Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday that talk of a nuclear conflict was “totally unacceptable” and effectively warned that the so-called referendum on the Russian-controlled region would be annexed.
Referendums on joining Russia will be held from Friday to Tuesday in several large Russian-held regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, which comprise about 15% of the country’s territory.
Guterres told the council’s ministerial meeting that he was “concerned about plans for a so-called ‘referendum.'” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will address the 15-member council, but was not in the chamber for Guterres’ speech.
“The occupation of a state’s territory by another state through the threat or use of force is a violation of the UN Charter and international law,” Guterres said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
The Security Council meeting on the atrocities in Ukraine is being held during the UN General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders. Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24 during a Security Council meeting in New York to discuss Western concerns about such moves by Moscow.
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan told the council that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe crimes were committed in Ukraine within the court’s jurisdiction. The Hague-based court handles war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes of aggression.
Khan said the priority of the ICC investigation was the deliberate targeting of civilians and the transfer of populations, including children, from Ukraine.
The United States said various sources, including Moscow, estimated that authorities had “interrogated, detained and forcibly deported” 1.6 million Ukrainians to Russia since Moscow’s invasion.
“The international order that we have come together to maintain here is crumbling before our eyes. We cannot let President Putin get away with this,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the council. Lavrov was not in the chamber to hear his speech.
Ukraine, the United States and others have accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. Russia has denied targeting civilians while calling it a “special military operation,” describing the allegations of human rights abuses as a smear campaign.
Asked whether he could speak with Lavrov at the Security Council on Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he would “maintain safe social distancing.”
The council is unable to take any meaningful action on Ukraine because Russia is a permanent veto-wielding member along with the US, France, Britain and China. Thursday’s meeting will be at least the 20th meeting of the Security Council on Ukraine this year.
Ukraine’s chief war crimes prosecutor told Reuters last month that his office was investigating nearly 26,000 suspected war crimes cases and had indicted 135 since Russia’s February 24 attack.
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