Mark Nuckols

On Thursday, the 193-member General Assembly of the United Nations voted 100 to 11 to denounce the Crimean referendum - a balloting that paved the way for the absorption of the peninsula into Russia - as illegal. Another 58 countries abstained, while the remaining 24 did not vote.

The 10 votes that Russia mustered against the resolution came from Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. "The result is rather satisfying for us as we have won a moral and a political victory," the Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said, RIA Novosti reported. "It clearly shows that Russia is not isolated."

This vote shows rather vividly the global coalition that Russia can rely upon diplomatically. Armenia relies on Russian military support in its ongoing frozen conflict with Azerbaijan, and predictably felt obliged to support the Russian position in Crimea. As for the almost all the other nine votes in favor of the Kremlin, it’s a membership roster of rogue states that like Russia routinely scorn international norms. Belarus, “the last dictatorship in Europe” is can usually be counted on to be a reliable diplomatic partner for Moscow.

Then there is Syria, waging a brutal war on its own population, utterly dependent on critical support from Moscow. Cuba and North Korean, the world’s two remaining orthodox totalitarian Communist dictatorships also lined up in place. Add another two of the world’s last dictatorships, Zimbabwe and Sudan, to Russia’s column.

Apparently, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela couldn’t resist the old tradition of nursing ancient grievances against the United States and voting for Russia merely to spite their northern neighbor.

There you have it – a motley collection of client states, failing dictatorships and three disgruntled Latin American states reflexively voting against anything America is for. That’s the extent of global support for Russia’s illegal annexation of territory belonging to a neighboring country. If the Kremlin takes this as proof that Russia isn’t isolated on the world stage, I have to wonder what it would take to convince Putin and his cabal otherwise.

Meanwhile, the United States assembled an impressive column of yes votes. Voting to condemn Russia’s bogus referendum and illegal annexation of Crimea were 100 U.N. states. They included the entire G-7, every single member of the European Union, and 29 out of 30 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (Israel excepted). It also included major Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Thailand and Australia. Of the abstaining and absent votes, only four are significant: China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. The rest of the abstainers are various minor third world countries such as Myanmar and Ecuador. The four BRICS countries have their own reasons not to support the U.S. position, for example China’s annexation of Tibet may make it hesitant to condemn Russia’s own annexations in Georgia and Ukraine. And they are hesitant to endorse a U.S. position merely on the principle that doing so somehow compromises their diplomatic independence. But they pointedly forwent an opportunity to side with Russia.

If you aggregate the GDPs of the countries that sided with America, their total economic heft is approximately sixty times the size of Russia’s “coalition.” And virtually all of the important democratic states that voted against Russia also happen to be allied militarily with America, while none of Russia’s “partners” has a formal alliance with Moscow, except for Belarus and Armenia.

The General Assembly vote has no formal force or means of enforcement, but it represents a resounding condemnation by the world community of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. It also vividly highlights just how deeply unpopular and isolated Russia truly is. The United States is still militarily and diplomatically the one essential player on the world stage, whether the Kremlin likes it or not. . President Obama should keep this fact front and center in his dealings with the rogue states of the world, including Russia.


Mark Nuckols

Mark Nuckols teaches law and business in Moscow. He has a JD from Georgetown and an MBA from Dartmouth. He has lived in Eastern Europe for most of the last 20 years, including Russia, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Georgia.