Biden Struggles to Get Some Allies to Support Condemnation of Russia at the U.N.

India and the UAE remain on the fence, worried about relations with Moscow.

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speak.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speak.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speak during a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Feb. 17. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP

The U.S.-led diplomatic and intelligence blitz over the past month exposed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine but fell short of halting his invasion. The Biden administration still hopes to rally the world against the Russian leader at the United Nations.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is pushing for a vote Friday afternoon on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would demand Russia “immediately, completely, and unconditionally” withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine. It would also condemn Moscow’s “aggression” against Ukraine as a violation of the U.N. Charter.

The resolution is certain to be blocked by Russia, one of five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power. But passage is not really the point. The ultimate goal is to shine a bright light on Moscow’s violent breach of international law.

The U.S.-led diplomatic and intelligence blitz over the past month exposed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine but fell short of halting his invasion. The Biden administration still hopes to rally the world against the Russian leader at the United Nations.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is pushing for a vote Friday afternoon on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would demand Russia “immediately, completely, and unconditionally” withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine. It would also condemn Moscow’s “aggression” against Ukraine as a violation of the U.N. Charter.

The resolution is certain to be blocked by Russia, one of five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power. But passage is not really the point. The ultimate goal is to shine a bright light on Moscow’s violent breach of international law.

“Of course, we expect that Russia will use its veto,” a senior administration official told reporters Thursday. “And in doing so, they will underscore their isolation.”

But Putin appears impervious to public shaming. He ordered military troops into Ukraine even as the U.N. Security Council met to discuss Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of two separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for Putin to “stop your troops from attacking Ukraine” had no impact.

The United States had hoped Russia’s invasion would drive a wedge between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But previous efforts to turn Beijing against Moscow over Russian interventions in Syria, Georgia, eastern Ukraine, and Crimea yielded little more than the occasional Chinese abstention on U.N. resolutions criticizing Russia. Direct diplomatic appeals to China to get Russia to stand down went nowhere, according to the New York Times.

In the end, China’s U.N. envoy, Zhang Jun, may or may not cast a dissenting veto alongside Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia. Regardless, few expect Beijing to join the United States in denouncing an increasingly important ally. China would most likely repeat its response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea by abstaining on a vote to condemn Russia’s action. But a double veto can’t be ruled out. China’s bond with Russia has only strengthened in the years since.

The best-case scenario for the United States, according to diplomats, would be a vote of 13-1-1. But even that may be out of reach. Council diplomats said India and the United Arab Emirates, two countries with close ties to the United States, have expressed deep misgivings about the U.N. draft and appear reluctant to be drawn into a big-power standoff at the United Nations.

It remains unclear what specific concerns the UAE has over the U.S. text, but the Persian Gulf state has yet to make a formal decision on how it will vote, leaving open the possibility it could abstain or vote in favor.

Concerns about India’s vote have only grown since Putin spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. On Friday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba phoned Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar to ask that he pressure Russia to “cease military aggression against Ukraine” and support the Security Council resolution. India also appears reluctant to clash with Russia at a time when it is seeking to evacuate thousands of Indian nationals, mostly students, from Ukraine to neighboring Poland, Hungary, and Romania. Jaishankar highlighted the need for “dialogue and diplomacy” following a conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday.

That leaves the United States with two unfavorable outcomes. It could force India and the UAE into abstaining, weakening the condemnation of one of the greatest threats to a U.N. member state’s sovereignty in a generation. Or the United States could soften the tone of its resolution in an effort to bring the two countries on board.

In any case, the Security Council vote won’t end the debate. Once Russia casts its veto, the United States and its partners are expected to put the resolution to a vote before the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, hoping they can persuade the rest of the world to censure Russia.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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