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UN diplomats spoke out against Moscow in emergency meeting

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

As Russia ramped up its attacks on Ukraine, diplomats at the United Nations spoke out against Moscow. They met in the U.N. General Assembly Hall in an emergency meeting after Russia used its veto power to block a Security Council resolution calling on Russia to withdraw. NPR's Michele Kelemen has been tracking the debate.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.N. Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, had a clear message to Russia today - the fighting must stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Russian missile and their bombardments have been pounding Ukrainian cities day and night. The capital, Kyiv, is encircled from all sides.

KELEMEN: He said, while Russian strikes are largely targeting Ukrainian military facilities, there are credible accounts of residential buildings and other civilian targets sustaining heavy damage. Russia's ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, said his country's actions are being distorted by fake news. He repeated President Vladimir Putin's claims that this is a special military operation in defense of two separatist regions in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VASILY NEBENZYA: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: The occupation of Ukraine is not part of the plans, Nebenzya said, arguing that Russia is trying to protect people facing what he claims is a genocide. Just a couple of weeks ago, Nebenzya was telling the world that Russia had no plans to invade Ukraine, dismissing U.S. concerns as hysteria. Ukraine's ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, told the world body that the stakes are high.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA: If Ukraine does not survive, the United Nations will not survive. Have no illusions. If Ukraine does not survive, we cannot be surprised if democracy fails next.

KELEMEN: He says, Russian President Vladimir Putin has delegitimize the Russian presence at the U.N. Russia inherited the Soviet Union's seat on the Security Council, and Kyslytsya asked, rhetorically, whether anyone in the General Assembly ever voted on that in 1991.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KYSLYTSYA: Anyone? Should I put on my glasses if my vision fails me and I don't see any hand raised? Anyone voted for Russian membership?

KELEMEN: Russia used its veto power on the Security Council to block a resolution that would have called on it to withdraw from Ukraine. So the U.S. and others brought the issue to the General Assembly Hall in a bid to show how isolated Russia is diplomatically. That's important to some extent, says Samuel Charap of the RAND Corporation.

SAMUEL CHARAP: No state should be able to get away with what Russia got away with without facing diplomatic isolation. The question is, does it alter the course of the war really? And there, it doesn't seem likely.

KELEMEN: Russian and Ukrainian officials held cease-fire talks on Ukraine's border with Belarus, but Charap says there are no signs that Putin has modified his aims to topple Ukraine's government.

CHARAP: Putin, as we know, is not someone who likes to make concessions under pressure, and the pressure here is, like, unprecedented.

KELEMEN: The sanctions that the U.S. and its partners have imposed are unprecedented, designed to cripple Russia's ability to prop up its currency. They're also targeting influential business leaders close to Putin and have imposed sanctions on the Russian leader and those around him. State Department spokesman Ned Price says the pressure will continue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NED PRICE: But we still believe in diplomacy. We know that diplomacy is the only responsible, sustainable means by which to end this conflict.

KELEMEN: But as Price was speaking, the Russian ambassador to the U.N. took a call in his press conference and said he was just informed that the U.S. is unilaterally kicking out 12 Russian diplomats based at U.N. headquarters. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADRIAN LEGG'S "CELANDINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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