Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov faced off against western powers at the UN security council on Thursday, defending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after his US counterpart said Moscow had “shredded” international norms.
The comments came as Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has escalated the war in Ukraine in recent weeks, pledging to mobilise hundreds of thousands of additional troops and threatening the use of nuclear weapons — triggering alarm around the world.
“Every council member should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately,” said US secretary of state Antony Blinken during a meeting of the 15-member council, which had been assembled to address atrocities taking place in Ukraine.
Lavrov, who arrived late to the meeting and left after addressing the council for about 20 minutes, denied Russia had committed war crimes and blamed Ukraine and its western backers for the conflict.
“What’s particularly cynical is the position of states pumping Ukraine full of weapons, training their soldiers,” he said, arguing that the west was doing so to “drag out the fighting as long as possible in spite of the victims in order to wear down and weaken Russia”.
“The decision to conduct a special military operation was inevitable,” Lavrov added.
Blinken and other officials said the onus was on Russia to stop the war. “One man chose this war. And one man can end it,” Blinken said. “Because if Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.”
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, who spoke after Lavrov had left, said Russian falsehoods fuelled Ukrainian suffering.
“Russian diplomats are directly complicit because their lies incite these crimes and cover them up,” Kuleba said.
The council met a day after Putin ordered the mobilisation of army reservists to support Moscow’s ailing campaign in Ukraine, warning he would use Russia’s nuclear arsenal if its “territorial integrity” was “threatened”.
Moscow is also planning heavily stage-managed votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine on the question of joining Russia, which the US and other powers have described as a sham.
Western countries have vowed not to recognise Moscow’s efforts to annex occupied Ukrainian territory and have warned Russia will face consequences if it does so.
UK foreign secretary James Cleverly, who spoke after Lavrov, described his comments as “distortions, dishonesty and misinformation”.
“I don’t think Mr Lavrov wants to hear the collective condemnation of the council,” Cleverly said, pointing out the Russian diplomat had left the room.
Several officials present at the council also highlighted their concerns about Russia’s nuclear threats. “The trajectory of the Ukraine conflict is a matter of profound concern for the entire international community,” said India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar. “The nuclear issue is a particular anxiety.”
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi addressed the security council on Thursday and called for negotiations to end the conflict but did not criticise Russia. Both India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and China’s president Xi Jinping last week expressed concern to Putin about his escalation of the war.
Western diplomats said their public break with Russia indicated Moscow’s growing isolation.
Ukraine, the US and other world powers have accused Russia of committing war crimes, while Moscow denies targeting civilians in what it has described as a “special military operation”.
While the meeting provided an opportunity for tense confrontation, the council can do little to punish Russia for its actions because Moscow is a permanent member of the security council with veto power.