Mali, which has developed close military ties with Russia. Amendments proposed by Belarus would have stripped much of the language but were resoundingly defeated.

The vote was slightly below the highest total for the five previous resolutions approved by the 193-member world body since Russia sent troops and tanks across the border into its smaller neighbor on February 24, 2022. That tally, in an October resolution against Russia’s illegal annexations, won approval by 143 countries.

Foreign ministers and diplomats from more than 75 countries addressed the assembly during two days of debate, with many urging support for the resolution that upholds Ukraine’s territorial integrity, a basic principle of the UN Charter that all countries must subscribe to when they join the world organization.

The war has killed tens of thousands on both sides and has reduced entire Ukrainian cities to ruins and its impact has been felt worldwide in higher food and fuel costs and rising inflation.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, speaks after the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity and calling for a cessation of hostilities, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Venezuela’s deputy ambassador addressed the council on behalf of 16 countries that either voted against or abstained on almost all of five previous resolutions on Ukraine: Belarus, Bolivia, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Laos, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea, St. Vincent, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

While other countries focused on Russia’s actions, Venezuelan Deputy Ambassador Joaquín Pérez Ayestarán said Wednesday that all countries without exception “must stringently comply with the United Nations Charter,” a barely veiled dig at an international order long dominated by the US and Europe, and at what some call violations of the charter.

Ayestarán said the countries in his group were against what he called divisive action in the General Assembly, and for “a spirit of compromise.”

Ukrainian servicemen of the 3rd Separate Tank Iron Brigade ride on a tank during an exercise in the Kharkiv area, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters that the aggressor and the victim can’t be put on equal terms. But China’s deputy UN ambassador, Dai Bing, told the assembly Thursday: “We support Russia and Ukraine in moving towards each other. … The international community should make joint efforts to facilitate peace talks.”

China says it is neutral in the conflict and an advocate of peace talks, but has not criticized the invasion or described it as such. Beijing has condemned the US and its allies over sanctions on Moscow and military assistance to Ukraine. China and Russia have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to oppose the US-led international order.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed the strength of those ties when he met Russian leader Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow this week.

More broadly, Russia and Ukraine have been trying to win support from around the world.

The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, spoke Tuesday about the UN resolution with India’s national security adviser because “Ukraine is interested in the broadest possible support for the resolution, in particular from the countries of the global south,” a statement from Zelenskyy’s office said.

India had a Cold War dependence on the Soviet Union and has abstained several times from voting on UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Russia cease its invasion.

Less-powerful countries, including many in Africa, also have been caught up in the diplomatic wrangling.

“We were colonized, and we forgive those who colonized us. Now the colonizers are asking us to be enemies with Russia, who never colonized us; is that fair?” Uganda’s foreign minister, Abubaker Jeje Odongo, told the Sputnik news agency this month.

Russia is Africa’s top arms supplier and Odongo also noted that most of his country’s military equipment is Russian-made.

“Countries in Africa have traditionally been attached in the Cold War division to the Soviet Union, having the old nostalgia, but also Russia has good tools, how to motivate them to be on their side,” Slovak Foreign Minister Rastislav Káčer told reporters in New York on Thursday. “And then there are others, like China, who are big powers, and are very carefully following what’s going on, and calculating what’s good for them.”

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