Russia wants secret U.N. vote on move to condemn ‘annexation’ of Ukraine regions

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 (Reuters) – Russia is backing a secret vote instead of a public vote when the 193-strong UN General Assembly next week considers whether Moscow’s attempt to annex four partially occupied regions in Ukraine to be condemned after staging what it has called referendums.

Ukraine and its allies have described the votes in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia as illegal and forced. A Western-drafted UN General Assembly resolution would condemn Russia’s “illegal so-called referendums” and “attempted illegal annexation” of the territories where votes took place.

“This is a clearly politicized and provocative development aimed at deepening the divide in the General Assembly and further separating its membership,” Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzia wrote in a letter to UN nations obtained by Reuters.

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He argued that a secret ballot was necessary because western lobbying meant that “when positions are expressed publicly, it can be very difficult”. Diplomats said the General Assembly will likely have to vote publicly on whether to hold a secret ballot.

Russia vetoed a similar resolution in the 15-member Security Council last week.

“If the international community doesn’t respond, there can be claims that no one is paying attention, and this is now carte blanche for other countries to do the same or recognize what Russia has done,” said the European Union ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog, on Wednesday.

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He said the EU was consulting fully with UN member states ahead of a likely vote on Wednesday.

However, Russia does not fully control any of the four provinces it is said to have annexed, and Ukrainian forces have reclaimed thousands of square kilometers of territory since early September.

The moves at the United Nations mirror what happened in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea. At the Security Council, Russia vetoed a draft resolution rejecting a referendum on Crimea’s status, urging countries not to recognize it.

The General Assembly then passed a resolution invalidating the referendum by 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 formal abstentions, while two dozen countries did not participate.

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Russia has sought to break its international isolation after nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly voted to rebuke Moscow and demand that it withdraw its troops within a week of its February 24 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Ahead of an April General Assembly vote to exclude Russia from the Human Rights Council, Moscow warned countries that voting in favor or abstaining would be considered “unfriendly” with consequences for their relations.

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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