The tide of international public opinion appears to be turning decisively against Russia, as a number of nonaligned nations 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 become isolated since the invasion of Ukraine in February. Until recently, though, this was largely wishful thinking. But on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, much of the international community spoke out against the conflict in a rare display of unity at the often divided United Nations.
The tide already seemed to be turning against Putin even before Thursday’s UN speeches. Chinese and Indian leaders criticized the war at a high-level summit last week in Uzbekistan. Then the UN General Assembly ignored Russia’s objections and voted overwhelmingly to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to be the only body-speaking leader, rather than requiring him to appear in person.Read:Ukraine continues Kharkiv offensive despite apparent Russian retaliation | Ukraine
The turn against Russia accelerated after President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday the mobilization of some 300,000 additional troops in Ukraine, indicating that a quick end to the war is not likely. Putin also suggested that nuclear weapons might be an option. This came after Russia announced its intention to hold a referendum on independence in several occupied Ukrainian regions with the aim of possible annexation.
Those announcements came at the same moment that the General Assembly, considered the number one event on the global diplomatic calendar, met in New York.
Several world leaders used their speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday to denounce the Russian war. The trend continued Thursday in both the assembly hall and the deeply divided UN Security Council, as nearly all 15 council members, one by one, delivered harsh criticism of Russia – a council member – for exacerbating many already. Severe global crises threaten the foundations of the world organization.Read:Putin’s problems aren’t just on the battlefield – POLITICO
The apparent shift in opinion offers some hope for Ukraine and its Western allies that increased isolation will add pressure on Putin to negotiate peace. But few of them are overly optimistic. Putin has staked his legacy on the Ukraine war and few expect him to back down. Russia is hardly isolated. Many of its allies depend on it for energy, food, and military aid and are likely to side with Putin no matter what happens in Ukraine.
Still, it was remarkable to hear Russia’s nominal friends like China and India, following last week’s statements, speak of the major concerns they have about the conflict and its impact on global food and energy shortages, as well as threats to the notions of sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
Brazil registered similar concerns. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa form the so-called bloc of BRICS countries, which often avoid or openly oppose Western initiatives and views on international relations.
Only one country, Belarus, a non-Council member and ally of Russia invited to participate, spoke of Russia’s support, but also called for a speedy end to the fighting, which it called a “tragedy”.Read:Kim Jong-un says new law guarantees North Korea will never give up nuclear weapons | North Korea
“We hear a lot about divisions between countries at the United Nations,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. But what is striking in recent times is the remarkable unity among the member states when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Leaders from developing and developed countries, large and small, and North and South spoke in the General Assembly about the consequences of the war and the need to end it.
“Even a number of countries that maintain close relations with Moscow have said publicly 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 that China’s consistent position is that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected. The purposes of the principles of the UN Charter should be observed.”
Indian Foreign Minister S. Jayashankar said, “The course of the conflict in Ukraine is a source of deep concern for the international community.” He called for accountability for the atrocities and violations committed in Ukraine. “If horrific attacks in broad daylight are left unpunished, this council must consider the signals we are sending about impunity. There must be consistency if we are to ensure credibility.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franca said immediate efforts to end the war were 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 from the current dynamics of the conflict are simply too great, and its consequences for the global system are unpredictable.”
Foreign ministers and senior officials from Albania, Britain, France, Ireland, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico and Norway leveled similar rebukes.
Albanian Foreign Minister Ulta Shaka said: “Russia’s actions are a flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations.” We have all tried to prevent this conflict. We could not, but we must not fail to hold Russia responsible.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the invasion a “blatant violation of international law” and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “If we fail to hold Russia to account, we are sending a message to the big nations that they can prey on their neighbors with impunity.”
Not surprisingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was at the same time unapologetic and defensive and specifically targeted Zelensky. Citing a phrase often attributed to President Franklin Roosevelt, Lavrov called Zelensky a “bastard,” but said Western leaders considered him a “bastard.”
He repeated Russia’s long list of 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 conduct the special military operation was inevitable,” Lavrov said, following the Russian practice of not calling the invasion a war.
Russia has denied its isolation and the foreign ministry has used social media to publicize a number of apparently friendly meetings that Lavrov has held with fellow foreign ministers at the United Nations in recent days.
However, Blinken and his colleagues from other NATO countries have taken advantage of what they believe is growing opposition to Putin and their impatience.
Several speakers, including Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, noted that Lavrov skipped the meeting except for the speaking period.
“I notice that Russian diplomats are fleeing as quickly as Russian soldiers,” Kuleba said, referring to Lavrov’s hasty exit along with recent Russian troop withdrawals in Ukraine.