In the first barometer of global condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and its Western backers persuaded a large majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday to dismiss the annexation as illegal, even as Russia sought to rally world support for the idea of self-determination, reports

The resolution, proposed by Ukraine and backed by the United States and the European Union, represented the latest effort to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over the annexation, which followed a March 16 referendum in the peninsula that has been internationally regarded as Ukrainian territory.

The resolution garnered 100 votes in favor, 11 votes against, with 58 abstentions. The two-page text does not identify Russia by name, but describes the referendum as “having no validity” and calls on countries not to recognize the redrawing of Ukraine’s borders.

Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia, called Russia’s actions “a direct violation of the United Nations Charter.”

Russia said Crimea should not have been part of Ukraine anyway, since it had been part of Russia for centuries until 1954, when the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev gave the peninsula to Ukraine, at the time a Soviet republic.

“Crimea was for many years an integral part of our country,” the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, told the Assembly in an effort to appeal to other nations that have similar grievances over territory lost in the past. The Crimean vote to join Russia was an expression of its right to self-determination, Mr. Churkin said, appealing to another resonant principle of international law. “You have to be very misanthropic to criticize them for that,” he said.

His argument met with a pointed rebuttal from the American ambassador, Samantha Power. Coercion cannot be the means to self-determination, she argued. “The chaos that would ensue is not a world that any of us can afford,” she said.

The most poignant argument came from Costa Rica. Small states have only the power of international law “to defend our sovereignty,” its ambassador, Eduardo Ulibarri, said. The resolution proposed by Ukraine, he said, would help to reaffirm that power.

The resolution has no enforcement power, and even its symbolic value as an influential expression of United Nations member opinion is debated since other resolutions of the General Assembly often have no practical effect.

The United States routinely ignores the General Assembly’s condemnations of its position on the Palestinian issue, for example. Neither Russia nor China has paid much attention to the General Assembly’s resolutions on Syria. And the high number of abstentions in the Ukraine resolution vote, including those by large, important countries, like China, India and South Africa, diluted the sympathy for Ukraine’s position.

Among the members that did not vote were Iran, Lebanon and Israel.

Still, the resolution was regarded as an important pressure point on Russia by the United States and European Union, which had been lobbying intensely for its passage.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official and now president of the New America Foundation, a public policy group based in Washington, said the vote could be used to help refute the image of Russia vs. the West.

“It is a very big deal to make it clear to all Russians that the international community condemns this action,” she said. “This is not the story Putin told.”

The votes of some nations also reflected their specific grievances. Bolivia, which opposed the resolution, railed against the United States, saying it had used its military and economic power to build “a unipolar world.” St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which abstained, said that while it supported the principles of the United Nations Charter, the United States and the European Union had not applied international law. Georgia, which supported the resolution, said the fate of Crimea was a flashback to Russia’s invasion of Georgia’s territory in 2008. Cyprus, another supporter, said it “suffered from foreign occupation.”

Several former socialist republics, including Albania, Estonia and Slovenia, added their names as co-sponsors.

1124 reads | 28.03.2014

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