By Michelle Nichols and John Irish
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The Western argument to internationally isolate Russia over its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has been simple: it breaches the founding charter of the United Nations by violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Western leaders are making that case at the annual high-level gathering this week for the U.N. General Assembly.
“Let us speak plainly. A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase a sovereign state from the map,” U.S. President Joe Biden told the assembly.
But as the West vies with Russia for diplomatic influence it is also recognizing that some states – particularly in the global South – are concerned about paying the price for being squeezed in the middle of an intense geopolitical rivalry.
Africa is worried about what it means for food security, aid, investment, trade and health. Latin America commodity exporters fret about market access.
“I have come to say that Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history, that it does not want to be the place of a new Cold War but rather a pole of stability and opportunity open to all of its partners,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told the gathering.
Ultimately the world wants the war in Ukraine to end. Within a week of Russia’s invasion, two-thirds of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly reprimanded Russia and demanded it withdraw its troops. But as the conflict has dragged on some countries have been reluctant to be seen taking sides.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in an impassioned speech that Western states would work to convince those who sit on the fence to do more to pressure Russia to end the war.
“It is neither revenge against the West, nor opposition of the West against the rest. It is urgent to build a new contract between the North and the South, an effective and respectful contract for food, the climate, biodiversity and education,” he said.
To kickstart those efforts, Macron hosted a dinner in New York with eight countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
‘WORDS OF TRUTH’
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told the General Assembly that the war in Ukraine would hinder “our capacity to work together to resolve conflicts elsewhere, especially in Africa, the Middle-East and Asia.”
He said the war was “making it more difficult to tackle the perennial” U.N. issues, such as nuclear disarmament, the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, Palestinians statehood aspirations and a “reduction of inequalities within and amongst nations.”
Some countries have also called out double standards exposed by how the West has responded to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said founding U.N. principles had not always been applied consistently and fairly, describing the problem as: “We believe international law matters when this one is affected, but doesn’t matter when this other one is affected.”
She said global solidarity was needed to meet other challenges such as energy and food insecurity, climate change, other conflicts and the existential threat of nuclear weapons.
“Instead of working collectively to address these challenges, we have grown further apart as geopolitical tensions and mistrust permeate our relations,” Pandor said.
Polish President Andrzej Duda used his U.N. address to tell “a few words of truth to us – the leaders of the rich North, or – as others might like to put it – of the West.”
He questioned whether the West was “equally resolute during the tragedies of Syria, Libya, Yemen” and whether equal weight was given to condemning the invasion in Ukraine and issues such as “fighting mercenaries who seek to destabilize the Sahel and threaten many other states in Africa?”
“This is how I see the lesson learnt from this war: if the United Nations is truly to be united, every response to violations of international law should be identical – decisive and principled,” Duda said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and John Irish; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)