UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States urged other nations to tell Russia to stop making nuclear threats and end “the horror” of its war in Ukraine, while top diplomats from all three the countries spoke – but did not quite meet – at a high-profile UN Security Council meeting Thursday.
Held alongside the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly of World LeadersThe session this week saw a striking development in the war: Russia called up part of its reserves for the first time since World War II. At the same time, President Vladimir Putin said his nuclear-armed country would “use every available means” to defend itself if its territory is threatened.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saw Putin’s comment as particularly threatening given plans for referendums in Russian-controlled parts of eastern and southern Ukraine on whether or not to join Russia.
Western countries have condemned those votes as illegal and non-binding. But in their wake, Moscow could see any Ukrainian attempt to retake those areas as an attack on “Russian territory,” Blinken warned.
“Every councilor should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately,” he said.Read:Putin’s Supporters Complain Old Russians Are Being Sent to War
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not mention his country’s nuclear capability or the mobilization of new troops during his own remarks at the council meeting, which convened France to discuss liability for alleged abuses and atrocities during the nearly 7-month war..
Instead, Lavrov echoed his country’s frequent claims that Kiev has long oppressed Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine — one of the explanations Moscow gave before the invasion — and that Western support for Ukraine poses a threat to Russia.
“What is especially cynical is the position of states that are pumping Ukraine full of weapons and training their soldiers,” he said, insisting their aim is to prolong the fighting “to water down and weaken Russia.”
“That policy means the West’s direct involvement in the conflict,” Lavrov said. He added that Ukraine had become “an anti-Russia training ground to create threats against Russian security” and that his country would not accept it.
The Security Council has held dozens of controversial meetings on Ukraine since the start of the war in February, but Thursday’s session had a special status.
“That President Putin chose this week, as most of the world gathers at the United Nations, to add fuel to the fire he started shows his utter disregard and contempt for the UN Charter, the General Assembly of the UN and this council,” Blinken told foreigners. ministers around the group’s famous horseshoe-shaped table.Read:Meloni’s victory in Italy is warning for American democracy
“Tell President Putin to stop the horror he started. Tell him to stop putting his interests above the interests of the rest of the world, including his own people,” Blinken added.
Regardless, no one expects the council to act against Russia, as Moscow has veto power as a permanent member.
But the meeting was still a rare moment for top diplomats from Ukraine and Russia to appear in the same room — all the more extraordinary since Lavrov is under US sanctions.
As a sign of the charged atmosphere, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba apparently objected as councilors prepared to put up a placard marking Ukraine’s seat next to Russia’s. The placard was eventually moved to a different spot.
Before the meeting, Kuleba wryly told reporters that he intended to maintain a “social distance” from Lavrov. But it turned out not to be necessary: The Russian didn’t appear until just before he spoke and left immediately afterward, prompting Kuleba to joke later in his own speech that “Russian diplomats flee almost as quickly as Russian soldiers.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he thought Lavrov didn’t care to hear “the collective condemnation of this council”.Read:Zelensky: Putin troop mobilization ‘frank admission’ that Russian army has ‘crumbled’
And in an interview with The Associated Press, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre called Lavrov’s decision not to hear other speakers in person “a sign of uncertainty”.
In an undiplomatic exchange, Lavrov accused the US and its allies of covering up alleged wrongdoing by Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy’s government on the rationale that “he’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole.” Kuleba later chided Russia for the “inappropriate jargon.”
Blinken argued that Russia would have to endure further censorship and isolation for its invasion, pressuring other countries to join Washington’s strong denunciations of the conflict.. He cited the discovery of mass graves in Ukraine and repeated accusations by Ukrainians that they had been tortured by Russian soldiers.
The International Criminal Court opened an investigation in March into possible crimes during the war and sent teams to collect evidence. Prosecutor Karim Khan told the council on Thursday that he is sending more ICC staff next week to investigate allegations from eastern Ukraine.
Khan has not yet announced any charges related to the conflict, but he reiterated that he believes there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes have been committed.
“The photo I’ve seen so far is disturbing indeed,” he said.
The meeting came less than a week after Ukraine’s Zelenskyy announced the discovery of a mass cemetery near a northeastern city, Izium, which had recently been recaptured from Russian forces. Zelensky said investigators have found evidence that some of the dead were tortured.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told the council the discovery prompted her country to send more investigators to join others in Ukraine since hundreds of civilians were found dead in another city, Bucha, after a Russian withdrawal in late March.
There are “so many violations of the laws of war and so many actions for which Russia should be held accountable,” she said.
Other councilors also called for accountability, but in varying tones.
“Investigations into violations of international humanitarian law must be objective and fair, based on honest facts, rather than guilt, and without being politicized,” said Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, which has maintained strong ties with Russia.
Associated Press journalists Edith M. Lederer and Mary Altaffer contributed.
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