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Russia – Ukraine War: Assessing United Nations Communication

Background and Introduction

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been ongoing since Ukraine declared its sovereignty from the Soviet Union in August 1991 (Ukraine com, n. d). As a critical geopolitical flashpoint and home to the second-largest population and military power in the former Soviet republics, tensions between Ukraine and Russia have been high for decades. The 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity, also known as the Euromaidan Revolution, brought significant changes to Ukraine’s government, but it also sparked Russian aggression (Welt, 2021). The crisis has been fueled by misguided policies towards Russia, popular unrest, and an identity crisis in the Donbas region, (Harris, 2020; Sakwa, 2014). Kirby (2022) reports that Russian President Putin’s initial aim for the 2022 invasion of Ukraine was to dispose of the Ukrainian government and prevent it from joining NATO. When this failed, Russia shifted its focus to Ukraine’s south and east. Council on Foreign Relations (n. d) argues that Russia’s resentment towards NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory may have also played a role in the conflict. Russia has long seen NATO as a hostile military alliance that seeks to encircle and contain Russia. The expansion of NATO to include former Soviet states, including Ukraine, has been seen by Russia as a direct threat to its security and interests.

The conflict has had a significant impact on the global economy, with commodity prices soaring due to high inflation. Zandi (2022) notes that the crisis has led to the loss of lives, displacement of people, and destruction of properties worth millions of dollars. According to Clark (2022), at least 2,700 people have been killed, and ten million people have been displaced from their homes or left the country. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a humanitarian crisis that has led to significant loss of life and displacement of people. It is imperative that diplomatic efforts are made to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict and provide assistance to those affected by it. An analysis of the responses to the conflict by key organizations and countries can help understand the various perspectives and motivations driving the international response to the conflict. Therefore, it may be possible to identify potential areas for diplomatic progress. Additionally, an analysis of the responses may help to identify the most effective means of providing assistance to those affected by the conflict. Ultimately, the goal is to find a peaceful and sustainable solution to the conflict that can provide relief to those who have been impacted by it.

Since the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian leader, several governments around the world and non-governmental organizations have spoken against the aggressive act by Russia and the United Nations is no exception. Therefore, communication theories can be useful tools to help understand the complexities of the responses to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, particularly the United Nations. The United Nations was established in 1945 after World War II to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among member nations, ensure respect for human rights and better standards of living and promote social progress (United Nations n. d). Article 2(4) of the United Nations charter states that “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or any other manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations.” Based on this article of the United Nations charter, the General Assembly passed resolution ES-11/1 on March 2, 2022, that demanded Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

The passage of resolution ES-11/1 by the United Nations General Assembly is a clear example of a communicative act. As a legal document, the resolution has a specific function in terms of communication. It conveys a demanding message from the General Assembly to Russia. The resolution also establishes the position of the General Assembly with regards to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and serves as a basis for future actions by the UN and its member states. According to speech act theory, a communicative act is an action performed by an individual with the intention of communicating a particular message to others (Kaburise, 2011). By passing the resolution, the General Assembly is using its authority as a legitimate representative of the international community to communicate its expectations to Russia.

This paper seeks to analyze the communication response of the United Nations to the Ukraine-Russia war. The focus is set specifically on the UN Resolution ES-11/1 which is one of the many official responses of the United Nations to the Russia-Ukraine war. The resolution ES-11/1 captures the position of the UN on the crisis, their expectations, and proffered solutions. This essay interprets and analyzes the resolution under three theoretical lenses: communication as ritual, communication as dissemination, and communication as social influence lens. The ritualistic lens will analyze how the resolution ES-11/1 uses language to reinforce certain cultural beliefs and values, such as the importance of international cooperation and the need to promote peace and stability. The dissemination lens analyzes how the resolution ES-11/1 uses language to convey information about the conflict and the actions being taken to address it. Finally, the social influence lens will address how the resolution ES-11/1 uses language to influence the attitudes and behaviors of member states and other actors involved in the conflict, such as by promoting peaceful solutions and encouraging compliance with international law.

