Western diplomats slammed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for his country’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine during a face-to-face session hosted by Moscow’s top diplomat at the United Nations Security Council on Monday.
Lavrov was in charge of the meeting, titled “Maintenance of international peace and security,” because Russia currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. The last time Russia presided over the Security Council was February 2022, when it launched its invasion of Ukraine.
UN ambassadors for the United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland all used their speeches at the meeting to condemn Russia’s invasion. The three women – the US’s Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Britain’s Barbara Woodward and Switzerland’s Pascale Baeriswyl – all voiced strong, direct criticism of Russia and Lavrov, at times looking directly at the top Russian diplomat.
“Our hypocritical convener today, Russia, invaded its neighbor, Ukraine, and struck at the heart of the UN Charter. This illegal, unprovoked and unnecessary war runs directly counter to our most shared principles – that a war of aggression and territorial conquest is never, ever acceptable,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“As we sit here, that aggression continues. As we sit here, Russian forces continue to kill and injure civilians. As we sit here, Russian forces are destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. As we sit here we brace ourselves for the next Bucha, the next Mariupol, the next Kherson, the next war crime, the next atrocity,” she added.
Opening the session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned Russia’s actions.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in violation of the United Nations Charter and international law, is causing massive suffering and devastation to the country and its people and adding to the global economic dislocation triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said, sitting right next to Lavrov.
Russian diplomats have been largely cut off from various international conferences since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. However, the leadership of the Security Council, UN’s most powerful body, rotates alphabetically among its 15 member nations. Five countries – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – have permanent seats on the council. The remaining 10 members are elected for two-year terms by the UN General Assembly.
Russia assumed the presidency on April 1, an event that multiple diplomats described as an “April Fool’s joke.”
The meeting on Monday was attended by Elizabeth Whelan, whose brother Paul Whelan has been detained in Russia for more than four years. The US considers Whelan to be wrongfully detained. The US government was unable to secure Whelan’s release last year when it brought home two other Americans who the US said had been wrongfully detained in Russia – Trevor Reed in April and Brittney Griner in December.
European Union countries issued a joint statement before the meeting, condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine and criticizing Lavrov’s appearance at the meeting.
“Russia is trying to portray itself as a defender of the UN charter and multilateralism. Nothing can be further from the truth. It’s cynical,” said Olaf Skoog, European Union representative to the UN. “We all know that while Russia is destroying, we are building. While they violate, we protect.”
In his opening remarks, Lavrov launched into a tirade of unsubstantiated accusations against Ukraine and its western allies, blaming the conflict on them.
“As was the case during the Cold War, we have reached the dangerous, possibly even more dangerous threshold,” Lavrov said, accusing the “United States and its allies” of “abandoning diplomacy and demanding clarification of relations on the battlefield.”
Lavrov repeatedly described the Ukrainian government as “the putchists” and “the Nazi Kyiv regime,” a baseless claim that Russia has repeatedly made to justify its illegal invasion of the country. Lavrov also criticized Western countries for not recognizing the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea as Russian territory, despite “a referendum being held there.”
Russia forcefully annexed Crimea in 2014 after holding a sham referendum there. Ukraine and its Western allies consider the area occupied Ukrainian territory. The UN overwhelmingly rejected the referendum as illegitimate and the annexation as illegal.
CNN’s Richard Roth and Jennifer Deaton contributed reporting.