The bitter differences between the world’s most powerful nations were on full display in New York on Thursday, as the United Nations Security Council weighed two equally hopeless resolutions on Venezuela.
In a diplomatic game of chicken, the UK, France and the United States squared off against Russia and China. The United States had waited weeks to put forward its draft resolution, which described embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s presidency as the result of elections that were “neither free nor fair.” The resolution also called for new presidential elections, and delivery access for foreign humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, the Russians were waiting in the wings with a rival draft resolution, which condemned outside interference in Venezuela’s affairs, citing unnamed “threats to use force” against Venezuela.
Since January, Maduro has been battling for control of the country against Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s opposition-led legislature and self-declared president. Maduro is firmly backed by Russia, while Guaido has been recognized as the true head of state by the United States and many regional powers and European nations.
It was a familiar dance. Everyone in the UN knew the two competing resolutions would go down in flames, but the diplomats trooped into the historic chamber anyway.
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia opened the meeting by blasting Washington for hiding ulterior motives. He accused the United States of seeking to gather support for regime change in Venezuela. When it was time to vote on the US resolution, both Nebenzia and his Chinese counterpart exercised their veto power.
“Some members of this Council continue to shield Maduro and his cronies and prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” responded Elliott Abrams, US special envoy on Venezuela, before the Security Council.
Then the Russian draft was put to the test. With favorable votes only from Russia, China, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, it failed to attain the UN’s minimum of nine supporting votes. Adding insult to injury, the United States, UK and France also vetoed it.
It was a disappointing but predictable stalemate for the council once established to protect international peace and security. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan population continues to face empty shelves at grocery stores and pharmacies, after Guaido’s campaign to bring foreign aid into the country was stymied last weekend.
“Political show and misadventure”
After the votes, Russia’s Nebenzia described the vote as “political show and misadventure.”
“The draft submitted by the US delegation was written for regime change disguised as care for people. We’ve seen all of this already vis a vis Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan,” he said. Russia has often referenced the UN Security Council’s 2011 vote leading to intervention in Libya as reason for its tendency to veto resolutions.
Nebenzia also complained that the Russian draft resolution had not been taken seriously by the council. “Yesterday we convened expert-level consultations on our text, we listened to the views of members of the Security Council including the US representative. We heard not a single specific comment on our draft. Western experts said that they would not work on our text and US colleagues immediately tabled their draft for the vote. Where’s diplomacy here? Where’s a quest for compromise?” he said.
In contrast, UK Ambassador Karen Pierce praised the US resolution, and criticized the Russian resolution as partially fiction. “There have been no threats to Venezuela’s political independence or territorial integrity,” she said.
The UN Security Council looks great when you are in the room, whether the topic of debate is Venezuela, Myanmar or Syria. But its difficulty in actually delivering help to civilians increasingly raises the question of whether the United Nations itself is still relevant.