Britain slaps down Russia's push for secret U.N. vote on Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Britain on Friday rejected Russia's call for a secret ballot in the U.N. General Assembly next week on whether to condemn Moscow's move to annex four partially occupied regions in Ukraine and requested that the 193-member body vote publicly.

Moscow has moved to annex four regions in Ukraine - Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia - after staging what it called referendums. Ukraine and allies have denounced the votes as illegal and coercive.

The General Assembly is set to vote on a draft resolution that would condemn Russia's "illegal so-called referenda" and the "attempted illegal annexation." It also reaffirms the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and calls on states not to recognize Russia's move.

In a letter to U.N. states earlier this week, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia lobbied for a secret ballot, arguing that Western lobbying meant that "it may be very difficult if positions are expressed publicly."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward on Friday said the rules of the General Assembly were clear that any representative may request a recorded vote.

"To conduct a secret ballot on a General Assembly decision would go against decades of precedent and undermine the practices of the world's most representative deliberative body," Woodward wrote in a letter to the General Assembly president.

"That is why we are requesting under rule 87b that a recorded vote should take place on the resolution," she said.

The General Assembly is due to vote on the draft resolution on Tuesday or Wednesday, diplomats said.

"This is not about transparency," Nebenzia said in a letter on Friday of Britain's move. "This is about the use of a recorded vote as a tool of subjugation and discipline."

In his own letter to the president of the General Assembly, Nebenzia formally requested a secret ballot and said that if anyone opposed it, then they could call a vote on the move. Such a vote would be public.

Russia vetoed a similar resolution in the 15-member Security Council last week. It has been trying to chip away at its international isolation after nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly reprimanded Moscow and demanded it withdraw its troops within a week of its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The moves at the United Nations mirror what happened in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea. At the Security Council, Russia vetoed a draft resolution that opposed a referendum on the status of Crimea and urged countries not to recognize it.

The General Assembly then adopted a resolution declaring the referendum invalid with 100 votes in favor, 11 against and 58 formal abstentions, while two dozen countries did not take part.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by William Maclean and Bill Berkrot

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