Communication as Ritual

The UN after deliberation and careful analysis of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed resolution ES-11/1 on March 2, 2022. With thirty-five (35) member states abstaining from voting, this resolution was voted for by one hundred and forty-one (141) countries and voted against by five (5) countries (United Nations n. d). Without further statements from individual countries, it is impossible to determine the specific reasons for their votes. However, some countries could have economic or political ties to Russia, influencing their decision to abstain from voting (Voeten, 2013). Furthermore, a country may vote against a resolution because they fundamentally disagree with its content or believe that it goes against its own interests. For example, a country may believe that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are justified or that the resolution is biased against Russia. Resolutions are typical of the UN whenever there is an issue of concern in the international community. The passing of resolutions is a ‘behavior’ of the UN, a ‘behavior’ that emanates from its very purpose of existence – to maintain world peace and order. This section examines Resolution ES-11/1 as a ritual communication act of the UN.

The passage of Resolution ES-11/1 by the United Nations in response to the Ukraine-Russia war exemplifies the theoretical conception of communication as a ritual. “Ritual is the voluntary performance of appropriately patterned behavior to symbolically effect or participate in the serious life” Rothenbuler (1998) cited in (Rothenbuler 2006). Rothenbuler (2006) explains that “serious life” can be put in a category of things that are treated as important. The united nation by its purpose of existence has the duty of promoting and maintaining world peace and order, and one main tool it uses is the passage of resolutions on such important issues as this war in Ukraine. Therefore, the passage of Resolution ES-11/1 is a ‘ritual’ because it constitutes a voluntary performance to participate in serious life. The United Nations communication of resolution ES-11/1 is something important to not just Ukraine and Russia but the rest of the world because of the significant impact the war is having on people around the world.

The UN resolutions can be seen as a ritualistic form of communication, as they follow a specific process and structure that symbolically achieves certain goals. First, the resolution is introduced by a member state or group of member states. This stage symbolically establishes the authority and legitimacy of the resolution by placing it within the framework of the UN system. Secondly, the resolution is discussed and debated by member states, with each state having the opportunity to express its views and concerns. This stage symbolically represents the diversity of perspectives and interests within the international community. Thirdly, the draft resolution is prepared, taking into account the discussions and input of member states. This stage symbolically represents the process of consensus-building and compromise necessary for international cooperation. Fourthly, the resolution is put to a vote, with member states either supporting or opposing it. This stage symbolically represents the importance of collective decision-making and the power of consensus. Fifthly, if the resolution is approved, it is adopted and becomes an official decision of the UN. This stage symbolically represents the commitment of the international community to addressing the issue at hand and taking action to promote peace, security, and development. Finally, the resolution is implemented through various means, including diplomatic, economic, and military measures. This stage symbolically represents the collective effort of member states to follow through on their commitments and achieve the goals set forth in the resolution.

According to Abukckle (2021), anthropologists agree that “ritual is the repetitive spontaneous or prescribed symbolic use of bodily movement and gesture to express and articulate meaning.” The United Nations has developed its own set of rituals and symbolic behaviors that involve the collective bodily movements and gestures of its officials and representatives. For example, when the General Assembly passes a resolution, it is customary for the President of the Assembly to strike the gavel three times to signal the conclusion of the vote. In terms of the whole organization, the very act of convening a meeting of the United Nations can be seen as a ritual that involves the bodily movement of its members. This action affirms Brabec de Mori’s (2017) definition that a “Ritual is a term used to describe an action or a series of actions that are fixed and symbolically loaded according to a given context within a particular community.” The most effective mechanism of ritual is communication where people perform according to normative orders to achieve social ends. This manifests in such special events as the United States president speaking at the State of Union Address, an elected president giving his or her inaugural speech, and other small rituals like nod, handshake, and greetings (Rothenbuler 2006).

The United Nations has been passing resolutions to communicate its position on matters of international importance per its charter. The concept of pattern in the context of the United Nations making resolutions is evident in how resolutions at the United Nations are not made in a haphazard manner, but rather follow a specific set of procedures and protocols. The pattern of behavior in this context involves a process that is typically initiated by a member state, or by the Secretary-General, who brings a specific issue to the attention of the United Nations. The issue is then reviewed and discussed by various bodies within the United Nations, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, and specialized agencies, depending on the nature of the issue. Once a resolution is agreed upon, it is typically adopted by a formal vote of the member states. These rituals generally result in positive transformation for related countries. For example, on September 4, 1981, the General Assembly passed a resolution “E-8/1 – Question of Namibia” to declare “that the illegal occupation of Namibia by South Africa together with the repeated acts of aggression committed by South Africa against nonboring constitute a breach of international peace and security.” The resolution was significant because it reflected the international community’s condemnation of South Africa’s apartheid regime and its policy of racial segregation. It marked a step forward in the decolonization of Africa and the recognition of the right of African peoples to self-determination. Furthermore, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 242 in November 1967 to create a lasting peace between Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria pertaining to the Six-Day (June)War” fought between these countries (Goldberg, 2011).

