‘Give Peace a Chance’, Secretary-General Stresses as Political Affairs Chief Calls for Dialogue ‘Even at this Late Hour’
The Russian Federation must call off its “special military operation” and perceived declaration of war against Ukraine, members of the Security Council demanded tonight in a heated emergency meeting, condemning contraventions of international law and the United Nations Charter, and raising alarm about the dangers of an explosive regional conflict fomenting a global humanitarian crisis not seen since the Second World War.
Delegates gathering at the eleventh hour to exhort Moscow to pull back its troops from Ukraine’s Donbas region found their calls moot after Russian President Vladimir Putin, nearly an hour into the meeting, announced in a televised speech the start of an operation to “demilitarize” its neighbour.
In opening remarks, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, citing rumours of an imminent offensive, said he initially had not believed anything serious would happen. He admitted he had been wrong. “If indeed an operation is being prepared, I have only one thing to say from the bottom of my heart: President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine,” he urged. “Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”
Offering context, Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said Ukraine’s authorities had declared a nationwide state of emergency amid disturbing reports of heavy shelling across the contact line and repeated targeting of civilian infrastructure. With Moscow also reportedly shutting airspace to civilian aircraft near the border, Ukraine’s authorities were also citing a new large-scale cyberattack against State and financial institutions.
As President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine called for continued diplomacy, and President Putin saying he was ready for dialogue, she encouraged pursuit of those efforts, even at this late hour. “The people of Ukraine want peace,” she emphasized. “I am certain the people of Russia want peace. We must do everything in our power to ensure that peace prevails.”
In the ensuing debate, representatives from the two countries offered conflicting views of the events unfolding.
Ukraine’s delegate, who had called for the emergency meeting, addressed the representative of the Russian Federation to say that most of his prepared remarks had been rendered useless by 10 p.m. New York time, as “forty-eight minutes ago, your President declared war on Ukraine”. Requesting that the Secretary-General distribute legal United Nations memorandums from December 1991 — including a decision by the Council recommending that the Russian Federation be a Member State of the Organization — he asked his counterpart if he would state on record that Russian troops are not shelling Ukrainian cities.
“You have a smartphone, you can call [Sergey] Lavrov,” he said, referring to the Russian Foreign Minister. Absent that information, the Russian Federation must relinquish its presidency of the Security Council to a Member State respectful of the Charter. He had requested an emergency meeting to consider all necessary draft decisions to stop the conflict. “You declared the war,” he said. “It is the responsibility of this body to stop the war.”
In turn, the Russian Federation’s delegate expressed regret that calls to stop provocations against the Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics had gone unheeded, with Ukraine harbouring a delusion that it could achieve a military solution in Donbas with help from Western sponsors. He said the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recorded almost 2,000 violations of the ceasefire regime, including nearly 1,500 explosions, with refugees flowing into the Russian Federation.
“The tragedy of Ukraine” started after the “illegitimate coup” in 2014, he explained, when the new Government brought guns and planes upon the Russian-speaking citizens in the country’s eastern region, rather than engaging in dialogue with them. Women, children and the elderly have hidden from Ukrainian shelling for eight years. The root of the crisis lies in Kyiv’s provocations against Donbas, which prompted the leaders of the two republics to turn to Moscow for military support, in accordance with bilateral cooperation agreements. He described this as a logical step, as well as a consequence, of Kyiv’s actions.
A number of delegates condemned reports of an active invasion unfolding even as the Council met to dissuade the Russian Federation from military action, with the United States representative stressing that it had “literally violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on live television before the world”. Moscow is closing airspace and moving forces into combat positions — a perilous moment. The United States is here tonight for one reason, she said: to ask the Russian Federation to return to its borders and send its troops and planes back to their barracks and hangars.
Citing “denial of service” attacks on Ukrainian banks attributed to Moscow, and soldiers already deployed to Ukraine’s occupied region, she pointed to the Russian Federation as the aggressor, bringing its people, the Ukrainian people and the world into a conflict that will produce untold human suffering. She said the United States will table a resolution on 24 February, pledging that “the world will hold Russia accountable”.
Indeed, “every development unfolding in the last 48 hours confirms to us — and to the whole world — that Russian worries have nothing to do with its security”, Albania’s delegate said. The issue is not a confrontation between the Russian Federation and the West, rather one between the Russian Federation “and international law and the United Nations Charter”. Calling the crisis “a dark hour” for the entire international community, he urged Moscow to reverse its illegal decisions and withdraw its military. Equating diplomacy with hope, he said: “it dies last”.
Other delegates agreed that there is still opportunity for a diplomatic solution to emerge.
The United Kingdom’s representative said that the Council is “here tonight to call on Russia to avert war”, as a full-scale conflict in a country of 44 million will drive casualties on both sides and devastating humanitarian consequences. While the world is calling for peace, “Russia is not listening”, she said. She raised the potential for the United Kingdom to ratchet up the already significant sanctions package targeting Russian oligarchs, banks and politicians supporting President Putin. “There is still time for restraint, de-escalation and reason — but that time is now.”
In similar stride, Kenya’s delegate called for calm and protection of civilians, joining calls for a diplomatic solution that envisions a viable security architecture for Europe, while remaining sensitive to the needs of other parties. He urged delegates to recall the ruins of war experienced by all those sitting around the Council table.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Ireland, India, United Arab Emirates, Norway, China, Brazil, Ghana, Gabon, Mexico and Germany.
The meeting began at 9:32 p.m. and ended at 11 p.m.