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U.S.-led effort to condemn Putin at U.N. fails with Russian veto

Earlier Friday, the Biden administration announced additional sanctions on Russia in response to the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukrainian territory

Russian President Vladimir Putin joins hands with the Moscow-appointed heads of the four territories that Russia illegally annexed Friday. (Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S.-led effort to win United Nations Security Council support for a resolution condemning Russia’s staged referendums and its attempt to illegally annex four regions of Ukraine, failed to pass Friday when Russia, as anticipated, vetoed the measure.

Four nations — China, India, Brazil and Gabon — abstained from the vote in the 15-member body, despite U.S. exhortations to “stand up and defend our collective beliefs.”

The U.N. effort was part of a broad package of responses by the Biden administration and U.S. allies to President Vladimir Putin’s signing of annexation decrees formally incorporating areas of southern and eastern Ukraine under its partial occupation, and declaring that the people living there would “be our citizens forever.”

Speaking at the White House after Putin’s signing ceremony at the Kremlin, President Biden said that “he’s not going to scare us or intimidate us. He can’t seize his neighbor’s land and get away with it.”

Three maps that explain Russia’s annexations and losses in Ukraine

The administration announced a new round of sanctions designed to tighten the access of Russia’s defense industry to technology and materials, and expanding penalties on Russian government officials and their family members, as well as Russian and Belarusian military officials.

The United States said it was sending a “clear warning” that there will be costs for any individual, entity or country that provides political or economic support to Russia. Three agencies — the Treasury, Commerce and State Departments — are imposing “swift and severe costs” on Russia, the administration said.

“Russia is violating international law, trampling on the United Nations Charter, and showing its contempt for peaceful nations everywhere,” Biden said. “Make no mistake: these actions have no legitimacy.”

He added: “The United States will always honor Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. We will continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to regain control of its territory by strengthening its hand militarily and diplomatically.”

National security adviser Jake Sullivan, asked by reporters whether the latest sanctions — adding to numerous measures already imposed on Russian entities and individuals — would make a difference, said that they had three goals.

First, he said, the United States wanted “to reduce the capacity of the Russian military machine to regenerate its ability to threaten Ukraine.” Second, the sanctions aimed to “undermine Russia’s major sectors in technology, in industry, and, of course, in defense” so that, over time, “its capacity to project power, threaten and coerce its neighbors and wage wars of aggression is reduced.”

Lastly, Sullivan said the sanctions are intended to send a message to Russia’s allies that if they “are going to stand beside Russia on this issue of illegal annexation, they will subject themselves to sanctions.”

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced another $1.1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total since Russia’s February invasion to $16.2 billion. Along with a 40-member “contact group” of countries directly aiding Ukraine, the United States has vowed to continue sending weaponry and other assistance for as long as it takes to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

7 key moments in Putin’s annexation speech

While the majority of the world’s nations have condemned Russia’s actions, and even Moscow’s dwindling number of friends have expressed increasing concern over its war aims, the administration over the last several weeks has launched a new effort to persuade fence-sitters to directly denounce the referendums and annexation as a violation of the U.N. Charter.

In a Security Council vote immediately after the invasion, ten countries voted in favor of a condemnation resolution that Russia vetoed, while three — China, India and the United Arab Emirates — abstained. In March, 35 of the U.N.'s 193 member nations abstained in a nonbinding vote censuring Russia’s actions.

While assuming that Russia would veto Friday’s resolution in the council, and that China would likely abstain, the administration was hopeful that there would be no other abstentions in the face of Putin’s annexation declaration.

“We all have an interest in defending the sacred principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told council members before the vote. “All of us understand the implications for our own borders, our own economies and our own countries if this [these] principles are tossed aside.”

“This is what this body is here to do,” she said. “We are the first line of defense for the U.N. Charter … This is not a moment to stand on the sidelines.”

Also speaking before the Friday vote, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said it demonstrated that “some of our colleagues in the council have reached a new low.”

Residents of the four Ukrainian regions — Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — where the staged referendums were held “do not want to return to Ukraine,” he said of the votes that have been widely condemned as illegal and manipulated shams. Nebenzya charged the United States with “twisting arms” of other countries for support.

Accusing the United States of “double standards,” he recalled that U.S. and NATO forces had intervened on behalf of Kosovo, in the Balkans, when it sought independence from Russia-backed Serbia in the 1990s. “No referendum was necessary,” Nebenzya said.

At the same time, “Washington, today is the loudest to criticize us and to speak of the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” he said, “recently declared itself willing to use force to protect Taiwan, an integral part of the People’s Republic of China.” The reference was to Biden’s repeated statements — later toned down by administration officials — that U.S. forces would assist in defending Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Nebenzya was also critical of U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who has forcefully denounced Russia’s actions as both immoral and illegal under international law.

When hands were raised to vote, the UAE joined in approval. India, whose government has recently criticized Russian actions in Ukraine, again abstained. It was joined by Gabon, whose ambassador called for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement of the war, and by Brazil, which voiced strong disapproval of the referendums and annexation but said the vote had been rushed with no time for ambassadors to consult their capitals.

The Security Council comprises 15 members — five that hold permanent seats with veto power, including Russia, the United States, France, China and Britain — and ten that serve rotating two-year terms after being chosen by regional groupings. No resolution can pass without the approval of all five permanent members, and a total of at least ten votes.

In announcing new measures Friday against Russia, the Treasury and Commerce departments listed increased sanctions and export control risks for anyone inside or outside of Russia who aids in the annexation effort. Treasury also sanctioned 14 international suppliers for supporting Russian military supply chains, and designated 109 additional State Duma members along with 169 members of Federation Council, the lower and upper houses of Russia’s legislature.

The State Department said that it was imposing visa restrictions on Ochur-Suge Mongush “for a gross violation of human rights perpetrated against a Ukrainian prisoner of war.” Mongush has been named in news accounts as a Russian who tortured a Ukrainian prisoner.

Similar restrictions, it said, were being applied to 910 other individuals, including members of the Russian military, Belarusian military officials and Russia’s proxies that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Treasury also designated Elvira Sakhipzadovna Nabiullina, a former adviser to Putin and governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, as well as Olga Nikolaevna Skorobogatova, the central bank’s first deputy governor.

The United States on Friday also sanctioned relatives of members of Russia’s National Security Council, including Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s wife and two adult children and Defense Minister Sergei Kuzhugetovich Shoigu’s wife and adult children.

Officials say sanctions on powerful individuals and family members can be particularly effective.

The United States is also working with other countries to ramp up their sanctions as well. The European Union on Wednesday announced a new draft of its eighth sanctions law, including a proposed price cap on the global purchase of Russian oil. Both Britain and Canada also announced new measures on Friday.

“I urge all members of the international community to reject Russia’s illegal attempts at annexation and to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Biden said.