Alarmed members of the U.N. Security Council demanded Thursday that Russia remove its fighters from a new front in the Ukraine crisis, while the U.S. ambassador accused Moscow of having “outright lied.”
Council members at the emergency meeting heard from a top U.N. official that the spread of violence in southeastern Ukraine marked a dangerous escalation, but that the international body had no way of independently verifying the latest reports of Russia sending in troops and tanks.
The latest meeting came hours after a top Ukrainian official Thursday said two columns of Russian tanks and military vehicles fired missiles from Russia at a Ukraine border post, then rolled into the country. That opened a new front in the war in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russia separatists and the new Ukrainian government.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Russia “has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied” about its role in Ukraine, reminding the council that the meeting was “the 24th session to try to rein in Russia’s aggressive acts in the Ukraine.”
“Every single one has sent a straightforward, unified message: ‘Russia, stop this conflict. Russia is not listening,’” she said, adding that Russia’s force along the border is the largest it’s been since it started deploying there in late May.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin offered a spirited defence, saying Kyiv “is waging war against its own people.”
Churkin did deny not the presence of Russian fighters.
“There are Russian volunteers in eastern parts of Ukraine. No one is hiding that,” he said. But he questioned the presence of Western advisers and asked where Ukrainian troops were getting weapons.
Churkin said he wanted to “send a message to Washington: Stop interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states.”
Moscow has been virtually isolated in the two dozen previous Security Council meetings on the Ukrainian crisis, but because of Russia’s veto power as one of the council’s five permanent members, the body has been unable to act.
Statements from NATO, Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko, the separatists, the United States and the president of the Security Council left no doubt that Russia had crossed the border into Ukraine. The various statements cited internal reports, satellite imagery of armoured vehicles and even photographs from Russian troops, including one by a soldier who showed himself operating military hardware.
“Now we see irrefutable evidence of regular Russian forces operating inside Ukraine,” said British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the council president this month.
The new southeastern front raised fears that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea, which Russia annexed in March.
U.N. Undersecretary-General of Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told council members the latest developments mark a “dangerous escalation in the conflict” but that the U.N. could not verify on its own the latest reports of Russian troops inside Ukraine.
Ukraine’s deputy ambassador to the U.N., Oleksandr Pavlichenko, wondered aloud if the world will ignore the apparent invasion or act.
“How many more red lines have to be crossed before this challenge can be addressed?” Pavlichenko asked the council.
As the final council member spoke, the German mission to the U.N. tweeted, “All but one #UNSC members condemn recent military escalation, call for restraint. Just one member has very different narrative.”