Ukraine health emergency sparks rival resolutions at WHO assembly

FILE PHOTO: Debris are seen on site of the destroyed Mariupol children's hospital as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022 in this still image from a handout video obtained by Reuters. Ukraine Military/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) -A proposal to condemn the regional health emergency triggered by Russia's aggression in Ukraine will come before a World Health Organization (WHO) assembly on Thursday, prompting a rival resolution from Moscow that makes no mention of its own role in the crisis.

The , backed by the United States and more than 40 other countries, condemns Russia's actions but stops short of immediately suspending its voting rights at the U.N. health agency. The backed by Syria, which echoes the language of the first text, will also be decided on.

If the Western-led initiative passes nearly unanimously, observers say it would send a powerful political message that is rare in the multilateral system.

"The devastating military actions undermine the efforts to ensure health and wellbeing for everybody, undermine the mission of WHO," Adam Niedzielski, the health minister for Poland which is one of the resolution's backers, told the assembly. "I believe the Organization cannot remain silent in these cases."

Both resolutions express "grave concerns over the ongoing health emergency in and around Ukraine", but only the Western-led proposal says that the emergency is "triggered by the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine".

"What they did is take our version and delete the cause of the problem," Iaremenko Oleksii, a Ukrainian health ministry official told Reuters at the meeting. "We will act to push the international community to punish Russia."

A senior diplomat at the Russian mission in Geneva said: "The resolution holds a series of anti-Russian statements and groundless accusations and therefore cannot be supported."

Britain's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Simon Manley called Russia's resolution "a cynical attempt to distract, disrupt & confuse" on .

WHO Europe member states have already passed a resolution that could result in the closure of Russia's regional office.

Diplomats said they were wary of pushing Russia too far and prompting it to quit, given the need to cooperate with WHO on disease surveillance.

One Western diplomat told Reuters: "We don't want to chase Russia from the multilateral system."

The resolutions come alongside a report from WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, which highlights the "devastating" health consequences of the Russian invasion, including 235 attacks on healthcare as well as wider mass casualties and life-threatening disruptions to health services.

Moscow calls its actions since Feb. 24 a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it calls anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Emma Farge; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

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