Ukraine crisis: UN rejects Russian annexation of Crimea

Russian soldiers stand near a tank outside a former Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean capital Simferopol on March 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Russian soldiers stand near a tank outside a former Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean capital Simferopol on March 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a Western-backed resolution declaring Crimea's breakaway referendum illegitimate and refusing to recognize Russia's annexation of the peninsula.

The non-binding resolution passed with a comfortable majority in the 193-member body, with 100 votes in favor and 11 votes against. But 58 abstained and more than 20 did not vote.

Ukraine, which drafted the resolution, welcomed the adoption of the resolution and called for a "stronger and more concrete" united, international front against Russian aggression.

"I'm very much satisfied with the vote...(an) overwhelming majority of nations in the world supported this resolution," acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said.

He had urged the international community to back the text, hoping an overwhelming show of support would ward off further Russian intervention on its territory.

"I am convinced that a strong vote today will help to deter further aggressive moves," Deshchytsya told the assembly.

"It sends an essential message that the international community will not allow what has happened in Crimea to set a precedent to further challenges to our rules," he added.

Western diplomats wanted a strong majority vote to press home what they say is Russia's isolation, but there had been fears that a high number of countries would abstain.

The resolution garnered more support than a similar text passed in 2009 over the Georgia crisis.

Ukraine submitted the draft resolution, writing the text in moderate language in the hope of attracting a maximum number of votes, and it makes no direct reference to Russia.

The text is similar to a US-drafted resolution submitted to the Security Council on March 19, which Russia vetoed. China abstained and the other 13 members of the council voted in favor.

Thursday's resolution repeats that the March 16 referendum in Crimea has "no validity" and asks countries not to recognize any alteration of the status of the Black Sea peninsula.

It calls on all states to refrain from any attempts to modify Ukraine's borders through the threat or use of force or other unlawful means and calls for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Ukraine said that a vote for the resolution was a vote for the UN charter, while a vote against or an abstention undermined it.

"One month has cost us dearly. More inaction may cost us this organization," he added.

The United States backed Ukraine's request and criticised Russia.

US ambassador Samantha Power told the assembly it was "disheartening in the extreme to see Russia carry on as if Ukrainians have no legitimate interest in Crimea." "Ukraine is justified in seeking our votes in reaffirming and protecting its borders," Power said.

"We urge you to vote yes on a resolution that enshrines the centrality of territorial integrity and that calls for a diplomatic not a military solution to this crisis," she said.

Russia stuck to its position, saying it had no right to refuse support to Crimeans in their right to self-determination.

"For several centuries," Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the assembly, Crimea was "an integral part of our country. "Only an arbitrary decision by the USSR to transfer it to Ukraine upset this natural sate of affairs," he said.

The 11 countries that voted against the text were Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

NATO and Western powers voted overwhelmingly in favor. Among the abstentions were Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan, as well many South American nations.

Israel and Iran were among those that did not vote.