The US has circulated a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would declare Sunday's planned referendum on independence for Ukraine's Crimea region illegal but Russia has pledged to veto it, council diplomats said on Thursday.
Diplomats said the one-page resolution would urge countries not to recognise the results of the vote in pro-Russian Crimea, whose parliament has already voted to join Russia.
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, said after a meeting of the 15-member Security Council that the resolution was aimed at changing Russian calculations "before innocent lives are lost".
Speaking in the council, she said the resolution would "endorse a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis based on international law and [the Security] Council's mandate to act, when necessary, to ensure global security and peace".
Power described the planned referendum, which is expected to overwhelmingly back Crimea's unification with Russia, as "hastily planned, unjustified and divisive" and a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.
She said time was running out for a peaceful solution to the crisis, and she urged Russia to listen to the "remarkably unified" voices of 14 members of the Security Council and the Ukrainian people.
Western powers had originally hoped to vote on the resolution at Thursday's council session, which was attended by Arseny Yatseniuk, the interim Ukrainian prime minister.
He appealed for the world body's help. But Russia, one of the five permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council, made clear that it opposed the draft, so a decision was made to postpone the vote until Saturday at the latest to allow time for further negotiations.
On the ground, Russia conducted new military manoeuvres near its border with Ukraine on Thursday, and President Vladimir Putin said the world should not blame his country for what he called Ukraine's "internal crisis".
Russia's Defence Ministry announced that thousands of Russian troops in the regions of Rostov, Belgorod, Kursk and Tambov bordering Ukraine were involved in the exercises, which will continue until the end of the month.
In the southern Rostov region, the manoeuvres involved parachuting in 1,500 troops, the ministry said.
The drills included the military conducting large artillery exercises involving 8,500 soldiers and artillery and rocket systems in the south.
In Crimea, where the public will vote on Sunday whether to break away from Ukraine and become part of Russia, residents lined up at their banks to withdraw cash from their accounts amid uncertainty over the future of the peninsula, which Russian troops now control.
Violence engulfed Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, where clashes between pro-Russia demonstrators and supporters of the Ukrainian government left at least one person dead.
Several Western diplomats said their hope was that China, which has joined Russia in vetoing three council resolutions on Syria since 2011, would distance itself this time from Moscow and abstain.
China has an aversion to separatism because of its own issues involving Tibet, Taiwan and other regions.
It has voiced support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity during Security Council sessions on the crisis, although diplomats said it was not entirely certain Beijing would break from Russia on Ukraine.
China urges restraint
China's UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said China was urging restraint by all sides and calling for a resolution through political and diplomatic means.
"China supports the constructive efforts and the good offices of the international community in order to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine," he told the council.
"We are open to all proposals and plans that would contribute to mitigating the tension."
|Crimean town leans towards Kremlin
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador, said Ukraine's previous legitimate government had been illegally overthrown by radical nationalists bent on antagonizing ethnic Russians.
"Kiev itself is splitting its country into two parts," he told the council.
Raimonda Murmokaite, Lithuanian ambassador, whose country was once part of the Soviet Union, said Russia's actions were having a chilling effect.
"One can only imagine the shudders this is sending across the entire region whose memories of the recent Soviet occupations and invasions are still very much alive," she said.]
Earlier, John Kerry, US secretary of state, warned Russia that it faced serious repercussions from the US and the EU if the referendum resulted in Russian annexation of Crimea.
Both the US and EU have warned they would respond with sanctions.
Mark Lyall Grant, British ambassador, appealed to Russia and Crimea's regional authorities to cancel the referendum.
"A free and fair referendum cannot possibly be held while Russian troops and Russian-backed militias dominate Crimea," Lyall Grant said, adding that press freedom was being curtailed across Crimea and "voters will be casting their ballots under the barrel of a gun."