Russia and the US exchanged threats on Wednesday at a tense UN Security Council meeting over the Ukraine crisis, with Moscow’s envoy threatening that US “insults” will jeopardise Moscow’s willingness to cooperate on other diplomatic matters.
It was the council’s eighth meeting in less than three weeks on the situation in Ukraine, a show of determination by Western powers to highlight Russia’s diplomatic isolation following its takeover of the Crimean Peninsula – even if the council is powerless to act because of Moscow’s veto power as a permanent council member.
At the council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin (pictured left) was once again alone in defending his country’s actions in Crimea.
He began his speech by celebrating the treaty signed a day earlier by Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring Crimea part of Russia, saying it honoured the will of the Crimean people and complied with international law.
“Yesterday, something truly historic happened,” Churkin said. “A historic injustice has been righted.”
US Ambassador Samantha Power (pictured right) said the US rejected “Russia’s military intervention and land grab in Crimea”. She warned that the US and its allies, who imposed sanctions on Russia two days ago, “are prepared to take additional steps if Russian aggression or Russian provocations continue”.
‘Theft’ of Crimea
Power also compared Russia’s takeover of Crimea with theft. “A thief can steal property, but that does not confer the right of ownership on the thief,” she said.
The Russian ambassador shot back: “It is simply unacceptable to listen to these insults addressed to our country.
“If the delegation of the United States of America expects our cooperation in the Security Council on other issues, then Mrs Power must understand this quite clearly.” By then, Power had left the meeting to her deputy.
Churkin did not elaborate. The US and Russia are the key players in efforts to establish peace talks in Syria, and also are involved in talks over Iran’s nuclear programme.
The spat came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left for Russia and Ukraine in a bid to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Ban will meet with Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other senior officials in Moscow on Thursday. He will then travel to Kiev on Friday for talks with Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, and acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
“[Ban] has made clear we’re at a crossroads and […] the focus must be to engage direct dialogue between Moscow and Kiev aimed at agreeing on specific measures that will pave the way towards a diplomatic solution,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The council also heard a briefing from Ivan Simonovic, assistant UN secretary-general for human rights, who expressed particular concern over the security of Tatars and other ethnic minorities in Crimea. He highlighted the disappearance of a Crimean Tatar activist after participating in a March 3 protest. Simonovic said the activist was found dead on March 16 and his body bore marks of “mistreatment”. Simonovic announced that the UN is deploying a 34-member human rights monitoring mission to Ukraine, scheduled to be in place by Friday.
He said he was not able visit Crimea because the authorities there refused to receive his mission or ensure its security until it was too late. But he said he had spoken to representatives of displaced Tatars and victims of arbitrary arrests, torture and other human rights violations.
Churkin dismissed Simonovic’s assessment as “one-sided”. He also blamed snipers – not Russian soldiers – for the killing of a Ukrainian soldier and an unarmed member of a local self-defence brigade in Crimea on Tuesday, saying the two were deliberately targeted to provoke confrontation.
Obama rules out war
Meanwhile on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama ruled out US military involvement in Ukraine, emphasising diplomacy in the standoff.
“We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine,” Obama told San Diego TV station KNSD, in an interview.
He then told St Louis station KSDK in a separate interview: “We do not need to trigger an actual war with Russia.”
Obama, who imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials on Monday, said the US will push diplomatic efforts to bring pressure on Russia to loosen its grip on the Crimea region of southern Ukraine.
“There is a better path, but I think even the Ukrainians would acknowledge that for us to engage Russia militarily would not be appropriate and would not be good for Ukraine either,” Obama said.
(©FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)