United Nations, Feb 24 : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the world was facing a peril unprecedented in recent times and issued a stern rebuke to Russia that it was violating UN principles by recognising Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent countries.
“The latest developments regarding Ukraine are a cause of grave concern,” he said on Wednesday at a meeting of the General Assembly on Ukraine.
“Our world is facing a moment of peril. I truly hoped it would not come,” he added.
Reprimanding Moscow, Guterres said, “The decision of the Russian Federation to recognise the so-called ‘independence’ of Donetsk and Luhansk regions — and the follow-up — are violations of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Russia was also violating the General Assembly’s “Friendly Relations Declaration” that affirms “the territorial integrity and political independence of the State are inviolable,” the Secretary-General added.
Citing “reports of increased ceasefire violations across the contact line and the real risk of further escalation on the ground,” Guterres called for a ceasefire and a return to diplomacy.
However, one high-level global diplomacy has been shut down now as the US has called off a meeting between between its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and withdrew an offer for US President Joe Biden to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia recognised the two breakaway regions, signed a security pact with them and announced Russian “peacekeepers” would be sent there.
On Moscow’s claims of “peacekeeping”, the UN Chief said, “We must also be concerned about preserving the integrity of peacekeeping. The UN has a long and recognised experience deploying peacekeeping operations — which only take place with the consent of the host country.”
Russia’s Permanent Representative, Vassily Nebenza swiftly criticised Guterres.
“It is to our great regret that the UN Secretary General, today and a few days ago, has made some statements regarding what is going on in the east of Ukraine that are not in line with his status and his mandate,” he said.
Nebenza defended his country’s action, blaming Ukraine for not respecting the rights of the Russian minority in their country and not dealing with Donetsk and Luhansk as required under international agreements.
None of the 24 other countries that spoke in the morning session of the UN General Assembly supported Russia and most criticised it. (India, which had taken a neutral stand in the UN Security Council on Monday evening, was scheduled to be the 75th speaker and its turn may not come up on Wednesday.)
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba said, “I warn every nation in this distinguished chamber, no one will be able to settle down this crisis if President Putin decides that he can move forward with his aggression against your governments. Your people will face painful consequences together with our government and our people.”
Asking for decisive international action, he said, “We need your help.”
US Permanent Representative, Linda Thomas-Greenfield appealed all the countries to join the US and its European allies to impose economic sanctions on Russia.
She said, “What we can do together today is make clear that Russia will pay an even steeper price if it continues its aggression. That responsible countries do not bully their neighbours into submission. That former empires cannot lay claim to sovereign and independent nations.”
Tariq Ahmad, Britain’s Minister of State for the UN, warned that a Russian invasion “would take a terrible toll on Ukrainians and Russians alike — both victims of an unnecessary war of the Kremlin’s choosing.”
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected])