UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on Ukraine for Wednesday night, just hours after diplomats from dozens of countries took the floor at the General Assembly to deplore Russia’s actions toward the country and plead for diplomacy as fears of a new war in Europe grew.
Citing an “immediate threat of Russian offensive,” Ukraine requested the council session after Russia said that rebels in eastern Ukraine had asked Moscow for military assistance.
The council, where Russia holds the rotating presidency this month, was meeting just two days after another emergency session saw no support for Russia's decision to recognize two rebel regions of Ukraine as independent and to order Russian troops there for “peacekeeping.”
Council diplomats are now finalizing a draft of a resolution that would declare that Russia is violating the U.N. Charter, international law, and a 2015 council resolution on Ukraine, a diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. The resolution would urge Russia to come back into compliance immediately, the diplomat said.
At the General Assembly meeting earlier Wednesday, Russia and ally Syria defended Moscow's moves. But even China, which usually takes Russia's side at the U.N., spoke up for the world body's longstanding principle of respecting countries' sovereignty and internationally recognized borders, while not mentioning Russia by name.
Meeting a day after Western powers and some other countries imposed new sanctions on Russia, the 193-member General Assembly didn't take any collective action. But the comments from nearly 70 nations, with more scheduled for Monday, represented the broadest forum of global sentiment since the crisis dramatically escalated this week.
Countries from Guatemala to Turkey to Japan condemned Russia’s embrace of the separatist regions’ independence claims or voiced support for Ukraine.
“Ukraine, you’re not alone,” Bulgarian Ambassador Lachezara Stoeva said.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield exhorted countries “to get off the sidelines.”
"There is no middle ground here. Calling for both sides to de-escalate only gives Russia a pass. Russia is the aggressor here,” she said.
Thomas-Greenfield warned that the confrontation could spiral into a refugee crisis, estimating that as 5 million people could be displaced and could make food prices spike in developing countries where Ukraine supplies wheat.
Echoing a narrative being broadcast to Russians at home, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia portrayed his country as responding to the plight of beleaguered people in the breakaway areas. Russia claims Ukraine is engaging in violence and oppression, which Ukraine denies.
“We urge you today to focus on reining in Kyiv,” Nebenzia said.
Syria accused the West of using the assembly to pressure Moscow.
“The Ukrainian crisis was created by the Western states, led by the United States, to divide people and to undermine Russian security,” Ambassador Bassam al-Sabbagh said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba implored countries to use tough economic sanctions, strong messages and “active diplomacy” to get Russia to back off. A lackluster response would jeopardize not only Ukraine but the concept of international law and global security, he warned.
"We need to use this last chance for action and stop Russia where it is,” Kuleba said.
Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014, and pro-Russia rebels have since been fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
After weeks of rising tension as Moscow massed over 150,000 troops on Ukraine's borders, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized the two regions' independence and ordered Russian forces there as what he called “peacekeepers."
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres disputed that, saying they are troops entering another country without its consent.
“Our world is facing a moment of peril,” Guterres told the assembly.