NEW YORK — Russian and Western diplomats clashed over alleged war crimes in Ukraine on Thursday during a heated meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia’s withdrawal from the Ukrainian cities of Izyum and Bucha revealed gruesome torture and killing of Ukrainian civilians that could not be dismissed as the actions of a few bad actors.
“Wherever the Russian tide recedes, we discover the horror that’s left in its wake,” Blinken said. “We cannot, we will not allow President Putin to get away with it.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied the charges and accused Ukrainian forces of killing civilians in the eastern Donbas region “with impunity.”
He blamed the United States, France and Germany for not holding Ukraine accountable for alleged atrocities.
“The Kyiv regime owes its impunity to its Western sponsors,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba seized on Lavrov’s remarks, saying his comments made him an accomplice to crimes occurring in Ukraine.
“Russian diplomats are directly complicit because their lies incite these crimes and cover them up,” he said.
The meeting marked only the second time that Blinken and Lavrov have been in the same room since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Moscow’s decision to attend the meeting surprised some U.S. officials who expected Russia to recoil at a topic designed to expose and condemn its plans to stage referendums and annex occupied territory in Ukraine.
In singling out Russia for blame, Blinken was joined by top diplomats from countries including France, Britain, Norway, Albania and Ireland, as well as U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who accused the Kremlin of violating international law.
The meeting was attended by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, who said his team was deploying to Ukraine in the coming days to investigate allegations in the country’s east, where residents of territory previously occupied by Russia have accused Russian forces of torture, forced disappearances and rape.
Without explicitly blaming Russia, Khan made clear the atrocities he has investigated during visits to war-scorched areas of Ukraine including the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and the northeastern city of Kharkiv were real and shocking.
“The bodies I saw were not fake,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said that Russia has committed “unspeakable crimes” and that officials who committed, ordered or planned them must be held accountable.
Guterres called Moscow’s plan to stage referendums on joining Russia in occupied areas of Ukraine a “violation of the U.N. charter, and of international law and precedent.”
The world’s top diplomat also blamed Russian bombardments of urban areas for killing thousands of Ukrainian civilians, including hundreds of children.
“Almost every child in Ukraine has been scarred by the nightmare of war,” he said.
Lavrov entered the Security Council chamber just before his speaking slot. After condemning the West’s support for Ukraine, he left the room.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged restraint on both sides and emphasized the importance of the United Nations remaining impartial in the conflict.
India’s top diplomat, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, also avoided placing blame on either Russia or Ukraine, and simply endorsed investigations into war crimes.
Belarus, a close ally of Russia, alluded to Kremlin statements preceding the war, that the West’s stance on possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Kyiv’s efforts to align itself more closely with the West posed a threat to the region’s security balance.
“The tragic result of this arrogant position [is what] we’re seeing today in Ukraine. We have always repeated you cannot guarantee the security of one state by suppressing the security of another,” Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said. “No one took this seriously. Today we are reaping the harvest of this.”
The statements during the Security Council session occurred with world leaders in New York for the United Nations’ annual high-level meetings. One theme many leaders, including President Biden, raised during their remarks to the global body’s General Assembly was the desire to maintain unity among nations that have taken extraordinary steps since February to support Ukraine, providing arms, imposing sanctions and lessening their reliance on Russian energy.
Leaders from Eastern Europe, on the front lines of the showdown between Russia and NATO, echoed U.S. hopes that the pro-Ukraine coalition will remain together despite the increasing strains it is expected to face in coming months, when high prices for energy and other goods probably will take a mounting toll on those countries’ populations.
Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova said her country, which borders Ukraine, would continue military aid to Kyiv, potentially including MiG fighter jets now that Poland and the Czech Republic have agreed to police Slovakian skies. But she acknowledged that some Slovaks just want an end to the conflict, no matter who prevails.
“It’s in our own interest to continue patiently explaining to our population that supporting Ukraine is not just some sort of charity,” she said in an interview, speaking through a translator. “It’s a national interest for Ukraine to defend itself and win this war.”
Support for Ukraine remains strong in Estonia, which borders Russia, said the country’s foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu.
“Cowardice and courage are fighting inside every nation,” Reinsalu said in an interview. “Will our determination be stronger?”
Estonia is among the nations calling for stronger economic measures targeting Russia’s economy, including a far-reaching commercial embargo and a severance of Russia’s banking sector from the rest of the world, to starve the Kremlin of revenue.
Unlike countries elsewhere in Europe, Reinsalu said, Ukrainians have no viable choice but to continue their fight against Russia. He said that Moscow, perhaps unintentionally, had made the stakes of the conflict very clear to Ukrainians.
“They know that their alternative, if they give up or make compromises, it means that all the country will become Buchas,” he said.