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

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 (Reuters) – Russia is lobbying for a secret ballot instead of a public vote when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly next week considers whether to condemn Moscow’s move to annex four partially occupied regions in Ukraine after staging what it called referendums.

Ukraine and allies have denounced the votes in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as illegal and coercive. A Western-drafted U.N. General Assembly resolution would condemn Russia’s “illegal so-called referenda” and the “attempted illegal annexation” of the areas where voting occurred.

“This is a clearly politicized and provocative development aimed at deepening the divide in the General Assembly and bring its membership further apart,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia wrote in a letter to U.N. states, seen by Reuters.

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He argued that a secret ballot was needed because Western lobbying meant that “it may be very difficult if positions are expressed publicly.” Diplomats said the General Assembly would 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.

“Unless the international community reacts there can be claims that no-one pays attention and this now a carte blanche for other countries to do likewise or to give recognition to what Russia’s done,” European Union U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog said on Wednesday.

He said the EU was consulting broadly with U.N. member states ahead of a likely vote on Wednesday.

Russia does not fully control any of the four provinces it claims to have annexed, however, and Ukrainian forces have recaptured thousands of square miles of territory since the start of 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 that opposed a referendum on the status of Crimea and urged countries not to recognize it.

The General Assembly then adopted a resolution declaring the referendum invalid with 100 votes in favor, 11 against and 58 formal abstentions, while two dozen countries didn’t take part.

Russia has been trying to chip away at its international isolation after nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly voted to reprimand Moscow and demand it withdraw its troops within a week of its Feb. 24 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Ahead of a vote by the General Assembly in April to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, Moscow warned countries that a yes vote or abstention would be viewed as “unfriendly” with consequences for their relations.

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool

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