UN demands Russia reverse 'illegal' annexations in Ukraine


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to condemn Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four Ukrainian regions and demand its immediate reversal, a sign of strong global opposition to the seven-month war and Moscow’s attempt to grab its neighbor’s territory.

The vote in the 193-member world body was 143-5 with 35 abstentions. It was the strongest support from the General Assembly for Ukraine and against Russia of the four resolutions it has approved since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Ukraine's U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, called the vote “amazing" and “a historic moment." U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said supporters were “holding our breaths" and called it “a monumental day." European Union Ambassador Olof Skoog called it “a great success" that sends “a resounding message to Russia that they are and remain isolated."

The Western-sponsored resolution was a response to Russia’s announced annexation last month of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions. Moscow acted following Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” that the Ukrainian government and the West have dismissed as sham votes conducted on occupied land amid warfare and displacement.

During two days of speeches at the assembly's resumed emergency special session on Ukraine speaker after speaker accused Russia of violating key principles of the United Nations Charter — respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all U.N. member nations.

There was intense lobbying by supporters of the EU-facilitated resolution ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

U.S. envoy Thomas-Greenfield told the assembly before the vote that when the United Nations was established on the ashes of World War II it was built on an idea — “that never again would one country be allowed to take another’s territory by force.”

Afterward, she told reporters the vote means “that in the eyes of the world and the United Nations, Ukraine's borders remain the same."

“The resolution also sends an enormously important signal to Moscow and to everyone: It does not matter if you as a nation are big or small, rich or poor, old or new. If you are a U.N. member state, your borders are your own and are protected by international law," Thomas-Greenfield said. “They cannot be redrawn by anyone else by force."

A key issue for the resolution’s Western backers was how many countries would support it, and the result went beyond their most optimistic expectations.

The General Assembly voted 141-5 with 35 abstentions on March 2 to demand an immediate Russian cease-fire, withdrawal of all its troops, and protection for all civilians. On March 24, it voted 140-5 with 38 abstentions on a resolution blaming Russia for Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools, and hospitals critical to their survival.

But the assembly voted by a far smaller margin on April 7 to suspend Russia from the U.N.'s Geneva-based Human Rights Council over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine engaged in rights violations that the United States and Ukraine have called war crimes. That vote was 93-24 with 58 abstentions.

A 2014 resolution affirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity and declaring the referendum that led to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula illegal was adopted by a vote of 100-11 with 58 abstentions.

Among the surprise supporters of Wednesday's resolution were the “yes” votes from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Brazil.

The four countries that joined Russia in voting against the resolution were North Korea, Belarus, Syria, and Nicaragua.

Among the 35 countries that abstained, 19 were from Africa, including South Africa. China and India, the world's two most populous countries, also abstained along with Pakistan and Cuba.