UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Western ambassadors on the U.N. Security Council demanded an end to what they said was Russia’s false propaganda and “fantasy narrative” on the escalating crisis in Ukraine, warning that such distortions could inflame the volatile situation.
“The systematic and targeted propaganda war against Ukraine and its provisional leadership, is an extremely dangerous game,” Lithuania’s U.N. Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite, who requested Wednesday’s special meeting, told the 15-nation council.
“As we have seen time and again, including in Central African Republic, it is much too easy to release the arms-wielding genie of incitement and hate, but so much more difficult to contain it afterwards,” she added.
The council voted last week to send U.N. peacekeepers to the Central African Republic where the United Nations has warned that the sectarian violence could spiral into genocide.
The council met on Wednesday to discuss a report on the Ukraine submitted to the United Nations by Assistant Secretary-General for human rights Ivan Simonovic. That report said ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine have falsely claimed to be under assault to justify Russian intervention.
Simonovic told the council there were attacks on ethnic Russians in Ukraine though they were “neither systematic nor widespread.”
“They were isolated incidents which were then exaggerated through some biased media reporting, fuelling fear and insecurity amongst the ethnic Russian community,” he said.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin echoed Moscow’s previous condemnation of the report, saying it was biased, one-sided and seemed to have been fabricated to fit pre-formed conclusions.
The crisis began after protesters seeking closer Ukrainian ties with the West toppled its Moscow-backed president in February. Russia then invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region after its ethnic Russian majority backed the move in a referendum, which the West condemned as an illegal sham.
Last month the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn the annexation of Crimea and the secession vote. As a result of the General Assembly decision, all U.N. agencies continue to treat Crimea as part of Ukraine, not a Russian province.
Britain Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant decried what he said was Russia’s “fantasy narrative” on Ukraine. French envoy Gerard Araud spoke of Moscow’s “virtual reality” propaganda that had been knocked down by Simonovic’s report.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power spoke of Russia’s “well orchestrated professional campaign of incitement, separatism and sabotage of the Ukrainian state” along with “weeks of Russian disinformation and propaganda.”
“We urge the U.N. to continue to provide independent reporting and not to be deterred by slander and intimidation being practiced by those who do not like facts that have proven inconvenient and truths that credibly refute Russia’s false and self-justifying claims,” Power added.
Wednesday’s council session on Ukraine comes ahead of a peace conference on Thursday in Geneva of foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and European Union.
Russia had no strong defenders during the council meeting. Its traditional ally on the Security Council, China, simply described the crisis as “extremely complex” and called for a de-escalation of tensions.
Churkin also spoke about harassment of journalists by the current Kiev government.
The human rights report that Simonovic presented to the council, however, said there were “credible allegations” of harassment, arbitrary arrest and torture targeting activists and journalists in Crimea who did not support the March 16 referendum on the region’s secession from Ukraine.
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Andrew Hay