NEW YORK (AP) — The tide of international opinion appears to be turning decisively against Russia, as a number of non-aligned countries join the United States and its allies in condemning Moscow’s War in Ukraine and its threats to the principles of the rules-based international order.
Western officials have repeatedly said that Russia has isolated itself since invading Ukraine in February. Until recently, however, this was largely wishful thinking. But on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, much of the international community spoke out against the conflict in a rare show of unity at the often fractured United Nations.
The tide already seemed to be turning against Putin even before Thursday’s speeches at the UN. Chinese and Indian leaders had criticized the war at a high-level summit last week in Uzbekistan. And then the UN General Assembly ignored Russia’s objections and voted overwhelmingly to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy be the only leader to address the body remotely, instead of asking them to appear in person.
This shift against Russia accelerated after President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday the mobilization of some 300,000 additional troops in Ukraine, signaling the unlikelihood of a quick end to the war. Putin also suggested that nuclear weapons might be an option. This followed the announcement of Russia’s intention to hold independence referendums in several occupied Ukrainian regions with a view to possible annexation.
These announcements came just as the General Assembly, considered the premier event on the global diplomatic calendar, took place in New York.
Many world leaders have used their tuesday and wednesday speeches to denounce the Russian war. That pattern continued on Thursday both in the boardroom and in the typically deeply divided UN Security Council, where one by one virtually all 15 council members harshly criticized Russia — one member of the council – for aggravating several already serious global crises and jeopardizing the foundations of the global body.
The apparent shift in opinion offers some hope to Ukraine and its Western allies that growing isolation will increase pressure on Putin to broker a peace. But few are overly optimistic. Putin has staked his legacy on the war in Ukraine and few expect him to back down. And Russia is hardly isolated. Many of his allies depend on it for energy, food and military assistance and are likely to stand by Putin no matter what happens in Ukraine.
Yet it was striking to hear Russia’s nominal friends such as China and India, following last week’s remarks, express their grave concerns about the conflict and its impact on global food and energy shortages, as well as as threats to the concepts of sovereignty and territorial integrity that are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
Brazil raised similar concerns. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa make up the so-called BRICS bloc of countries, which has often avoided or outright opposed Western initiatives and views on international relations.
Only one country, Belarus, a non-member of the Council and an ally of Russia which was invited to participate, expressed its support for Russia, but also called for a rapid end to the fighting, which it called a “tragedy “.
“We hear a lot about divisions between countries at the United Nations,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “But recently, what is striking is the remarkable unity among member states regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine. Leaders of developing and developed countries, large and small, North and South spoke to the General Assembly about the consequences of war and the need to end it.
“Even a number of nations that have close ties to Moscow have publicly stated that they have serious questions and concerns about President Putin’s ongoing invasion,” Blinken said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was careful not to condemn the war, but said China’s firm position is that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.” The purposes of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations must be respected.
Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jayashankar said “the trajectory of the Ukrainian conflict is a matter of deep concern to the international community.” He called for accountability for atrocities and abuses committed in Ukraine. “If blatant attacks in broad daylight go unpunished, this council needs to reflect on the signals we send about impunity. There has to be consistency if we are to ensure credibility,” he said.
And Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franca said immediate efforts to end the war were essential. “The continuation of hostilities endangers the lives of innocent civilians and jeopardizes the food and energy security of millions of families in other regions, particularly in developing countries,” he said. “The risks of escalation associated with the current dynamics of the conflict are simply too great and its consequences for the world order unpredictable.”
Foreign ministers and senior officials from Albania, Britain, France, Ireland, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico and Norway have issued similar rebukes.
“Russia’s actions are a flagrant violation of the UN Charter,” Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka said. “We all tried to prevent this conflict. We cannot, but we must not fail to hold Russia accountable. »
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the invasion a “flagrant violation of international law” and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “If we don’t hold Russia accountable, we are sending the sends a message to big countries that they can attack their neighbors with impunity”.
Unsurprisingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was both on the defensive and on the defensive and specifically targeted Zelensky. Quoting a phrase often attributed to President Franklin Roosevelt, Lavrov called Zelensky a “bastard” but said Western leaders consider him “our bastard”.
He repeated a long list of Russian complaints about Ukraine and accused Western countries of using Ukraine for anti-Russian activities and policies.
“Everything I said today simply confirms that the decision to carry out the special military operation was inevitable,” Lavrov said, following Russian practice of not calling the invasion a war.
Russia has denied being isolated, and the Foreign Ministry has taken to social media to publicize a number of seemingly cordial meetings Lavrov has had with the foreign minister’s colleagues at the UN in recent days.
Yet Blinken and his colleagues from other NATO countries have seized on what they believe to be growing opposition and impatience with Putin.
And several speakers, including Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, pointed out that Lavrov skipped the meeting except for his speaking slot.
“I notice that Russian diplomats are fleeing almost as fast as Russian soldiers,” Kuleba said, referring to Lavrov’s hasty exit as well as recent Russian troop withdrawals from Ukraine.