Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats allied with Ukraine squared off with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council Thursday, confronting Russia on alleged war crimes and pledging to prosecute those responsible.
The Security Council meeting was taking place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a televised address mobilizing 300,000 troops to ramp up the war in Ukraine.
“That President Putin chose this week, as most of the world gathers at the United Nations, to add fuel to the fire that he started shows his utter contempt for the UN Charter for the General Assembly and for this council,” Blinken said.
“The very international order that we have gathered here to uphold is being shredded before our eyes. We cannot, we will not allow President Putin to get away with it.”
Blinken also noted the chorus of condemnation toward Russia’s war during the General Assembly coming from “countries developing and developed, big and small, north and south.”
“Even a number of nations that maintain close ties with Moscow have said publicly that they have serious questions and concerns about President Putin’s ongoing invasion,” he added.
The Security Council meeting was attended by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who told a press conference before the meeting that he would “keep safe social distance with” Lavrov, in one of the few instances where the two diplomats would be in the same room.
Kuleba used his remarks at the council to call for establishing a special tribunal to put “President Putin and his entourage on trial … for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.”
“And Russia should know one thing: It will never be able to kill all of us,” he added.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres bluntly blamed Russia for the deaths and injuries of civilians.
“Thousands of Ukrainian civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed or injured, mostly by Russian bombardment of urban areas,” he said.
Those remarks were followed by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, who — while not blaming Russia specifically — rejected claims from Moscow of staged atrocities in Ukrainian villages where mass graves and bodies lying in the streets suggested Russian war crimes .
“When I went to Bucha and went behind St. Andrew’s Church, the bodies I saw were not fake,” Khan said, adding the ICC is determined to investigate crimes that fall within the court’s jurisdiction.
“We must demonstrate the resolve and the determination and the principle in order not to disappoint and fail those who are in most need of the law as we speak.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who left the chamber shortly after delivering his remarks, rejected the remarks by the ICC prosecutor, saying that Russia has “no confidence in the work of this body.”
“We don’t expect anything more from this institution or a whole range of other international institutions,” he said, accusing the court and international community of ignoring Russia’s complaints of its own allegations of what it says are atrocities committed by Ukraine against the Russian people.
Russia’s accusations of Ukrainian atrocities as justification for its invasion of Ukraine, in particular accusations of genocide in Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of the country, were rejected by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February, stemming from a complaint brought forth by Kyiv.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told the Security Council that Ireland had issued a “declaration of intervention” on the ICJ case, part of a broader effort by other states to bolster Ukraine’s stance.
“If we fail to hold Russia accountable, we send a signal to large powerful countries that they can prey on their neighbors with impunity, which is something that every nation on Earth should take note of,” Coveney said.
A number of Security Council members called for UN member states to reject the expected Russian-imposed referenda in territories it occupies in Ukraine, with Guterres saying he was “deeply concerned by reports” of plans for the referenda.
“Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from a threat or use of force is a violation of the UN Charter and of international law,” he said.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly chastised Lavrov for his exit from the chamber, saying, “I’m not surprised, I don’t think Mr. Lavrov wants to hear the collective condemnation of this council.”
“We call on all countries to reject this charade and to refuse to recognize any results,” he added about the plans of the referenda. “We are used to seeing Russian lies and distortions.”
Russia received only tepid support from countries that have maintained ties with Moscow.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing supports “dialogue and negotiations without preconditions” and that “sovereignty, territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.”