As news of the massacre in Bucha near Kyiv swept the world, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Thursday calling for Russia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council (OHCHR). While the vote passed, the narrow results, and the high number of abstentions, reveals that much of the world’s population refuses to outright back the West.
In recent weeks, a lot of accusations have been made by all sides arguing about how to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian invasion while also balancing the essential needs of European populations regarding food and energy security. The entire debate has been so severely politicized that it was difficult to separate fact from political mudslinging. The vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council is a very serious step in terms of isolating Russia by diplomatic means and is guaranteed to anger Moscow. Gennady Kuzmin, deputy Russian ambassador to the UN, called for countries to “vote against the attempt by Western countries and their allies to destroy the existing human rights architecture.”
So, let’s take a look at the result of the vote and see whether Vladimir Putin succeeded in re-drawing the map of global alliances. At face value, the West achieved its objective with the vote, with the resolution receiving the necessary two-thirds majority of those voting in the 193-member Assembly, with 93 nations voting in favor and 24 against, while 58 nations abstaining from the vote.
Although there were no major surprises among those who voted against the resolution, it is perhaps worth pointing out that China is still not on board with the West’s efforts to stop Putin, and even actions resembling genocide will not sway its stance towards a more resolute position against Russia. Nor is it surprising that a country such as Mali, where the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group had taken over the country’s fight against Islamist insurgents from the French-led Western coalition, voted against the resolution.
The truly interesting part of the UN vote, however, can be found in the abstentions section.
The Brazilian government, which has been courting the informal global anti-woke conservative alliance since Jair Bolsonaro took power, voted to abstain. This is probably a message to the Biden administration that they are not on board with the US’s global ambitions, especially since the cooling of the relationship between Brazil and Washington.
Apparently Egypt, despite enormous political and military investment from Western powers, most notably the U.S. and France, still cannot be counted on as an ally against Russia either, due in part to the U.S.’s historic ties to Israel, but also because of its enormous reliance on Russia for its food security.
Iraq’s abstention is also a major embarrassment to the US that thought that getting rid of Saddam Hussein and investing billions in developing, and of course buying up, the country’s natural resources will win Baghdad’s unconditional loyalty, especially in Washington’s ongoing conflict with Iran. It seems though like the Iraqi government still wants to stay out of the US’ global strategic efforts, nor does it want to accept the West’s self-declared “universal” human rights ethos.
India’s abstention will also come as a serious headache for the West. Delhi’s position could baffle some experts as to why it is drifting away from the EU’s and the U.S.’s political embrace. However, its UN vote suggests only that while going against Brussels and Washington will have probably next to no economic and military consequences, the government of Narendra Modi needs Putin’s behind-the-scenes support for its low-intensity war with China.
Although Mexican senator Emilio Alvarez Icaza had described his government’s decision to abstain as regrettable, Mexico’s ambassador to the UN Juan Ramon de la Fuente called the suspension “premature”. Icaza has also pointed out that president Andrés Manuel is personally responsible for the decision to abstain, pointing to some internal division in Mexican politics. As far as Pakistan’s abstention is concerned, the only surprising thing is that they did not actually vote against Russia’s suspension. Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently accused the US of interfering in its internal affairs, and of orchestrating last week’s vote of confidence against him.
Despite constant assertions from Ukrainian government accusing the government of Viktor Orbán of supporting Putin’s invasion, Hungary voted for suspending Russia from the UNHCR. Nevertheless, even on the day of the UN vote, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba and Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko, accused Hungary of “encouraging (Russia) to commit new crimes.” During the only other UN vote on March 24, Hungary voted similarly to condemn the Russian invasion, yet this, and the fact that Hungary allowed 600,000 Ukrainian refugees on to its territory, did not stop the Ukrainian government from similar political attacks, much to the satisfaction of Viktor Orbán’s domestic and international opponents.
The vote may have also surprised those who have similarly accused Serbia of showing unconditional support for Vladimir Putin’s military adventure, as the government in Belgrade also showed Russia the red card during the UN vote. This goes against most of the simplistic interpretations of the Serbian government’s alleged double-dealing and divided loyalties between Russia and the EU. The Serbian and Hungarian vote is also a clear message towards Putin that even countries that have sought a balanced relationship with Moscow in the past have drawn a red line with the arrival of news about mass murder of innocent civilians and the shelling of non-military infrastructure.
While Hungary and Serbia may have voted with the West, the large number of abstentions shows that the future global order remains murky. The abstention of countries such as South Africa and Saudi Arabia would warrant a lengthy analysis on their own, but all in all the UN voting board is a difficult read for those still wanting to maintain the historic multilateral image of the world, as governed by the usual two to three superpowers. It also shows that while the grip of Vladimir Putin could be slipping, almost half the world’s governments refuse to write him down, even though reading the left-wing mainstream media one would assume that Orbán is the only obstacle to a full showing of global unity against Putin.
The reality is much more complicated.
While it is possible to make the argument that we are possibly witnessing the dawn of a post-Putin era, the sad truth is that the UN voting board is more of a testament to Biden administration’s increasing inability to shape the future of global events.