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By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau 

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution declaring Crimea’s referendum on independence illegal, a move that U.S. and European diplomats hope will help deter Russia from seizing more of Ukraine.

The measure, sponsored by the new Ukrainian government and backed by the United States and the European Union, won by a vote of 100 to 11. Fifty-eight nations of the 193-member body abstained.

The resolution did not mention Russia by name but pointedly rejected Moscow’s position. It 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” and declared that the referendum “having no validity, cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status” of Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine that Russian troops seized earlier this month.

Russian diplomats argued that the referendum only recognized Crimeans’ legitimate desire to rejoin Russia, of which it was historically a part. Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the U.N., deplored the resolution as “confrontational in nature.”

The lopsided vote provided another indication of Russia’s diplomatic isolation over its annexation of Crimea. A U.N. Security Council resolution calling the referendum illegal failed on March 15 because of a Russian veto, but 13 nations of the 15-member council member voted for it and China, which often sides with Russia, abstained.

Although President Barack Obama has conceded publicly that the Russians are not likely to give up their hold on Crimea, the U.S. 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.

Russia’s moves to annex the peninsula were “a direct violation of the U.N. Charter,” said Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister. He said the vote would help discourage further aggressive moves by Russia.

AFP Photo/Viktor Drachev

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