Russia defends war in Ukraine as US, others decry alleged abuses

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World leaders at the United Nations have called for Moscow to be held accountable for human rights violations in Ukraine as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended Moscow’s war.

Addressing a meeting of the UN Security Council on alleged atrocities committed in Ukraine since Russia’s February 24 invasion, Lavrov on Thursday accused Ukraine of creating threats against Russian security and “brazenly trampling” the rights of Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine.

“I can assure you that we will never accept this,” said Lavrov, who came to the council chamber to speak and then left. “Everything I’ve said today simply confirms that the decision to conduct the special military operation was inevitable.”

He said countries supplying weapons to Ukraine and training its soldiers were parties to the conflict, adding that “the intentional fomenting of this conflict by the collective West remained unpunished”.

Ukraine’s Western allies, he added, “have been covering up the crimes of the Kyiv regime”.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged that Washington would continue to support Ukraine to defend itself.

“The very international order we’ve gathered here to uphold is being shredded before our eyes. We can’t let [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin get away with it,” Blinken told the council.

Lavrov was not in the room when Blinken and some other US allies spoke, only appearing just before his own speech.

The US announced nearly $3bn in new military aid to Ukraine last month, making it the single largest US aid package for Ukraine since Russian forces invaded their neighbour.

Thousands have been killed and Ukrainian cities reduced to rubble since Russian forces invaded.

‘Totally unacceptable’

The Security Council meeting took place during the annual gathering of world leaders for the UN General Assembly.

The council has been unable to take any meaningful action on Ukraine because Russia is a permanent veto-wielding member along with the US, France, the United Kingdom and China.

Thursday’s meeting is at least the 20th time the Security Council has met on Ukraine this year.

International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan told the council there were “reasonable grounds” to believe crimes within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed in Ukraine. The Hague-based court handles war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes of aggression.

Khan said the ICC investigation priorities were the intentional targeting of civilian objects and the transfer of populations from Ukraine, including children.

The US has said estimates from a variety of sources, including Moscow, indicate that authorities have “interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported” up to 1.6 million Ukrainians to Russia since Moscow’s invasion.

The US, UK and other members called for nations to ensure Russia is held accountable for atrocities they say Moscow has carried out in Ukraine.

“We must make clear to President Putin that his attack on the Ukrainian people must stop … that there can be no impunity for those perpetrating atrocities,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, adding that the world needed to reject Moscow’s “catalogue of lies”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres told the meeting that talk of a nuclear conflict is “totally unacceptable”.

Putin on Wednesday threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.

Guterres told the council ministerial meeting that he was concerned about the plans for “so-called ‘referenda’”.

“Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the UN Charter and of international law,” Guterres said.

Referendums on joining Russia are due to take place from Friday until Tuesday in several largely Russian-held regions in eastern and southern Ukraine, which comprise around 15 percent of the country’s territory.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the priority was to resume dialogue without preconditions and for both sides to exercise restraint and not escalate tensions.

“China’s position on Ukraine is clear. The sovereignty, territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and the reasonable security concerns of all countries should be taken seriously,” Wang said.

Asked if he might speak with Lavrov at the Security Council on Thursday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he will “keep safe social distance”.

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