As the UN Security Council met for a late-night emergency session, India warned that the latest actions of Russia in regard to Ukraine could “undermine peace and security” and called for restraint and de-escalation.
Addressing the Council late Monday night, India’s Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumurti said: “The escalation of tension along the border of Ukraine with the Russian Federation is a matter of deep concern. These developments have the potential to undermine peace and security of the region.”
He reiterated his earlier calls “for restraint on all sides” and added: “The immediate priority is de-escalation of tensions taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries and aimed towards securing long term peace and stability in the region and beyond.”
Calling for the protection of civilians, Tirumurti noted that about 20,000 Indians lived in Ukraine, some of them in border areas, and said: “The well-being of Indian nationals is of priority to us”.
The emergency meeting requested by the US, France and the UK capped a day of sudden actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin recognising the breakaway rebel regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent nations, announcing a security pact with them and ordering Russian troops to those areas as “peacekeepers”.
Earlier, Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told the Council that “the next hours and days will be critical. The risk of major conflict is real and needs to be prevented at all costs”.
She said that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres considers Russia’s decision “to recognise the independence of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to be a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the UN”.
Guterres cancelled a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in view of the developments in Ukraine.
As this month’s Council President, Russia’s Permanent Representative Vasily Nebenzia chaired the session.
As neither he nor China’s Permanent Representative Zhang Jun objected to the meeting’s agenda, there was no vote during the session that started shortly after 9 p.m. on Monday (EST) and lasted nearly 90 minutes.
Russia was isolated in the 15-member Council without even China openly supporting its action.
Nebenzia said that most members of the Council “did not find a place” for the people of the breakaway regions.
Zhang said in a short statement said: “We believe that all countries should solve international disputes by peaceful means, in line with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter”.
The parties to the conflict should “seek reasonable solutions to address each other’s concerns on the basis of equality and mutual respect”, he said.
India’s statement was one of the mildest straddling the East and the West while most of the members roundly criticised Putin’s actions.
African nations, Kenya, Ghana and Gabon made surprisingly strong criticism against Russia.
Kenya’s Permanent Representative Martin Kimani linked the situation to the colonialism that ravaged his continent.
US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Putin wanted “the world to travel back in time to a time before the United Nations, to a time when empires ruled the world”.
“Other members of this Council even those who often align with Russia on other matters have been clear that the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of every UN Member State should be respected and safeguarded, including Ukraine.”
The Council itself is powerless to take action against Russia as Moscow has veto power, but the US, the UK and France and their European allies have on their own threatened strong sanctions against Russia.
The UK’s Permanent Representative Barbara Woodward warned Russia that it will face “severe economic consequences to its economy” should it invade Ukraine.
“In cooperation with our European partners, we are preparing targeted sanctions against those who took part in this illegal decision,” France’s Permanent Representative Nicolas de Riviere said.
In response to the development US President Joe Biden has imposed sanctions on Donetsk and Luhansk regions banning investments, trade and financial transactions.
Thomas-Greenfield said: “Tomorrow (Tuesday), the US will take further measures to hold Russia accountable for this clear violation of international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
She denied what she said were Putin’s claims that Ukraine sought nuclear weapons and said: “The US and our allies have no intention of supplying nuclear weapons to Ukraine, and Ukraine doesn’t want them”.
Nebenza said that the West has “been unashamedly cramming weapons” into Ukraine and “sending instructors to essentially nudge the Ukrainians” towards an armed provocation against Donetsk and Luhansk.
“The joint efforts of the West and Ukraine have inflated an air bubble that simply had to burst”, he said.
Nebenza said that it is “now it’s important to focus on how to avoid war”, adding: “We remain open to diplomacy for a diplomatic solution”.
But he asserted that Ukraine was attacking Donetsk and Luhansk and warned, “allowing you a bloodbath in the Donbas is something we do not intend to do”.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed @arulouis)