The United Nation’s pattern of discussing urgent matters and passing a resolution and subsequently communicating (disseminating) it to the public has been a ritual during wars or acts of aggression by member states against another member state. The passage of resolution ES-11/1 confirms it. Because of the magnitude of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UN announcement of resolution ES-11/1 demanded that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders” was broadcast live by major channels across the globe as well as websites and social media networks. According to Rothenbuler (2006), ritual appears in a variety of forms in the mass media such as television, newspaper among others and so the United Nations communication of resolution ES-11/1 is ritualistic.

Ritual communication is critical compared to other modes of communication because it accomplishes a moral obligation. Organizations have to be careful about what is being communicated because the consequences are serious. “Thinking of communication as ritual draws our attention toward the social consequences of communication. Thinking about communication is ritual has healthy moral implications, for it reminds us that communication is a moral activity” (Rothenbuler 2006 p. 19). Therefore, the United Nations communicated with a voice that will obviously have good consequences for the Ukrainian people and the global community (Rothenbuler 2006). The United Nation’s resolution is ritual communication because it constitutes the moral realities in which people interact.

Communication as Dissemination

According to Rothenbuler (2006), ritual communication in the mass media are special events that are broadcasted (scattered) live which many attract large audiences, and these types of events normally interrupt the flow of normal program schedules. “Dissemination descends from Latin roots that indicates the scattering of seeds” (Peters 2006). The author’s choice of term dissemination is a metaphor for the agricultural practice of sowing, like one of spreading seeds onto a prepared land and expecting a harvest in the end. We can see communication as the act of sowing a seed into land and expecting to reap after some time. Seed = word = voice = semen = offspring as indicated by the author. In this way, the United Nations communication of resolution ES-11/1 could be likened to throwing or spreading seeds onto a field and expecting to reap after some time. The seeds may fall on different parts of the field – in good soil, bad, dry, thorny area, stony or waterlogged – and the harvest cannot be fully predicted.

The publication of Resolution ES-11/1 can be likened to the act of sowing or spreading seeds on a field and the harvest could be the expectation that Russia will “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine.” In this scenario, seedtime (when something is said) is when the United Nations General Assembly President announced resolution ES-11/1 during a live telecast event and was also published on the organization’s website as well as global news portals. The United Nations communication of resolution ES-11/1 is aimed at sowing seeds of peace, stability, and respect for international law and human rights in the international community. The resolution represents a long-term vision for stability in the region, so that its impact may be felt over several years or even decades. The resolution is designed to protect the human rights and security of all parties involved in the conflict, including the Ukrainian people who have suffered from violence and instability in the region. The harvest would be the opinions, actions, and inactions generated by the publication of the resolution.

The idea of communication as dissemination presents the understanding that seedtime/sowing and harvest are linked but that so much mischief happens between the interim. This mischief may manifest in such forms as different emerging perspectives, contrary or similar facts, values and principles, worldviews, and ideologies. These issues have an impact on the harvest, the outcome, or the result achieved by the resolution. According to Peters (2006), “Making a public offering is perhaps the most basic of all communicative acts, but once the seeds are cast, harvest is never assured”. This suggests that the outcome of any communicative act is not fully certain, assured, or predictable. The harvest (outcome) reaped by the United Nations after casting or sowing (communication) the seed of resolution ES-11/1 will be discussed shortly using the social influence lens by Boster (2006).

