UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, in one of her last appearances at the U.N. Security Council, lashed out at Russia on Tuesday for invading and annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and carrying out “a merciless military assault” in Syria.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin shot back by accusing the Obama administration of “desperately” looking for scapegoats for its own failures in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
The bitter and biting exchanges came during a council meeting after new U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said preventing conflicts and sustaining peace are his top priorities and urged all countries to support those goals.
The clash between Power and Churkin reflected the deep divisions in the U.N.’s most powerful body and the difficulties Gutteres faces. They also reflected the dismal state of U.S.-Russia relations, which Moscow has called the worst since the Cold War.
Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope last month that the frayed relations with the U.S. will improve once Donald Trump becomes president Jan. 20, despite Trump’s pledge to strengthen the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal.
Trump, an admirer of Putin’s leadership, has been skeptical of the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia tried to interfere in the election on his behalf. He said Saturday that “only ‘stupid’ people or fools” would dismiss closer ties with Russia.
Power went after Russia in her response to Guterres’ appeal to focus on conflict prevention, saying the sovereignty of a country “cannot be a straightjacket to keep the Security Council and the secretary-general from taking necessary action to respond to urgent, life-threatening crises.”
She accused Russia of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty by invading Crimea in 2014 and using its veto in the Security Council “to insulate itself from the consequences.” She also said last month’s resolution on monitoring evacuations from Aleppo, once Syria’s second-largest city, was adopted at the end of a military campaign by Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government “after Russia used its veto twice to block calls for a cease-fire, which would have saved countless lives.”
Churkin retorted that it was the U.S. violations of sovereignty that led to “the very dire situation in a number of regions of the world which we now have to tackle.”
He said the U.S. invasion of Iraq gave rise to the Islamic State extremist group, its violation of Syria’s sovereignty by supporting the opposition “led to the expansion of terrorists,” and its actions to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi resulted in “dire consequences for the country and the African continent.”
“The migration flows going to Europe from Syria and Libya is a direct consequence of the adventurous policy of Washington,” Churkin said.
He said the conflict in South Sudan has much to do with U.S. attempts to help President Salva Kiir’s government and “the crisis in Ukraine would not have happened if the United States and its allies had not tried to dictate to Kiev which agreements to sign and which not.”
The Russian ambassador said Obama’s departing administration “is desperately looking for those whom they could blame for their failures” and it’s unfortunate the Security Council is being used “for these doomed attempts.”
EDITH M. LEDERER