UNITED NATIONS – Ukraine called Russia a “terrorist state” during an urgent session of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday following its neighbor’s latest attacks, as Western powers sought to highlight the isolation of Moscow.
The UN convened the debate to discuss Russia’s declared annexation of four partially occupied Ukrainian regions, but the debate was marred by strikes on Kyiv and other cities in one of the most punitive attacks on Ukraine for months.
“Russia has once again proven that this is a terrorist state which must be deterred in the strongest possible terms,” said Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations, in his opening speech, adding that his own immediate family was being targeted.
“Unfortunately, you can hardly demand a stable and healthy peace when an unstable and senseless dictatorship exists around you,” he added, telling member states that at least 14 civilians were killed and 97 injured in the incident.
In response, Vasily Nebenzya of Russia did not directly address the missile attacks, but defended his country’s annexation of Ukrainian regions.
“We are blamed when we try to protect our brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
Ahead of the General Assembly session and amid boiling tensions, UN chief Antonio Guterres described Russia’s attacks as an ‘unacceptable escalation of war’, his spokesperson said.
US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, strongly condemned the strikes, saying they “demonstrate the utmost brutality” of Putin’s “unlawful war”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced even “heavier” retaliatory measures following the recent explosion that damaged a key bridge in Crimea annexed to Moscow.
The decision to take the issue of annexation to the General Assembly, where the 193 UN members each have one vote – and no one has a veto – came after Russia opposed its veto a similar proposal at a September 30 Security Council meeting to block.
The vote is expected Wednesday at the earliest.
“We do not and will never recognize the so-called illegal ‘referendums’ organized by Russia as a pretext for this new violation of Ukraine’s independence,” said Silvio Gonzato, a European Union official who contributed to the writing of the text.
The resolution condemns Russia’s ‘illegal annexation attempts’ of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson after ‘so-called referendums’ and stresses that these actions ‘have no validity under international law’ .
It calls on all states, international organizations and authorities not to recognize the annexations and calls for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
In response to the resolution, in a letter to all member states, Russia attacked ‘Western delegations’ whose actions ‘have nothing to do with the protection of international law and the principles of the UN Charter’ .
Nebenzya said that given the circumstances, the General Assembly should vote by secret ballot – a highly unusual procedure normally reserved for matters such as the election of rotating members of the Security Council.
‘A BIT OF DESPERATION’
But Albania tabled a resolution against a secret ballot and won by 107 votes for, 13 against and 39 abstentions. Russia lost a subsequent appeal to the claim.
Guterres himself has outright denounced the annexations as “against everything the international community is supposed to stand for”, he said.
“He has no place in the modern world. He should not be accepted.”
No other country sided with Russia in last month’s vote at the Security Council, although four delegations – China, India, Brazil and Gabon – abstained.
Some developing countries have complained that the West is turning all its attention to Ukraine, and others may be tempted to join them this week.
The vote will provide a clear picture of Russia’s isolation. Given the high stakes, draft supporters are doing all they can to win over potential abstainers.
On Monday, Ukrainian diplomat Dmytro Kuleba appealed to African nations, saying: “Neutrality will only encourage Russia to continue its aggression and malign activities in the world, including in Africa.”