The United States and allied nations sought to isolate Russia on Monday at an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting over the Ukraine crisis, calling Moscow’s recognition of two separatist regions and the deployment of Russian troops to them a blunt defiance of international law that risks war.
The unusual late-evening meeting of the Council was requested by Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, escalating a conflict that Western officials warn could explode into one of the biggest armed clashes in Europe since World War II. The UN meeting quickly turned into a diplomatic rebuke of Russia’s actions, which were roundly condemned as a violation of the United Nations Charter and the sanctity of national borders.
“Russia’s clear attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unprovoked,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American UN ambassador, told fellow diplomats. Ridiculing Putin’s assertion that Russian forces had been deployed as peacekeepers, she said: “This is nonsense. We know what they really are.”
Thomas-Greenfield said Putin was “testing our international system, he is testing our resolve and seeing how far he can push us all.” She called his attempt to recreate the Russian empire an antiquated throwback.
“Putin wants the world to travel back in time. To a time before the United Nations. To a time when empires ruled the world,” she said. “But the rest of the world has moved forward. It is not 1919. It is 2022.”
The representatives of France and Britain issued similar denunciations. “Russia is choosing the path of confrontation,” said France’s ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière. Britain’s ambassador, Barbara Woodward, said: “Russia has brought us to the brink. We urge Russia to step back.”
Earlier Monday, Secretary-General António Guterres of the United Nations, who has said that he believed the crisis would be resolved without military force, sharply criticized the Russian actions.
“The secretary-general considers the decision of the Russian Federation to be a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations,” Guterres said in a statement.
Even China, which often sides with Russia in disputes at the Security Council, offered an unusually terse comment that suggested some unease with the Russian actions over Ukraine. Ambassador Zhang Jun said “all parties concerned must exercise restraint and avoid any actions that may fuel tensions.”
Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of Russia, who is president of the Council for February and was obliged to schedule the meeting, categorically rejected any criticism, an indication that diplomacy over the crisis was going nowhere.
He framed his country’s actions as benevolent help to the Russian-speaking inhabitants of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, known as the Donbas, which have been engaged in a low-level war with Ukraine since 2014. Nebenzia described them as victims of Ukrainian attacks and subterfuge that violate the Minsk Accords that were aimed at halting that conflict.
“We remain open to diplomacy,” Nebenzia said. “However, allowing a new bloodbath in Donbass is something we’re not prepared to do.”
He said the United States and its allies, “instead of forcing Kyiv to implement its obligation, have been egging Ukraine on” and “whipping up unfounded panic about an alleged impending invasion of Ukraine.”
Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya of Ukraine, who was invited to speak at the meeting although his country is not a member, said he was reluctant to doff his facemask — not because of COVID-19, “but because of the virus that has so far no vaccine — the virus that is spread by the Kremlin.”
Kyslytsya urged Russian officials to “reread, again and again,” the secretary-general’s statement describing the Kremlin actions as a violation of the UN charter.
The meeting adjourned after 90 minutes, with no action taken. But Thomas-Greenfield said afterward that members of the Council had “sent a unified message — that Russia should not start war.”
The request for the meeting was announced hours earlier by the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba.
The request came as Putin recognized the two breakaway enclaves in eastern Ukraine, Luhansk and Donetsk, which could help lay the groundwork for Russian military forces to pour into Ukrainian territory.
“I officially requested UNSC member states to immediately hold consultations under article 6 of the Budapest memorandum to discuss urgent actions aimed at de-escalation, as well as practical steps to guarantee the security of Ukraine,” Kuleba wrote in a Twitter post.
The Budapest Memorandum refers to a 1994 agreement under which Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, former republics of the collapsed Soviet Union, gave up their stockpiles of Russian nuclear weapons from the Cold War era and joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in exchange for security guarantees. The efficacy of the agreement has long been called into question, however. Ukraine and Western nations have said Russia grossly violated the agreement in 2014 by seizing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Guterres’ spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, told journalists earlier Monday that the United Nations was allowing for the “temporary relocation” of some nonessential staff and dependents in Ukraine, where the organization has about 1,500 employees, mostly of Ukrainian nationality, and nearly 1,200 dependents. Of the employees, he said, roughly 100 are in the two eastern breakaway regions.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.