Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk confronted Russia at the U.N. Security Council in New York on Thursday, and the U.S. sought to drive a diplomatic wedge between Moscow and Beijing on the issue of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The Security Council meeting in New York comes amid the continuing crisis in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which has a population comprised mostly of ethnic Russians and has long operated with a great deal of autonomy from the Ukrainian government in Kiev.
Russian troops seized control of Crimea last month after protests in Western-leaning parts of Ukraine forced out the country’s president, who was closely allied with Moscow. Crimeans will vote Sunday on a referendum – called by the pro-Russian regional legislature – to decide whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
Al Jazeera has learned that the United States hopes to escalate diplomatic pressure on Moscow to stand down by seeking a Security Council vote Friday or Saturday on a resolution condemning Russia’s actions. The U.S. hopes to persuade China to abstain.
“A lot of the diplomacy right now is focused on China — making sure China doesn’t side with Russia and abstains,” Al Jazeera diplomatic editor James Bay reported.
While Russia would use its permanent council status to veto any such resolution, the draft would be significant if it gained support from members of the council and made Moscow seem more isolated among the international community.
“It is about showing the world where the members stand. The key player is the Chinese,” Bays reported.
So far, China appears in its state media to have subscribed to Moscow’s premise that Russia is acting to protect Ukraine’s Russians from perceived dangers. But while Russia has said China is in agreement over Ukraine, Beijing has remained largely silent publicly and, analysts say, will likely remain so – in part out of wariness of damaging relations with the U.S. and Europe.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the council that more than 20,000 Russian troops are in Crimea ahead of Sunday’s referendum.
She said the U.S. and other nations “call for the suspension of this referendum, which cannot be regarded as legitimate, especially against the background of foreign military intervention.”
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant added that a “free and fair referendum cannot possibly be held where voters are casting their ballots under the barrel of a gun.”