UNITED NATIONS —The United States urged other nations to tell Russia to stop making nuclear threats and end “the horror” of its war in Ukraine as all three countries’ top diplomats spoke—but didn’t quite meet—at a high-profile UN Security Council meeting Thursday.
Held alongside the annual UN General Assembly gathering of world leaders, the session followed a striking development in the war this week: Russia called up a portion of its reserves for the first time since World War II. At the same time, President Vladimir Putin said his nuclear-armed country would “use all means available to us” to defend itself if its territory is threatened.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saw Putin’s remark as particularly menacing given plans for referendums in Russian-controlled parts of eastern and southern Ukraine on whether to become part of Russia.
Western nations have condemned those votes as illegitimate and nonbinding. But, in their wake, Moscow might see any Ukrainian attempt to retake those areas as an attack on “Russian territory,” Blinken warned.
“Every council member should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov didn’t mention his country’s nuclear capacity or the new troop mobilization during his own remarks at the council meeting, which France called to discuss accountability for alleged abuses and atrocities during the nearly 7-month-long war.
Instead, Lavrov repeated his country’s frequent claims that Kyiv has long oppressed Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east—one of the explanations Moscow has offered for the invasion—and that Western support for Ukraine is a menace to Russia.
“What’s particularly cynical is the position of states that are pumping Ukraine full of weapons and training their soldiers,” he said, maintaining that their goal is to prolong fighting “to wear down and weaken Russia.”
“That policy means the direct involvement of the West in the conflict,” said Lavrov. He added that Ukraine had become “an anti-Russia staging ground to create threats against Russian security” and his country wouldn’t accept it.
The Security Council has held dozens of contentious meetings on Ukraine since the war began in February, but Thursday’s session had special stature.
“That President Putin picked this week, as most of the world gathers at the United Nations, to add fuel to the fire he started shows his utter contempt and disdain for the UN Charter, the UN General Assembly and this council,” Blinken told foreign ministers around the group’s famous horseshoe-shaped table.
“Tell President Putin to stop the horror he started. Tell him to stop putting his interests above the interests of the rest of the world, including his own people,” Blinken added.
Regardless, no one expects the council to act against Russia, since Moscow has veto power as a permanent member. But the meeting was still a rare moment for top diplomats from Ukraine and Russia to appear in the same room—made all the more extraordinary for the fact that Lavrov is under US sanctions.
In a sign of the charged atmosphere, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba apparently objected as council staffers prepared to put a placard marking Ukraine’s seat next to Russia’s. The placard was ultimately moved to another spot.
Ahead of the meeting, Kuleba wryly told reporters that he planned to keep a “social distance” from Lavrov. But it turned out he didn’t have to: The Russian appeared only just before speaking and left right after, prompting Kuleba to quip later in his own speech that “Russian diplomats flee almost as quickly as Russian soldiers.” AP
Image credits: AP/Mary Altaffer