Russia’s ambassador to the UN interrupted a minute’s silence for Ukraine as diplomats from the two countries faced off on the anniversary of their war at a session of the Security Council.
Concluding his remarks in the chamber, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba proposed a tribute ‘in memory of the victims of the aggression’.
As everyone in the council chamber rose in silence, Russia’s United Nations envoy Vasily Nebenzia remained in his seat and asked for the floor.
He then broke the silence, saying: ‘We are getting to our feet to honour the memory of all victims of what has happened in Ukraine starting in 2014 – all of those who perished.’
His use of 2014 and double emphasis on the word ‘all’ referred to Russia’s claims that the conflict began that year after Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president was driven from office by mass protests.
The Kremlin responded by seizing the Crimean Peninsula and throwing its weight behind an insurgency in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region, which Putin has also now annexed.
Nebenzia went on: ‘All lives are priceless, and that is why we’re rising to honour the memory of them all.’
Earlier, he accused Malta, which holds the council’s rotating presidency, of giving Ukraine preference in choosing it to speak first just because it is ‘part of your geopolitical project’.
He also objected to foreign ministers of 14 European countries on the speakers list along with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, saying they all have the same EU position ‘and will bring no added value’ to the debate.
Malta’s Foreign Minister Ian Borg responded that the European ministers flew to New York and asked to speak because ‘they feel that their countries have been and are still being directly impacted by this war’.
Kuleba told the council that ‘Ukraine will resist as it has done so far, and Ukraine will win’. And he declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘is going to lose much sooner than he thinks’.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the meeting recalling his plea to the council for peace just before Russian troops and tanks crossed the border on February 24, last year.
He similarly repeated his warning that war could be the worst since the beginning of the century, with consequences not only for Russia and Ukraine but potentially for the world economy – all of which has proven true in the past year.
The UN chief lamented that ‘peace has had no chance’ and ‘war has ruled the day’, unleashing widespread death, destruction and displacement and leaving 17.6 million Ukrainians, nearly 40% of the population, in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.
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