On Thursday the United Nations General Assembly weighed in on Russia’s seizure of Crimea, inspiring headlines to the effect that Russia is becoming a pariah at the UN. For instance, the New York Times reported: “Vote by U.N. General Assembly Isolates Russia.”
If only it were that straightforward. But if you look at the actual resolution, and the vote, it’s more like the UN General Assembly has sort-of-maybe-somewhat semi-isolated Russia. The point being that, unfortunately, the UN is no place to go for any solution to Russia’s territorial grabs.
The UN body that should really be objecting to Russia’s seizure of Ukraine is the UN Security Council. But with Russia holding one of the Permanent Five veto-wielding seats, the Security Council is even more impotent than usual. So Ukraine had to take its case to the General Assembly, where the resolutions can carry a certain heft as a reflection of general opinion, but have no binding force.
So it was that the General Assembly took up a resolution on the “Territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Clearly the spirit behind this resolution is outraged protest over Russia’s heavily armed grab of Crimea from Ukraine. The actual language, however, is so demure that Russia is mentioned exactly once, and then only by way of a reference to Russia’s 1997 Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation with Ukraine. There is no mention of Russian troops, or that the March 16 secessionist referendum in Crimea — leading to Russian annexation — was held at Russian gunpoint. The resolution calls on “all States” to “desist and refrain” from any attempt to carve off pieces of Ukraine. (It seems safe to assume that Canada, Belgium and the Marshall Islands will take heed). The resolution further calls on “all States, international organizations and specialized agencies” to reject the March 16 referendum in Crimea.
The vote on this resolution was 100 in favor, 11 against. That is certainly a sweeping majority of yeas versus nays. And if the UN had no more than 111 member states, it would be an emphatic majority opposed to Russia carving up Ukraine. Russia would indeed be isolated in this crowd.