The United Nations political chief says Russia’s recognition of separatist areas in Ukraine’s east is a violation of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Rosemary DiCarlo told Monday’s rare nighttime meeting of the UN Security Council that everyone involved should focus on ending hostilities immediately.
“The risk of major conflict is real and needs to be prevented at all costs,” she said at the Security Council meeting.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognised the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine – the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic – as independent, defying Western warnings that such a step would be illegal and wreck peace negotiations.
Putin also ordered the deployment of Russian forces to the Donbas – where Donetsk and Luhansk are – in eastern Ukraine to “keep the peace”.
Tensions between Moscow and the West have escalated following weeks of the United States’ accusations that Russia was on the verge of invading Ukraine as it deployed up to 150,000 troops near the border.
Russia has denied it wants to invade Ukraine and accuses the West of hysteria.
The consequences of Russia’s actions “will be dire – across Ukraine, across Europe, and across the globe”, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the emergency meeting of the 15-member council on Monday.
“President Putin has torn the Minsk Agreement to shreds. We have been clear that we do not believe he will stop at that,” said Thomas-Greenfield, referring to the agreements of 2014 and 2015 that aimed to end the conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s UN ambassador, however, accused the US and its Western allies of egging Ukraine on to “an armed provocation”.
“We remain open to diplomacy for a diplomatic solution, however, allowing new bloodbath in the Donbas is something we do not intend to do,” Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council.
He accused Ukraine of sharply increasing shelling in residential areas of Luhansk and Donetsk and in Russian towns and villages near the border.
He said Ukraine had concentrated a 120,000-strong military contingent along the contact line with pro-Russian separatists in the east and “subversive groups” had penetrated or tried to penetrate Donbas to sabotage critical infrastructure.
The separatist authorities said at least four civilians had been killed by Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours, and several others were wounded.
Ukraine’s military said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the weekend, and another serviceman was wounded Monday. Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk insisted that Ukrainian forces were not returning fire.
Criticism against Russia
Russia was widely criticised by most council members for its actions on Monday.
Kenya’s UN Ambassador Martin Kimani condemned what he called a trend of powerful states breaching international law with little regard, adding “multilateralism lies on its deathbed tonight”.
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said “all parties concerned must exercise restraint, and avoid any action that may fuel tensions”, adding that Beijing welcomed and encouraged every effort for a diplomatic solution.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory, and instructed national security and economic officials to prepare for the economic fallout in South Korea if the Ukraine crisis is prolonged and the US-led West imposes stringent economic sanctions on Russia.
Ukraine’s UN ambassador demanded Russia cancel its recognition of the independence of separatist regions, immediately withdraw its “occupation troops”, and return to negotiations.
“The internationally recognised borders of Ukraine have been and will remain unchangeable regardless of any statements and actions by the Russian Federation,” Sergiy Kyslytsya said.
“We are committed to a political-diplomatic settlement and do not succumb to provocations,” Kyslytsya said.
It was the third Security Council meeting on Ukraine in as many weeks.
The body has met dozens of times to discuss the Ukraine crisis since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.
It cannot take any action because Russia is a veto power along with France, Britain, China and the US.