NEW YORK -- The U.N. General Assembly voted 100 to 11 with 58 abstentions to call the mid-March referendum in Crimea illegal, to support Ukraine sovereignty and independence, and to reject Russia's use of force to alter its borders.
But the Russian Federation is only mentioned in the resolution with regard to the international agreements between the former Soviet Union (the Helsinki Final Act) to refrain from the use of force, and the Russian Federation (the Budapest Memorandum) to respect Ukraine's sovereignty in exchange for its surrender of its nuclear weapons.
Unable to get the U.N. Security Council to condemn the use of force in Crimea because of Russia's sole veto, Ukraine brought the General Assembly resolution to a vote. The resolution, in addition to its condemnation of Russia's actions in Crimea, calls for negotiations to end the dispute with Russia and it reminds the world that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons with a commitment by Russia to respect its borders.
"We have always said that Russia had legitimate interests in Ukraine," said U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power. "It has been disheartening in the extreme to see Russia carry on as if Ukrainians have no legitimate interests in Crimea, when Crimea is a part of Ukraine."
Although the resolution is not binding, it sends a message to Russia that the world condemns its actions at a time that the U.S. and other Western nations are concerned that Russia may make additional military moves into eastern Ukraine.
Before the General Assembly vote, Russia had worked to persuade allies and trading partners to oppose or abstain from the vote. Russia vetoed an earlier U.N. Security Council draft resolution, but it was notable that China, which often sides with Russia in global diplomatic crises, did not go along with the Russian veto, but opted to abstain instead.
Both President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had appealed to Russian President Putin to refrain from use of force in Ukraine -- with little success -- and the U.S. and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russian banks and individuals, while the U.N. is working to get more observers into Ukraine and Crimea to guard against attacks on civilians.
Russia has argued that, because they don't recognize the Kiev government as legitimate, prior agreements don't hold. But a senior Western diplomat said, "That is a completely false argument because these agreements are between states not governments."
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