The U.N. General Assembly started debating Monday whether to demand that Russia reverse course on annexing four regions of Ukraine — a discussion that came as Moscow’s most extensive missile strikes in months alarmed much of the international community anew.
The assembly’s special session was planned before Monday’s barrage, but countries spoke out on the widespread, Monday morning rush-hour attacks that killed at least 14 people and wounded scores.
Ukrainian Ambassador Sergey Kyslytsya said some of his own close relatives were imperiled in a residential building, unable to take cover in a bomb shelter.
“By launching missile attacks on civilians sleeping in their homes or rushing toward children going to schools, Russia has proven once again 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 retaliating for what it called a Ukrainian “terrorist” attack Saturday on an important bridge, and Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the assembly that Moscow had warned that there wouldn’t be impunity for such an act.
The bridge was “civilian infrastructure, critical infrastructure,” he told reporters outside the chamber.
Ukrainian officials haven’t confirmed that Kyiv was behind the bridge attack or other incidents of apparent sabotage but have said they welcome setbacks for Russia in all territory that it has claimed to annex.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply shocked” by the Russian attacks and spoke Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
Various nations also deplored the bombardment. Turkish U.N. Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu, whose country helped the U.N. broker a July deal to get Ukrainian and Russian grain exports flowing, called Monday’s attacks “deeply worrying and unacceptable.”
Costa Rican Ambassador Maritza Chan Valverde said the strikes showed “continued and complete disdain for human rights, humanitarian law and international norms.”
Hours after the missiles flew, the U.N. assembly gathered to consider responding to Russia’s purported 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 sham votes conducted 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, spearheaded by the European Union, also would insist upon the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces from all of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory.
Russia’s ambassador decried 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 U.N.,” Nebenzia said. He reiterated his country’s claim that the “referendums” were valid and that Moscow is endeavoring to “protect” people in the regions against what the Kremlin views as a hostile Ukrainian government.
Dozens of nations from Latvia to Fiji argued for the resolution Monday, some speaking via regional organizations. The debate is set to continue Wednesday, and such Russian friends as Syria and North Korea are among countries signed up to speak.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, fielding questions Monday in Australia, declined to say what his country thought of the measure.
The full 193-member assembly is expected to vote Wednesday or later. Russia wanted secret balloting, an unusual move that the assembly rejected, 107-13, with 39 abstentions. Russian bids to reconsider the secret-ballot idea were voted down.
Russia recently vetoed a similar U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned the supposed annexations. Under a decision made earlier this year, Security Council vetoes must now be explained in the General Assembly.
The assembly doesn’t allow vetoes, but its resolutions aren’t legally binding, as Security Council ones 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 U.N. Human Rights Council.
Meanwhile, there has been a stalemate in the Security Council, where Russia is among five countries with veto power.