The world is facing the "biggest global peace and security crisis" in recent years, UN chief Antonio Guterres has said as he slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops into eastern Ukraine, describing the move as a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and a “death blow” to the Minsk Agreements.
The Secretary-General, who cancelled a scheduled visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in light of the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, said he was deeply troubled by the latest developments in Ukraine, including reports of increased ceasefire violations across the contact line and the real risk of further escalation on the ground.
“Our world is facing the biggest global peace and security crisis in recent years, certainly in my tenure as Secretary-General. We face a moment that I sincerely hoped would not come,” Guterres told reporters here on Tuesday.
He reiterated that Russia's decision to recognise the so-called “independence” of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
“Such a unilateral measure conflicts directly with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and is inconsistent with the so-called Friendly Relations Declaration of the General Assembly which the International Court of Justice has repeatedly cited as representing international law,” he said, adding that it is also a “death blow” to the Minsk Agreements endorsed by the Security Council.
The Minsk agreements were a series of international agreements which sought to end the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
The first agreement, known as the Minsk Protocol, was drafted in 2014 by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, consisting of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), with mediation by the leaders of France and Germany. After extensive talks in Minsk, Belarus, the agreement was signed on September 5, 2014.
Guterres also strongly criticised Putin's decision to send troops into eastern Ukraine and his use of the term peacekeepers to describe those troops.
“I am also concerned about the perversion of the concept of peacekeeping. I am proud of the achievements of UN Peacekeeping operations in which so many Blue Helmets have sacrificed their lives to protect civilians,” he said.
“When troops of one country enter the territory of another country without its consent, they are not impartial peacekeepers. They are not peacekeepers at all,” he said.
In an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council late Monday night, western powers strongly condemned Russia's actions with the US saying that an attack on Ukraine is an "attack on the sovereignty of every UN Member State and the UN Charter; and that it will be met with swift and severe consequences.
US Ambassador to UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield described as “non-sense” Putin's reference of Russian troops to be deployed to the regions as peacekeepers.
“We know what they really are,” the US ambassador said.
Describing the moment as “critical”, Guterres said the United Nations and the entire international system are being “tested and we must pass this test.”
The UN chief called for an immediate ceasefire and the re-establishment of the rule of law, urging all to refrain from actions and statements that would take this dangerous situation over the brink.
“We need restraint and reason. We need de-escalation now. It is high time to return to the path of dialogue and negotiations,” he said. Guterres said Russia's decision to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as “independent” is inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
He said the principles of the UN Charter are “not an a la carte menu. They cannot be applied selectively. Member States have accepted them all and they must apply them all.”
He stressed that the United Nations, in line with the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, stands fully behind the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognised borders.
The UN chief called on the international community to rally and meet this challenge together for peace, and to save the people of Ukraine and beyond from the scourge of war.
“I am fully committed to all efforts to resolve this crisis without further bloodshed,” he said, adding that, “We will not relent in the search for a peaceful solution.”
In response to questions, Guterres said the present crisis will be “in the end terribly detrimental” both to Ukraine and Russia.
On Putin's assertion that actions Kyiv is conducting against Donetsk and Luhansk are genocide, he said, "Genocide is a crime that is clearly defined and whose application must be done in line with international law. I do not think it is the case.”