Russia deployed its veto at the U.N. Security Council Saturday, blocking a resolution condemning the referendum slated for Sunday in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. If passed, it would see the Black Sea peninsula secede from the country and join Russia.
The move came as Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations warned that Russian paratroopers have crossed the Crimean border into the Ukrainian mainland.
At the U.N, the United States put forward the resolution in a strategic effort to demonstrate the extent of Russia’s political isolation, and attempted to reaffirm Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence while calling on states not to recognize the results of the referendum.
Although it was not adopted, the effort succeeded to the extent that China — Moscow’s close ally and another veto-wielding council member — abstained instead of siding with Russia.
In remarks to the council, China’s envoy urged the quick establishment of an international coordinating mechanism to explore a political settlement. He also said all parties should refrain from actions that would escalate tensions, and suggested that international financial institutions should explore how to maintain Ukraine’s economic and financial stability.
Russian aggression ‘escalating’
The largely symbolic Security Council maneuvers are unlikely to change Moscow’s mind and or deescalate the situation, let alone derail the referendum, which is scheduled for March 16. Russian troops have been amassing both on the Ukrainian-Russian border and inside the autonomous Crimea region, and Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, told the council that Russia’s military aggression is escalating.
“Russian troops entered the mainland of the south from Crimea. Now we are facing new developments and we are to face further dangerous stance of Russian Federation, and I appeal to all of you to find means and measures in the Security Council and United Nations, as well as on bilateral level, to do utmost to stop the aggressor, here present by the Russian delegation,” he said.
He told reporters afterwards that the region the Russian forces, including paratroopers, have entered is responsible for providing electricity and water to the Crimean peninsula.
Reuters reported that about 120 Russian troops had moved into the area but that Ukraine’s border guard service said there was no threat of “confrontation.”
Russia defends vote
The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, speaking ahead of the vote, defended the right of self-determination of the Crimean people and appeared to argue that the referendum would correct an earlier Soviet error.
“Up until 1954, Crimea was part of the Russian Federation. It was given to Ukraine in violation of the norms at that time under Soviet law and without taking into account the view of the peoples of Crimea, who nevertheless remained within a single state — the USSR. When the USSR fell, Crimea became part of Ukraine automatically. The view of the people of Crimea — once again — was ignored,” said Churkin.
Council diplomats made forceful condemnations of Moscow’s behavior in the past weeks. France’s envoy accused Russia of vetoing the U.N. Charter, while Lithuania’s ambassador quoted former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s 1997 remarks in Kyiv, where he declared that Russia did not lay claim on Ukraine or any of its cities.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Russia’s veto could not change the fact that its actions would have consequences, nor would it change the aspirations and destiny of the Ukrainian people.
“Nor can it change Crimea’s status. Crimea is part of Ukraine today; it will be part of Ukraine tomorrow; it will be part of Ukraine next week; it will be part of Ukraine unless and until its status is changed in accordance with Ukrainian and international law,” said Power.
If the referendum goes ahead Sunday as expected, Russia is likely to face a barrage of economic sanctions from the United States and European Union which could cost it hundreds of billions of dollars.