Russia again rebuked by UN, NATO; Ukraine faces ‘Syria scenario’

Special to

By John J. Metzler

The second salvo of diplomatic condemnation slammed into Russia as the UN General Assembly once again soundly and overwhelmingly condemned Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The first Assembly vote came a few weeks ago condemning the Russian invasion; the second rebuke focused on the humanitarian catastrophe caused by Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

In a resumed Special Emergency Session of the UN Assembly, “Humanitarian consequences of the Aggression against Ukraine” the resolution was adopted with the support of 140 states, 5 no’s, and 36 abstentions.  The USA, Canada, all of Europe, Latin America, and much of Africa and Asia supported the landmark resolution.

Screens display the results of a vote on a resolution regarding the war in Ukraine at the UN on March 24. / AP / Seth Wenig

Significantly, only Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria, joined their fraternal Russian allies to vote against it.

Notably as with the previous vote the usual suspects such as China, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Vietnam to name a few were politically AWOL again and abstained.  Interestingly, Venezuela didn’t vote at all.

Abstentions, the studied noncommittal style of many UN members, saw Sudan, South Africa among them as were the South Asian stalwarts India and Pakistan.

Such strong support for a robust, albeit non-binding, resolution rebuking Russia is exceedingly rare!

Putin’s war against Ukraine was a massive misjudgment, a total misread of both Russia’s military capacity and Ukraine’s will to resist.  Nonetheless the Russians, while bruised and bloodied, are probably not beaten.  High losses, sloppy and chaotic command and control and attacks on civilians remain classic Soviet era/Russian tactics.  This is not an army of elegant Napoleonic maneuvers but of slogging, grinding force which wears an adversary down.

Yet proudly, Ukraine stands battered but unbowed.  The singular humanitarian tragedy remains that the refugees and the physical damage inflicted upon this land, the breadbasket of Europe, which suffers and endures a Hell not seen since the Second World War.

Again, I repeat this is 2022, not 1942!

The Russian attack seems to have stalled and the Ukrainians are counterattacking!  Moscow may be changing its strategy to concentrate military actions away from Kiev and refocus on the eastern Donbas region bordering Russia itself, ironically shifting back to where it all started!

The UN asserts that more than ten million Ukrainians have become refugees or are displaced inside their homeland.  Nearly four million people have fled initially to Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.  From there on to Germany, France, and the United States. The internally displaced people are mostly in the largely safe western part of Ukraine closer to Lviv and the Polish frontier. More than half of Ukraine’s 7.5 million children are displaced or are refugees one month into the conflict.

Russia’s rude wakeup call has united NATO as never before in solidarity, expanded defense spending and purpose.  Ukraine’s plucky President Volodymyr Zelensky calls for a No Fly Zone over his country to deter Russian air attacks, but he seems to settle for a lethal mix of Western anti-tank weapons and munitions which have blunted and bloodied the Russian advance.

NATO while united in defense assistance to Ukraine, does not wish to veer into WWIII.

President Joe Biden’s trip to Brussels and Poland was underwhelming as were his dangerous rhetorical blunders and mixed messages, many of which had to be “walked back” or “clarified” by his media handlers.  While neither the U.S. nor NATO states wish to enter a shooting war with Russia, the biggest dangers remain missteps and unintended blunders by either side.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, stated, “We are determined to do all we can to support Ukraine…at the same time, we have a responsibility to ensure the conflict does not escalate further.  Because this would be even more dangerous and devastating.” Stoltenberg added sagely, “At this time, transatlantic unity and solidarity are vital.”

So does embattled Ukraine face Moscow’s “Syria scenario” of a long slogging low intensity war with wrecked towns, pulverized cities and a permanent displacement of refugees?

How can this be avoided?

*First, Establish a Ceasefire.  Ukraine needs an immediate ceasefire followed by concrete       political and humanitarian solutions to stop the fighting and end the destruction.

*Second, Reduce the Refugee tsunami in what has become the largest civilian movement since WWII.  Refugees do not wish to leave their homeland so give them a viable reason to return safely.

*Third, Negotiate for a truce between Russia and Ukraine pending a formal peace settlement.

This is naturally the most difficult given Moscow’s demands go well beyond Ukraine renouncing any plans to join NATO.

Resolving and ending this horrific European war remains critical; yet provoking and poking a wounded bear is not a strategy.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]