By Roger Stoll
March 24, 2022
On March 2 of this year the UN General Assembly met in an Emergency Session to pass a non-binding resolution condemning Russia’s February 24 intervention in Ukraine.1 141 countries voted for the resolution, 5 voted against, 35 abstained, and 12 did not vote. (Reported: Guardian, Al Jazeera, iNews.)
In the absence of any reliable opinion poll of the world’s 7.9 billion people, this vote may indicate that the majority of humanity sympathizes with Russia in Ukraine. The statistics presented below show that only 41% of the world’s people live in countries that joined the US in voting for the UN resolution.
This lopsided vote is even more striking if you consider the demographics. Populations represented by governments that did not vote for the resolution are much more likely to include the world’s poorest nations, nations with younger populations, “nations of color,” nations of the Global South, and nations in the periphery of the world economic system.
To put it another way, although the war is nominally a conflict between two developed and ethnically white nations, Russia and Ukraine, this UN vote suggests the war may be viewed by much of the world as a fight over the global political and economic system that institutionalizes the imperial hierarchy, the distribution of nations between rich and poor, and global white supremacy.
The UN Vote by Population
Of the world’s 7,934,000,000 people, 59% live in countries that did not support the resolution and only 41% live in countries that did.2 But that last figure drops to 34% outside of the immediate belligerents and their allies: Ukraine, US, and NATO countries, and on the other side, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, and Tajikistan (all the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization).
41% or 34% amounts to a resounding, humiliating defeat for the US on this non-binding UN resolution. Instead it is reported in the west as a US victory and an “overwhelming” worldwide condemnation of Russia.
The UN Vote and GDP Per Capita
All the countries in the top third of the GDP per capita (nominal) rankings, including Japan and all the countries of Western Europe and North America, voted for the resolution, Venezuela being the only country in the top third that did not.
Of the countries that did not vote for the resolution, most are ranked the poorest in the world, and almost none came above the approximate midpoint rank of 98. The exceptions were: Venezuela (58), Russia (68), Equatorial Guinea (73), Kazakhstan (75), China (76) Cuba (82), Turkmenistan (92), South Africa (95), Belarus (97).3
The UN Vote and the Core/Periphery Divide
Another way to show the wealth divide in the UN vote is by distinguishing core and peripheral countries. In world-systems theory the surplus value of labor flows disproportionately to the core countries: “The countries of the world can be divided into two major world regions: the ‘core’ and the ‘periphery.’ The core includes major world powers and the countries that contain much of the wealth of the planet. The periphery has those countries that are not reaping the benefits of global wealth and globalization.” (Colin Stief, ThoughtCo.com, 1/21/20)
The countries usually considered in the core are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.
The difference here is stark. Every single core country voted for the resolution and every country that did not is either in the periphery or in some cases, like Russia or China, in the semi-periphery.
The UN Vote and Median Age
All the countries ranked in the top third of median age rankings, from Monaco (51.1 years) to Iceland (36.5 years), voted for the resolution, with the following exceptions: China (37.4), Russia (39.6), Belarus (40), Cuba (41.5).
Of the twenty entries with the lowest median ages (15.4 to 18.9), only half voted for the resolution.
The UN Vote and “Countries of Color”
Of the 7,934,000,000 people in the world, 1,136,160,000 live in what are usually recognized as “white countries” (consistently or not) with about 14% of the world’s population. Yet “white countries,” by population, represent about 30% of the total vote in favor of the resolution. This “white vote” accounts for every one of the core countries (except Singapore and Japan). Compare: 97% of the population in the countries that did not vote for the resolution live in “countries of color.” Only Russia, Belarus and Armenia (which did not vote for the resolution) have dominant populations classed as “white.”
Therefore “white countries” are overrepresented in the group that voted for the resolution (30% vs. 14%), and underrepresented in the group that did not (3% vs. 14%).
Before the Intervention
What follows is a brief sketch of events leading to the February 24 Russian intervention that prompted the UN resolution. It is a history seldom mentioned in the mainstream media, though it is easily found in selected alternative and now-suppressed media. It is presented here as a possible, partial explanation of why the UN resolution had so little support measured by population.
US/NATO has directed aggression toward Russia for decades, advancing NATO forces ever closer to Russia’s western border, ringing Russia with military bases, placing nuclear weapons at ever closer range, and breaching and discarding treaties meant to lessen the likelihood of nuclear war. The US even let it be known, through its planning documents and policy statements, that it considered Ukraine a battlefield on which Ukrainian and Russian lives might be sacrificed in order to destabilize, decapitate and eventually dismember Russia just as it did Yugoslavia. Russia has long pointed out the existential security threat it sees in Ukrainian territory, and it has made persistent, peaceful, yet fruitless efforts over decades to resolve the problem. (See Monthly Review’s excellent editors’ note.)
