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The resolution calling on Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine” was passed by an overwhelming majority, with 141 member states voting in favour and 32 abstaining.
African states formed a significant bloc among those who abstained, with 15 not casting a ballot either way. They included Ethiopia, Guinea, Mozambique, Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Republic of the Congo.
South Africa was also among the states that abstained. It is holding joint naval drills with Russia this week over the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine, a move that has been criticised by western diplomats.
A bigger block of African countries voted in favour of the resolution calling for an end to the war, including continental heavyweights Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria, as well as smaller states like Liberia, Zambia and The Gambia.
Eritrea and Mali were among the seven states that voted against, alongside Syria, North Korea and Belarus. This decision reflects the two states deepening ties with Russia and their mistrust of the west.
Russia gains from charm offensive
Mercenaries from the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group are playing a major role in fighting militants in Mali, filling a vacuum left by France, which pulled the last of its troops out in 2022 amid disputes with the country’s junta.
Meanwhile, Russia is weighing up investing in Eritrea’s Red Sea port of Massawa, following a visit by its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to the East African country last month. The show of support is an important diplomatic boost for Eritrea, long treated as a pariah by the west over its system of indefinite military service.
Thursday’s voting patterns broadly reflected the last UN General Assembly vote on Ukraine in October, when the body passed a resolution to condemn “illegal so-called referendums” by Russia to annex Ukrainian territory.
One key difference is that Eritrea and Mali abstained in that vote, rather than voting against the resolution. Another is that Gabon abstained from this week’s vote, despite voting against Russia in October. The country currently sits on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, alongside Ghana and Mozambique.
That could be a sign that Russia’s charm offensive on the continent is slowly paying off, even if most African countries voted against the country at the UN yesterday. Lavrov has made several trips to the continent since the Ukraine war broke out, which he has used to lash out at accusations Russia’s invasion has worsened food insecurity in Africa by driving up fuel prices and disrupting grain shipments.
Others sitting on the fence
For their part, western countries have launched a diplomatic counter-push to win over African countries and rally their support. Last month, the foreign ministers of France and Germany were keen to highlight the impact of the war on food prices in African countries during a trip to Ethiopia, which included taking journalists to see a warehouse of grain donated by Ukraine and financed by their governments.
“This is a total war of aggression of Russia against Ukraine…it is unjustified and it has consequences for countries in Africa,” said Catherine Colonna, France’s foreign minister, during the trip.
The resolution passed at the UN on Thursday also made reference to “the global impacts of the war on food security, energy, finance, the environment, and nuclear safety and security” and called for a ceasefire.
However, a significant bloc of African countries has refused to take sides in the Ukrainian conflict. Prominent among these is South Africa, whose foreign minister, Nadeli Pandor, has re-affirmed her country’s long-standing commitment to non-alignment.
“South Africa has always maintained an independent foreign policy,” Pandor told The Africa Report during last weekend’s AU Summit in Addis Ababa. “The fact that there’s a war between Russia and Ukraine doesn’t mean Ukraine is the enemy of South Africa, or Russia is the enemy of South Africa.”