President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended South Africa’s decision last week to abstain from a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
The resolution, backed by 141 countries with 35 abstentions and five against, deplored “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the [UN] Charter.”
It also demanded that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces” from Ukraine and called for the peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue, mediation and negotiation.
However, writing in his weekly letter to the nation on Monday (7 March), Ramaphosa said the resolution “did not foreground the call for meaningful engagement,” hence South Africa abstained from voting for or against it.
“Even prior to the resolution being passed at the UN last week, talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials had already started,” he explained.
“South Africa expected that the UN resolution would foremost welcome the commencement of dialogue between the parties and seek to create the conditions for these talks to succeed. Instead, the call for peaceful resolution through political dialogue is relegated to a single sentence close to the conclusion of the final text. This does not provide the encouragement and international backing that the parties need to continue with their efforts.”
Some commentators have criticised South Africa’s decision, with Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa Liubov Abravitova expressing “dismay.”
“We consider this approach taken by South Africa as not being useful for the resolution of conflict. We are aware of the reasons that South Africa has given for their stance, but even in that we still find it very alarming,” Abravitova said.
South Africa ‘on the side of peace’
Ramaphosa however denied claims that South Africa is “on the wrong side of history,” insisting instead that it is “firmly on the side of peace at a time when another war is something the world does not need, nor can it afford.”
“A cessation of hostilities may indeed be achieved through force of arms or economic pressure, but it would be unlikely to lead to a sustainable and lasting peace,” he explained.
Latest reports indicate that a ceasefire has been declared in key cities, including Kyiv, to open humanitarian corridors for civilians to escape the conflict.
However, there are no signs that Russia will abide by the non-binding UNGA resolution. A previous UN Security Council draft resolution failed after Russia vetoed it.