The United Nations General Assembly began meeting on the crisis in Ukraine on Monday, ahead of a vote this week to isolate Russia by denouncing its “aggression against Ukraine” and demanding that Russian forces stop fighting and withdraw.
The General Assembly, which has 193 members, will vote this week on a draft resolution similar to one that Russia rejected in the 15-member Security Council on Friday.
No country has a veto in the General Assembly and Western diplomats expect the resolution to be adopted, which needs the support of two-thirds.
While General Assembly resolutions aren’t binding, they carry political weight.
The United States and its allies see the move at the United Nations as an opportunity to show that Russia is isolated by its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Diplomats said on Monday that at least 80 countries had already co-sponsored the draft resolution.
More than 100 countries are scheduled to speak before the General Assembly vote.
“No one can ignore their Ukrainians’ views, abstaining from voting is not an option,” said French Ambassador to the United Nations Nicolas de Riviere.
Ceasefire talks began between Russian and Ukrainian officials on the Belarus border on Monday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope that the talks would lead “not only to an immediate cessation of hostilities but also to a path towards a diplomatic solution”.
He called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision on Sunday to put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert as a “horrific development” and told the General Assembly that nuclear conflict was “unthinkable”.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergei Kislitsia, called Putin’s order to put Russia’s nuclear powers on alert status as madness.
“If he wants to commit suicide, he doesn’t have to use a nuclear arsenal, all he has to do is do what the man did in Berlin in the basement in 1945,” Kiselcia told the General Assembly, referring to Adolf Hitler’s suicide.
Guterres also warned of the impact of the conflict on civilians and said it could become the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis in Europe in decades.
“Despite reports that Russian strikes largely target Ukrainian military facilities, we have credible accounts of severe damage to residential buildings, vital civilian infrastructure, and other non-military targets,” he said.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said Russia’s actions in Ukraine were distorted.
“The Russian army does not pose a threat to civilians in Ukraine, and does not bomb civilian areas,” he told the General Assembly.
Russia describes its actions in Ukraine as a special operation that it says is aimed not at occupying territory but at destroying its southern neighbor’s military capabilities and hunting down what it considers dangerous nationalists.
Later in the day, UN Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths briefed the Council on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.
France says it plans to present a draft resolution to the council on the introduction of aid and the protection of civilians.
“The scale of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure is worrying, even though we are in the early days… civilian children, women, and men have been injured and killed,” Griffiths told the council.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said the agency plans to receive up to four million refugees in the coming days and weeks.