Russia isolated as China abstains in UN Security Council vote on Crimea

China abstains as 13 of 15 Security Council members back resolution, which says today's referendum on Crimea's status has no validity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 5:54am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2014, 5:54am

Russia vetoed a Western-backed resolution condemning today's referendum in Crimea at an emergency UN Security Council meeting yesterday but China abstained, isolating Moscow further on the Ukraine crisis.

The draft resolution, which says today's referendum on the region joining Russia would have no validity, got 13 votes in the 15-member council. But it was rejected when permanent member Russia exercised its veto.

"Russia, isolated, alone and wrong, blocked the resolution's passage," US Ambassador Samantha Power told the council at its seventh emergency session on Ukraine since the crisis began.

"This is a sad and remarkable moment," she said.

"As we speak, Russian armed forces are massing across Ukraine's eastern border," she added in a short speech.

China often backs Russia at the council, especially on Syria-related votes, and Western diplomats had seen its abstention as the best possible outcome from the vote.

Ambassador Liu Jieyi said that passing a resolution on Ukraine at this moment would "only result in confrontation and further complicate the situation".

"China has always been fair and objective. We will continue to mediate and promote dialogue so as to play a constructive role in seeking a political solution to the crisis," he said.

He called for an international co-ordination mechanism to explore as soon as possible a political settlement, for all parties to refrain from escalation and for international financial institutions to help shore up economic stability in Ukraine.

Even as the vote was taking place, however, Russian forces backed by helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles took control of a village near the border with Crimea, Ukrainian officials said.

The action in Strilkove appeared to be the first move outside Crimea, where Russian forces have been in effective control since late last month. There were no reports of gunfire or any injuries.

In a statement, Ukraine's foreign ministry denounced the foray outside Crimea, and said the country "reserves the right to use all necessary measures to stop the military invasion by Russia".

Yesterday's emergency meeting at the UN was called at Washington's request and the resolution was drafted by the United States in very measured terms so that it could be accepted by Beijing.

Russia's veto had been certain after last-ditch talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov broke down in London on Friday.

"It is a secret to no one that the Russian Federation will vote against the resolution," Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council in opening remarks before the vote.

The resolution declared that the referendum on Crimea coming under Kremlin rule has "no validity and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea".

In Moscow, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched in protest at Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

It was the largest anti-government demonstration since 2012. Demonstrators waved Russian and Ukrainian flags, while opposition activists - including two members of the Pussy Riot punk band - shouted "Say no to war!" and "Putin, go away!" from the stage.

Additional reporting by Associated Press