Russia accuses West of 'shameless blackmail' in UN vote on Ukraine

The UN General Assembly resolution, which passed Thursday, called on countries not to interfere in Ukraine's national unity and territorial integrity.

Seth Wenig/AP
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin speaks at United Nations headquarters, Thursday. Moscow struck out at yesterday's UN vote which called on all countries to 'desist and refrain from actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine.'

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Russia hit out in a blistering statement today against a UN resolution that declared invalid Crimea's referendum to secede from Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Western states used the "the full force of the unspent potential of the cold war-era propaganda machine" to push through the vote, which passed Thursday.

"It is well-known what kind of shameless pressure, up to the point of political blackmail and economic threats, was brought to bear on a number of [UN] member states so they would vote 'yes'," the statement said, according to Reuters. "This counterproductive initiative only complicates efforts to resolve the domestic political crisis in Ukraine."

At issue is the referendum earlier this month in which Crimeans, the majority of whom are ethnic Russians, expressed their wish to leave Ukraine for Russia. Ukraine, which is readying for May elections, declared it illegitimate.

The UN measure, sponsored by Ukraine and supported by the US and the European Union, did not specifically mention Russia but clearly criticized Moscow’s actions, calling on all countries to “desist and refrain from actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” reports the Los Angeles Times. It says the referendum has “no validity” and thus “cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status” of Crimea.

But after the UN General Assembly passed the resolution Thursday – with 100 votes in favor, 11 against, and 58 abstentions – Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin said the results showed that Russia wasn't isolated, despite Western insistence to the contrary.

“Very many countries complained that they were undergoing colossal pressure on the part of Western powers to vote in support of that resolution,” Mr. Churkin told journalists after the vote.  “Some countries voted grudgingly, shall I say, and complained to us about the strong pressure they had experienced.”

Reuters reports, citing information from Western diplomats, that Russia's UN envoy “led an aggressive lobbying campaign against the resolution in what they said showed how seriously Moscow took the UN vote.”

A blog in The Washington Post, which lists the countries that voted against the resolution, illustrates global sentiment about Russia's actions. Those that voted against include Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

The resolution is similar to a text Moscow vetoed earlier this month in the UN Security Council, the wire service reports.

But will the vote make a difference? Probably not in Crimea, but it could serve as a preventive measure, as the Los Angeles Times summarizes:

“Although President Obama has conceded publicly that the Russians are not likely to give up their hold on Crimea, the US  and its allies hope that international isolation, along with economic sanctions, will discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading other parts of eastern Ukraine that have large numbers of Russian speakers.”

The resolution passed as the International Monetary Fund announced a $14 billion to $18 billion bailout for Ukraine to stave off a debt crisis. It will require a tough reform agenda. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from prison last month, has indicated she might be up for the task: She announced yesterday her intent to run for president in the country’s elections planned for May 25.

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