Russian "referenda" in occupied parts of Ukraine have no legal value, UN Secretary-General says

29 September 2022, 10:38 PM
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (Photo:Reuters / MAXIM SHEMETOV)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (Photo:Reuters / MAXIM SHEMETOV)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres kept talking about the necessity of dialogue as the only way to stop the Russian war against Ukraine during the UN General Assembly last week.

As a top diplomat, Guterres seemed to stay true to the “talk to a devil principle”, frequently talking to Putin and other high-profile Russians and being extremely careful about his words. Like most in the UN, he was doing everything not to insult Russia, although he angered many in Ukraine.

Guterres’s approach of “carrots, not sticks” has brought some good – the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July and the release of the Ukrainian civilians from the blockaded Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, a city in Donetsk Oblast destroyed by Russian shelling, in spring.

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However, careful words haven’t stopped Russian dictator Vladimir Putin from conducting sham referenda at gunpoint on the occupied territories of Ukraine. And now he plans to officially attach the war-torn occupied territories to Russia and sends more and more soldiers to the war.

The Kremlin has announced that the “ceremony” will take place in Moscow on Sept. 30.  It will launch a process of annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, currently controlled by Russian occupiers.

And it seems Guterres was quite distressed this time. During his speech to the press on Sept. 29 at the UN, he used by far the strongest words to condemn Putin.

“I want to underscore that the so-called “referenda” in the occupied regions were conducted during active armed conflict, in areas under Russian occupation, and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework,” Guterres said.

“They cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will. Any decision by Russia to go forward will further jeopardize the prospects for peace. It stands against everything the international community is meant to stand for.”

Previously Guterres was criticized widely for his mild if not warm rhetoric on Russia.  For example, he has dismissed warnings that Russia planned to topple the Ukrainian government.

Back in April, when he visited Kyiv, Russia stroke the Ukrainian capital with a missile. As his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told NV at the UN “secretary did not take the strike personally. He knew he was traveling to the war zone where this happens.”

Although Dujarric said he can’t interpret the mood and words of the UN Secretary-General, he admitted that by far Sept. 29 was the boldest statement of the world’s top diplomat.

Guterres said that in its landmark Friendly Relations Declaration of 24 October 1970 —repeatedly cited as stating rules of general international law by the International Court of Justice — the General Assembly declared that “the territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from the threat or use of force” and that “no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal”.

“And I must be clear. The Russian Federation, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, shares a particular responsibility to respect the Charter,” Secretary-General said.

He described Putin’s annexation of the occupied territories of Ukraine as a “dangerous escalation that has no place in the modern world and it must not be accepted.

“The position of the United Nations is unequivocal: we are fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders,” Guterres said.

“It will prolong the dramatic impacts on the global economy, especially developing countries, and hinder our ability to deliver life-saving aid across Ukraine and beyond.  It is high time to step back from the brink.”

Despite Russia’s ignorance of international law and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s nuclear threats during the General Assembly, Guterres insisted that all sides must work together to end the war and return to international law.

Ukraine has previously stated that if Russia officially annexes occupied territories, it will make any kind of negotiations with Ukraine impossible.

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