Concerned UN meetings in Ukraine hours after Russian strikes

UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly began debating on Monday whether to demand that Russia reverse course on annexing four regions of Ukraine — a discussion that came as Moscow’s most extensive missile attack in months re-alarmed much of the international community.

The assembly’s special session was scheduled before Monday’s standoff, but the countries spoke about the widespread rush-hour attacks Monday morning that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens.

Ukrainian Ambassador Sergey Kyslytsya said some of his own close relatives were at risk in a residential building, unable to seek cover in a shelter.

“By launching missile attacks on civilians sleeping in their homes or rushing towards children going to school, Russia has once again proven that it is a terrorist state that must be deterred in the strongest possible ways,” he said.

Russia said it targeted military and energy facilities. But some of the missiles smashed into civilian areas: a park, a commuter minibus and more.

Russia has said it was in retaliation for what it called a Ukrainian “terrorist” attack on Saturday on a key bridge, and Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the gathering that Moscow had warned there would be no impunity for such an act.

The bridge was “civilian infrastructure, critical infrastructure,” he told reporters outside the chamber.

Ukrainian officials have not confirmed that Kyiv was behind the bridge attack or other incidents of apparent sabotage, but have said they welcome setbacks for Russia in all the territory it has claimed to annex.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was “deeply shocked” by the Russian attacks and spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said.

Various nations also deplored the bombing. Turkish UN Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioğlu, whose country helped the UN broker a deal in July to keep Ukrainian and Russian grain exports flowing, called Monday’s attack “deeply troubling and unacceptable.”

Costa Rican Ambassador Maritza Chan Valverde said the strikes showed “continued and complete disregard for human rights, humanitarian law and international norms.”

Hours after the missiles flew, the UN assembly gathered to consider responding to Russia’s alleged absorption last month of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

The move followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” that the Ukrainian government and the West have dismissed as fake votes held on occupied land amid warfare and displacement.

A proposed assembly resolution would demand that Moscow “immediately and unconditionally” scrap its supposed annexations and call on all countries not to recognize them. The measure, led by the European Union, will also insist on the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces from all of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory.

Russia’s ambassador condemned the debate as a one-sided exercise in pushing an anti-Russian narrative.

“Such cynicism, confrontation and dangerous polarization as today we have never seen in the history of the United Nations,” Nebenzia said. He reiterated his country’s claim that the “referendums” were valid and that Moscow is striving to “protect” people in the regions from what the Kremlin views as a hostile Ukrainian government.

Dozens of nations from Latvia to Fiji argued for the resolution Monday, some speaking through regional organizations. The debate is set to continue on Wednesday, and Russian friends like Syria and North Korea are among the countries that have signed up to speak.

Taking questions Monday in Australia, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar declined to say what his country thought of the measure.

The full 193-member assembly is expected to vote Wednesday or later. Russia wanted a secret ballot, an unusual move, which the assembly rejected, 107-13, with 39 abstentions. Russian bids to reconsider the idea of ​​a secret ballot were voted down.

Russia recently vetoed a similar UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned the supposed annexations. According to a decision made earlier this year, the Security Council’s vetoes must now be explained in the general assembly.

The Assembly does not allow a veto, but its resolutions are not legally binding, as the Security Council’s are. During the war, the assembly has voted to demand that Russia halt its attacks, to blame Moscow for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

Meanwhile, there has been an impasse in the Security Council, where Russia is among five countries with veto power.

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