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'They have come to Ukraine to deprive our right to exist'

UN General Assembly, including Israel, votes overwhelmingly to condemn Russia

141 in favor; North Korea, Syria, Belarus, Eritrea vote with Russia; 35 abstain, including China, Iran, India, South Africa; Israel among 96 co-sponsors after keeping lower profile

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

141-5 with 35 abstentions: The results of a UN vote to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine, March 2, 2022 (Courtesy)
141-5 with 35 abstentions: The results of a UN vote to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine, March 2, 2022 (Courtesy)

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to adopt a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Israel joining 140 other countries in the 193-member body to demand that Moscow immediately withdraw its forces from the soil of its sovereign neighbor.

The final tally of the vote on the resolution, entitled “Aggression against Ukraine,” was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.

The only countries that voted against the resolution alongside Russia were Syria, North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea — a powerful indication of the international isolation that Russian President Vladimir Putin faces for invading his country’s smaller neighbor. Among those that abstained were China, India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and South Africa.

Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion.

After Russia vetoed a similar, albeit legally binding, resolution in the Security Council on February 25, Ukraine and its supporters won approval for an emergency special session — the first since 1997 — to try to spotlight opposition to Russia’s invasion. What unfolded was over two days of speeches that began on Monday in which more than 110 countries’ representatives took to the plenum podium to sound off on the invasion of Ukraine.

Israel sent its Deputy UN Ambassador Noa Furman to address the emergency session on Tuesday, instead of Ambassador Gilad Erdan, in an apparent effort to downplay the Israeli stance and avoid a diplomatic spat with Russia. A source familiar with the matter said the decision by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also had to do with a lack of confidence in Erdan, a former Likud minister. Erdan’s office, for its part, has carefully avoided weighing in on the matter.

Members of the General Assembly vote on a resolution during a special session of the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters on March 2, 2022 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Regardless, Furman read a statement urging Russia to cease its attack on Ukraine and calling the invasion “a serious violation of the international order.”

Israel also was among 96 countries that co-sponsored Wednesday’s resolution — a step it refused to take last week when a similar resolution came before the Security Council. That decision led US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield to express her disappointment to Erdan.

Since tensions between Russia and Ukraine began escalating, Israel has sought to avoid aligning too closely with either side. It’s one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia, which controls the airspace over Syria, in which Israel operates to target Iranian proxies.

Wednesday’s resolution stated that Russia’s military operations in Ukraine “are on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades and that urgent action is needed to save this generation from the scourge of war.” It “urges the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict” and reaffirmed the assembly’s commitment “to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

The resolution deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s use of force and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.

The measure also called on Russia to reverse a decision to recognize two separatist parts of eastern Ukraine as independent.

As results of the vote came in, UN delegates in the General Assembly chamber rose to their feet and applauded, drowning out the speaker announcing the final tally.

Before the vote, Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said of the invading Russian forces: “They have come to the Ukrainian soil, not only to kill some of us… they have come to deprive Ukraine of the very right to exist,” adding that “the crimes are so barbaric that it is difficult to comprehend.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia then urged UN members to vote against the resolution, alleging that Western nations exerted “unprecedented pressure” with “open and cynical threats” to get support for the measure.

“This document will not allow us to end military activities. On the contrary, it could embolden Kyiv radicals and nationalists to continue to determine the policy of their country at any price,” Nebenzia warned.

“Your refusal to support today’s draft resolution is a vote for a peaceful Ukraine” that would not “be managed from the outside,” he said. “This was the aim of our special military operation, which the sponsors of this resolution tried to present as aggression.”

Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzia reacts to the results of a General Assembly vote on a resolution is shown on a screen during a special session of the General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters on March 2, 2022 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Nebenzia even used the opportunity to push the conspiracy theory that former US president Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, accusing Washington of hypocrisy in leading the effort against Russia when it allowed “the legitimately elected president of the country [to be] overthrown.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters immediately after the vote: “The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear. End hostilities in Ukraine — now. Silence the guns — now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy — now.”

“We don’t have a moment to lose,” he said. “The brutal effects of the conflict are plain to see … It threatens to get much, much worse.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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