The conception of communication as dissemination challenges the idea of exchange and reciprocity as the defining criterion of communication (Peters 2006). Dialogue can be a satisfactory description of communication when participants communicate in the same space and time, however, dialogue becomes deficient when the communicative act does not sustain turn-taking (Peters 2006). The author gives an example like when the number of participants in the same space at a time exceeds a certain threshold (like the scene in a lecture hall or at church) discourse tends to take on features of broadcasting, rather than dialogue. Comparing it to the event where the president of the United Nations Assembly read the resolution on live TV, and when it was subsequently published on various websites, the audience that received the information was not present in space and time to give immediate feedback or exchange. That act of communication was not dialogic. The size of the participants at the event and the global audience that engaged in the content was large so that the act of communication is better described as a broadcast, other than dialogue.

The theoretical conception of communication as dissemination comes with the idea of “public space”. The publication of information or any act of communication “is like dropping a rose petal into a Grand Canyon and waiting to hear an echo” (Peters 2006). What difference will a document of resolution make to a huge global audience? What is the guarantee that Resolution ES-11/1 will be consumed by this great global audience and thus influence their decisions or opinion? There is certainly no guarantee. The notion of “public space” makes us understand that not everything that is disseminated into the public space will be engaged or consumed and produced a timely expected outcome. Regardless, there is importance or value for putting it into the public space (Peters 2006). This is because people will have the opportunity to choose/engage or make use of a certain piece of information that lies in the open public space. While it is not assured that everyone or even someone will engage or consume a certain published content, that content remains available and an option for the public to use, whenever they decide to or come into contact with it. “The mere dissemination of ideas regardless of their audience or effect is itself a powerful political and moral option (Peters, 2006).

The use of live telecast for disseminating resolution ES-11/1 during its announcement by the United Nations General Assembly President is not necessarily unique in terms of how resolutions are communicated. The UN often uses various media channels, including TV, social media, and press releases, to disseminate information about its resolutions and decisions to a broad audience. However, the announcement of resolution ES-11/1 through live telecast stands out as more important due to the urgency and gravity of the situation it addresses. The resolution demands the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian military forces from Ukraine’s territory, which is a critical issue affecting international peace and security. Therefore, the use of live telecast was likely intended to draw greater attention to the resolution and underscore its significance. Moreover, the live telecast of the announcement of resolution ES-11/1 also highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in the UN’s decision-making process. By broadcasting the announcement of the resolution, the UN ensures that the international community is aware of its actions and decisions, and can hold the organization accountable for its commitments.

Communication as Social Influence

Researchers into the science of persuasion hold that communication procedures are crucial to the successful modification of people’s attitudes and behaviors. It is obvious that communication and social influence processes are intimately intertwined since any communicative act, verbal or nonverbal, which is received by another will change that person’s motivations, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. According to Boster (2006), “social influence refers to a change in belief, attitude, or behavior, or some combination of these three factors, that occurs as a function of exposure to an external message or series of external messages.” Social influence is a feature that is part of our daily routine and occurs when the thoughts, feelings, and actions of people are affected by others through processes like conformity, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, minority, or social change (Smith et al., 2011). After the ritual communication performed by the United Nations on March 2, 2022, to communicate and disseminate (broadcast) its position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through a press conference covered by the media as well as posting the content on the United Nations official website, several countries have been giving humanitarian, military, logistic and monetary support to the Ukrainian government to fight Russia’s act of aggression. In fact, it is the United Nations that started with the commitment to support Ukraine after which several countries and organizations started acting (change in behavior or attitude). Therefore, the use of social influence seems the strongest of the three theoretical lenses. Ritualistic communication is used to heighten the value/relevance of the dissemination, so that it has a larger social influence.

Abdulla Shahid, President of the United Nations General Assembly, during the ritualistic press briefing stated that “A very good afternoon, resolution ES-11/1 passed with the support of hundred and forty-one member states. It reflects the intentions of communities with grave concerns about the ongoing situation in Ukraine and reiterates the immediate cease-fire… I thus, welcome the 1.7 billion US dollar humanitarian appeal launched yesterday and call for the international community to support it.” At the ‘Stand Up for Ukraine’ global pledging event on April 9, 2022, €9.1 billion was raised for people fleeing the Russian invasion, inside Ukraine and abroad, including €1 billion from the European Commission. On top of that, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has announced an additional €1 billion in loan to cover the needs of the people displaced by the invasion (European commission n. d). The European Union made €143 million available for humanitarian projects for Ukrainian citizens who are affected by the war. Additionally, the White House published on March 16, 2022, that the Biden administration announced $800 million in security assistance to the Ukraine that bringing the United States’ security assistance to a total of $1 billion from the previous week before that week of March 16, 2022, barely two weeks after the United Nations pass resolution ES-11/1.

