UN council backs talk, but no Russia pledge against invasion

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the United Nations Security Council, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is seated, background left. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

CAMEROON – One by one, U.N. Security Council members called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine. Even Russia’s deputy foreign minister said everything should be done to find a diplomatic solution. But he didn’t respond to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s appeal to state unequivocally that Russia will not invade Ukraine.

So what Blinken called the most immediate threat to international peace and security in the world today remains, with all eyes still on Russia.

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The annual Security Council meeting was called by Russia to focus on implementation of the Minsk Agreements aimed at restoring peace to eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed separatist have been at war with government troops since Moscow’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

The open session brought together all the key players who now confront broader security grievances from Moscow: It is demanding a NATO ban on Ukraine joining the alliance, which its members say is impossible.

Blinken, alluding to a speech to the Security Council by his predecessor Colin Powell in 2003 laying out purported U.S. evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction ahead of the American invasion which turned out to be erroneous, told council members he wanted to be clear: “I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one.”

But Blinken said U.S. information indicates that the more than 150,000 troops Russia has amassed around Ukraine “are preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days.”

He said the world can expect Russia “to manufacture a pretext” for its attack, possibly fabricating a terrorist bombing inside Russia, inventing the discovery of a mass grave, staging a drone strike against civilians or a fake or real attack using chemical weapons. In the past few days, Russian media “has already begun to spread some of these false alarms and claims, to maximize public outrage,” he said.

Blinken outlined a scenario in which this could be followed by high-level Russian emergency meetings saying the government must respond “to defend Russian citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine,” which would be followed by attacks using missiles and bombs, jamming the country’s communications, shutting down key Ukrainian institutions, and tanks and troops advancing on key targets including the capital, Kyiv.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, who spoke just before Blinken, did not address the military build-up on Ukraine’s borders. Instead, he accused Ukraine of failing to implement the Minsk Agreements which he called “the only legal basis to settle the civil conflicts in the east of Ukraine.” And he accused Ukraine’s “Western sponsors” of supporting the government, which has pushed “the Ukrainian hotheads to new excuses and military adventures against their own people.”

“Many millions in (eastern) Donbass are still presented as foreigners in their own country. They have automatic rifles, sniper rifles, Howitzers and strike drones targeted at them,” Vershinin said.

The Russian minister referred to a document circulated to the Security Council Wednesday night alleging that crimes have taken place in southeastern Ukraine, telling members: “You will be horrified by it.”

After the 15 council members spoke, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States hoped it would hear a response from Vershinin to Blinken’s call for Russia to announce that it won’t invade Ukraine.

“But instead, it was a continuation of the disinformation and the rhetoric that we continue to hear, and we’ve heard before,” she said.

Vershinin responded saying “no one” has or will ever say words on behalf of Russia like “war aggression” that were used by some council members.

Later, he told reporters that “we reiterated very firmly our commitment to the de-escalation and peaceful solution of this crisis, once more being based on the Minsk agreements.”

He called on Western capitals to “drop and to stop this hysteria about the intentions of Russia in the region,” and reiterated Moscow’s announcement that after military drills Russian troops would return to their bases in Russia.

“I believe in diplomacy and I’m glad that our partners belief in diplomacy,” Vershinin said. “Certainly we should do all that is possible to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution for this inter-Ukrainian crisis and conflict.”

But Thomas-Greenfield told reporters that “what we heard from Russia today and out of Russia in recent days has been exactly the kind of incendiary rhetoric and disinformation that we and others have been warning about.”

“The rest of the Security Council has delivered a clear, unambiguous message to Russia to pursue the diplomatic path, do not pursue the path of confrontation,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is not the path Russia has chosen.”

European council members France, Ireland, Albania and Norway, joined by Germany, Estonia and the European Union delegation echoed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ urgent call to resolve the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy and called for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements starting with the cease-fire.

Britain’s deputy foreign minister James Cleverly urged Russia “”to match its words with actions, to withdraw its troops, to engage in meaningful talks and to act in the best interests of peace, security and stability in Europe.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, a close Russian ally, said Beijing subscribes to Guterres’ view that even the most intractable issues can be solved by diplomacy and supports “his good offices aimed at reducing tensions.” But he also supported Moscow’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine.

Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the council his country remains committed to peaceful resolution of the conflict “by political-diplomatic means” but said “in the even of Russia opting for escalation, Ukraine will defend itself.”

He accused Russia of carrying out a blockade of large parts of the Black Sea under the pretext of naval exercises, a disinformation campaign and cyberattacks as part of a “”hybrid war against Ukraine.” And he called Russia’s accusation that Ukraine is carrying out “genocide” in the occupied east “fake and irresponsible” propaganda.

Kyslytsya called the appeal to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin by lawmakers to recognize rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine as independent states “outrageous,” saying this would be tantamount to Russia withdrawal from the Minsk agreements, which it signed.

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