Russia was left further isolated after both India and China chose to abstain on an emergency UN Security Council vote on February 25 to condemn the launch of the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine the day before.
Russia enjoys good relations with both countries, but both of them chose to distance themselves from the Kremlin’s decision to use force to resolve its dispute with Ukraine over its future potential Nato membership.
The United Arab Emirates also abstained from the vote on the US-drafted text. The remaining 11 council members voted in favour. The draft resolution is now expected to be taken up by the 193-member UN General Assembly, where Russia does not have a veto.
To move China from veto to abstention, the resolution’s language was softened to say it "deplores" Russia's aggression instead of "condemns," while removing a reference alluding to sanctions and authorisation of force.
Russia has justified its invasion of Ukraine, saying there is a need to “denazify” the country, which the Kremlin says is now run by a far-right government following a supposed coup d'état in 2014, and it refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the current government as a result.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also claimed that the Ukrainian government is carrying out “genocide” in the disputed Donbas region in comments a week earlier and that there is a need to “demilitarise” Ukraine to “protect our citizens”. Russia has handed out more than 700,000 passports to local residents in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – about half the population – in recent years.
As the tension rises further following a night of rocket attacks on Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine, there was a glimmer of hope for a speedy resolution after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office announced that there might be a meeting in the coming days between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents. The two countries are currently trying to find a neutral venue to meet, according to reports.
The Security Council session was called by the Western allies to condemn the Kremlin’s unprovoked use of force against Ukraine, but was always going to be vetoed by Russia.
"We are united behind Ukraine and its people, despite a reckless, irresponsible permanent member of the Security Council abusing its power to attack its neighbour and subvert the UN and our international system," US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after Russia cast its veto, reported Reuters.
China has said that Russia has legitimate security concerns in Ukraine. It has also moved to support Russia economically by dropping all restrictions on Russian exports of wheat to the Chinese market – a concession Russia has long been seeking. However, even Beijing was shy of openly supporting Putin’s naked use of force in his dispute with Ukraine and abstained during the voting.
China's abstention comes just weeks after Beijing and Moscow declared a "no limits" partnership, backing each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West, Reuters reports.
Nevertheless, Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia thanked the Security Council members who did not support the draft, which he described as anti-Russian. "Your draft resolution is nothing other than yet another brutal, inhumane move in this Ukrainian chessboard," Nebenzia said after the vote.
Ukraine's UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya held a moment of silence during his statement to remember those killed. "I'm not surprised that Russia voted against. Russia is keen on continuing its Nazi-style course of action," he said.
In a separate development it appears that Ukraine will launch a challenge to Russia’s right to sit on the Security Council and wield its veto. Following the collapse of the USSR, Russia inherited the Security Council seat, but the UN charter was never changed and still names the “Soviet Union” as a member of the council.
“The UN Charter was never amended after the USSR broke up. It still references the Soviet Union as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The Russian Federation just ascended to that seat after 1991,” tweeted Hayes Brown, a journalist with MSNBC who was following the UN session.
“So that could (maybe??) be Ukraine’s goal? To have the UNGA pass a resolution declaring that either the USSR’s seat is empty or that some other state should be the – real – successor to the Soviet’s,” Brown tweeted and followed up in an article.
China also inherited its seat. The People’s Republic of China took over the seat from the Nationalist government in Taiwan by means of a resolution in the General Assembly and is also not mentioned in the UN charter documents.