The ‘Stand Up for Ukraine’ commitment is an example of how communication from the highest levels of an organization may have a significant impact on what gets people’s attention. Leaders in any context can benefit greatly from this phenomenon, which is also known as agenda-setting (Ruben & Giglotti, 2016). McCombs and Shaw (1972) examined the impact of the media on the 1968 presidential election. The authors postulated that “the mass media set the agenda for each political campaign, altering the relevance of attitudes toward the political issues” (p. 177). One difficulty that people may encounter is the overwhelming number of issues that need fixing at once. P ublic policy research suggests that acknowledging a problem is crucial to garnering considerable attention; nevertheless, acknowledgment alone generally lacks the capacity for influence essential to position an item on the political agenda (Ruben & Giglotti, 2016). There needs to be a convergence of problem identification, solution proposals, and political will for an issue to attract considerable interest (Ruben & Giglotti, 2016). When these three factors converge in the realm of politics, an advantage window opens, together with the corresponding susceptibilities, and more people are likely to pay attention to, understand, and act on a clearly defined problem.

In a publication, Politico (n. d) published on March 22, 2022, that more than twenty countries across the globe have been providing support to Ukraine’s war efforts. Examples are Australia providing 70 million AUD (worth $51.6 million) of military assistance, including missiles and weapons, Canada supporting with CAD 118 million in military equipment, whereas Croatia provided $18.1 million worth of rifles, machine guns, and protective equipment. A substantial amount of money was raised for Ukraine. However, it is important to note that not all social issues receive the same level of attention or resources, and that factors such as political will, public attention, and international support can vary widely depending on the issue and context. The key difference is that conflict in Ukraine has geopolitical implications that are of concern to many developed countries. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine has led to tensions with Ukraine and other countries in the region, as well as with Western countries. As a result, some countries may view providing assistance to Ukraine as a way to support its sovereignty and territorial integrity and counter Russian aggression.

Bolster (2006) notes that the main idea of the essay “Communication as social influence” is that communication results in social influence or “social influence is the results of all communication” and central to the claims made is that external messages affect our beliefs. A careful look at the example presented above provides strong evidence that all the support from various countries and organizations were made after the passage of Resolution ES-11/1. This ritualistic communication – (dissemination) of the United Nations which condemned and demanded that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine.” – did ignite international condemnation of Russia’s invasion as well as the provision of aid to Ukraine by numerous countries and organizations. It is also important to note that the United Nations ritualistic communication was broadcasted by major and minor media houses across the globe as well as on social media platforms. The penetration of this resolution to the very small local media outlets as well as social media made it possible to influence the understanding, impressions, and judgment of a great number of global audiences. Scholars posit that beliefs deal with acceptance of a proposition of a fact whereas attitude is explained as how a person evaluates a concept or an idea and so when a person’s belief is affected by an external message, his or her attitude is likely to be affected (Boster 2006). This is what is happening in this circumstance when the president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Abdulla Shahid communicated the United Nations’ position on the war between Russia and Ukraine.


In conclusion, this paper assessed the United Nations Communication pertaining to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine using three theoretical lenses: communication as ritual, communication as dissemination, and communication as social influence. This piece started by describing Ukraine as a country and how it became independent of the United Soviet Socialist Republic, why Ukraine is a geopolitical flashpoint, what brought the tension between Ukraine and Russia in 2013-2014, and what ignited ongoing Russia’s invasion as indicated by scholars. Again, this essay looked at the United Nations as an organization and its purpose as well as what it is doing to a ceasefire in Ukraine by passing resolution ES-11/1 to demand Russia withdraw its military from the Ukrainian internationally recognized borders. From this, the essay went ahead to assess and discuss resolution ES-11/1 using the theoretical lenses mentioned above. The essay concludes by indicating that the UN’s communication of its resolution is a ritual that is performed to disseminate its position during wars or matters of interest to member states and the public to cause influence their beliefs and attitude. There is the need to conduct more studies to find out if these countries or organizations do deliberate enough to understand each of their convictions because if they deliberated enough, we would not have gotten to where we are today.


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