The Kremlin was dealt a significant diplomatic blow after the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to denounce Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four occupied regions in Ukraine.
About three-quarters of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly voted for a resolution calling on countries and international organizations to not recognize Russia’s claim over four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine. Only Belarus, North Korea, Nicaragua and Syria joined Russia in voting against the resolution, against 143 supporting it.
Thirty-five countries formally abstained from the vote, including India and Russian ally China. The remaining members of the assembly did not vote.
The result is a setback for Moscow, which has sought to reverse the international isolation it’s faced since invading Ukraine in February.
The resolution comes in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 30 proclamation that residents of Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia voted overwhelmingly to join Russia. The annexation was condemned as illegitimate by the U.S. and others, as Ukraine’s military has sought to reassert control over the regions.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s permanent representative to the U.N., said in a speech to the assembly that the resolution was about upholding the U.N. Charter that bans one country from invading another.
“Dear colleagues, the only thing that Russia is afraid of is our strong unity of purpose in defense of the U.N. Charter,” he said. “In defense of the right to every country to benefit from respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Vasily Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the U.N., had unsuccessfully sought a secret ballot on the resolution. Speaking to the assembly, he said the resolution violated the U.N.’s procedures and defended Russia’s annexation, saying it upheld the self-determination rights of Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine.
“Here once again, we are being accused when we are trying to protect our brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
Wednesday’s vote fell along similar lines as a U.N. General Assembly vote in March that called on Russia to immediately end its military action against Ukraine.
China’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Geng Shuang said in a speech to the assembly that the latest resolution would not bring either side to the negotiating table.
“What is urgent now is to guide the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid escalation of conflicts, prevent confrontation from getting out of control and deescalate the situation,” he said. “In the final analysis, the Ukraine crisis has to be resolved peacefully. However daunting the difficulties and challenges are, the door to political settlement shall not be closed.”
The other abstaining countries were primarily from Africa. As Russia has faced severe sanctions, Putin and other Kremlin officials have reached out to African leaders in hopes of shoring up trade and diplomatic relations.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.