NEW YORK (TBEN) – The tide of international opinion appears to be turning decisively against Russia as a number of non-aligned nations join the United States and its allies in condemning Moscow’s war in Ukraine and its threats to the principles of the international rules-based order.
Western officials have repeatedly said that Russia has become isolated since it invaded Ukraine in February. Until recently, however, that was largely wishful thinking. But on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, much of the international community spoke out against the conflict in a rare display of unity at the often fractured United Nations.
Even before Thursday’s UN speeches, the tide seemed to be turning against Putin. Chinese and Indian leaders were critical of the war at a high-level summit in Uzbekistan last week. And then the UN General Assembly ignored Russia’s objections and voted overwhelmingly to let Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy be the only leader who can address the body remotely, rather than requiring him to appear in person.
That shift against Russia accelerated after President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of some 300,000 additional troops to Ukraine on Wednesday, indicating a quick end to the war is unlikely. Putin also suggested that nuclear weapons could be an option. That followed an announcement of Russia’s intention to hold independence referendums in several occupied Ukrainian regions with a view to possible annexation.
Those announcements came as the General Assembly, considered the most important event on the global diplomatic calendar, was taking place in New York.
Numerous world leaders used their Tuesday and Wednesday speeches to denounce the Russian war. That trend continued on Thursday, both in the conference room and in the usually deeply divided UN Security Council, where virtually all 15 councilors, each and every one of them, harshly criticized Russia – one councilor – for aggravating some already serious global crises and endangering the foundations of the world body.
The apparent shift in opinion offers Ukraine and its Western allies some hope that increasing isolation will put pressure on Putin to negotiate peace. But few are overly optimistic. Putin has used his legacy for 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 aid and are likely to support Putin no matter what happens in Ukraine.
Still, it was striking to hear Russian friends such as China and India, following last week’s comments, speak about serious concerns they have about the conflict and its impact on global food and energy shortages, as well as threats to the concepts of sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in the UN Charter.
Brazil registered similar concerns. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa make up the so-called BRICS bloc of countries, which has often shunned or outright opposes Western initiatives and views on international relations.
Only one country, Belarus, a non-council member and a Russian ally invited to participate, spoke in support of Russia, but also called for a swift end to the fighting, calling it a “tragedy.”
“We hear a lot about the divisions between countries at the United Nations,” said Foreign Minister Antony Blinken. “But what has been striking lately is the remarkable unity between the member states when it comes to the Russian war against Ukraine. Leaders from developing and developed countries, big and small, North and South, have spoken in the General Assembly about the consequences of the war and the need to end it.”
“Even some countries with close ties to Moscow have publicly said they have serious questions and concerns about President Putin’s ongoing invasion,” Blinken said.
China’s 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 objectives of the principles of the UN Charter must be adhered to.”
Indian Foreign Minister S. Jayashankar said that “the course of the conflict in Ukraine is a matter of great concern to the international community.” He called for accountability for atrocities and abuses in Ukraine. “If blatant broad daylight attacks go unpunished, this council needs to think about the signals we’re sending out about impunity. There has to be consistency if we want to ensure credibility,” he said.
And Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franca said immediate efforts to end the war are critical. “The continuation of hostilities endangers the lives of innocent civilians and threatens the food and energy security of millions of families in other regions, especially in developing countries,” he said. “The risks of escalation arising to the current dynamics of the conflict are simply too great and the implications for world order are unpredictable.”
Foreign ministers and top 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 United Nations Charter,” said Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka. “We have all tried to avoid this conflict. We couldn’t, but we must not fail to hold Russia accountable.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the invasion a “blatant violation of international law” and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “If we don’t hold Russia accountable, we’ll be sending a message to major countries that they will get their money’s worth. neighbors can attack.”
Unsurprisingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was simultaneously unapologetic and defensive, targeting Zelensky specifically. Citing a phrase often attributed to President Franklin Roosevelt, Lavrov called Zelenskyy “an asshole” but said Western leaders considered him “our bastard.”
He reiterated a long list of Russian complaints about Ukraine, accusing Western countries of using Ukraine for anti-Russian activities and policies.
“Everything I’ve said today simply confirms that the decision to conduct the special military operation was inevitable,” Lavrov said, following Russia’s custom of not calling the invasion a war.
Russia has denied being isolated and the foreign ministry has used social media to publicize a number of apparently cordial meetings Lavrov has held in recent days with colleagues of foreign ministers at the UN.
Still, Blinken and his colleagues from other NATO countries intervened in what they believe to be growing opposition to 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 time.
“I find that Russian diplomats are fleeing almost as quickly as Russian soldiers,” Kuleba said, referring to Lavrov’s hasty departure and the recent withdrawals of Russian troops into Ukraine.