With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the center of United Nations attention, the United States said on Monday it would expel 12 Russian diplomats from the UN mission in Moscow, saying it s were actually intelligence agents who had spied on the United States.
“We are beginning the process of deporting 12 intelligence agents from the Russian mission who abused their US residency privileges by engaging in espionage activities contrary to our national security,” the US mission said. to the UN in a press release. .
Russia could respond with “tit for tat”, that is to say the expulsion of the Americans, its ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, told reporters.
“It’s not our choice,” he said. “We didn’t initiate it.”
Mr Nebenzya – who learned of the deportations when he received a phone call at a press conference – said Russian diplomats had been given until March 7 to leave the United States.
The move is part of a broader effort to isolate Russia diplomatically and economically since it invaded Ukraine last week. Many countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russian officials and entities, companies are ending trade deals with Russia, and some Russians are banned from sporting and cultural events.
The United Nations General Assembly convened a rare emergency special session on Monday that was set to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday as a long list of countries wished to speak. Western countries speaking on Monday chastised not only Russia but also Belarus for aiding the invasion.
The assembly was to vote Wednesday on a resolution condemning the Russian invasion and calling for an end to hostilities. The vote on the resolution, which would have political weight but would not be legally binding, could give a measure of Russia’s isolation.
In his opening address, UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “The fighting in Ukraine must stop. It’s raging across the country, from the air, land and sea. It has to stop now. »
Guterres said the UN was increasing its efforts to respond to the humanitarian crisis caused by the invasion, and the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday focused on the crisis.
The UN is preparing for up to four million refugees to flee Ukraine, and 520,000 have already done so, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the Security Council. In his 30 years of international humanitarian work, he said: “Rarely have I seen such an incredibly rapid exodus of people, the largest in Europe since the Balkan war.
Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the council that 160,000 Ukrainians had been internally displaced and that there had been at least 406 civilian casualties, including 102 people killed.
“We are very, very concerned about what we are seeing on the streets of some of Ukraine’s key major cities,” Mr Griffiths said. “We will find out over time who did what and who violated what requirements of international law.”
African members of the Security Council said they had received confirmation that Africans trying to flee Ukraine had been discriminated against and were not allowed to cross borders.
Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, warned against collective sanctions against Russia which amounted to a “total blockade” and risked punishing civilians.