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The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Thursday blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and calling for an immediate ceasefire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.
The resolution, introduced by Ukraine, deplores the “dire humanitarian consequences” of Russia’s aggression which it says is “on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades".
It deplores Russia’s shelling, air strikes and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, including the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
The vote was almost exactly the same as for the March 2 resolution the assembly adopted demanding an immediate Russian ceasefire, a withdrawal of all its forces and protection for all civilians and infrastructure. That vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.
US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Thursday’s vote “an astounding success” and said “once again the world stood united” in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”.
“Together, a strong majority of UN member states made clear that Russia — Russia — bears sole responsibility for the grave humanitarian crisis and violence in Ukraine,” she said.
“Together, we called for the protection of all civilians fleeing the conflict and for steps to mitigate the increase in food insecurity caused by this senseless war.
“Absolutely, it will have an impact on the ground because it’s going to give encouragement to the Ukrainian people.”
The General Assembly’s action followed the Security Council’s overwhelming defeat on Wednesday of a Russian resolution that would have acknowledged Ukraine’s growing humanitarian needs — but without mentioning Russia’s invasion that has left millions of Ukrainians in desperate need of food, water and shelter.
To be adopted, Russia needed a minimum of nine “yes” votes in the 15-member Security Council and no veto by one of the four other permanent members — the US, Britain, France and China. But Russia only received support from China, with the 13 other council members abstaining.
The votes in the General Assembly and Security Council reflect Moscow’s failure to receive widespread backing for its military offensive in Ukraine, which marked its one-month anniversary on Thursday.
Britain’s UN ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters on Wednesday that “Russia has consistently misplayed its hand here and seriously underestimated the consequences of what it’s done and the international perception of what it’s done".
The assembly also had before it a rival South African resolution which didn’t mention Russia. It was to be considered after the adoption of the Ukrainian-backed resolution and South Africa sought a vote.
But Ukraine’s ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya objected, calling the resolution “a twin brother of the defunct draft in the Security Council".
He called for a procedural vote on whether the South African resolution should be put to a vote. The assembly then voted 50-67 with 36 abstentions not to proceed to a vote on the South African draft.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzya blamed western pressure for the failure to hold a vote on the South African resolution and strongly criticised what he called the “pseudo-humanitarian resolution presented by the western allies in Ukraine because it was put forward exclusively to once again condemn Russia”.
He also criticised the West’s failure to support “Russia’s truly humanitarian draft resolution” in the Security Council.
Russian authorities maintain they did not start the war and have repeatedly and decried reports of Russian military setbacks or civilian deaths in Ukraine as fake news. State media outlets and government officials insist Russian troops are attacking only military facilities.
Russia introduced its resolution on March 15. A day earlier, France and Mexico decided to move their proposed humanitarian resolution blaming the Russian invasion for the humanitarian crisis out of the Security Council, where it faced a Russian veto, to the 193-member General Assembly where there are no vetoes.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do have clout in reflecting international opinion.
The final draft of the France-Mexico resolution was negotiated by about two dozen countries from all regions of the world including Ukraine and had 90 co-sponsors.
France’s UN ambassador Nicolas De Riviere, speaking on behalf of the 27-member European Union, said its adoption by an overwhelming majority “is a very strong signal that this General Assembly sends the peoples of the world and the people of Ukraine that need it".
China abstained on the Ukraine-backed resolution on Thursday, as it did on the March 2 resolution, but it was the only Security Council member to vote with Russia on its humanitarian resolution in the Security Council on Wednesday.
China’s ambassador Zhang Jun, one of the final speakers before Thursday’s vote, told the assembly: “It is heart-rending to see the continued deterioration of humanitarian situation in Ukraine as well as the civilian casualties and massive displacement of people caused by the conflict.”
He restated China’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, for the UN Charter which says all UN member nations should settle disputes by peaceful means, and for “the legitimate security concerns” of all countries to be taken seriously.