UNITED NATIONS— Ukraine’s fugitive president requested Russian soldiers in the strategic Crimea region “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order,” Russia’s U.N. ambassador said Monday, while Ukraine’s ambassador said 16,000 troops are now deployed there.
The third emergency Security Council meeting in four days came amid fears that the Kremlin might carry out more land grabs in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine. Russia faced demands from almost all council members to pull its troops out of Crimea and got no support for its military action from close ally China.
Action by the U.N.’s most powerful body appears unlikely. Russia has veto power as a permanent member and can block the council from adopting any resolution criticizing or sanctioning Moscow.
During the heated meeting, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin strongly defended his government’s actions as “fully appropriate and legitimate” to defend the human rights of the Russian-speaking minority in Ukraine, which he claimed is under threat of oppression from the north and west after violent protests swept in a new government.
He told the council he was authorized to read a statement from fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych— and show council members a copy— requesting Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his armed forces to restore peace and defend the people of Ukraine.
Yanukovych fled the former Soviet republic to Russia after his ouster and had said Friday that he would not ask for Russian forces.
Churkin quoted Yanukovych as saying “Ukraine is on the brink of civil war,” people particularly in the Russian-speaking Crimea are being persecuted for language and political reasons and “there are open acts of terror and violence” under the influence of Western countries.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the letter was just a piece of paper handed to Yanukovych which “got his signature.” Asked if the letter was phony, Araud replied, “It’s not a false letter, it’s a false president.”
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power dismissed Moscow’s contention that it intervened militarily in Crimea to protect the human rights of Russian civilians there as “baseless,” insisting there is no evidence of any threats against ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
“One might think that Moscow has just become the rapid response arm of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” she told the council. “Russian military action is not a human rights protection mission.”
Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev again pleaded for help and sent a letter to all 193 U.N. member states detailing Russia’s takeover of crucial government and military facilities.
The letter described what could be the first reported casualty of the crisis. Sergeyev claimed that Russian forces trying to capture the armory of the Ukrainian Air Tactical brigade near Sevastopol used stun grenades against Ukrainian soldiers Sunday, leaving an officer with a brain injury and in shock.
The letter also said Russian aircraft illegally entered Ukrainian airspace twice Monday night. It said all main roads in Crimea are blocked, military bases and Ukrainian ships in Sevastopol Bay are surrounded and an attempt has been made to capture the Ukrainian Navy Headquarters.
Power said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe— which includes Russia, the U.S., and all European countries— is deploying monitors to Ukraine on Monday night. She urged Russia to allow the monitors to go to Crimea, an appeal echoed by Britain, France and many other council members.
Churkin didn’t rule out having OSCE monitors in Crimea but said it must be considered by the government there.
Power said the United States “categorically rejects” the Russian contention that Ukraine’s new government is “a government of victors”— a view stated Monday morning by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva and echoed by Churkin.
The Russian ambassador claimed the recent protests were hijacked by extremists and gangs of “ultranationalists.”
Churkin said Ukraine should return to an agreement signed Feb. 21 by Yanukovych— but not Moscow— to hold early elections and surrender some powers. Yanukovych fled after sealing the pact with the opposition and foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland.