Ukraine slows Russian advance under shadow of nuclear threat

UNGA set to meet in emergency session on Ukraine as west imposes sanctions on Russia

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UNITED NATIONS, The UN General Assembly will meet Monday in a rare Emergency Special Session on Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine after the Security Council voted in favour on Sunday, a move to turn up on the pressure on Moscow to step back.

Eleven member nations voted in favour of the resolution to call the session, with only Russia voting against it. China, the United Arab Emirates and India abstained from the vote.

Sunday’s request for the Assembly to urgently convene a meeting comes after Russia vetoed on Friday a US-led draft Security Council resolution that would have “deplored in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine”.

Since the text acted on Sunday was procedural, none of the five permanent Council members – China France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – could use their vetoes. The measure needed just nine votes in favour to pass.

Only 10 such emergency special sessions of the General Assembly have been convened since 1950, following the adoption of resolution 377A (V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace.’ Among them was one on the 1979 Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, sought by Pakistan.

That 1950 text gives the Assembly the power to take up matters of international peace and security when the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members.

Following statements by countries in the emergency special session, the General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution similar to the one taken up Friday by the Security Council. While Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they are considered to carry political weight as they express the will of the wider UN membership.

The Security Council’s latest steps to end the Ukraine crisis cap a week of activity at the United Nations seeking a diplomatic solution to the Russian military action in the country, including near daily press stakeouts by the Secretary-General, four emergency Council sessions, and one meeting of General Assembly, which saw speaker after speaker call for de-escalation.

On Saturday, amid reports of casualties and people fleeing their homes to seek safety as Russian military operations in the country intensified, the Secretary-General announced that the UN will launch an appeal to fund its humanitarian operations in Ukraine.

A readout issued by a UN spokesperson said that UN chief António Guterres had spoken on the phone with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and conveyed “the… determination of the United Nations to enhance humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine.”

The Secretary-General’s phone call and the announcement of a humanitarian appeal followed his decision this past Thursday to release $20 million from the UN emergency relief fund, known as CERF, to meet urgent needs in Ukraine.

In addition, the Secretary-General has announced the appointment of Amin Awad as UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine to lead the coordination of all UN efforts, including its humanitarian response, on both sides of the contact line.

Speaking after Sunday’s vote, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Security Council had taken an important step towards holding Russia accountable for its aggression against Ukraine.

“By calling for an emergency special session of the General Assembly… [we] have recognized that this is no ordinary moment and that we need to take extraordinary steps to confront this threat to our international system,” she said, stressing that such a meeting of the wider UN membership was important to make their voices heard on “Russia’s war of choice.”

Ambassador Ferit Hoxha of Albania, which had also called for Sunday’s meeting, said that while the vote had been purely procedural, the text itself was one of “historical proportions. One which would open the big doors of the General Assembly, the place where all the world meets” and could speak out against an unprovoked war and in favor of the UN Charter, “including Russian citizens who need to listen to the world and hear what it is saying.”

“All Member States, including small ones like mine, must remember that the UN Charter is our best friend, our best army and best defence,” he said. Russia could at any moment come back to its senses and stop the war and pull back its troops and “go back to talks – real talks for peace, not for surrender and capitulation. But this needs lucidity, courage, and wisdom, not threats for an apocalypse.”

“As we said last Friday, this is not a time to stay idle or look away. It is time to stand up. Ukraine and Ukrainians are resisting,” he concluded.

French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière said that Russia had stood alone Friday in blocking a resolution that would have called for an end to its aggression against Ukraine. “This special session is a necessary new step intended to defend the UN Charter and international law and put an end to the aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

He noted that President Macron had called for another meeting the Security Council on Monday at which France along with Mexico would submit a resolution to demand the end of hostilities, protection of civilians, a safe and unhindered humanitarian access to meet the urgent needs of the population. The international community had a duty to stand up for unity and the primacy of international law, he said.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said that he had voted against the submitted draft because its authors would note that the Security Council had been unable to carry out its primary duty to maintain international peace and security.

“Yet, at the same time, we did not see even a hint of an attempt to find a constructive solution in the Council. After all, two days ago we blocked one text for the very reason that it was one-sided and unbalanced. We have not seen any new initiatives,” he stressed.

He also denounced attempts by the draft’s sponsors to use their position on the Security Council to push through decisions against other members. “That is why the Council provides for the right to block decisions for permanent members. This is not a privilege, but a tool to ensure the balance of interests so necessary for the whole world, and through it, global stability.”

“Now there is a need to focus on resolving the roots of the crisis with which we are grappling,” he added, stressing that it was not the launch of the ‘special military operation’, but the fact that the Council had for eight years turned a blind eye to the actions of Ukrainian nationalists in the Donbas.

He said that an “information war” was now being unleashed against Russia and that social networks were rife with lies about what was happening in Ukraine. “I urge our colleagues not to contribute to the spread of such misinformation, although I am afraid these calls will not be heard again.”

Outgunned but determined Ukrainian troops slowed Russia’s advance and held onto the capital and other key cities — at least for now. In the face of stiff resistance and devastating sanctions, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces put on high alert, threatening to elevate the war to a terrifying new level.

Explosions and gunfire that have disrupted life since the invasion began last week appeared to subside around Kyiv overnight, as Ukrainian and Russian delegations met Monday on Ukraine’s border with Belarus. It’s unclear what, if anything, those talks would yield.

Terrified Ukrainian families huddled in shelters, basements or corridors, waiting to find out. Exact death tolls are unclear, but the UN human rights chief said 102 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded — warning that figure was likely a vast undercount — and Ukraine’s president said at least 16 children were among the dead. More than 500,000 people have fled the country since the invasion, another UN official said Monday — among the millions who have left their homes.

Russia’s Central Bank scrambled to shore up the tanking ruble Monday and the US and European countries upped weapons shipments to Ukraine. While they hope to curb Putin’s aggression after he unleashed Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II, the measures also risked pushing an increasingly cornered Putin closer to the edge.

“I sit and pray for these negotiations to end successfully so that they reach an agreement to end the slaughter, and so there is no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, weeping as she clutched her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Around her, parents sought to console children and keep them warm.

In Kyiv, long lines formed outside supermarkets on Monday as residents were allowed out of bomb shelters and homes for the first time since a curfew was imposed Saturday.

The relative lull in warfare Monday morning in Ukraine was unlikely to last.

Neighboring Belarus could send troops to help Russia as soon as Monday, according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of current US intelligence assessments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

US officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts. The British Defense Ministry said Monday that the bulk of Putin’s forces are about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kyiv, their advance having been slowed by Ukrainian forces.

Western nations ramped up the pressure with a freeze on Russia’s hard currency reserves, threatening to bring Russia’s economy to its knees. Russians withdrew savings and sought to shed rubles for dollars and euros, while Russian businesses scrambled to protect their finances.

In addition to sanctions, the US and Germany announced they will send Stinger missiles to Ukraine among other military supplies. The European Union — founded to ensure peace on the continent after World War II — is supplying lethal aid for the first time, including anti-tank weapons and ammunition. At least one Western country is studying a request from Ukraine to provide fighter jets, a European official said. She spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information not yet public.

EU defense ministers were to meet Monday to discuss how to get the pledged weaponry into Ukraine. Germany’s defense minister said without elaborating that her country has “channels and possibilities” to do that, and a trainload of Czech equipment arrived Sunday. Blocking off those shipments will clearly be a key Russian priority.

It remains to be seen how much the weaponry will help Ukraine fend off Russia’s vastly greater arsenal.

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