As U.N. Security Council met, Russia attacked Ukraine

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UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The United States and other United Nations Security Council members slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for attacking Ukraine as the 15-member body met in New York to try and defuse weeks of mounting tensions.

"At the exact time as we are gathered in the council seeking peace, Putin delivered a message of war in total disdain for the responsibility of this Council. This is a grave emergency," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council.

In an address on Russian state TV, broadcast at the same time as the U.N. Security Council began its meeting in New York, Putin announced his military operation in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces fired missiles at several Ukrainian cities and landed troops on its south coast. read more

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after the council meeting it was "the saddest moment" in his more than five years in the job, appealing: "President Putin, in the name of humanity bring your troops back to Russia."

"This conflict must stop now," he said.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia notified the council of Moscow's move during the meeting, justifying it under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which covers individual or collective self-defense by states against armed attack.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described Russia's move on Ukraine as "unprovoked and unjustified."

French U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said: "This decision - announced at the very moment when the council was meeting - shows the disdain that Russia has for international law and for the United Nations."

Thomas-Greenfield said she would put forward a U.N. Security Council on Thursday, which de Riviere said would condemn "the war conducted by Russia." The move is doomed to fail as it will can be vetoed by Russia, but it gives Washington and allies a chance to try and isolate Moscow over its actions.

Diplomats said the council would likely vote before the end of the week.

"We believe that the door to a peaceful solution to the Ukraine issue is not fully shut, nor should it be," China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told the Security Council as the violence escalated in Ukraine.

Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said Russia had just declared a war on his country and told Nebenzia at the end of the council meeting: "There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell."

Nebenzia responded: "We aren't being aggressive against the Ukrainian people, but against the junta that is in power in Kyiv."

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Tom Hogue and Lincoln Feast.

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