Recent history includes the 2014 US-orchestrated coup in Ukraine, followed by a war of the central government against those in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk resisting the coup government and its policies. Those policies include a ban on the Russian language, the native tongue of the region and a significant part of the country (ironically, including President Zelensky).
By the end of 2021 the war had taken 14,000 lives, four-fifths of them members of the resistance or civilian Russian speakers targeted by the government. Through years of negotiations Russia tried and failed to keep the Donetsk and Lugansk regions inside a united Ukraine. After signing the Minsk agreements that would do just that, Ukraine, under tight US control, refused to comply even with step one: to talk with the rebellion’s representatives.
As to why the intervention happend now, Vyacheslav Tetekin, Central Committee member of Russia’s largest opposition party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, explains:
Starting from December, 2021 Russia had been receiving information about NATO’s plans to deploy troops and missile bases in Ukraine. Simultaneously an onslaught on the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republics (LPR) was being prepared. About a week before the start of Russia’s operation the plan was uncovered of an offensive that envisaged strikes by long-range artillery, multiple rocket launchers, combat aircraft, to be followed by an invasion of Ukrainian troops and Nazi battalions. It was planned to cut off Donbas from the border with Russia, encircle and besiege Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities and then carry out a sweeping “security cleanup” with imprisonment and killing of thousands of defenders of Donbas and their supporters. The plan was developed in cooperation with NATO. The invasion was scheduled to begin in early March. Russia’s action pre-empted Kiev and NATO, which enabled it to seize strategic initiative and effectively save thousands of lives in the two republics.
All this may have informed the world’s overwhelming rejection of the US-backed UN resolution condemning Russia, which western media perversely considers a US victory simply because the resolution passed. Never mind that it passed in a voting system where Liechtenstein’s vote carries the same weight as China’s.
The Global South also knows from bitter experience that unlike the West, neither Russia nor it’s close partner China habitually engage in bombings, invasions, destabilization campaigns, color revolutions, coups and assassinations against the countries and governments of the Global South. On the contrary, both countries have assisted the development and military defense of such countries, as in Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran and elsewhere.
Just as the imperial core of North America, Europe and Japan does not represent the world in their population numbers, demographics, wealth, or power, neither does the imperial core speak for the world on crucial issues of war, peace, justice, and international law. Indeed the Global South has already spoken to the Global North so many times, in so many ways, with patience, persistence and eloquence, to little avail. Since we in the North have not been able to hear the words, perhaps we can listen to the cry of the numbers.
1The resolution “Deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter.” (Article 2 (4) reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”) The resolution also “[d]eplores the 21 February 2022 decision by the Russian Federation related to the status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter.” Beyond Russia, the resolution “[d]eplores the involvement of Belarus in this unlawful use of force against Ukraine, and calls upon it to abide by its international obligations.”
2The population of countries voting for the UN resolution is 3,289,310,000. The population of countries voting against the resolution, abstaining, or not voting is 4,644,694,000. (Against: 202,209,000; abstaining: 4,140,546,000; not voting: 301,939,000.)
3Here are the countries that did not vote for the resolution, with their GDP per capita rankings (the lower the number the higher the rank). 5 countries voted against the resolution: Russia 68, Belarus 97, North Korea 154, Eritrea 178, Syria 147. 35 countries abstained: Algeria 119, Angola 128, Armenia 115, Bangladesh 155, Bolivia 126, Burundi 197, Central African Republic 193, China 76, Congo 143, Cuba 82, El Salvador 121, Equatorial Guinea 73, India 150, Iran 105, Iraq 103, Kazakhstan 75, Kyrgyzstan 166, Laos 140, Madagascar 190, Mali 174, Mongolia 118, Mozambique 192, Namibia 102, Nicaragua 148, Pakistan 162, Senegal 160, South Africa 95, South Sudan 168, Sri Lanka 120, Sudan 171, Tajikistan 177, Tanzania 169, Uganda 187, Vietnam 138, Zimbabwe 144. 12 countries did not vote: Azerbaijan 110, Burkina Faso 184, Cameroon 158, Eswatini 117, Ethiopia 170, Guinea 175, Guinea-Bissau 179, Morocco 130, Togo 185, Turkmenistan 92, Uzbekistan 159, Venezuela 58.
-Roger Stoll is a Latin America/Caribbean solidarity activist with the Task Force on the Americas, a three-decades-old anti-imperialist human rights organization. He has published articles, book reviews and political poetry in Dissident Voice, Resumen Latinoamericano, MintPress News, Black Agenda Report, Popular Resistance, Orinoco Tribune, Marxism-Leninism Today, Counterpunch, San Francisco Examiner, ZNet, Jewschool, and New Verse News.