UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday expressed “deep disappointment” and concern, a day after Ukraine’s Crimea region voted to align itself with Moscow in a controversial referendum.
Ban has been closely following the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. He has dispatched a series of senior U.N. officials to Kyiv, including the deputy secretary-general, to try to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. He also spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters the secretary-general is concerned that Sunday’s referendum declaring Crimea independent from Ukraine will only exacerbate the situation.
“He encourages all parties to work for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter, including respecting Ukraine’s unity and sovereignty," she said.
The U.N. chief has refrained from pronouncing the referendum illegitimate. Ukraine’s interim authorities and their international supporters say it violated the country’s constitution. But Ban has called on all parties in the country and those with influence to avoid actions that could escalate tensions.
Jeffrey Laurenti, a long-time U.N. analyst and researcher, says there is little the world body can do to stop Moscow.
“The United Nations is hardly in a position to effectively challenge one of its principal guarantor powers on the Security Council. It could not stop the United States from invading Iraq, and it is not going to be able to stop Russia from taking over Crimea or other parts of Ukraine, if the Russians decided to push the envelope further," said Laurenti.
Diplomats have expressed concern at Russia’s move toward annexing Crimea, saying it recalls the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and questioning where on the map the current crisis will end.
Concerns were certainly not eased Monday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state - a move seen as the first step toward absorbing the region into Russia.
Analyst Laurenti says there have been several annexations since the U.N. was established in 1945 that have lingered unrecognized by the international community, and Crimea is likely to be added to the list.
“Some have been undone - one thinks of Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor. Others remain under a giant question mark - one thinks of Western Sahara taken over by Morocco and the Israeli annexations of Golan [Heights] and East Jerusalem, and Crimea is undoubtedly going to fall in that category," he said.
Russia has said it is up to the people of Crimea to determine their future. President Putin has expressed concerns for ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Crimea, although there is no evidence they have been subjected to bad treatment.
Economic sanctions against Russian officials and their Ukrainian and Crimean allies were announced Monday in Brussels and Washington. They are mainly comprised of travel restrictions and asset freezes in the United States and European Union.
While diplomatic efforts continue, the U.N. General Assembly plans to meet Thursday to discuss the crisis. But the General Assembly does not have powers like the Security Council, so it cannot take any significant measures against Moscow, other than to further isolate it with a large show of political support for Ukraine.