Facing near-unanimous Security Council support over the situation in Ukraine, Russia supplied the single veto needed to nix a resolution that aimed to de-legitimize the scheduled referendum on Crimea’s seceding from the country, to be held March 16, in a vote today in the United Nations Security Council.
Russia’s veto on the resolution was expected. Instead, the resolution was proposed by the United States to act as an historical gesture to emphasize once again the territorial integrity of Ukraine and to express the majority of the council’s anxiety over the escalating tensions in the country, particularly the secession movement, which seems bound to succeed, and the military occupation of Russia in the Crimea region since the fall of Ukraine’s Moscow-leaning president, Viktor Yanukovych, on Feb. 22.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, said at the Security Council vote that Crimeans have a right to self-determination and “that we will respect the will of the Crimean people during the March 16 referendum.”
Most of the other 14 council elected and permanent members contend that the Crimean referendum will have no legal bearing internationally, a position that Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, reiterated to the media gathered today at the UN, saying the move to secede was hatched by the Kremlin, in Russia.
As the resolution had noted, the referendum in Crimea “has no legal validity and will have no legal effect on the status of Crimea,” Power said.
The Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Yuriy Sergeyev, told the council that he got a call earlier from his government that Russian troops had entered mainland Ukraine from Crimea in the south. “We are facing new developments and we are to face further dangers,” he said.
He also said that it was Russia’s “custom to veto any measures to maintain international peace and security,” citing Russian vetoes on resolutions condemning the Syria government’s role in its civil war, which began March 2011.
Gérard Araud, the ambassador of France to the UN, told the media that “there was nothing to negotiate” with Russia, as it had already decided to annex Ukraine, saying that it “takes two to tango,” to generate talks.
Churkin, normally loquacious with the media at the UN, did not share any comments after the vote with the press, reflecting his now-isolated status. His country’s troops have not only seized control of the Crimean peninsula but also turned it into a no-go zone for UN officials trying to assess the situation for the world body.
China — a permanent member of the council — provided the single abstention in today’s vote, not fully abandoning its ally on the council, Russia, also a nonelected member. (Britain, France and the US are the other so-called P5 members.) China has stressed de-escalation of tensions and territorial sovereignty on Crimea since the crisis spilled over in the last few weeks.
In its statement on abstaining, China condemned all “foreign interference” in Ukraine that has led to violence in the capital, Kiev, and elsewhere, as if pointing fingers to both Russia and the interim Ukrainian government for the upheaval. China proposed establishing an international coordinating mechanism for all parties to explore resolutions to the crisis; that parties refrain from taking action to escalate the tensions; and that international institutions help finance stability in Ukraine.
Besides the yes votes for the resolution from Britain, France and the US, all 10 elected members favored it, namely: Argentina, Australia, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Korea, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Nigeria and Rwanda.
In addition to reiterating the illegality of the referendum on Crimean secession, which will enable the region to join Russia, the resolution had encouraged all parties in the crisis to negotiate their disputes through international mediation forums. (Lithuania, Luxembourg and Rwanda had proposed that the parties look to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as a mediator.)
Upholding international law and protecting the rights of minorities in Ukraine had also been features of the resolution.
Separately, US diplomacy to pressure Russia to back off Crimea and discourage it from pushing for the secession vote came to naught as US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on March 14 in London but left empty-handed. Russia maintains that the new interim government in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, is illegal.
One likely next step for Europe and the US to stave off more encroachments by Russia into Ukraine — if not further west — is to impose sanctions against Russia.
“Frankly, we go down this road against our will,” Araud of France told the media.
Ukraine’s situation has become so urgent in the UN that it is eclipsing the Syrian war in terms of alarm and attention, even as Syria declares its intentions to hold presidential elections amid the carnage and UN-arranged peace talks in Geneva remain in limbo.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.