World Tourism Organization Is the First ‘Specialized’ UN Agency to Suspend Russia for Invading Ukraine

The World Tourism Organization holds an extraordinary general assembly in Madrid to consider suspending Russia’s membership. (Photo: UNWTO)

The World Tourism Organization holds an extraordinary general assembly in Madrid to consider suspending Russia’s membership. (Photo: UNWTO)

( – Russia on Wednesday withdrew from the World Tourism Organization shortly before the U.N. agency was to vote on suspending it over the invasion of Ukraine.

The vote by the UNWTO’s general assembly, meeting in an extraordinary session, went ahead, and passed by a margin which the agency described as “far exceeding the two-third majority required.” A full voting record was not immediately available.

The UNWTO’s first-ever emergency meeting was called at the request of six members, Colombia, Guatemala, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

“Tourism is a pillar of peace and international friendship, and members of UNWTO must uphold these values or face consequences, with no exceptions,” Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said after the vote.

“This emergency general assembly shows that Russia’s actions are indefensible and contrary to the very principles of UNWTO and of international governance.”

Only 99 of the agency’s 160 members were represented at the meeting in Madrid, Spain, but UNWTO statutes allow for two-thirds of members “present and voting” to pass a motion on suspending a member “persisting in a policy that is contrary to the fundamental aim of the organization.”

Russian Ambassador Yury Korchagin at the U.N. World Tourism Organization extraordinary general assembly in Madrid. (Photo: UNWTO)

Russian Ambassador Yury Korchagin at the U.N. World Tourism Organization extraordinary general assembly in Madrid. (Photo: UNWTO)

In a bid to pre-empt the vote, Russia’s foreign ministry said Wednesday it was withdrawing.

“The Russian side does not consider it expedient to continue working in the UNWTO, whose leadership condones the politicization of its activities and openly supports discrimination against our country,” it said in a statement.

The ministry accused European Union countries of monopolizing the UNWTO and pressurizing others to side against Russia.

“With the help of massive anti-Russian propaganda, through blackmail and pressure on the UNWTO member countries, a political decision is being ‘pushed through,’ which we consider as an illegal and politically motivated step in order to defiantly punish the current member of the organization, pursuing an independent domestic and foreign policy.”

The UNWTO, which describes as its mission “the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism,” says a prolonged conflict in Ukraine “could translate into a loss of $14 billion in tourism receipts globally in 2022.”

The UNWTO is the first and only one of the 15 “specialized agencies” of the United Nations that has voted to suspend Russia. (U.N. specialized agencies are international organizations working with the UN, based on agreements between each organization and the U.N.)

Early this month the U.N. General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, but the Geneva-based HRC is an intergovernmental body within the U.N. system, not a specialized agency.

On the same day as that vote, Russia announced it was terminating its membership of the HRC.

Last month a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres quoted him as saying of calls to suspend Russia from the UNWTO that doing so “could set a detrimental precedent to the functioning of the multilateral system.”

Early this month, the U.N. chief expressed a similar view on the move to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, warning through his spokesman that it could set a “dangerous precedent.

Wednesday’s pre-emptive withdrawal from the UNWTO was not the first time since the invasion that Russia has adopted that approach in response to punitive actions at multilateral forums.

It did so last month, as the Council of Europe (CoE) assembly was preparing to vote on a resolution to expel it, saying Russia would not take part in the organization’s transformation “into another platform for incantations about Western superiority and narcissism.”

The CoE went ahead with consideration of the resolution to expel Russia, which was unanimously endorsed.

Formed in the aftermath of World War II, the CoE is responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Distinct from the European Union, it has 46 members (now that Russia has left), including former Soviet states in the Baltics, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Russian officials have charged that the U.S. and its European allies apply improper pressure on vulnerable countries that are reluctant to vote against Russia in multilateral settings.

During a joint press conference with Guterres in Moscow this week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the U.S. of putting bank accounts and even the education of foreign diplomats’ children on the line.

He referred in particular to a General Assembly vote in early March adopting a resolution condemning the invasion, which passed by 141-5 votes, with 35 abstentions.

“Many countries complained to us later that they had been forced to vote for it,” Lavrov said. “The Americans were swooping on their ambassadors in the U.N. lobbies – our U.S. friends are past masters at this – and were threatening them.”

“Some people have bank accounts in the United States, others – student-age children at a U.S. university,” he said. “I am not exaggerating. This was how it was, and we know it.”

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