Ukraine’s United Nations ambassador has asked an emergency session of the world body’s Security Council “to do everything possible now” to stop Russian “aggression” as troops took over the strategic Crimea region.
It comes as Associated Press journalists on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula saw a convoy of hundreds of Russian troops heading toward the regional capital, Simferopol.
On the road from Sevastopol, the Crimean port where Russia maintains a naval base, to Simferopol this morning, journalists saw 12 military trucks carrying troops, a Tiger vehicle armed with a machine gun and also two ambulances.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged Russian president Vladimir Putin in a phone call to “urgently engage in direct dialogue with the authorities” in Kiev.
Calling the situation in Ukraine “as dangerous as it is destabilising,” US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the council: “It is time for the Russian military intervention in Ukraine to end.”
Ms Power and other members of the council called for sending international monitors to Ukraine as soon as possible to observe the situation and Ms Power warned that “Russia’s provocative actions could easily push the situation beyond the breaking point”.
She also mentioned work on an international mediation mission to send to Ukraine.
The Security Council met in emergency session for the second straight day on the rapidly developing events in Ukraine. It met briefly in an open, televised session, despite initial objections from Russia, then resumed behind closed doors.
The council took no action. As a permanent member of the council, Russia has veto power and can block the UN’s most powerful body from adopting any resolution criticising or sanctioning Moscow.
But the current council president, Luxembourg ambassador Sylvie Lucas, said members stressed the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the need to lower tensions, in addition to the need for international monitors.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the new government in Kiev needed to get away from “radicals” and warned: “Such actions they’re taking could lead to very difficult developments, which the Russian Federation is trying to avoid.”
Russia has given refuge to Ukraine’s now-fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled after demonstrations turned violent amid tensions over his decision to turn Ukraine towards Russia, its long-time patron, instead of the European Union.
Mr Churkin said Russia was intervening at the request of pro-Russian authorities in the semi-autonomous Crimea, which is largely Russian-speaking and is home to Russia’s Black Sea navy fleet.
British ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant, who called for yesterday’s meeting, said afterwards that ’there is no justification for Russia’s military activities in the last 48 hours“.
Deputy UN secretary general Jan Eliasson called the situation in Ukraine “very difficult and very dangerous” and said they were seeing “negative signs, serious signs, risks of escalation”.
Ukraine’s UN ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev asked the other four permanent Security Council members – the US, Britain, France and China – for help in stopping Russia’s “aggression”.
Mr Sergeyev also said Russia rejected Ukraine’s proposal to hold immediate bilateral consultations.
When asked later whether Ukraine was at war with Russia, he said: “No. We are not at war. We are trying to avoid any clashes. We are being provoked.”
Mr Ban said earlier that he was “gravely concerned about the deterioration of the situation” in Ukraine. He called for “full respect for and preservation of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
He later spoke by telephone with Mr Putin and a statement from Mr Ban’s office said: “It is crucial to restore calm and proceed to an immediate de-escalation of the situation.
“Cool heads must prevail and dialogue must be the only tool in ending this crisis.”
Mr Ban is due to to meet his special envoy Robert Serry, the Netherlands’ first ambassador to Ukraine, in Geneva, Switzerland, today.
He asked Mr Serry on Friday to go to Crimea as part of a fact-finding mission. But after consulting authorities in the region, Mr Serry decided that a visit to Crimea was not possible and headed to Geneva.