UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Western powers and Russia on Friday used an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to accuse each other of hypocrisy and double standards in confronting the escalating crisis in Ukraine.
The heated exchange came during another inconclusive meeting of the 15-nation council on the crisis. Russia called for the session to condemn what it described as a “punitive” and “criminal” Ukrainian military operation in the southeastern city of Slaviansk against pro-Russian rebels.
The Security Council has held more than a dozen meetings on the Ukraine crisis but has taken no formal action due to the deep disagreements among Russia, Britain, France and the United States - four of its five veto-wielding permanent members.
In their speeches, Britain and Lithuania voiced surprise at Russia’s willingness to condemn what they said was a measured and justifiable operation by Kiev against armed pro-Russian separatists backed by Moscow while keeping silent about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s attacks on his own people.
“The scale of Russian hypocrisy is breathtaking,” British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said. “Russia stoutly supports, and indeed arms, the most repressive regimes in the world, notably Syria, a regime which brutally suppresses dissent without any sense of restraint or concern for the protection of civilians.”
“Russia’s synthetic indignation over Ukraine’s proportionate and measured actions convinces no one,” he added.
Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite echoed his remarks.
“As far as punitive actions go, let us be frank - there were more victims on Thursday in Aleppo, in a mass of bloody rubble and body parts after missiles and improvised barrel bombs killed at least 33 people and wounded many others,” she said.
“This punitive action has so far not been condemned by Russia, like many similar acts by the Assad regime before,” she said.
Assad’s ally Russia, backed by China, has vetoed three Security Council resolutions that would have condemned the Syrian government and threatened it with sanctions over its actions in the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year.
Moscow’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin hurled his own accusations at the West. He said Western countries were guilty of double standards for condoning Kiev’s current military operations after urging Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovich not to deploy the army to end months of unrest that eventually led to his ouster in February.
Churkin also accused Western countries of interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
“Of particular concern is information that during the punitive operations of the Ukrainian armed forces and illegal ultranationalist groups there was English on the radio waves as well as amongst those attacking in Slaviansk,” he said. “English-speaking foreigners were noted.”
“We would insist on the inadmissibility of any sort of outside interference in what’s going on in Ukraine,” he added.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power dismissed what she described as Russia’s “monumental falsehoods” on the crisis in Ukraine, including the suggestion that Ukrainians are carrying out a large-scale, uncontrolled, violent attack on unarmed civilians.
The problem in Ukraine, she said, was nothing other than “Russian-sponsored paramilitary violence.” The idea that anyone else had intervened in Ukraine is “ridiculous and false,” she said, and it may be a Russian pretext to invade.
Power referred to the shooting down of several Ukrainian military helicopters by pro-Russian separatists on Friday as proof that Russia is directing the rebels in the former Soviet republic.
Lyall Grant said there were reports the separatists used man-portable air-defense systems to shoot the helicopters.
“The use of such sophisticated weaponry against Ukrainian forces reaffirms our assessment that the armed groups in eastern Ukraine include professionals funded, equipped and directed by Russia,” he said.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said such anti-aircraft weaponry was “not equipment that one finds on the markets of Kharkiv.” He added that “Russia has opened a Pandora’s box and allowed out the demon of nationalism and armed mobs in Ukraine.”
Araud also condemned what he said was the pro-Russian separatists’ use of “forced disappearances, assassination and torture,” as well as their taking hostage a group of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Araud and the other Western ambassadors accused Moscow of preparing for the annexation of eastern Ukraine using a strategy that it successfully employed in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March after the region voted in a referendum to break away from Ukraine and become part of the Russian Federation.
The growing chaos in Ukraine is overshadowing a presidential election the pro-Western leadership in Kiev is planning for May 25. The rebels plan a vote on May 11 to seek a mandate to break with Kiev, like one held in Crimea before Moscow took it over.
Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Mohammad Zargham