At a UN General Assembly Thursday a vote of 100 for-11 against-58 abstaining was cast for a resolution, proposed by Ukraine and backed by the U.S. and European Union, to find the March 16 Crimean referendum as “having no validity” and calling for countries not to redraw Ukraine’s borders to make Crimea part of Russia.
The draft of the resolution, titled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” was co-sponsored by Ukraine and the U.S. plus five other nations: Canada, Costa Rice, Germany, Lithuania and Poland. Several nations later added their names as co-sponsors to the resolution, including Albania, Slovenia and Estonia–former socialist states and a former Soviet republic.
The intention of the resolution was to assert that the Crimean referendum would be recognized as invalid and could not “form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or the city of Sevastopol.”
At the assembly, Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, claimed that Russia’s actions in Crime were “a direct violation of the United Nations Charter.”
Several strong arguments were made in favor of the resolution. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power stated that it was “disheartening” to see that, although the U.S. had always recognized Russian interests in Ukraine, Russia had proceeded as though Ukraine had no interests in Crimea–which actually belongs to the country. Power also qualified a shared belief in self-determination with an understanding of the importance of national and international law–coercion could not be the means by which a state determines, said Power.
The small Central American nation of Costa Rica–also a co-sponsor of the bill–voiced the concern of countries who are less strong militarily than other nations. Eduardo Ulibarri, the Costa Rican ambassador, stated that the importance of the issue went beyond Crimea itself. Ulibarri pointed out that the obligations of the UN Charter were not optional, and that the five Security Council members–U.S., Russia, China, France and the UK–bore a heightened responsiblity for fulfilling the obligations. Costa Rica had no military and could not defend itself if invaded, Ulibarri said, and international law was all the country had to protect itself.
Eleven nations voted against the resolution: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
The Russian delegate, Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, spoke about the past, when, up until 1954, Crimea had been Russian territory. Churkin asserted that Crimea should be allowed to join Russia, saying, “Crimea was for many years an integral part of our country,” and was given away arbitrarily and unnaturally. Churkin placed the Crimean referendum in the context of illegal, chaotic and violent Maidan protests which ousted the democratically elected government–to which the Crimean revolt was a reaction. Chukin framed the situation in Crimea as one in which a group of people was exercising their valid right to self-determination.
Another strong opponent to the resolution was Bolivia, whose ambassador, Sacha Sergio Llorentty Soliz leveled accusations against the U.S. for building “a unipolar world” with its military and economic strength. Bolivia was a pacifist country, Soliz stated, and took no position on the Crimean referendum, but Bolivia would not accept Ukraine’s regime change because of the interruption of the constitutional process–a violent overthrow of a constitutionally elected government. Bolivia voted not against the principles of the resolution, but to demonstrate against double standards which threatened international security, Soliz said.
UN General Assemblies have no enforcement power. They are merely gauges of international temper and are symbolic expressions of UN opinion. The power of the UN to decide is based in the 15-member Security Council, who will meet Friday with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon over the Crimean issue.
By Day Blakely Donaldson