South Africa has abstained in a vote on a General Assembly resolution to affirm the territorial integrity of Ukraine and that called on states not to recognize the referendum in Crimea and its subsequent annexation by Russia.
The measure passed with 100 votes in assembly, with South Africa joining 55 abstentions with 11 countries, including Russia voting no.The non-binding vote further demonstrated that a majority of member states view developments in Crimea as out of step with international law. It was all about the optics. The vote non-binding but does carry political and moral weight.
Countries made their case before the electronic count, with Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya making the case for countries to vote in favour of the resolution. “One month has cost us dearly. More inaction may cost us this Organisation. By voting in favour of this resolution, you vote in favour of the UN Charter. While voting against or abstaining equals undermining it.”
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on member states to respect the referendum, saying a historical injustice has been corrected. “Historical justice has been vindicated, Crimea for several centuries was an integral part of our country, it shares without country a common history, culture and most importantly a common people and only an arbitrary decision by the leadership of the USSR in 1954, when they transferred the Crimea Sevastopol to the Ukrainian Republic.”
Churkin says: “Russia is against the proposed draft resolution by the GA, it is confrontation in nature, the draft seeks to put into question the meaning of the referendum in Crimea that took place, which already played a key historical role, it would be counterproductive to challenge that.”
We’ve always said that Russia had legitimate interests in Ukraine
Eleven countries, among them Zimbabwe, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba supported Russia while 19 African countries, including Nigeria backed the resolution.
Nigeria’s Ambassador Joy Ogwu says: “We believe that states must respect the rule of law at international law, they must demonstrate due regard for the universal and self-evident truth that all states are equal in the sight of the law regardless of their size, their wealth, their power or influence.”
The United States Ambassador Samatha Power made the case that border were not mere suggestions. “We’ve always said that Russia had legitimate interests in Ukraine, it has been disheartening in the extreme to see Russia carry on as if Ukrainians have no legitimate interests in Crimea when Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Self-determination is a value that all of here today hail, we do so while recognizing the critical foundational importance of national and international law.”
South Africa abstained because it believes the crisis did not start with the referendum in Crimea. With both the Ambassador and his deputy out of town, diplomats deferred their explanation of vote to Pretoria with department of international relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela telling us they abstained in light of their calls for dialogue between both parties and in that context viewed the vote as counterproductive.
Monyela also told us the referendum was not the genesis of the crisis in Crimea but rather the removal of the democratically elected president of Ukraine, labelling events in February a coup.