UNITED NATIONS— A senior U.N. human rights official warned Wednesday that if the situation in eastern Ukraine is not quickly addressed, it “risks seriously destabilizing” the entire country.
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović told the U.N. Security Council that those with influence should immediately act to stop the violence.
“The arming of the protesters and their transformation into quasi-paramilitary forces must be stopped. Anyone inciting violence and providing arms to protesters can be held accountable for the resulting tragic consequences," said Šimonović.
Šimonović made two trips to Ukraine in March, including a two-day stop in Crimea. He told the council that he did not find “systematic or widespread” attacks against ethnic Russians during his missions.
That finding was published in a report released Tuesday by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report, which was based on information collected by Šimonović and a team of U.N. monitors who arrived in Ukraine in mid-March, also found that the referendum which led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, was held in an environment in which the will of voters could not be exercised freely and raised concerns about the introduction of Russian citizenship in Crimea.
Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin called the U.N. report “biased in nature” and said Crimea should not even be a topic of discussion during a Security Council meeting about Ukraine because it is now part of Russia.
Russia annexed Crimea last month, after a hastily-called referendum held in the presence of Russian troops. The U.N. General Assembly has declared the vote invalid.
U.S. envoy Samantha Power dismissed her Russian counterpart’s criticism of the U.N. rights report.
“Today’s remarks by the Russian Federation, where the independent report provided by the U.N. was disparaged - indeed, slandered - as biased and unfounded is deeply worrying. If you don’t like the message, the Russian strategy appears to be - metaphorically - shoot the messenger,' said Power.
The situation remained tense on the ground Wednesday, as Ukrainian authorities in Kyiv suffered a serious setback in their efforts to restore order in the east, when pro-Russian separatists seized several Ukrainian military armored vehicles, raising Russian flags on them. It happened on the eve of talks scheduled for Thursday in Geneva with the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States.