By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, March 24 (Reuters) - Ukraine has circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. General Assembly that would declare invalid Crimea's recent referendum calling for annexation to Russia, a document that echoes a text Moscow vetoed earlier this month in the Security Council.
The new text, which U.N. diplomats said Ukraine distributed to the 193-nation assembly over the weekend, dismisses the referendum as "having no validity, (and) cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or of the City of Sevastopol."
If approved by the General Assembly, the resolution would be non-binding. But it could send a strong political message about Russia's lack of broad support on the Crimean issue if the Ukrainians secure a strong majority in favor of their resolution, Western diplomats told Reuters.
The assembly is scheduled to meet on the Ukraine crisis on Thursday, when the text is expected to go to a vote. The point of the resolution, U.N. diplomats said, was to further isolate Moscow as the United States and Europe warn of the possibility of damaging economic sanctions against Russia.
The Russian delegation vetoed a Security Council resolution that said the Crimean plebiscite would have "no validity" earlier this month in an emergency session held the day before the March 16 referendum. Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia.
Unlike the General Assembly, Security Council decisions are legally binding.
The General Assembly draft, which was distributed to reporters on Monday, says the U.N. member states affirm their "commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders."
It also "calls upon all States to desist and refrain from actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including any attempts to modify Ukraine's borders through the threat or use of force or other unlawful means."
The draft resolution, which does not mention Russia by name, says the assembly "calls upon all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status" of Crimea and Sevastopol.
A spokesman for Ukraine's U.N. mission said the draft General Assembly resolution was more neutral than the failed Security Council text. The spokesman added that he was expecting at least 130 votes in favor and that his delegation was not engaging with Russia on revising the text.
A European diplomat was more skeptical, telling Reuters on condition of anonymity the Ukrainians "need to lobby hard" to secure such broad support for the resolution, which implicitly condemns one of the world's most powerful countries - Russia.
According to another U.N. diplomat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, there are five co-sponsors of the draft resolution - Costa Rica, Botswana, Qatar, Canada and Poland.
"We expect there will be more co-sponsors," the diplomat said. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Richard Chang)