Opinion: UN has the power to end destruction, suffering in Ukraine

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I just watched a 1944 movie, “Passage to Marseille,” staring Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains (the Casablanca cast). After Bogart’s character’s death, Rains reads a letter Bogart’s character has written to his son:

“That deadly conflict was waged to decide your future. You are the heir of what your father and his friends have won for you with their blood. It would be too tragic if men of good will should ever again be too lax or fail again to build a world where youth may love without fear and where parents may grow old with their children. And where men would be worthy of each other’s faith.”

A Ukrainian serviceman carries his injured comrade evacuated from the battlefield into a hospital in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

These words also describe the hopes of the world in the founding of the United Nations, as the best protection mankind could conceive against another world war: the commitment of the nations of the world to resolve disputes peacefully, and protect the territorial integrity of countries against invasion by its neighbors. The UN worked as intended when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the Security Council voted to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait under the action of a multi-national military force.

But in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the UN Security Council is incapable of acting similarly, due to Russia’s veto of any such action by the Security Council. However, UN Resolution #377, enacted in November of 1950, authorizes the UN General Assembly to act in place of the Security Council to end such a conflict when Security Council action is blocked by a veto. The UN General Assembly has only voted on two censure resolutions with no actions to force a cease fire, and no consequences if not honored. So these resolutions have had no impact on Russia’s actions in Ukraine.  And the destruction of the civilian infrastructure, the human atrocities and war crimes, have continued for more than 10 months.

December 24, 2022: An injured man stands on a street after Russian shelling of the Ukrainian city of Kherson, where five were killed and 20 injured. - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blasted Russian "terror" after shelling left at least five dead and 20 injured in Kherson city, which Kyiv's forces recaptured in November.

December 24, 2022: An injured man stands on a street after Russian shelling of the Ukrainian city of Kherson, where five were killed and 20 injured. – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blasted Russian “terror” after shelling left at least five dead and 20 injured in Kherson city, which Kyiv’s forces recaptured in November.

The continuing conflict on the battlefield is becoming increasingly dangerous to the civilian population in Ukraine and to the world. Russia’s consistent missile attacks on the civilian infrastructure, to deny civilians far from military targets the basic elements of life such as electricity, heat and water, are on-going war crimes. Human atrocities continue to be discovered as Ukraine reclaims Russian occupied territories. Ukraine is not going to surrender to Russia and give up its sovereignty. Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to politically survive a battlefield loss to Ukraine. Putin needs an off-ramp that he can position to his citizens as having achieved the initial purposes for sending troops to Ukraine.

It seems under Resolution #377, the UN General Assembly could enforce a cease fire and install a multi-national Peacekeeping Force. Rather than oppose this action, Putin could “spin” it as achieving the goals he announced for the invasion: eliminating the Nazi influence, preventing Ukraine from invading Russia, and protecting Russian-speaking people in Eastern Ukrainian, all secured by the UN actions.

The Russian annexation of Crimea and the Eastern districts would be negotiated after the current conflict ends. The UN should insist on supervising these negotiations, with the threat of facing a vote in the General Assembly to lose their Security Council seat if Russia does not agree to cancel annexation and withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

U.S. President Joe Biden and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky hold a joint news conference Dec. 21, 2022, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.

U.S. President Joe Biden and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky hold a joint news conference Dec. 21, 2022, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.

President Volodymyr Zelensky recently made a courageous journey to the United States to address to a joint session of Congress regarding the needs Ukraine has to defend its democracy and territorial integrity on the battlefield.  Congress has approved an appropriation of about $45 billion in 2023 to enable Ukraine to survive Russia’s attacks. But this approach will only prolong the suffering of the Ukrainian population during the coming cold winter, and ensure that the destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and the ongoing human atrocities and war crimes would continue for perhaps another year. U.S. leadership in the UN General Assembly to force a vote on action to end the military conflict under a UN-enforced cease fire could end this illegal conflict without further suffering in Ukraine or further investments from the U.S. and NATO in weapons.

Let us hope that the U.S. administration and our UN ambassador will take bold steps in the UN General Assembly and lead the UN to act under Resolution #377 to end this unlawful invasion now.

Robert Viney is a Naval Academy graduate and former nuclear submarine officer who made special operations patrols in Vietnam and Cold War areas, before spending 30 years as a business executive, business coach and adjunct professor of leadership. He is a resident of Mason.

Robert Viney

Robert Viney

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: UN has the power to end destruction, suffering in Ukraine

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